Simple 'n' Sweet
Sure, towering tiers of woven fondant blooming with hand-formed sugar flowers and topped with a chocolate diorama of the city where you live make for quite a spectacle, but they can also take up a sizeable portion of your wedding budget. Instead, consider opting for a simple or “rustic chic” design and make the actual cake – what’s inside – the star of your big-day dessert. By focusing on fantastic flavor instead of over-the-top flair, not only will you save money, you’ll have a nice cake that you actually want to eat it, too.
A simple design doesn’t mean you have to forfeit character or style – it just means making smart choices. If you want to make a bold statement, for example, pass on the expensive techniques like detailed piping or elaborate monograms.
But for a more rustic feel, fresh flowers are a perfect fit and will be less expensive than sugar, gum-paste or marzipan versions. Over-sized blossoms or branches with tiny buds look especially chic, but whatever you choose, ask your florist first to be sure your flora is nontoxic and pesticide-free.
You also can opt to forgo the icing altogether and simply showcase the colorful layers of cake and filling like the famous frosting-free tiers from New York City’s Momofuku Milk Bar. Marilyn DeVault, owner of Portland, Ore.-based Piece of Cake Bakery, has done an elegant version topped with fresh strawberries swirled in white chocolate.
Can’t imagine cake without frosting but still want your wedding sweets to be unique? DeVault recommends playing around with size – consider a spread of three single-tier cakes in your favorite flavors, a smaller two-tier cake paired with luscious fruit pies, or a simple three-tier cake that looks grand thanks to risers that augment the height.
Or you can just concentrate on decorating the table on which your simple cake sits, suggests Kara Buntin, owner of Richmond, Va.-based A Cake to Remember. Teapots filled with flowers, mason jars filled with sparklers, mismatched vintage votive holders and slices of trees that serve as cake stands are all great options.
Even if your cake is modestly priced, you’re wasting your money if it doesn’t taste good – all you’ve done is pay for a lot of cake that nobody wants to eat, Buntin says.
To prevent a flavor fiasco, Buntin advises asking bakers if they use “pre-weighed dry ingredients” (i.e. a cake mix) and if they make their own fillings and buttercream. “Pre-made components are usually more chemical than natural, and the taste reflects that,” she says.
You’ll also want to ask about what flavors they offer and, if applicable, whether or not they can accommodate special dietary needs such as vegan or gluten-free cakes.
Of course, tastings are a helpful (and fun!) way to find more interesting flavor profiles and the most delicious cake, but be aware there may be a fee involved. As an alternative, select a bakery that you already love – chances are the cake will taste fantastic and since you’re going for a simple or rustic look anyway, it isn’t necessary that they be pros with a pastry bag.
If budget is a concern, keep in mind that buttercream is typically less expensive than fondant because it requires less work.
You’ll also want to note that while most bakers will charge more for liqueurs, additional fillings, fancy techniques and off-the-menu flavors, some will actually charge extra for every change to a yellow cake batter or anything other than basic border piping, Buntin says. She advises shopping around and warns against ordering too much – you only need servings for about 80 percent of your guests, as some folks don’t eat cake and others will leave before it’s cut. “But the best thing you can do is tell a baker what your budget is and ask what they can do to help you stay within it.”