Choosing your wedding cake
The first glimpse of your wedding cake in all its glory should be a moment of pure theatre so obviously its appearance and decoration is very important. There is a huge choice available. Should you opt for a traditional cake with tiers, a cupcake tower, fruit cake, sponge, chocolate? Where do you start? Certainly have a look through the magazines and search online for ideas and inspiration. You could Google for cake makers in your area - their web sites always have loads of photos and are a good source of inspiration and you might also be able to check them out on Facebook.
I think that flavour matters as much as appearance but it would seem that not all cake makers agree. Some use cake mix, others (myself among them) only ever use fresh ingredients, so I suggest you try before you buy. Wedding fayres are good for impromptu cake tastings, but if you like a particular cake maker’s designs, arrange an appointment to visit and taste. Don’t be surprised if there’s a charge for this – the design consultation part is usually free but the maker will probably bake something especially for you to try, and could spend quite a lot of time doing so. You’re likely to get a refund if you order from them later, though.
Choosing the type of cake – sponge cake or fruit?
Sponge wedding cakes are much more popular than fruit cakes nowadays, but don’t rule out the idea of fruit cake. Fruit cake has a long shelf-life and improves with keeping but sponge cakes are usually at their best when fresh, so if you want quite complicated decorations (or want to save a tier) it can be better to opt for fruit cake. A good cake maker should advise you on this point when working with you on the cake design. In general older wedding guests often prefer fruit cake and younger people tend to prefer sponge.
With a tiered cake it’s perfectly feasible to have different types and flavours of cake in the different tiers, within certain constraints. You need to choose cake flavours that will go well with the chosen type of decoration. Carrot cake, for example, goes well with a white chocolate decoration, less well with dark chocolate.
Large cakes, cupcakes or mini cakes?
Cupcake towers are still very popular as an alternative to the traditional tiered wedding cake, often with a larger cake for the top tier, suitable for the cutting ceremony. Due to their smaller size, cupcakes dry out more quickly than large cakes so need to be baked as close to the event as possible to be at their best. They usually have quite simple decorations that are reasonably quick to do, so can sometimes be made just the day before. Mini cakes tend to be more elaborate and time-consuming to make and decorate. For that reason they are better suited to smaller gatherings for optimal freshness. (The sheer time taken to make and decorate large numbers of sponge mini cakes makes it difficult for them to be really fresh, unless you employ armies of cake makers!)
Traditionally, wedding cakes were rich fruit cakes covered with marzipan and royal icing. Royal icing is applied in multiple coats and sets to a very hard, smooth finish that looks fantastic but can be a bit unforgiving on those with less than perfect teeth! Because of the drying time between coats it’s really only suitable for fruit cakes. Sponges don’t really have a long-enough shelf life to stay the decorating course. Royal icing is much less popular now as a cake covering, but is still used for piping delicate swags, dots, stars, filigree lines and other decorative details.
After royal icing came sugar paste (also called fondant icing), which has now pretty much taken over as the standard cake covering. It is rolled out and draped over the cake, usually with marzipan underneath, and keeps a softer texture, while still giving a lovely smooth finish, making it gentler on the dentally challenged! It can also be moulded, modelled and cut or stamped to make a wide variety of decorations. It’s very versatile and can be used to cover both fruit cakes and sponge cakes.
Chocolate decoration is increasingly popular and, from a crowd-pleasing point of view, there are very few people who dislike it! Chocolate decorations can vary. The best are made of pure, fine-quality chocolate - often Belgian - the sort you’d be happy to eat just on its own as lovely chocolate. Some chocolate cake decorations, especially chocolate flowers, are made from chocolate modelling paste, a mixture of chocolate and glucose that is much easier to work with but doesn’t have the lovely flavour and texture of the unadulterated stuff! If you decide on a chocolate cake be aware of the difference – not all cake makers know the specialist techniques required to make solid chocolate decorations. A chocolate cake can still be pure white in colour rather than the creamy yellow of normal white chocolate. Whiteners can be added to alter the appearance to something more traditional without affecting the taste or texture.
Fresh flower decorations vs. sugar flowers as cake decorations
In a nutshell, fresh flowers almost invariably look better and cost less than sugar flowers. However, if you want to preserve the flowers as a souvenir, sugar flowers can last almost indefinitely. Most cake makers offer the choice and if you choose fresh flowers, will be happy to liase with your florist.
Professional cake maker or family member?
This can be slightly tricky. If a friend or family member is keen to make your wedding cake that’s lovely but it can put a lot of stress on the person concerned.
Particularly with a large, tiered cake, there’s quite a lot that can go wrong… Transporting and assembling large, fragile cakes can be nerve-wracking at times even for those of us who are used to doing it. Remember though that a professional will have done it all countless times before and encountered (and overcome) the difficulties that will be new to someone who’s never done it before.
Making the cake is a big responsibility and it’s not uncommon for the volunteer to become very anxious about the process as the date approaches and even to pull out at a late stage. If this happens it can be hard to find a cake maker to step in as we tend to get booked up quite a long time in advance.
A compromise might be for your volunteer to bake the cake and then use a professional to decorate it and set it up at your wedding venue. Some cake makers are prepared to do this, but they usually only accept fruit cakes and will probably have minimum height requirements for the tiers, since much of the decoration is usually on the sides. With multi-tiered cakes, the tiers should usually all be the same height too.
What is a cutting cake?
A cutting cake is one with minimal decoration, ordered in addition to the main wedding cake and is designed to go straight to the kitchen ready for cutting up by the caterers, rather than being on display in the reception. There are advantages:
- It can be pre-cut behind the scenes to speed up the serving process. An elaborate stacked cake takes a while to disassemble and cut up, sometimes making for an over-long pause in the proceedings.
- It can also provide extra choice for your guests. You might, for instance, have a tiered chocolate wedding cake and a cutting cake in traditional fruit cake, marzipan and icing.
- A cutting cake should cost less per portion than the equivalent wedding cake since it has less decoration.
Can we use the cake as part of the dessert?
A serving of wedding cake at the end of a multi-course meal can sometimes be a bit too much for people, depending on what has previously been served, so you may want to consider using the wedding cake as part of the dessert course.
A chocolate cake, or even a sponge cake with marzipan and icing, can combine very well with say fresh strawberries, served with a jug of cream on each table. It looks both luxurious and informal, and tastes divine.
What about non-traditional wedding cake options?
A good cake maker should be able to offer you the choice of meringue towers, decorated chocolate cups filled with mousse or fruit, croquembouche, macaroon pyramids, and more. Any of these can make a wonderful display – your imagination is the only limit.
This article was written by Catherine Mason from Catherine Mason Cakes
For more information about Catherine Mason Cakes visit
www.cmcakes.co.uk or call 01531 829909.
© Catherine Mason Cakes
Heavenly wedding cakes and hand-made chocolates for weddings and civil partnerships.