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Let's talk about how to make a small wedding BIG

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Well, it’s been a weird year for weddings.

I’s been a weird year all round...but, for right now I’m going to talk about weddings.

As I’m writing this, we’re just coming out of our second national lockdown into various different tiered restrictions, but the hope of vaccines bringing some normality back to our lives looks like it might be a practical one. Long term though it will take us some time to get past the effects of Covid and deal with our losses. but we’re all hoping that we will at least get to enjoy some celebrations with our loved ones again soon.

For those of us in the wedding sector, like in other areas of the hospitality industry, we’ve all had to “pivot” our businesses to get through this time, and one of the results of this has been to rethink what weddings can be... to rethink entirely what our respective wedding expectations are.

Credits: Photo - Chris Dawes, Styling - Luna and the Lane, Floristry: Chirpee Flowers, Venue - The Salt Room

By the numbers

There are of course many different kinds of wedding, depending on cultural influences, budget, faith, style, geography, if it’s your first marriage, etc. but for the most part the wedding sector has always been based on numbers.

As a cake maker I’m acutely aware of this as small cakes mean very small margins for me generally, the same is true for caterers, etc. because traditionally people’s focus has been on having either a BIG wedding or a small wedding. But… in a post Covid world, this has the potential to change.

This year many of us have seen the elopement style of wedding really take off for obvious reasons and lots of very small weddings of around 15-30 people. It’s been a shock to the system, but it has inspired a real discussion among wedding suppliers. What if weddings can be small, but really opulent?

Photo Credits

Left: Photo - Velvet Storm, Styling - To Have And To Hire, Venue - Cissbury Barns

Centre: Photo - Elton Mogg, Styling - Amore Star, Floristry - Hannah Berry

Right: Photo - Neli Prahova, Styling - Hire Your Day, Floristry - Rhubarb & Bramley, Catering - The Gourmet Chef

Choose perfection

What if you don’t have to invite everyone that went to your cousin’s wedding? What if you can spend that money on all the things you’d want to make your wedding truly spectacular and romantic and BIG rather than on feeding an extra 70 guests you barely know? What if you can afford to decorate your venue to look like those luxury styled shoots, because you’re saving money by having fewer guests? What if you can choose to have the high end menu for 50, instead of the budget one for 120? What if you can have a huge, statement cake for the same money because it has less edible parts? What if you can hire a stylist instead of trying to set up your own tables on the morning of your wedding? What if you had that wedding planner to make everything work seamlessly? What if you can spend more on flowers? On tableware? On the dress?

Now, I know this will sound odd to many, and it’s not for everyone, but just think about it for a minute…

Can you make your wedding more about you and less about other people’s expectations?

Photo Credits

Left: Photo - Love Heart, Styling - To Have & To Hire, Venue - Selden Barns

Centre: Photo - Kasserina, Styling - The Toast Events

Right: Photo - Kasserina, Venue - Hookhouse Farm

Photo Credits

Left: Photo - Love Heart, Styling - To Have & To Hire, Venue - Selden Barns

Centre: Photo - Foto Memories, Styling - The Beautiful Day, Floristry - Katherine Bly, Concept - Nicola Austin

Right: Photo - Jacqui McSweeny, Styling - Luna And The Lane, Floristry: Chirpee Flowers, Venue - The Salt Room

How to get your dream cake… for a realistic budget.

For me as a cake maker, there are two basic ways to approach a wedding cake order. The first is what style and the second is what size. The trouble is that, if the client has a set budget, the style will often have to be be brought into line with how much money is left once you’ve made enough cake to feed everyone.

Now, lets think of it a different way…

What if you choose a cake size and shape according to style and impact and you use dummy tiers to make the cake larger / taller? Dummy tiers are decorated blocks of polystyrene. We use these all the time to make demo cakes and to increase the height of a cake. Think of it like a plinth, in reverse.

The cake is still a cake, the same materials are used to decorate it but the benefits are huge. Firstly it costs less as it takes less time and materials than baking, stabilising and smoothing sponge cake to a high finish. Secondly it can be decorated to a better standard overall as it doesn’t all need to be done last minute.

South Asian wedding suppliers have been doing this for years. The tradition of having larger wedding cakes is a strong one in this market, and one that the rest of the wedding industry has been slow to catch up with. You don’t have to have huge cake of course, but you can have the freedom to choose a really impressive centrepiece for your wedding. Something that really catches the eye and makes people want to look at it, instead of a small thing that’s lost in the corner of a big room.

A few of the practical benefits…

Cake cutting. This is a traditional moment most people still want at their wedding. I’d always recommend having one of the lower tiers as real cake so that you can cut it in front of your guests, this is what I did with this cake that I made for my step-son’s wedding. To make this cake entirely from sponge would be impractical as there would not have been enough time between baking and the wedding to decorate the “books” properly… which brings me to…

Extra servings. Having dummy tiers does not mean guests go hungry. You just have “cutting” cakes to add extra servings if you need them. These are sheet cakes that have all the flavours, but are all ready to slice up in the kitchen and don't need to be decorated to a high finish because they are for eating not for display. This saves a lot of time so works out as more cost effective.

You can keep fondant (sugarpaste) covered dummy tiers, so if you are having a small wedding, but want to have a party later on for everyone else, you can keep the dummy tiers of your cake and display them again. Just store them in a cool, dry place. Then you can surround them with cupcakes and treats to make a desert table display.

Transporting dummy tiers involves much less risk than transporting real cake tiers (especially in the hot summer months) so a cake can be transported much further afield. I usually limit my area to around a 50 miles radius, because cakes that taste good don't like to travel too much, but with dummy tiers that area can be doubled (budget and time allowing).

You can have buttercream dummy tiers as well as fondant covered ones. You can't make a semi-naked tier from a dummy, but in that case you'd mix a buttercream tier with standard semi-naked tiers and get the same effect as the dummy tier would be effectively camouflaged by having semi-naked tiers with it and any other decorations, like fresh flowers.

Cissbury barns sussex barn wedding surrey barn

This cake was for family, so I needed to be at the wedding as well as setting up the cake... plus the detail on the cake was too much to do just before the wedding on fresh cake... plus the venue was quite a way away from base...

So for this cake the top tiers were dummy tiers and the bottom book was real cake ready to cut (as you can see above). The guests were served slices of both the base tier and various flavours of cutting cakes.

Cissbury barns sussex barn wedding surrey barn

The floral base of this tier is silk flowers in a dummy tier, creating extra height and impact.

So the point of my story is... small doesn't have to feel small, use your budget to fund the things you really want, ask you suppliers for advice, and if you want big go BIG!!!

Oh... and don't forget to add extra interest to the cake table with flowers or decoration!!

Big love,


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