Wedding Inspiration

A complete guide to choosing your wedding cake

Choosing a wedding cake is one of the sweetest endeavors of planning your wedding, but it’s not quite a cake walk. There are a lot of considerations—from budget to the weather and more—that have to be factored in, but our bite-size tips will help guide you.

The Search Begins

First things first: When should you order your wedding cake? Well, just as serving the cake will come after the ceremony and some of the key aspects of the reception, choosing your wedding cake should also follow a lot of other big decisions. If you already know which cake designer you want to work with, by all means reach out and get on their calendar as early as possible—some are booked as much as six to 12 months in advance. But there are a lot of details you’ll want to have settled before you start thinking about the design. Elements to consider include the style of the venue and your gown, your event’s color scheme, and the menu The time of year is also a big consideration: If you’re planning an outdoor reception during the summer, whipped cream, meringue and buttercream frostings likely won’t stand a chance against the temperature.

How the Costs Slice Up

Like pretty much every other aspect of your wedding, your budget will be a major factor when it comes to making decisions about your cake. Cake prices are usually set by the slice, and can run anywhere from $1.50 to more than $10 per slice, depending on a range of factors. The more intricate the design or the more rare the ingredients, the higher the overall cost will be—after all, a simple, single-flavored cake with buttercream frosting takes up much less of the designer’s time than a kumquat preserve-filled cake adorned with elaborate molded fondant shapes or handmade sugar-flowers.

That said, there are plenty of ways to have the cake of your dreams and still stick to a budget. Be upfront with your cake designer about what you can afford to spend and ask to work together to find the best solution. For instance, you could decorate the cake with seasonal flowers or fruit rather than pricey handcrafted and hand-painted fondant or sugar-paste details—coordinate with your florist; it could included as part of your floral arrangements. Another crafty option is to order a smaller (and therefore less expensive) version of your ideal design—fancy trimmings and all—and supplement that with several sheet cakes of the same flavor to ensure you have enough for all of your guests. Alternatively, you could supplement the smaller cake with a dessert bar—after all, plenty of guests may actually prefer a rich chocolate brownie or piece of cherry pie.

Your Cake, Your Way

Browsing magazines and websites like ours is part and parcel of finding the inspiration for your cake’s design—but let it be just that, rather than asking for an identical match to a cake in a photograph. Full confession: A lot more behind-the-scenes work goes into the cakes you see in magazines like ours than is usually possible for an actual wedding. During a photo shoot, there will be a full team—including the cake designer, stylist and editor—fussing over each cake to make sure every detail is in place, correcting frosting smudges or melting, sagging layers for just long enough to get the perfect shot (which may well be touched up in Photoshop after all that anyway!)

The best way forward is to gather inspiration images to share with your cake designer, and then discuss what’s realistic. Explain what it is you like about the picture-perfect cakes, and listen to the designer’s feedback. Keep in mind that they’re pros, and have probably designed hundreds of cakes and worked with a wide range of venues—and just like you, they want the most beautiful cake possible.

Aside from the practical matters like budget and venue temperature, there’s a lot to keep in mind once you start looking for inspiration. If there’s something that’s an absolute must—perhaps a vintage topper or a cake platter that’s been in your family for generations—start with that. While you’re browsing cake photos, consider the overall theme of your wedding, the atmosphere of your reception venue and where and how the cake will be displayed. If you’re tying the knot in a grand ballroom with soaring ceilings, columns between each layer can help reflect the drama of the space. Going with an ultra-modern look? A sleek fondant-covered cake with one bold detail (such as your new monogram) could be a better fit than one gussied up with dozens of delicate sugar flowers.

When choosing a cake, don’t try to please everyone—it’s impossible to take into account every dietary preference or favorite flavor. Although you want your guests to be comfortable and have a fantastic time, this is your special day and it should reflect your own tastes. If you love lemon cake, by golly have it!

Before and After the Cut

Once you’ve agreed on the style, flavor and size, you and your cake designer will still have to iron out the who, what and where of delivery and set-up. If your cake has many tiers or details such as fragile handmade accents, it’s very likely that your designer will deliver it in several pieces and assemble it on the spot. Even simple cakes will need special care, such as refrigeration or assistance moving from a box to a serving plate. Be sure to discuss with your cake designer what services they offer, how long they will need to set up, and to coordinate delivery with the staff at the wedding venue.

If you’re planning to save the top tier of your wedding cake to share with your hubby later, be sure you’ve coordinated that with your cake designer (or venue or caterer). For the best results, it should be wrapped in cling film and stored in the freezer it in an airtight baggie. (Foil won’t protect as well against freezer burn.) One word of warning though: The custom of freezing your cake until the first wedding anniversary is usually sweeter in sentiment than in practice, no matter how much care is taken to preserve it. Instead, consider enjoying it at an earlier date—perhaps after your honeymoon or on your one-month anniversary instead—and then celebrating with a freshly made cake of the same flavor each time you celebrate another year of marriage.