Photo Credit: Sarah Ashley Photography
1. Start early. Your venue choice can really influence the aesthetic and design details of your cake: Delicate buttercream icing won’t withstand the heat as well as sturdier fondant at an outdoor summer wedding, for example, so once you’ve secured your location, start shopping around for your baker.
2. Find your baker. Word of mouth is the tried-and-true way to find a baker, but attending wedding fairs is another route. Couples have the opportunity to meet local bakers and see and sample cake without having to commit to a private consultation.
3. Get social. Like many creatives, I post my cakes in real time across social media, so brides can get a clear sense of my work output and the types of cakes I specialize in. But don’t be swayed by the swoon-worthy images alone. Seek out online testimonials and reviews to complete the picture before you schedule a meeting.
4. Align your style. Some bakers are highly specialized and others offer a much wider variety of styles. I specialize in fondant cakes with a modern aesthetic. I don’t do buttercream or rustic cakes, but there are other bakers who work exclusively with buttercream. There are even bakers who only create naked cakes. As you explore and gather cake images, note the styles that speak to you. Whimsical? Geometric? Romantic? Rustic? Glamorous? Do you see a pattern emerging?
5. Take a meeting. Once you’ve narrowed your search to two or three bakers (or even The One), the cake journey begins! Before even thinking about red velvet vs. vanilla bean, your baker will need the nitty-gritty details such as wedding date, venue and estimated head count.
6. Bottom line basics. A big part of my job is helping a couple prioritize where the cake purchase fits within their wedding budget. A good cake designer will make helpful suggestions to keep your budget on point, while still meeting your aesthetic needs.
7. Consider the cost. The cost of a cake is determined by the number of servings needed and the complexity of the design. Sugar flowers can dramatically spike the costs because they are handcrafted, time-consuming — and thus expensive. I had a couple who wanted a spiraling floral cascade similar to one they’d seen online, but couldn’t afford the extra cost. I came up with several workarounds, among them using real flowers or going with one or two bold sugar flower accents.
8. Get inspired. Your overall wedding style can kick-start the design process with your baker, but don’t stop there. Mood boards, images of cakes you love, your wedding color palette, your dress — any and all of these elements will get the cake design wheels in motion.
9. Be fearless with flavors. Some bakers charge extra for so-called premium flavors and fillings, others (like me) do not, so be sure to establish any cost upgrades at your tasting so you don’t get hit with surprise surcharges. I encourage clients to push the flavor envelope. Why go with vanilla, chocolate or red velvet when there’s praline and hazelnut cake accented with chocolate mousse and a drizzle of caramel to consider? Your cake should be both beautiful and delicious: Don’t choose flavors you think everyone will like, choose the flavors you like. Remember, it’s your wedding and this is your cake.
10. Tasty vibes — consultation 101. I like to meet with a couple over a 45-minute tasting and design consultation. (The fee is $50 per couple, which is deductible from the final balance for the finished cake.) I send a menu ahead of time and have the couple choose two flavors, which are served at the tasting along with chocolate mud cake, red velvet cake and vanilla bean cake. Couples also get to choose four filling flavors to try, plus I always provide samples of Swiss meringue buttercream and chocolate ganache (both are used as frosting or filling). The tasting is set up so that couples can mix and match the various elements. I always start the design process with the tasting because it’s such a great ice breaker — who doesn’t love eating cake? Clients are asked to bring along any relevant design inspiration (including images of cakes they love), and I always ask them to bring examples of things that are meaningful to them or their relationship. After an initial discussion and budget evaluation, I sketch out several ideas, and we work from there to conceptualize a final design together.
Rebekah Wilbur is a sugar artist, teacher, and owner of Rebekah Naomi Cake Design, and editor at American Cake Decorating magazine.