There are so many choices for wedding desserts! The options and price tags can be confusing. Here is a quick guide (with an insider's perspective) to help you understand your choices and how to have a great wedding dessert experience!
1. Understand the tone of your wedding. What words pop into your mind: bold, classic, modern, rustic, simple, natural, fun, etc. Understanding your theme is the best way to make sure you are picking a design and dessert that will work for you.
2. Know your budget! Here is what you need to know: The average wedding cake in Wisconsin in 2015 cost $500.00. Many parents who are contributing financially initially think a wedding cake should cost around $350.00. An artisan cake baker's average might be a little higher than $500.00, if you go to Walmart it will be a little lower. When you walk into your first wedding cake consultation it is very important to discuss financial boundaries, especially if a family member is contributing. Every person who walks in has a different assumption of what a wedding dessert should cost and what they are willing to spend.
This is a great example of budgets and it just happened recently: At the end of a consultation the future bride got up to go to the bathroom. While she was gone, the bride's mother told me that she was the one paying for the cake and I needed to talk with the her daughter about decorating options that were less expensive. The bride had chosen detailed artisan piping over the top of her 3 tiered cake and it had added an additional $100.00 to the total cost. After many years of cake consultations I feel like I have become a pro at mediating situations like this. The key here is to talk about the budget and expectations before the consultation and be honest during the consultation about where your boundaries are. I want every person to leave a consultation feeling excited about their dessert, not overwhelmed by the price tag.
3. Hidden fees apply. It is not uncommon for bakeries to charge delivery fees, set up fees, and cake stand rentals. Does your venue charge a cake cutting or dessert fee? If you ordered your dessert from a catering facility will they charge an 18% service charge to your total bill? You may pick your wedding dessert baker for their low prices, but make sure you understand what the TOTAL will be, not just what the cost of the cake is. You might be surprised that a more expensive bakery might be the same price as an inexpensive bakery when everything is said and done.
4. Know that the pictures you see in magazines are most often “Cadillac” or “Show Cakes”. The price tag on these types of cakes can be very expensive, usually starting around $1,000.00 and often times cost more. There are many reasons why: The artisans who create these types of cakes can spend all week decorating fine details, they are usually covered in fondant, and they often have edible detailing like handcrafted sugar flowers. Do not let this discourage you. An experienced cake decorator will understand how to take inspiration from these designs and work it into a dessert that is perfect for you and your budget.
5. Having fake “Styrofoam” cake layers is not a way to reduce cost. Many cake decorators do not understand how this myth was started. Think about it: It costs money to purchase and ship Styrofoam cylinders in. Then, this cylinder has to be prepped, frosted and decorated just like every other tier. Plus, you will still need to purchase sheet cake for your guests. In the end it might save a little, but certainly not enough to offset the hassle.
6. There are more options than just cake! Having unique options such as cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake, crème brulee, key lime pie, and tiramisu are all options that every guest would enjoy. If you are not a “dessert” person you could have caramel dipped pears with a cheese course served after your meal!
7. Make sure you find a bakery with a great reputation. Your wedding day is a big day and you want to find someone or place you trust. Look at past pictures from work they have done. If you have an Aunt who wants to make your cake (unless she is a skilled decorator) please be cautious and realistic about what the final product may look like.
8. You do not have to pick a cake design that is too “matchy matchy” with your theme. In fact, I think the best cakes are sometimes the ones that fit into the overall theme, but are unique in their own way.
9. If you desire a cake with specific colors in mind, please understand that edible food colors only have a limited number of shading options. It can be very difficult for a cake decorator to make an exact color match, especially with dark blue and purple tones.
10. Do not be afraid to have fun with your wedding cake flavors. Obviously your first concern should be that you want a moist cake that cuts easily. Beyond that, it is okay to do something unique. Try flavors like: Earl Grey and citrus, rhubarb and tangerine, lavender and blackberry. You want your dessert to be memorable and you want to give your guests a fun dessert experience.
11. When in doubt, keep your design more simple than complicated. When you try to fit too many designs and patterns in to a tiered wedding cake it runs a fine line between confusing and classy.
12. I get asked often, “Why does wedding cake cost so much?”. Let me take a quick minute to explain, because I understand from an outsider’s perspective the cost of a wedding dessert is intimidating. The biggest reason it a wedding cake is expensive is because there is a high cost to having a fully licensed business and a food certified space. We also need reliable industrial equipment that will mix large batches of dough, bake at an even temperature, and keep our product cold enough. Do not forget rent and other monthly utility bills. The cost of having a cake tasting and consultation needs to be added to the overall price. The time it takes to delivery a wedding cake has to be factored in, not to mention the wear and tear of using a vehicle to transport food. For wedding cakes, one of the best ways to find clients is have a booth at a wedding expo. Bakeries supply free dessert samples to hundreds of people. The total cost of having a booth at such events can easily cost over $2,000.00 each time. Also understand that wedding cake decorators work when people celebrate, which means that we work double time on Fridays, Saturdays, and often Sundays. Many artistic elements may not be high in price, but can easily add and additional 2-3 hours of work on each order. For example a gumpaste rose may only cost $3.00 in materials, but will take a whole hour of wages to hand craft and mold each petal. Trust me, most decorators are artists at heart (a far cry from a bottom - line business-type people) and we want to give each client the best possible cake, even it means underselling our product and time to make sure you have a cake that is in your budget. We are in this business because we love what we do and we want to make people happy and somehow make a living wage while we are at it!
13. It is good etiquette to do a little research of dessert ideas BEFORE the consultation, not DURING the consultation. It is really helpful for a decorator to understand your style and what direction you would like to take. If you come into a consultation with no idea of what you want it can be frustrating to the designer. Dessert consultations are usually complementary and often include your family members. You do not have to have it all figured out, but it is very courteous to everyone if you spend at least 10 minutes ahead to find out what makes you happy. For example: if you need to spend 20 minutes paging through Pinterest during your consultation you are cutting into the time you could be getting really great detailed information and product quotes from your decorator.
14. Family is great, but limit the amount of people you bring to a cake consultation. Bring only people who are contributing financially and the people you really want to be there. In my experience, it is best to keep it to 4 or less people. I understand there are times where both sets of parents want to be involved and you have to have more. In my experience, the more people who are involved the harder it is for the bride or couple to make a decision. I remember one tasting where an older sister gave her opinion on everything and steered the bride to a design she did not love. We ended up having to have a secondary meeting where the bride changed all of the details! If your future Mother in Law drives you crazy and she is not contributing financially, do not feel obligated to have her come along. Wedding cake consultations are more than just tasting cake, the majority of the time is spent crunching numbers and filling out contracts. It is relaxing and most of the time it is fun, but it is not a time to be entertaining your extended family.