Your wedding cake will likely be the centerpiece of your entire reception, and you'll want it to taste as good as it looks. Follow these eight steps for ensuring the your wedding cake if as perfect as your mountain wedding.
1 Set your budget and then be realistic about what you can get for that budget. There's a myth out there that suggests if you walk into a bakery and say the word wedding, the price doubles. Yes and no. If you walk into a bakery and say you want a plain birthday-style sheet cake with no decoration and you'll pick it up on June 25th with no other tastings or consultations, you'll pay the same price for that “wedding cake” as you would if it were your birthday cake.
Wedding cakes aren't expensive because you say the magic word wedding. Wedding cakes are expensive because you want a tiered cake with different flavors for each tier, smooth fondant and an elegant yet modern design of gum paste flowers. Oh and let's not forget the internal architecture requires to keep that think from leaning to one side or collapsing in on itself.
The point is, you can get a beautiful wedding cake on nearly any budget, you just have to know exactly what that budget is and have some priorities. Most bakers have a per slice base rate (typically $2-$10 per person or per slice) Additional decorations, tiers and fancy extras add to the cost. If you're on a tight budget, instead of feeling ripped off at the cost of your dream cake, you may have to scale back on your expectations.
2. Do your research. If you're a destination mountain bride, I recommend that you visit your destination at least twice to do site reviews and interview and meet with vendors.
In the beginning of your wedding vendor search, look at online reviews like those found on Yelp and The Wedding Wire. Look at the vendors website. Is it professional with plenty of information to allow to get a good idea of their work and style or are they trying to force you to call them?
Once you've narrowed your search down to 3 or so. Ask to schedule a Skype meeting or Google Hang Out with them. When you see them for the first time, do they present themselves in a professional way? Are they in a setting that's clean and organized. For more information see Postcard Weddings post on planning your wedding at a distance.
3. Find the right baker for the job! Not all bakers are created equally or have the same passion and skills. Some bakers specialize in cupcakes, others in Southern style cakes and still others in wedding cakes. There are bakers with a passion for vegan and gluten-free cakes, bakers who love quality ingredients locally sourced, and still others that delight in creating original, swoon-worthy designs.
It's important for you to choose the right backer for the job. If you hire a baker who specializes in Southern-style cakes (cakes made from scratch, with natural buttercream and no fondant, and typically more natural decorations (like flowers) if any), don't hand her a picture of an elaborately designed Sylvia Weinstock cake and expect great results.
If you want a gorgeous painted cake with 4 tiers for your wedding, look for a baker who has experience and a portfolio to prove that experience. Don't just assume that any baker can “figure it out.”
Need more proof? Check out Cake Wrecks for inspiration.
4. Buy Local for Wedding Cakes. If you're getting married in a place like Asheville, NC, which is known for it's fresh, organic, farm to table food scene, then you'll have no problem finding a skilled baker to accommodate any taste or style. However, if you're getting married in a remote location, you may be more limited. You may be tempted to have Maggie Austin make you an impossibly gorgeous wedding cake and ship it to you, but shipping is expensive and you'll still need to have arrange someone onsite to put the cake together and possible adhere the decoration.
It's better to figure out what a local team can do and change your expectations in a way that leverages their strengths. The upside of this, is you'll get the authentic charm for the locale.
When meeting with local vendors in remote mountain areas, try to listen and observe more than you talk at first. You;re looking for patterns in the cake style and design. Tell the baker that you're still looking for inspiration and would like to see their portfolio. Ask the baker to talk about what inspires her and what her favorite part of baking is. Is it creating the best-tasting cakes, designing gorgeous cakes, or maybe it's trying new things.
The point is that many wedding vendors will want to please you and they'll ask you a lot of questions about your favorite flavors and the look and design you're looking for. Have the restraint to listen at least as much as you talk and get to know each baker so that you can make the right decision based of your wish list and their real skills.
5. Listen to your team of professionals. If your planner or cake baker is advising against something, listen to them. Mountain environments can be harsh and your team may have experience that you don't. For example, winds and high altitude sun can wreak havoc on buttercream. Or, if a cake baker doesn't have experience in the design you want, and your local options are limited, consider listening to the pros and finding a design that leverages your baker's talents. (see “Buy Local” above).
6. Share your inspiration. But don't demand a carbon copy of something. Invite your baker to share your Pinboard or bring your iPad to your tasting and share your ideas and inspiration. To make sure you get the best quality out of your baker, make conversations about your inspiration a true two-way dialog. Above all, use you Pinboard for inspiration; it shouldn't be a mandate to your baker. Listen to your baker. What does she feel comfortable doing? What does she have experience with? What inspires her. Try to find common area and ways that you can use her talents and skills to bring your vision for your wedding cake to life.
7. Don't judge a book by it's cover. That is to say, don't book a baker just because they can pull off and an amazing design. A wedding cake should taste as good as it looks. If had first hand experience at wedding where the cake was Ah-MAZING and beautiful on the outside and was as dry and flavorless as sawdust on the inside. As a guest I was bitterly disappointed after anticipating the decadent flavor of such an gorgeous looking cake for hours only to find that the baker's talent lay in decorating and not actually baking.
This becomes especially important in the mountains where altitude can wreck havoc on baked goods. Air pressure is lower, so cakes take longer to bake. Temperatures and times may need to be increased above 5000 ft. Bakers at different altitudes often have to spend time experimenting and adjusting their recipes to deal with altitude.
8. Request a freshly baked wedding cake. I once worked for a catering outfit that would bake all of it's wedding cakes for the season in April and throw them in the freezer. From a business standpoint, it made sense to have the cakes ready to go and focus on the decorating. It was also a relief not to fire the ovens in the sticky and humid heat of a New England summer. However, letting the cakes sit in the freezer for months, however well-wrapped, produced the type of dry and tasteless cake mentioned above. Most bakers bake and freeze cakes a week in advance, which is not as egregious as making them months in advance, but even a day or two in the freezer can change the flavor and texture of your cake. Ask your baker when your cake will be made, and request a fresh one.
Wedding Cake #1: Photography by Asya Photography via Glamour & Grace | Wedding Cake #2: Photography byTali Hochzeitsfotografie via Belle & Chic | Wedding Cake #3: Photography by JoPhoto via The Bride Link | Wedding Cake #4: Photography by Jack and Jane Photography via Confetti Daydreams | Wedding Cake #5: Photography by Bowlden Photography via Style Unveiled