One of the first questions we are often asked is “How far in advance do I need to book my wedding cake?”
This question can be hard to answer and varies from designer to designer. Many guidelines say 3 months ahead but we’ve often found that much earlier, up to a year ahead, is best to ensure availability. It’s a good idea to at least speak with decorators and get a feel for what they require. Many cake designers are specialists who only accept a certain number of cakes per day and as such their availability is limited. You will likely also find that popular times of the year need more advance notice than others. Some bakeries can and will accept last minute orders, space permitting, so it’s always good to check with the vendors you are considering. At Mitchel’s, we only accept a certain number of bookings per day to ensure quality, but that number varies depending on the details of each cake and to where they are being delivered. We strive to ensure we have lots of time in case of traffic or weather delays or any other little mishaps that may occur.
How to find a wedding cake designer
There are many ways to find a wedding cake designer. These days we find most couples do a lot of their planning online. A Google search will of course provide lots of options so once you've checked some out and narrowed it down to ones that you like check out their reviews. Reviews from past clients are a great way to see what other couples have experienced and therefore what you can expect.
Another great option is through word of mouth. Ask friends and family who they’ve used, what they’ve seen or found and what they would change about the experience. This last question is a great way to find out where there might be room for improvement or how to avoid an issue.
While not as popular as they once were bridal shows are a good opportunity to meet vendors. Most cake vendors at a show will have cake samples, as well as display cakes and photos to showcase their work.
Once you have found some cake decorators set up an appointment to discuss what you are looking for, sample their cake and view their work. This will allow you to compare flavours, prices, and styles and get the cake that’s right for you. Do ask as some decorators charge for samples or consultations.
At Mitchel’s we keep samples on hand for our clients at no charge and provide complimentary consultations.
Factors which affect your decision on designer
As mentioned above it varies greatly from baker to baker but you need to be sure they are available for your date and ask when that could change and how much notice they need. At Mitchel’s we are happy to meet with you, at your convenience, to discuss all the details and answer any questions you may have.
We firmly believe you should have the opportunity to taste the cake and icing before you commit. Since this will likely be the most you ever spend on a single cake, you want to ensure it will taste good.
- Style and design of cake
Besides flavour this is the most important aspect to your cake. How does it look, does it fit your wedding style, is it what you dream of, and can this designer achieve what you want are all important points to consider.
This is another area which can vary widely. Each decorator sets their prices according to their own schedules. Some charge by the slice, by the number of guests, by the cake or by the time. At Mitchel’s we charge by the cake.
- Delivery and set up
Does your decorator deliver and set up the cake? When? Do they set up all the other cake related items such as the flowers and cake topper? What charges are there for delivery and set up?
- Comfort level
Are you comfortable with your decorator? Is this someone you can work with? Is your decorator giving you options and alternatives and working with you to achieve what you want or giving you a book and asking you to pick one? Are they making suggestions on how to keep your cake within your budget? Do they have a portfolio of cakes they have actually done or are they just showing you magazine photos? How long have they been doing wedding cakes?
- Type of icing
There are many different types of icings available, the two most common being fondant and buttercream. We discuss icing options in more detail below after cake flavours and fillings.
Cake flavours and fillings
Cake flavours can be night and day between different decorators. Some only have a few flavours, others have many. Some include only certain fillings with certain cakes, others have a mix and match policy while others do not offer fillings. Some will only have white and chocolate cake but use fillings or flavour the icing to give their clients more options. Some will use artificial flavourings, others will use real ingredients or liqueurs. Some have a standard white (no flavour) cake that they use as a base for all their cakes. It all depends on your baker.
You absolutely must sample the cake and icing to be sure you have an idea of what you are getting. Even if you don’t ultimately sample the exact flavour you are thinking of, it can give you a good idea of what to expect from your baker. Some bakers will bake your cake a couple weeks ahead and freeze it, others will bake it only a couple days ahead to ensure freshness. Some charge more for certain flavours or fillings, others may not.
When choosing cake flavours, we’ve found that on a 3-tier cake most couples choose our French Vanilla on the largest tier, chocolate for the middle and then something personal for the two of them for their top tier. Many feel that if they have chocolate and vanilla then pretty much everyone will be happy with one or the other. As a couple, you can get as exotic or simple as you like. Some feel that having a late-night sweets table with lots of variety needs to be balanced with simpler cake flavours, others want even more variety. Keep in mind that cake flavours are often subtle and can be overpowered by some stronger fillings or even other desserts. At Mitchel’s we love to use real, fresh ingredients to create our flavours wherever possible. Crushed berries, hand chopped and toasted nuts or hand grated carrots are just a few of the options. We’ve come across Butter Pecan cakes with no nuts in them, just artificial flavouring…how disappointing is that?
There are several different types of icings used depending on the type of cake, the event, time on display and your decorator. Most decorators have a preferred type of icing they use and many will add flavouring to the icing if you wish.
There are many different types of buttercream – European style buttercreams tend to be made with real butter but a lot less sugar, some tasting almost like plain butter. A more North American style buttercream tends to use butter and be sweeter, but the level of sweetness can vary greatly from decorator to decorator. Buttercream typically has a slightly off-white colour, noticeable only next to something pure white, and it can look a bit better in photos as the flash doesn’t wash it out quite as much as pure white.
- Snow-white buttercream
Does not actually contain any butter. It is usually made from shortening and butter flavour.
A popular icing for wedding cakes. This is a very heavy, rolled icing, with a beautiful smooth finish. Most people have told us they do not like the taste and texture and often find it is not eaten. Most decorators charge more for it compared to buttercream. It’s also available in chocolate, and while certain flavourings can be added, that does not change the sweetness or texture.
Typically only used for accents on fondant or used for certain types of decorations or flowers which are made ahead and dried hard.
- Cream cheese
True cream cheese icing is quite soft and therefore is not suitable for decorating all cakes but it is excellent paired with carrot cake or can be used as a filling.
- Whipped cream
Very soft and light, can not support most decorations and must be kept refrigerated, which is often not possible at many venues.
Very light, can not support most decorations, not suitable for most decorations.
- Chocolate buttercream
Again, as with buttercream, chocolate buttercream can vary greatly from decorator to decorator, but is often that decorator’s regular buttercream with either melted chocolate or cocoa added.
- Chocolate ganache
A rich, dark chocolate icing, ganache is made from heavy cream and chocolate with no sugar added – very decadent.
Why choose one over the other? We have found that most of our clients love the look of fondant but have discovered that the taste is quite another matter. We have often heard “oh, that’s the icing that no one eats and it’s left on the plate” or “no one eats the cake when it has that icing” and as such we specialize in a North American style buttercream. The major difference in look tends to be that the top edge of a fondant covered cake has a rounded look with no top border. We have found that we can leave the top edge of a buttercream cake smooth enough that a top border is not necessary, although getting an edge as rounded as with fondant is not possible. We really recommend you taste an icing before choosing it to be sure it is what you want for your day.
Deciding on your wedding cake
How do you decide on what your wedding cake should look like? Think about how you envision your day. Is it a fairytale, romantic, whimsical, elegant, simple or casual? Do you have a theme, flower, design, colour or idea that is predominant? For example if you envision a romantic day with lots of roses you may prefer to choose a softer looking cake with roses cascading down the side. For a fun idea that really reflects the two of you, consider choosing a traditional cake but use a topper that shows who you are – like a cat bride and groom for cat lovers, a horseshoe for horse lovers or a couple driving away in a car for those who like to travel. Perhaps a cupcake tree is more your style – they can be relaxed but still very elegant – and often more guests will eat cupcakes than a piece of wedding cake. The possibilities are endless but at the very least the cake should reflect how you envision your day and the two of you. A good wedding cake designer will be able to help guide you towards something that works for you.
Some people love the tall height that you can achieve with a wedding cake but not the traditional white pillars. You can still add height with pillars without the “old-fashioned” look by hiding the pillars with flowers, or asking your decorator what other types of pillars are available. There are also floating stands, which do not have pillars, or separate stands and ways of putting your cake together to give you a different look. That said, those “old-fashioned” white pillars can look fresh and still complement many weddings today.
A popular option these days is the stacked cake, where each tier sits directly on top of the one below. This type of construction can really showcase a simpler look, but beware that although a design looks very simple, it is not always easier to achieve. What a bride and groom consider simple does not always translate into that in terms of design with the decorator. A cake with no decorating on it at all except for a ring of icing roses around the bottom of one tier can be more expensive than a cake with a design all over the sides. It depends on the type of roses, whether they are piped with buttercream or royal icing or each petal hand cut and shaped in fondant or gumpaste, then hand tinted with colour. A design over the sides can sometimes be quicker and simpler for a designer than the hours that can go into the roses. It depends on the decorator and the specifics of each cake.
Choosing an appropriate size
Some decorators will tell you that if you are having a hundred guests, you should have cake for that many, others will tell you to decide how much you need. As most couples know the wedding cake is not eaten by everyone unless it is cut and served as the main dessert after dinner. In that case you need to plan for at least one slice per person with some extra just to be sure you don’t run out. When a cake is served late at night there are many factors which will affect how much you need: when dinner (and dessert) was served, how much and what other foods are being served at the same time as the cake, what time it is being served, how many guests are likely to have gone home, whether or not an announcement that the cake is being cut is made and the guests you’ve invited (do they have sweet-tooths or are they more a wine and cheese crowd?).
If you decide to go with a cake which is bigger than you really need there are options. We often recommend that you ask your caterer to serve only the largest tier at the reception, then your middle tier can be kept for a post-wedding get together (couples often have a brunch or gift opening the day after, which is a perfect time for cake. People are hungry and ready to have something they may not have had the night before). You can also freeze your well-wrapped cake or plan to send pieces home with guests (especially if they have children who didn’t come!)
There is no set way to price a wedding cake. Some decorators will charge by the slice (so for each serving of cake it is X dollars), by the number of guests you are expecting or by the cake. Some will charge by the slice for the basic cake and then a flat or hourly fee for the decorating or add so much per slice for the decorating. By the cake usually means that the decorator will give you a total price based on the size and complexity of the design. You should also determine what size serving the decorator is basing their numbers on. By cutting the pieces a bit smaller a decorator could get a few more servings out of the same size cake (and charge you for the higher number). A standard wedding-size piece of cake is 1” x 2” x 4” high.
Make sure you understand all the fees and exactly how your total is calculated. There may be charges for delivery, design, flavours, set-up, flowers, other decorations, rentals, or equipment purchases.
Many people also wonder why a wedding cake costs so much more than most cakes. Again this depends partly on the designer and the cake you choose but there are some common reasons. First of all, there are special skills that a decorator requires in order to decorate and construct a wedding cake. There are behind the scenes logistics and architecture, i.e. how to put your cake together so that it will not slide, shift or fall apart. Some also use disposable plastic plates or other items, which cost more than cardboard plates, for added stability. The plates are usually thrown out after the wedding and these need to be factored into the cost as well. Most decorators put in extra time training to become experts in certain types of decorating, such as gumpaste flowers or blown-sugar decorations. Some designers will use only the most expensive ingredients. There is also the “wedding factor”. Some things seem to cost more because a wedding is associated with them. One of the reasons behind this is that weddings are an industry of their own which require a specialized (aka more expensive) type of marketing. Bridal shows and magazines are more expensive to participate and advertise in and designers need to cover these higher costs. Most designers will also spend extra time ensuring that your cake is picture perfect as opposed to the quick once over decorating from the local grocery store. There can also be many hours which go into some of the small details on your cake – some flowers need to be hand cut, shaped, dried, wired together and tinted with colour to achieve that true-to-life look – and this work can take days.
Delivery and set-up
You should find out from your decorator if and when they deliver your wedding cake and how much they charge. You don’t want to have to worry about having someone inexperienced transporting and setting up your cake, so this charge is almost always worth it to be sure your cake is picture perfect until it is cut. Do they set-up any other decorations, flowers or ornaments that go with your cake? Some cakes need to be put together on-site with the flowers added as the cake is put together, but some decorators simply drop off the cake and expect your florist to add the flowers and the co-ordinator at your venue to put on the topper.
At Mitchel’s we take care of all cake related items (flowers, cake toppers, jewellery, ornaments, etc.) when we set up the cake on your wedding day. We are happy to work directly with your florist to ensure that your floral arrangement(s) will be the right size and shape to complement your cake.
Does your decorator have a back-up plan? We transport your cake tiers, boxed separately, and assemble them at your reception site. We carry a complete repair kit in case of any mishaps. While we have never had something happen that we could not fix, we never want to be caught. If a tier was dropped, it would only be one as they are boxed separately. The most common thing that comes up is a small mark from being bumped or a finger print. These are fixed in a moment with no visible signs. If, in the unlikely event there was a major accident and your cake was destroyed beyond repair, we would either use one of our display cakes that most closely matched the look and feel of your wedding so that you would still have something for photos or, more likely, bake and decorate a new cake, which we would deliver to your reception in time for the guests to enjoy eating it at the expected time.
We’ve seen some designers who guarantee your cake and have “emergency” service but what we wonder is: who do you call at 10pm at night if there is a problem, when will they be there and what will they do at that hour? Also, what sort of emergencies do they cover? If someone runs into the table and the cake falls over? If the cake just falls apart without anyone touching it? If a child sticks their hand in it? Why do they need emergency service if the cake is properly constructed?
We hope we have answered ALL your questions, as well as given you lots of extra information to help you make the best decision for your wedding cake. Feel free to contact us with any other questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you to book your complimentary consultation and tasting.