When it comes to wedding planning, few decisions will be as fun (and delicious!) as choosing your wedding cake. After all, what’s better than spending the afternoon with your fiancé sampling slice after slice of cake? But before you pick up your fork, follow our guide below to make sure you get the wedding cake of your dreams.
Photo: Sposto Photography
5 steps to the perfect wedding cake
1. Book your baker at least six months in advance.
Ideally, you should order the cake at least six months before the wedding (even earlier if you want to book an in-demand pro—some bakers’ schedules start filling up a year in advance). Keep in mind, though, that it is best to start thinking about your wedding cake after you’ve chosen your reception venue and decided on the overall style of your wedding; those details (the venue’s architecture or the lace details on your wedding dress, for example) can help inform the design of your wedding confection.
2. Hire the right cake pro.
Where do you begin your baker search? Word of mouth is always the most effective route—ask recently married friends and family members for recommendations; your wedding vendors (planners, venue managers, caterers, photographers) will likely have favorites, as well. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few potential bakers, browse their online portfolios as well as their social media channels to get an idea of their design style. Some bakeries specialize in elaborately decorated fondant-covered confections while others focus on simpler, more rustic wedding cakes. One isn’t better than the other; you just want to choose a baker whose style matches your overall wedding vision.
3. Collect inspiration photos.
Start a Pinterest board and begin saving cake inspiration photos. Think about how the cake design will complement the aesthetic of your celebration. Is your wedding formal? You might want a confection that’s similarly impressive and grand. Hosting your reception in an outdoor garden? A cake decorated with flowers (either fresh blooms or ones sculpted from sugar) would complement the setting nicely. Once you’ve gathered some favorite inspiration photos, discuss your ideas with your cake designer. He or she will be able to tell you what’s realistic and within your budget.
4. Choose your flavors.
Besides being an eye-catching focal point at the reception, your cake should taste amazing too. Schedule a tasting session with your baker to sample cake and filling flavors, and don’t be afraid to stray from chocolate and vanilla. Decide on two flavors—three, max. Any more can be confusing for servers and guests.
5. Put it in writing.
Once you've decided on the design and flavors, make sure everything is detailed in the contract along with the fee for the cake. Like caterers, bakers typically charge per person (catering halls may charge their own per-slice cake-cutting fee if the cake does not come from them). It’s also important to discuss delivery details and coordination. For example, if you want to decorate your cake with fresh flowers, find out if the cake designer will coordinate with your florist, or if you are responsible for the blooms. If the florist agrees to take care of it, will she place them on the cake once the dessert is delivered? Or does the cake designer prefer to do that? Get those details ironed out and in writing.
Wedding cake types
Though there are a myriad of cake-decoration techniques and icing options (meringue, ganache, and marzipan, to name a few), for the most part, there are three types of wedding cakes that are the most popular. They each feature a different frosting technique, which we’ve outlined below.
FONDANT WEDDING CAKES
Photo: Antonis Achilleos
Rolled out and draped over cake tiers, fondant (a pliable Play-Doh-like icing) has a super smooth surface that makes it a perfect canvas for a variety of cake decorations and techniques, such as stenciling, appliques, and hand-painting. Bonus: The stable consistency means it stands up to warm weather conditions. Fondant gets a bad rap because it’s sometimes overly sweet and can have a chewy texture; some people wind up peeling off the fondant and just eating the cake underneath. But you can have the best of both worlds by frosting the cake in buttercream first and then adding a layer of fondant over the entire confection.
BUTTERCREAM WEDDING CAKES
Photo: Bryce Covey Photography
Buttercream is made from combining sugar and butter to create a softer, more spreadable frosting (it also tastes delicious!). Buttercream keeps the cake layers moist and can be piped or spread smoothly, though the frosting will not look as smooth or finished as fondant. Also, buttercream is prone to melting in warm weather, so if you’re planning an outdoor reception in the summer, then consider displaying the buttercream-frosted cake indoors or opt for fondant instead.
“NAKED” (PARTIALLY FROSTED) WEDDING CAKES
Photo: Jemma Keech
Unfrosted (or partially frosted) wedding cakes are all the rage: Cake layers are sandwiched between buttercream and stacked sans fondant or frosting. This exposed look is popular with couples looking for an alternative to the traditional wedding cake; top the dessert off with simple decorations like fresh flowers, greenery, and fruit to complement the unfussy, frosting-free look.
Want more wedding cake inspiration? Check out our favorite ways to top a wedding cake.