The Sweetest Thing

Of all the decisions required during the course of planning a wedding, the choice of cake is the tastiest. It certainly shouldn’t be stressful—but you do need to start planning this detail well in advance if you want the cake of your dreams. Here’s a big slice of what you need to know.

“The first thing you need to decide is how important a role the cake will play at your wedding,” says Michelle Bohigian, owner of Something Sweet by Michelle in Worcester.


Of all the decisions required during the course of planning a wedding, the choice of cake is the tastiest. It certainly shouldn’t be stressful—but you do need to start planning this detail well in advance if you want the cake of your dreams. Here’s a big slice of what you need to know.

THE BASICS
“The first thing you need to decide is how important a role the cake will play at your wedding,” says Michelle Bohigian, owner of Something Sweet by Michelle in Worcester. “Do you want it to be something you can just easily cut and serve? Do you want it to be the only dessert? Do you want it to be a focal point of the reception?”

If you plan to have your cake on display, consider working with a cake designer who can give you an edible work of art. With such a craftsperson, there’s almost no limit to the kind of cake you can have—it can be ornate and traditional or sleek and modern, and it can come in just about any color, size and shape you want. Look through wedding magazines and books for ideas and inspirations, then make an appointment with a few cake designers to get a feel of what’s out there.

“I suggest making appointments with at least three or four different designers,” says Bohigian, “so you have a choice.” Book appointments six months to a year in advance—many cake designers reserve wedding weekends that far ahead and only take on one or two cakes per weekend. You don’t want to get shut out.

Allow an hour or more for a cake appointment so you have time to browse the designer’s portfolio and talk about your ideas, color schemes, flavors and prices. Don’t get sticker-shock; wedding cakes can be pricey. Most designers have minimums in the $300-$500 range, and prices go up from there. An average four-tiered cake for 150 people, Bohigian says, tends to run $1,000-$1,500. The bigger and more elaborate the cake, the more expensive it will be. Wedding cakes can run up to several thousands of dollars.

During your appointment, be sure to sample the flavors of cake you’re considering. A bakery, designer or pastry chef can promise something scrumptious, but you don’t know if you’ll like it till you experience it with your own taste buds. If it’s absolutely impossible for you to taste cake for some reason, be sure to get recommendations from more than one trusted source.

GOOD TASTE
Sampling cake in advance is key, because the way your cake tastes is even more important than how it looks. But you probably won’t be able to try every flavor and combination of cake and filling, so go in with an idea of what you might want.

You can go with traditional flavors or try something trendy. “Instead of trying to please everybody, you’ll have a more interesting menu if you include things that you like, and that reflect your tastes,” says Jenny Williamson, owner and designer of Jenny’s Wedding Cakes in Amesbury.

She lists white-chocolate cake with white-chocolate-orange buttercream and chocolate cake with chocolate filling (“as ordinary as it sounds”) as popular choices, and says the traditional white cake with raspberry puree filling never goes out of style. Other fruit filling options include lemon, mango coulis and passion fruit buttercream, which she says are delicious with lemon cake. For fall, she offers a pumpkin spice cake with crystallized ginger and lemon mascarpone.

“You can do something basic like chocolate, vanilla or carrot,” says Mark Pavao, executive chef at the Danish Pastry House in Medford and Watertown. “Or you can re-create a flavor you loved as a kid.” He says mousses in such flavors as chocolate and praline make yummy fillings, too. If you and your intended can’t agree on a flavor, you can opt for different flavors in the different tiers of cake—or find another way to compromise. “If a groom wants chocolate and a bride wants vanilla, I might suggest marble—or something completely different,” Pavao says. “They can also think about doing a groom’s cake.”

THE ICING ON TOP
When you know what’s inside the cake is delicious, you can think about the outside. Tiered white-on-white cakes aren’t the only possibility. “Think about how you want to use color,” Williamson says. “You can have a white or off-white background with strong color over it, you can create a backdrop of color with other colors layered on top, or you can do something monochromatic in pale, bright or rich tones.”

Embellishments on your cake can range from real flowers to decorations crafted from sugar. “I do a lot of sugar flowers,” says John Haroian of JohnnyCakes in North Andover. “And I also do a lot of sugar seashells and starfish.” Sugar details allow for great freedom of expression because they can be realistic-looking or whimsical—flowers or flip-flops, or whatever you want. One groom Williamson worked with recently is crafting his own cake toppers out of gum paste.

You also can get creative with the shape of the cake. Round tiers are the most common, but tiers can also be square, rectangular or topsy-turvy. Haroian occasionally makes individual mini tiered cakes for each table, and he says tiered trays of cupcakes make a strikingly fun presentation. “Cupcakes are great for cocktail receptions,” Williamson says.

If you’d like something other than traditional American wedding cake, consider taking inspiration from European traditions. Truly Jörg’s Patisserie in Saugus offers croquembouche, which owner Jörg Amsler describes as “a traditional French wedding cake that’s actually a tower of cream puffs filled with all kinds of different custards and dipped in hot caramel.” Amsler also can do a genoise, a light and airy French sponge cake that he brushes with “simple syrup or Grand Marnier to keep it nice and moist,” or a kransekake, a Scandinavian wedding cake that has layers of graduated marzipan rings stacked together in a cone shape and “glued” together with icing. If you have a cake that nods to your heritage that you’d like to serve at your wedding, talk to a pastry chef to find out if they can do it. As Amsler says: “I’ll do just about anything a bride wants.”

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