10 Wedding Cake Tips (that wedding cake top 10 lists get completely wrong)

Bridal magazines love their “Top 10” lists.  Most of them are good intentioned enough, but we’ve found that in their rush to constantly find new “tips” and “tricks” to push into publication, some semblances of reality seem to get lost in the wash.  In response to the magazines, we thought we’d lend our own “Top 10” list of the “To 10 Wedding Cake Tips that wedding cake top 10 lists get wrong.”

#10: Styrofoam (dummy cake) doesn’t always save you money.

The Myth: Of all the wedding cake myths and lore, this is perhaps the single most overblown and illogical misconception of them all.  The basic premiss of this myth is that a person can save themselves money by asking their baker to decorate a fake styrofoam cake and then serve them sheet cakes on the side.

Reality: The only way to save money on a wedding cake is to either cut down on servings or on time spent decorating.  Thus it makes no sense to have a fake cake for display and sheet cakes for eating.  All you’ve done is create more work while using up more materials and thus actually made things much more expensive for yourself.

Why People Believe This: Because by placing the word “sheet” in front of the word “cake” will magically make baking and decorating it less work.  As we’ll discuss later in the article, the concept behind “sheet cake” is the work of the devil, and barely resembles anything we’d consider “cake.”  If your baker tells you that a serving of cake is cheaper in “sheet” form then in “cake” form it’s simply because it’s not the same thing.  Sheet cakes are simply a block of cake wrapped in buttercream, tiered cakes have layers of cake and buttercream filling in every slice.

What they probably meant: Styrofoam can be decorated to make a 20 serving cake look like a 100 serving cake without incurring the coast of baking more cake.  Again, Price = Supply + Labor.  If you want to make something cheaper decrease either supply or labor.

#9: I don’t care if your parents did it: Eating year-old cake on your 1st anniversary is a bad idea.

The Myth: Freezers have magical cryogenic powers that will some how freeze (or possibly reverse) time to make it OK to eat year old wedding cake.

Reality: Bad idea. Good food decays. When food does not decay, it is because bacteria don’t think that it’s of a high enough quality to bother eating.  -THINK ABOUT THAT!  Further, cake really, really, really sucks when you freeze it.  It’s kind of like bread: best fresh, and not worth sticking in your mouth after a week or two.  Now cheesecake on the other hand…

Why People Believe This: Fruitcake.  Back when this tradition started, most wedding cake was of the “fruit” variety.  And fruitcake is almost indestructible.  You can freeze it, you can mail it, you can use it as a doorstop, and at the end of the day it will still taste… like fruit cake.  Actual cake on the other hand, well, it is more akin to food, in that it will attract mold and bacteria, and other things that eat… food.

#8: Just say no to sheet cakes!!!

The Myth: That there is ever a good reason to buy a sheet cake.

The Reality: Cake is neither easier to bake nor decorate when it is in a rectangular shape.  The only reasons you’d ever have for wanting to buy a sheet cake is either because you really, really like the way rectangles look, or you are in desperate need of a cake that is already ready for you to pick out of the case and is perhaps as much as 34% faster to slice.  If you need more servings, and don’t care how they look, sure you can have a sheet cake.

Why People Believe This: People assume that sheet cakes are cheaper because they’re used to sheet cakes being cheaper.  The fact is that sheet cakes are cheaper not because of the magical powers of rectangles, but because that’s the shape cakes come out when they’re made by a factory.  Factories aren’t going to torte and fill your cake with layers of filling.   And while all processed food is horrible in its own special way, cake is especially heinous as a processed food -to the extent that we feel it should no longer be labeled as cake.  French fries aren’t vegetables, and sheet cakes (from the grocery store) aren’t cake.  Don’t serve them at your wedding.

#7: Fondant should taste good without costing more.

The Myth sad truth: Unfortunately, this one isn’t a myth at all.  The majority of bakeries across the country will charge you more if you want a fondant covered cake.  And if you encounter a bakery with this policy you can almost guarantee that the fondant they’re charging you for will taste like a big mouthful of nothing.  They may also be charging you for the hassle of dealing with fondant.  If it’s not normally in their arsenal of decorating supplies it’ll take them longer to decorate with.

The Reality: Going back to our cake pricing equation, where the price of cake = supply + labor, it may seem logical that adding fondant would increase the price of a cake.  And while we can’t argue that supply cost definitely increases with fondant, the truth is that labor is very much a wash.  It takes A LOT of effort and ability to make a purely buttercream cake look crisp, clean, and professional.  Not that this should be a problem, but the extra time you spend covering a cake in fondant is easily negated by the effort required to perfect buttercream-only cakes.  Also, buttercream-only cakes are very, very fragile -so everything from decorating to delivery must be done with a higher level of caution.

We feel that if you are a cake bakery existing in the 21st century fondant is just something you do, and you are happy to do it because it makes it that much easier for you to make a good looking cake.  Having a special “fondant fee” is a lot like a airline charging you extra for luggage.  It shows that you’re more concerned with nickels and dimes than making a beautiful cake.

One more thing: If fondant tastes bad it’s because they didn’t make it in house, or they have no idea what they’re doing.  It’s called marshmallow fondant, and there are only 3 ingredients.  Marshmallows, powdered sugar, and tragacanth. Figure. It. Out.

#6: Mini wedding cakes are like mini toilets: a lot of work, and often messier then you had anticipated.

The Myth: I’ll be the first to admit, when you see the photos in magazines, those mini wedding cakes look absolutely stunning!

The Reality: The fact is, that if you want each of those tiny terrors to look picture perfect, you better plan on at least sextupling your per-serving budget.  So much work.  And what’s more, as the size of what you’re working on decreases, the cake itself becomes increasingly unruly and unpredictable.  Most bakeries are happy to do it, but you better brace yourself for the price tag.

#5: Huge wedding cakes don’t come in boxes -that’s why we offer delivery.

The Myth: Aunt Cheryl can pick up the 300 serving wedding cake in her honda civic. No problem!

The Reality: Wedding cakes are big, heavy, and fragile.  Some of them are so big that we have to assemble them on-site.  You’re more than welcome to pick up your cake, but you better be prepared for a crazy, and often stressful ride.  Thus it’s probably best left to the professionals.

Why People Believe This: People love their packaging. They want everything put in boxes, and then the boxes put in bags, and then the bags wrapped in bubbles and stuffed in another box, which should then be double-bagged.  Cakes are fragile, and when your cake serves more than 30 people, boxes actually do more harm than good.  We’ve already visited this issue on another post: Box Info-Graph

#4: Nice venues often make you eat their (not so nice) cake.

The Myth sad truth: Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of venues (especially hotels) will force you to choose from their “selected vendors” for your wedding cake.  And what’s more, of those “selected vendors” you’re often forced to choose from less than a dozen “budget” cake designs.

The Reality: We think this is about the most evil thing that a venue can do to a person.  It’s your wedding!  And in almost all situations you can pretty much guarantee that the cake will taste “sheet-cake-y” because the venues always, and without exception, select their “select vendors” based on who has the lowest price so that they can mark it up.

So when you’re selecting your venue be sure to ask about if they will let you serve your own cake.  If they don’t, we recommend throwing a fit, because we think that this type of nickel-and-diming scheme is really unethical.
Ultimately, this one’s up to you.  What’s more important, your dream venue with a perfect view overlooking the ocean with an average cake made in-house or an equally nice, second-choice venue which will allow you to design and decorate the wedding of your dreams and who are happy to let you display an amazing customized wedding cake?

#3: After the wedding, let your baker know if you did (or didn’t) like the cake.

No myths for these last three, just some straight advice.  If you hired an actual baker (and not some large cake-factory) to make your cake chances are they spent at least 3-20+ hours of their life trying to make your special day perfect.  They want to know if you liked it, and if you didn’t like something, they want to know that too, so that next time they can avoid that problem.

However, if you didn’t like your cake for some reason, try to find a word OTHER than “dry” to describe the cake.  “Dry” is tossed around so much that it really means nothing.  Dry could mean that you’re used to overly-sweet and oily grocery store cake, and weren’t expecting the texture of a real,  baked from scratch cake.  It could also mean that the cake was over-baked.  Or that it has been exposed to air somehow and gone stale.  Or it could simply mean that you didn’t like it.  In any case, you should try to pick a different, and more helpful, word to describe your problem with the cake.  If your baker is doing the right thing and baking from scratch, there are a lot of variables, and your feedback could help them out a lot!

#2: A cake you can talk about.

Your wedding cake is a chance to give your guests something to talk about.  They’re in a room with a bunch of people they may not know, and could really use the conversation starter.  And let’s face it, there’s only so much you can say about the fancy napkins.  So why not go to town and get something that really reflects your personality?

And even if you opt for the more traditional and elegant cake, you can always throw in a groom’s cake to make the evening a bit more interesting.  The cake’s the centerpiece of the party, and if you do it right, you’re guests will have something to talk about for weeks to come.

#1: When it comes to cake, you really do get what you pay for.

Most cake bakers aren’t doing it for the money.  Your average cake decorator (even some of us who’ve been featured on TV) is still paid significantly less than your average plumber.  So when a reputable wedding cake baker prices you a cake, you can usually assume that price accurately reflects the amount of time that is going into the cake.

If you want a cake that’s baked from scratch, it will be AT MINIMUM $4.00+ per serving.  Anything less than that, and you can guarantee that it is either baked from a box, or shipped in pre-baked (ala-grocery-store-style).  And that’s only the cake.  If you want buttercream that is more than a factory-made tub of grease and powdered sugar, you’ll pay for that too.  To produce our home-made Italian Meringue Buttercream takes us about 30 minutes per batch.  We make our own fondant, which is another 20 minutes per batch. And we haven’t even mentioned decorating yet!

When the price is less, it’s because you’re paying for less. The easiest way to make sure that your wedding cake will look like $1,000.00 is to pay $1,000.00 for it.

4 Responses to “10 Wedding Cake Tips (that wedding cake top 10 lists get completely wrong)”

  1. Roxanna on

    This is great advice, I hope you don’t mind if I copy it and place it on my blog as well, of course giving you the proper credits!



  2. Cindy on

    So, you do, or do not, like marshmallow fondant? I just use MM and Powdered sugar. I am a beginner and would love to know the best fondant recipe.
    I also have been freezing my layers for a couple of weeks. Is this also a big NO NO?
    You’re cakes are beautiful! Thanks!


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