How to Make Sure You Get the Exact Wedding Cake You Want
A lot goes into turning wedding cake inspiration into the real thing—but don't worry, that's why we (and soon, your cake baker) are here to help guide you to the perfect cake for your celebration. From choosing your dream design to timing your first slice, follow these 10 steps to ensure your wedding cake is everything you want it to be.
1. Get in Touch With Your Style
Your cake doesn't have to be round, vanilla, white or tiered if you don't want it to be—in fact, your options are pretty much endless. To nail down a design you love, look to your venue, the time of year and, of course, your personal style. If it's a rustic fall wedding, you might go for a clean, earthy palette and a perfectly undone look (maybe something half-naked with buttercream and richly colored berries). For a modern loft wedding, you might choose a streamlined cake with asymmetrical tiers and a graphic design. As you're deciding on a look and flavors, take our fun Style Quiz, browse real wedding cake photos and save your favorites to show your baker.
2. Learn Some Cake Basics
Let's start with cake shapes. Beyond a traditionally round cake, there are so many other options to consider. Square cakes are a popular choice to showcase a modern aesthetic. But there are also hexagonal, oval, petal-shaped and even triangular cakes with personalities all their own. We've even seen asymmetrical or purposely off-center tiers for a whimsical look (Alice in Wonderland, anyone?).
When it comes to frosting, you have a number of choices. Buttercream (made from butter and sugar) is smooth and creamy and it stays soft, making it easy to cut, color and flavor. Fondant is another popular option—it's rolled out before it's draped over the cake and makes a smooth, firm base for decorative details. Before you dive into one type of icing over the other, consider the weather (buttercream could melt in the heat and/or sun), your budget (ornate fondant designs can get pricey quickly) and taste preferences.
3. Understand Why Cakes Cost What They Cost
Be prepared to pay anywhere from $2 to $20 per slice. Naturally, the more complicated the cake, the more you'll pay. Fondant is generally more expensive than buttercream, and if you want elaborately molded shapes, vibrant colors or handmade sugar flowers, you'll pay for the cake designer's time and labor. One cost-cutting option is to order the cake of your dreams made on a small scale for a price you can comfortably afford, and then order sheet cakes of the same flavor to be cut in the kitchen (some but not all designers will do this). Bottom line: Once you find your baker, you'll want to work with them to come up with a wedding cake design that falls within your budget.
4. Search for the Right Baker
Once you have a sense of basic costs and your favorite designs, it's time to find a baker. Start your search for the right cake baker online: Read real reviews, browse The Knot Marketplace and ask recently married friends for recommendations. Also, if you've booked your caterer, they'll likely suggest cake pros they know and love to work with. Once you have your top three bakers in mind, set up appointments to meet in person, ask them key questions and check out their portfolios. You'll discuss the time and place of the wedding, the degree of formality, the colors and other wedding details that might inform your cake. Don't forget to bring examples of cakes you love or even swatches of fabric, art, color combos and more that could inspire the end result.
5. Have a Taste
The biggest misconception about wedding cakes is they're designed to look good but taste like cardboard. As with anything beautiful, it's what's inside that really counts. When you meet with your prospective bakers, taste lots of samples (now, this is research we think you'll want to get behind). You might be surprised to discover it isn't average cake. Top designers are working with complex flavorings such as coconut and Key lime, blood orange and mango, and chocolate-hazelnut and mocha. You might also go for flavors based on the season, with heavier combinations like chocolate cake with mocha-praline filling perfect for winter weddings and lighter sponge cakes with fruits, curds and preserves more ideal for summer affairs.
6. Book Your Baker
When you think you've met your match, book them. A deposit is often required at this time, and you should also be asked to sign a contract (that's a good thing—in fact, you should insist upon it). Before you sign, tackle these points: Find out how far in advance the cakes are made prior to the wedding day, and who exactly will be baking and decorating your cake (it's not always the same person). Lock in your cake maker as soon as you can—some top bakers get booked up a year in advance.
7. Put Some Thought Into a Display
Have fun dressing up your cake table: Drape it with a pretty tablecloth and decorate it with old family wedding photos, candles or flowers (your florist can help). It doesn't need to be over the top, but don't be afraid to showcase your masterpiece if that's what you want. For a ballroom wedding, place the cake on a tall, traditional cake stand; go for a wood platform covered in fresh flowers for a spring garden wedding; or try a sleek, clear acrylic stand for an urban loft wedding. And make sure you have a lighting plan: Surround your cake with tiny votives, hang a canopy with twinkling lights over it or place a gleaming antique chandelier above it. Finish off the cake table by covering it with a solid or patterned tablecloth. Beyond showing off your cake baker's handiwork and giving guests something nice to look at, a pretty cake display will give even better photos of your beautiful dessert.
8. Work Out Delivery Details
Just as you would with a fine painting, once you've decided exactly how your wedding cake is going to look, make certain that great care is taken to transport it in one piece to the reception site. Most cake designers prefer to deliver the cake themselves (or use an in-house, experienced delivery team to do the job)—and we think paying the extra delivery fee is worth the peace of mind that the cake will arrive to your reception site in top form. Ensure your baker has a contact at your reception site so they can give the catering manager or event planner any pertinent information on handling the cake (it might need to be refrigerated or stationed in a cool, out-of-the-way location). The important thing is for everyone to be in the loop on this dessert delivery.
9. Have a Cake-Cutting Plan
Traditionally, the cake cutting signifies the end of the reception is near (and cues any sleepy guests that they can politely slip out), so couples typically wait until an hour or so before the party ends to cut it. But if you don't want to interrupt the dance party, there are several optimal times to cut your cake: Do it at the beginning, right after your reception entrance (aka when all eyes are on you) or directly following the last speech when most people are finishing up their main course. Most important, double-check that your photographer has your cake on their shot list so you get a few photos of the cake (and of you cutting it) for your wedding album.
10. Enjoy a Slice (or Two!)
You'd be surprised how many couples don't get to eat their own wedding cake—don't let this happen to you. If you don't have time to sit down at the reception and enjoy a slice, ask your caterer to save some for you. Share it as a late-night, post-reception snack, or dig into it at postwedding brunch. Either way, make sure you try it (if not help yourself to seconds and thirds).