Cake design is taking a classic turn.
Jan Kish La Petite Fleur created this white-on-white cake for Amber and Adam Brandimore.
Adam Lowe Photography
Delectable deliciousness. Dreamy. And downright decadent. Those are the tasty trends in wedding cakes these days. Imagine, for example, flavors such as rich red velvet cake with a creamy Swiss meringue buttercream filling. Or Mexican hot chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse. Strawberry banana cake with strawberry buttercream filling. Cherry-infused Black Forest cake. Or vanilla-hazelnut cake with chocolate ganache sandwiched between the layers.
Bakers have all kinds of delightful and distinctive cake flavors sure to wow the guests at your reception. “Right now I’m doing a snickerdoodle cake that’s the cake version of the classic cinnamon cookie,” says Michelle Sauer of Sauer Cakes. “It’s a cinnamon sugar cake filled with cinnamon and brown sugar buttercream. Another favorite is pumpkin cake with cream cheese buttercream.” She also offers classic almond truffle cake with a rich chocolate ganache filling, a golden almond cake flavored with amaretto with an amaretto cream filling. And a strawberry margarita cake—with tequila and margarita mix blended right into the batter and topped with lime buttercream!
Gary Baisden, co-owner of Capital City Cakes, says all of his “swirl” cakes are popular—including lemon swirl, lime swirl and chocolate raspberry swirl.
Persona Bakery’s cinnamon roll cake is a twist on the swirl cake. “It’s our number-one seller,” says owner Eric Johnson. “It’s a yellow cake swirled with cinnamon, brown sugar and pecans with a cream cheese filling.” Another of his popular offerings is a spice cake with maple-bacon frosting. Yes, bacon. “It’s that classic salty/sweet combination,” he says.
Perhaps one of the most interesting flavor ideas out there is Sauer’s “Irish triple threat”—a double chocolate cake made with Guinness beer, filled with Jameson Irish whiskey-infused ganache and topped with Bailey’s Irish Cream buttercream. “It goes really quickly at a reception,” Sauer says.
Another local favorite is Golden Delight Bakery’s melt-in-your-mouth strawberry cake, the bakery’s top seller. It’s a made-from-scratch vanilla chiffon cake filled with fresh strawberries—never strawberry gel—and homemade custard and topped with whipped cream frosting, according to owner Elizabeth Dy.
Other area bakeries offer flavors that run the gamut from chocolate raspberry and light-as-air lemon to orange blossom, apple, pistachio, classic fluffy white, milk chocolate and rum. There’s even cheesecake wedding cakes and gluten-free and vegan cakes. So how are a bride and groom to choose?
First of all, request a tasting. Most bakers are happy to provide a sampling of some of their cake flavors far in advance of your special day.
“I give the couple a two-page list of my cake flavors,” says Sauer. “They make two selections and then they can taste those flavors when we first meet.”
She adds that she generally recommends couples choose at least two different flavors for their wedding cake tiers. “I suggest they choose a lighter flavor, such as white, yellow or lemon, and one dark cake, such as chocolate, buckeye or spice, so guests can have a choice. And always include chocolate somewhere, even if it’s not in the cake itself. It could be chocolate ganache filling between two white cake layers.”
Renee Tisdale of Cakes by Renee always invites a couple to do a cake tasting early on.
But, she adds, the cake not only has to taste great, it needs to be a showstopper at the wedding reception, too. “The cake is kind of a centerpiece,” she says. “It’s a big thing and truly stands out. I love cake and I want to make people really notice it when they walk in to the reception room.”
What sorts of stunning designs are in vogue right now? “Most brides today are really going with very simple designs, simple and elegant,” says Tisdale. “I’m also doing a lot of line work such as patterns—like paisley designs—drawn into the icing.”
“Designs today are that classic, elegant, timeless look,” Sauer adds. “The cake is always an important part of the whole wedding.”
She says brides continue to personalize their cakes with design elements from the rest of their wedding. “We’re definitely using something from the dress or invitation as a good jumping-off point for building an idea for their cake. It helps the baker get to know the bride and her tastes.”
Sauer says that couples seem to like simple designs with textural accents. “I’m doing a lot of white-on-white cakes, but not always a completely smooth surface. I’m adding texture to the icing, such as a stucco look.” She says sometimes couples request a bit of color, but brightly hued ribbons are not as popular as they were a few years ago.
“Mostly we add color with sugar flowers or real flowers on top of the cake,” she says. “Or we use more colorful linens on the cake table to add some color without using color on the cake itself.”
Tisdale still sees small bits of colorful accents used on cream-colored cakes. “I have had requests for dark purple accents, or maroon or orange tints.”
An elegant white cake with a few jewel-hued accents was what Ashley and Darren Mathys sought when they got married in July 2011. Ashley says, “The cake was exactly what I wanted—really simple white on white with simple silver decorations in tinted icing. It was a classic French vanilla cake with four round tiers topped with flower petals in blues and purples from the florist. They complemented the elegant cake perfectly.”
Dy says most popular are elegant designs that are simple. Instead of flowers, some of her wedding cakes are adorned with colorful fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries and kiwi.
Ruthie White of Ruthie’s Cakes & Desserts agrees that simple is in, yet she sees brides wanting intricate designs traced into the icing with another color. “Lacy designs are popular, accented with another color,” she says. “Maybe ivory and white. Dark purple on white. Or even black and white.”
Johnson likes using sugar flowers, rather than real blooms, on top of the cake. “They’re good because you can really match the flowers with the colors of the wedding.”
Just a year or so ago, bling was the thing. Cakes were adorned with sparkly brooches, glittery monograms and sequin-adorned ribbons—the more dazzling, the better, it seemed. Today, bling is more muted. “I still do bits of bling, but not as much,” says Sauer, who sometimes wraps a cake tier in a small sparkly band or uses a silvery monogram as a cake topper.
Likewise, White says the elegant look and a sparkly look can go together, and she sometimes uses rhinestone ribbons around the cake. “The cake can be simple, elegant and tasteful … and also have some flashy, sparkling accents,” she says.
Bakers also have other tricks to give cakes an added shimmer and shine. Sauer, for example, sometimes sprinkles her cakes with a product called disco dust or pearl dust. “It makes the whole cake sparkle when the lights are dim,” she says.
She’s also met with a bride who wants an all-gold cake. The tiers will be adorned all over with an edible-gold spray. “It will be very sparkly,” she says.
According to Baisden, there are no rules in cake design. “One bride will love a simple, white on white cake with an understated border,” he says. “The next one will come in wanting a cake with all the spills and thrills and sparkly jewelry.”
A few years ago, cake shapes ran the gamut. In fact, many cakes were made of tiers of different shapes (think of a square tier topped by a hexagon topped by a round tier). Today, cake shapes are reflecting trends of yesterday. “For the most part, girls today want a streamlined, clean look, so they are going for the same shape for all of their tiers. The majority of them want round tiers, and the trend is away from the other shapes,” says Sauer. “That makes the cakes very traditional and sophisticated.”
She’s also seeing a trend in varying the heights of the tiers themselves. “You might have a 4-inch tier, a 5-inch tier and a 2-inch tier all combined in the same cake,” she says. “By alternating the height it adds interest but still keeps the traditional look.”
With all of the choices available, how does a couple choose a design? Local experts say the best way is to sit down and brainstorm with your baker, who likely has design books and photographs to leaf through. Couples can bring their own ideas, too, and many brides come armed with pictures from magazines or photos of cakes they like from the Internet.
Sauer suggests brides bring a photo of their dress, color swatches, photos from magazines or online cake designs, a sample of their invitation and a picture of their bridesmaids’ dresses. “We can throw all of those design elements into a pot and stir it around and see what kind of an individual design we come up with.”
Baisden says the sky’s the limit. “If you can dream it up, we can make a cake out of it,” he says. “Brides can bring in pictures they like, we can mix and match designs they like, and we can create a cake from their ideas.”
With their stunning and individualized designs and delectable flavors, contemporary wedding cakes are modern works of art, usually taking several days to painstakingly bake and decorate. Sauer, for example, starts baking on Thursday, does the fillings on Friday, completes the icing and decorating on Friday night and does final prep on Saturday morning.
Because of all that TLC, most bakers limit the number of cakes they bake each weekend. So it’s wise to book early, especially for popular months.
White recommends calling at least six months in advance to book the baker you want. “If they call two months in advance and I’m already booked for that weekend, it’s hard to tell them no,” she says. “But I want each and every client to have that special cake just for them, a high-quality cake. You lose that if you try to take on too many cakes at once.”
For the popular summer months, according to Sauer, it’s not too early to book a baker nine months before the special date.
And what about the price of this specially designed, lusciously flavored, personally delivered confection? Most bakers say their buttercream cakes might start around $3 to $5 per serving, with prices going up from there depending on the extensiveness of the design, the ingredients (fresh fruit, liqueurs) and the baker.
For large receptions, it’s common—and economical—to showcase a three-tier, decorated cake and have double-layer sheet cakes hidden away in the kitchen to supplement the number of servings needed. These stacked sheet cakes, once they are cut and placed on a plate, look just like a piece of the decorated wedding cake but will help keep the dessert within budget.
Before sitting down with a cake designer, it helps to know the differences between popular icings and other adornments. Among the options:
European buttercream. This icing, also called Italian or Swiss meringue, is a favorite of many bakers because of its rich taste. The high butter content also means the icing is not pure white, but ivory or candlelight in color. If your wedding reception is outdoors on a hot day, real buttercream might get too soft, but bakers have ways to solve that problem, such as setting up the cake as close to the reception time as possible and making sure it isn’t in direct sunlight.
American buttercream. Also called vanilla icing, this version of buttercream contains shortening, not butter. It is a favorite choice of some bakers, who say it provides sharper edges and more stability for the decorations, even in warm weather.
Whipped cream. A soft, elegant icing, whipped cream traditionally is made with heavy cream and must be refrigerated until the reception.
Rolled fondant. This pliable mixture can be rolled out into a very thin sheet and wrapped around each cake tier, creating a smooth outer layer and a slick, sophisticated look. It often is placed over buttercream icing. Some people avoid fondant because of its “chewy” reputation. Johnson says, “A lot of people are automatically adverse to fondant. But I make my own, and it’s marshmallow-based. You can flavor it to complement the cake, and it ends up tasting sort of like a softer Tootsie roll.”
Pastillage or gum paste. This paste of sugar, cornstarch and gelatin can be used to create realistic flowers that dry to a hard finish. Though extremely time-consuming to craft, bakers can custom-color the flowers, which can be saved and displayed after the wedding as an arrangement in the bride and groom’s home.
Pulled sugar. Made of caramelized sugar pulled into long, delicate strands.
A growing trend is groom’s cakes. This second, smaller cake is a confection that has its roots in the South but has gained acclaim in Ohio. Many bakers report creating these whimsical, fun and unique cakes to reflect the groom’s personality. They can be served at the rehearsal dinner or as a second cake at the wedding reception.
Baisden, for instance, says, “It’s amazing what we’ve been doing with groom’s cakes.” One bride came in and said her groom loves the Miami Dolphins and had also bought tennis shoes for the entire wedding party to wear. So Baisden and his crew made a Dolphins football helmet and tennis shoes out of cake. “When guys love cars, we’ve done a ’57 Chevy cake, a Corvette cake and an old Chevy Impala cake.”
Other bakers report they’ve made groom’s cakes that look like Ohio State’s Block O, Ohio Stadium, a fish, pianos, golf courses, a stack of books, a lobster ... even a double cheeseburger.
It’s still the wedding cake itself, of course, that is the centerpiece of the reception, only too soon to be happily devoured by guests. For this reason, couples may want to follow an age-old tradition and save the top tier to enjoy on their one-year anniversary. But can you really keep a cake in the deep-freeze for a whole year?
According to bakers, about half of today’s brides opt to save the top layer to enjoy later, while others serve the entire cake at the reception or even take the top layer with them to savor on the honeymoon. Some bakers will even offer to make a small “one year anniversary” cake for couples to enjoy—minus the freezer-burn.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Dixon Photographic