Updated: Mar 4
In a recent conversation with other suppliers I was asked for my top tips when wedding planning, and especially about cake (unsurprisingly).
Since we're in a super busy booking phase, I thought this would be a good time to write some of them down!
So, here are my top 10 tips for wedding cakes...
1. Book your cake maker early, don’t wait.
We get booked up and have limited capacity, especially for weekends in wedding season and most especially the really good makers!
Most wedding cakes are booked in around 12 months before the date, although some dates are booked years in advance, and it's always worth asking closer to time as there may be gaps.
You can book the date before knowing exactly what you want (see below).
2. It's ok to be unsure about what you want.
It's good to have a rough idea of what you like so you have a workable budget in place (and so the cake maker knows roughly how much time to schedule) but you don’t have to have all the answers straight away. Your cake designer will help to create something perfect for you based on your needs and your taste.
Let your maker interpret for you. No-one expects you to understand all the terms or how to make a tiered cake. If you don’t understand, tell them and they’ll explain in a different way. You can always use pictures to explain what you mean, I do this all the time. (See link at the bottom of page for a general guide to cake styles)
I ask for final details to be confirmed a couple of months before the wedding to be sure of getting materials, etc. but (as long as you don't suddenly add an extra 3 days work to the cake) we're pretty flexible up to that point.
3. Pick what you like.
As with most things wedding related, my advice is to have what you like, not what you think others will expect. If there is one day that's supposed to be absolutely about you, this is it!!!
If someone else is paying, talk to them about this early on so that you still get to choose the style (and ideally be the one who talks to the cake maker). They will (almost always) be fine with this, but if they get to choose their dream cake and then you say you don't like it, that's a much more awkward conversation than if they hadn't had the time to dream.
4. Have a realistic budget.
Wedding cake suppliers generally have a minimum order value of around £250-£300 for busy times and most cakes are around £400-£600. Cake prices are usually based on the number of servings (not tier numbers) and the level of decoration on the cake.
If your budget is finite, please do tell you maker and they can adapt the techniques to give you the best result. If you want to keep costs down, there are tricks we can use, like having dummy tiers (with polystyrene blocks inside instead of real cake), having buttercream instead of fondant or having some servings as a plain cutting cake (not for display). Don't be shy of asking for options.
5. Pick your cake maker according to their style and abilities.
We all have our own strengths. This does not mean we can’t adapt to different techniques, but be sure to book a cake maker who can cope with what you asking. If you want a highly structured fondant cake or sugarpaste flowers, check to see their portfolio includes these skills.
Style is also a factor. Cake makers really are super good at learning new skills, but if you want a pared back super-clean style, a cake maker who’s style is super maximalist may not be the right one for you, and visa versa.
On the whole, look around for people who’s "cake style" you like. Their creative choices are more likely to align with yours.
6. Suppliers recommend people they trust.
Take a look at the social media streams for your cake maker. Do they link to other suppliers? Do other suppliers link to them? We spend years building up these relationships, we work together, we hear feedback and we want to recommend and promote trustworthy people that won't let you down.
This extends to other forms of doing your research too. Check that your maker is registered with the Food Standards Agency and Environmental Health Office, that they have training in food hygiene and allergens and they have PLI (insurance).
7. Think about flavours.
Yes, a wedding cake should look amazing, but it should also taste amazing! Again, you don't need to know exactly what you want straight away, and will probably want to try some tasters before you make your final decisions.
Each tier can be a different flavour, so choose a crowd pleaser (Victoria sponge, chocolate, lemon drizzle, etc), but choose your favourites too.
Don't forget, you can add fillings and complimentary flavours; caramel, nuts, fresh fruit, boozy buttercreams, drizzles, compotes, Nuttella, Biscoff... Seriously, go all in!
Nb. If you choose a fondant (sugarpaste) covered design, you are not forced to compromise on flavour... the cake inside is completely the same, so you are not choosing between a delicious cake and a dull cake. Fondant icing is an amazing tool, it allows you to create amazing designs, it seals in moisture, it creates structure, it is highly adaptable. It’s not always everyone’s favourite thing to eat in large quantities, but these are big cakes so once cut up properly the slice of cake you get to eat is exactly the same is if it was a buttercream covered cake, but with a tiny rectangle of fondant and ganache on the top. You can even leave that bit if you don’t want it.
8. Think about the weather.
If it's particularly hot day, it's worth bringing the cutting of the cake forward so it's not out for too long and can be taken to a cooler area.
No cake should be moved once it's set up (especially on a hot day) until after the photos and cutting is over. The potential for damage is just too big... and they are really, really heavy.
Sugarpaste and fresh flowers can be damaged if put in a fridge, as can fondant covered cakes or any other external decoration, so this is not advisable.
If the atmosphere is very damp or humid, this can soften and damage sugarpaste flowers, wafer decorations, etc. so again ideally it's worth bringing the cake cutting forward. Many of us now use a new, more moisture resistant, form of sugarpaste for sugar-floristry, but nothing is 100%. Flowers can also be made from cold porcelain, but this costs more.
Don't put your cake in a window or near a radiator, it might melt! Don't put your cake in steamy place, the condensation will damage it.
Nb. I’ve seen it written many times that you shouldn’t have a buttercream cake in the summer… this is an outdated trope. You can absolutely have a buttercream cake, just don’t leave it out in hot weather for too long and try not to let anyone poke at it!
9. Think about how to display your cake.
Your cake should be the centre-point of your reception, but it helps if it's presented in it's best light.
We're all really used to moodboarding and binging on images from Pinterest, Instagram, etc now, so it's worth thinking about how to bring that beautiful styling that you love, without causing yourself headaches.
Sometimes... no, scratch that...all too often, we see lovely ideas that are just not very practical in the real world. Your should stand out for the right reasons.
* A cake in an outdoor space, like in a woodland or a pretty garden, is likely to be pounced on by pests before you get to cut it so can't be left on display.
* Fresh (or dried) ivy / hydrangea / chrysanthemums / etc. on a cake look great, but are liable to poison your guests (and are illegal in the UK). We can make these from sugar or use silk ones instead, and they can be mixed with safe fresh flowers too.
* A small cake can look lost in a vast space, so think about having a dummy tier to add height or displaying it on something more imposing.
* A cake that requires lots of on site set-up may not be practical if your venue doesn't have good access routes for suppliers, and is liable to be damaged before it ever gets to the cake table.
* A cake on a swing between the bar and the dance-floor, may not stay upright for long. Likewise a cake table on a sprung floor or in a tight space where people might try to squeeze by...
BUT, you can make a your cake display gorgeous and safe with just a few props and a good stand.
I have set up hundreds of cakes on plain little tables in the corner. It looks lovely, but it could be so much more. Decorating the table with a few flowers, candle sticks, nice linens, a few props, extra treats, etc. can really make that table something special and give your cake the setting it deserves.
Talk to your cake maker and stylist (or prop supplier) about this in advance so they can build it into their schedule.
10. Make sure that your cake maker has the correct details for your cake.
With all the conversations you will have about your wedding, it's so easy to think you’ve told your supplier something that you haven’t, or for them to misinterpret what you said on the phone.
Check the details, put it in writing, send photos, be sure! This is the reason why I do everything via email as much as possible… it means we can triple check and there's far less chance of error!
Now... I know that's 10, but I just want add one more tip that's less planning and more for the time, so...
11. Get the caterers to put some cake aside for you.
The thing about your wedding day, it goes fast, and lots of the things you thought you'd have time to do on the day, you just won't get around to.
If you want some of your cake, the safest way is to ask the caterers to put some aside for you.
Once cut, cake should be put in an airtight container to keep it fresh and kept at room temperature, so give them some tupperware to put it in...in fact you could even take extra so you can be sure to have cake to share with guests the next day, during the obligatory debrief!
For more tips, click here for a rough guide to the different cake styles & icing types