New tastes, shapes and colors make the typical white wedding cake a thing of the past.
by HCTG Senior Writer Jolene Rae Harrington
Your wedding vows brought everyone to tears, the guests are raving about the food, and the band is so lively that even old Aunt Ethel took a spin on the dance floor. Now it’s time for the Grand Finale, and all eyes turn to…the wedding cake. Maybe it’s been displayed in a corner for guests to admire in mouthwatering anticipation; or perhaps it makes a dramatic entrance as your caterer wheels it into the ballroom. Everything has gone perfectly so far, yet you wonder: Will it be divine or a dud?
If you’ve entrusted your dessert to one of Southern California’s hottest confectionery wizards, you needn’t worry. Your cake is sure to be not only a masterpiece of cutting-edge style but also the embodiment of gastronomic ecstasy.
If you’re like most brides, you want your celebration to convey something unique about you and your husband-to-be. Working closely with a cake maker to create your own wedding cake is one way to “express yourself” at your reception. The best dessert artists specialize in custom work, and it all begins with the consultation. In a private brainstorming session with your cake maker, you’ll look at photos from their past designs, exchange ideas and taste some samples. Many cake experts have an art background, and will sketch out possible ideas right before your eyes. The artistic geniuses at Regal Bakery have even gone high-tech, often using computer programs to help capture a design that meets their clients’ specs.
Before planning a cake, each aspect of the wedding needs to be taken into consideration. Where will it be held? During what time of year? Will you be having a garden reception or dining in an elaborate ballroom? What will the bride wear? What type of cuisine will be served? Which flowers and colors has the bride decided on? “The cake design should be tied in to the other elements of the wedding for a unified look and feel,” explains The Bread Basket’s Paul Vargas. Often cake makers ask the bride to bring in color swatches, their dress or a photograph of it, as well as their floral choices.
Such details can directly inspire the cake maker’s creativity. When Loree McKee of Bee’s Knees Bakery heard that a couple had chosen the Courtyard of Cal Tech for their wedding, she suggested an “earthquake cake,” which looked as if the tiers had fallen over on one side. (They loved the idea, and so did the guests.) One bride planned a December wedding around a crystal snowflake theme: from invitations edged with snowflakes to Swarovski crystal snowflakes sewn onto her gown, this bride envisioned a winter wedding wonderland. La Starr & Company’s wedding cake was the climax of the magical evening: owner Starr Heiliger created dazzling, three-dimensional, snowflakes that appeared to be falling in a delicate cascade over the ivory cake.
Cake designers often take their cue directly from the bride’s gown. The richness of satin, delicate clusters of seed pearls or an intricate pattern of embroidered lace incorporated into the cake’s landscape mirrors the bride’s attire, and makes a striking visual motif. Linda Goldsheft of The Cake Studio is known for her gown-to-cake adaptations. She once fashioned a 4-tier cake to look like the bride’s corset dress, including ribbon eyelets and lacing!
Cakes might even capture a couple’s sentimental nuances. A pet-loving duo asked Loree of Bee’s Knees to include their extended family on their cake. Loree made miniature statuettes of their three Scotties and two cats climbing the tiers to reach three birds on the top. One romantic groom had given his bride a diamond necklace as an engagement present, and made a Xerox copy of it for The Cake Studio’s Linda Goldsheft, who recreated the pattern and draped it on the side of the wedding cake. “Unique touches turn the cake into a personal statement,” observes Linda. She also enjoyed making a cake that depicted a seal on top of a rock for a couple that had met at the pinniped section of the New York Central Park Zoo! “There are absolutely no rules—it’s your wedding, and your cake should follow your taste and personality.”
“When we were first taught wedding cake design,” recounts Rosa Leung, a veteran baker with decades of experience, “everything was heavy—roses made of thick frosting, and globs of drape and piping.” Starr Heiliger, another long-time dessert pro, remembers, “The local bakery used to offer just a few standard wedding cakes. Now, a bride’s choices are virtually unlimited—there’s nothing we can’t do.”
Although bakers still field requests for the traditional white Victorian cake, the trend is definitely for something more streamlined and classic. The cakes at Bridal Sweets characterize this chic, contemporary approach. Picture the difference between a poufy prom dress from the ‘50s and a sleek number by Valentino, and you’ll understand why owner Vicki Hulbert bypasses fussy embellishments in favor of sophisticated polish. Feminine details are still “in,” but are applied with more style, discretion and innovation.
The smooth finish of modern cakes is achieved through a culinary medium called rolled fondant. Linda Goldsheft confides that fondant had been the standard for years back in England, but the current American version is “much tastier”—and currently all the rage. “Fondant is beautiful, like alabaster, with a smooth, matte surface,” says Goldsheft. And since it’s a flexible substance, it allows bakers to be more creative. Even those that frost their cakes with French buttercream still strive for the smooth look popularized by fondant.
Design themes in demand include cakes made to resemble gift boxes. Whimsical “Mad Hatter Cakes,” with their fanciful forms and vivid colors appeal to fun-loving couples, and Regal Bakery gets lots of requests for castle cakes. Making frequent appearances at weddings-by-the-sea are coastal cake accents such as chocolate seashells, marzipan starfish, and sugar-sand. Rather than the typical rounds, Bridal Sweets says square layers and even hexagons are au courant. She suggests mixing up the shapes, and Linda Goldsheft adds that applying garnishes asymmetrically makes for greater dynamics. Even those brides who want to evoke the flavor of yesteryear achieve the effect in non-traditional ways. La Starr & Company makes re-creations of gorgeous antique jewelry boxes, complete with gold hinges, white scrollwork, and color gradations that make them seem like they belong in a fashionable 19th century drawing room.
Styles that embody cultural heritage are turning up quite often. The Cake Studio has pleased many an Indian couple with their ability to translate the traditional bridal henna tattoos onto wedding cakes. Flour Power recently made an “Italian Charm Cake,” with no less than 47 charms baked into the bottom tier; each charm symbolized a wish for the lucky recipient, from “next to take a trip,” to “the next to wed.” Flour Power has also incorporated designs of an Ethiopian Wedding Knot into the icing for African-American twosomes, and Celtic Knots for those of Irish descent. A cake might also represent a multi-cultural union. For a Hawaiian bride that married a Japanese gentleman, Paul Vargas of The Bread Basket devised a special cake. “Hibiscus and other Hawaiian flowers overflowed from a base of bamboo reeds made from rolled chocolate,” he recounts. “The topper was a tiny Japanese gong brushed with gold.”
Trend watchers agree: white on white is out; color is in. For Southern California, the surprise color hit of the year is green. “Not ordinary green,” muses Rosa Leung, “but celery, avocado, teal, olive, mint, sea foam…brides are very, very specific.” Loree McKee says jewel tones used to be limited by the season, but nowadays they’re popular no matter what time of year. Both fresh and edible flowers are easy ways to add splashes of color to a monochromatic palette. “Real blossoms make a cake come alive,” observes Loree McKee. “Flowers are a cake’s final touch.”
Roses, orchids, lilies and cheerful gerber daisies are sought-after selections, but these days anything goes. “Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests for exotic flowers,” says Paul Vargas. Indeed, “the tropical look” has become Southern California’s signature style. “Pastels have had their day,” notes Vargas. Making the scene at fashionable weddings are vibrant fuchsia, orange, or citron blooms that transform cakes from ho-hum to hubba-hubba. Bakeries like Bridal Sweets and The Bread Basket often take advantage of the visual punch provided by fresh fruit. Why not combine little orange kumquats or sassy limes with magenta stargazers for juicier appeal?
Some of the most enchanting blooms you’ll see on cakes are actually fashioned of chocolate. Luscious purple roses with gradient hues right out of nature separate the tiers of one of Bridal Sweets towering masterpieces. (You wouldn’t guess they were chocolate until you took a bite!) Most cake makers work with a bride’s florist to coordinate the cake’s flowers with the bridal bouquets, boutonnieres, and the centerpieces for a very ‘tied together’ look. A word of caution from the Cake Studio: “Flowers should never overpower the cake—they should enhance it.” Paul Vargas agrees. “Sometimes just one magnificent, perfect flower is enough.” Cake jewelry is another way to add individuality, color and sparkle. Bridal Sweets makes pearlized cake brooches with edible gold leaf. La Starr & Company uses a proprietary sugar compound for amazing cake gems like amethysts and crystals destined to become treasured keepsakes.
Flowers can play another important role by separating the tiers. Plastic pillars are way pass, but a cluster of coral rose buds between layers? Bellisimo! Stacked cakes—the term for tiers that rest directly on top of one another—are the configuration of choice at the moment, while savvy stylists recognize that displaying each tier on its own stand can maximize a cake’s visual impact. Currently, four tiers replaces the customary three, and The Bread Basket often stacks the bottom three layers while elevating the top one, perhaps dangling crystals or beaded swags from the edge. One definite faux pas is a topper. Be it a bell, dove or a plastic bride and groom, nix the chachkas and use flowers instead. One exception is if you’ve found something truly lovely and vintage, such as a pair of expertly handcrafted statuettes from your parent’s wedding. In that case, the nostalgic theme should also be woven into the rest of your event. Rosa Leung, herself a noted artist, does 4"x5” hand-painted portraits of the bride and groom out of gum paste or fondant, which make cherished souvenirs.
Back in the olden days, wedding cakes were meant to be seen but not necessarily eaten—guests would take a bite or two of the dry slice with the sickeningly sweet frosting to be polite, then hastily set it aside. Of course, post-millennial partygoers have much higher expectations… and the experts consistently surpass them.
For the top dessert maestros, baking from scratch is a way of life, and “Everything fresh, nothing frozen,” is their mantra. They also insist on the finest ingredients. For example, La Starr & Company uses only rich, european-style butter; Regal Bakery searches out the most distinctive vanilla; and The Bread Basket is known for their farm-fresh fruit. Superior ingredients cost more, but it pays dividends in the finished product. Assures Vicki Hulbert of Bridal Sweets, “The bride and groom can take pride in knowing they’re serving the best.”
When choosing flavors, there are really several decisions to be made. The cake itself, the filling, and the icing. The combinations can get pretty wild, especially when “one flavor fits all” no longer applies.
What if you like vanilla toffee crunch and he insists on carrot cake? No problem—select a different flavor for each layer. Another cake taboo that’s been shattered is the ban on chocolate. Flour Power says one of their most popular requests is for rich chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and fudge filling. Some chocoholics simply swoon over gianduja, an Italian hazelnut buttercream popular at Bridal Sweets. Chocolate isn’t just hiding on the inside, but also makes a bold showing in the frosting. “A dark chocolate cake looks so glamorous accented with red-hot flowers,” says Cake Studio’s Linda Goldsheft. The Bread Basket likes the drama of chocolate ganache icing dripping over a pale cake, and Rhubarb Bakery is famous for their gorgeous Chocolate Mosaic Wedding Cake, which was recently showcased on the pages of In Style Magazine.
To go along with the fashion of dressing cakes with tropical flora and fauna, cakes these days are bursting with a Lifesaver-like array of fruity flavors. Flour Power swears by their Mango Mousse filling with fresh kiwi, and their Pia Colada Cake simply begs for the “Pia Colada Song” to be played as it’s served! Liqueurs such as Bailey’s Irish Creme, Grand Marnier, and Kahlua give cakes a sophisticated flourish, and Rosa Leung says her clients are positively bubbly about her pink champagne cake. One of The Bread Basket’s richest confections is called Gateau, a wicked combo of regular cake and cheesecake filled with berries.
There’s nothing like presenting your guests with their very own miniature wedding cake. As the finale to a Romanian gypsy wedding, Bee’s Knees served individual cakes that looked like tiny designer gift boxes trimmed in edible gold. La Starr & Company offers diminutive berry-filled charlottes, or chocolate-wrapped squares personalized with the bridal couple’s initials.
How about a special sweet for your sweetie? Groom’s cakes are making a major comeback, especially when they’re uniquely his—a wife-to-be gave her Navy Seal a groom cake topped with a frogman. Another had a cake sculpted into his two favorite books. Trend-setting brides have begun to serve the groom’s cake at the rehearsal dinner. “The wedding is the bride’s day,” remarks Gilbert Delagnes, co-owner of The Bread Basket, “and it’s a considerate gesture to make the evening before a tribute to the groom.”
Wedding orders at The Bread Basket also include a “First Anniversary Cake,” baked fresh a year later for that landmark celebration. Whether you’re indulging in The Bread Basket’s delicious gift or serving up your original cake’s top layer from the freezer, we have a suggestion: snuggle up with your sweetie on the sofa, and watch your wedding video while sharing the delectable dessert. As you pass your partner a yummy forkful, let the taste remind you of your wedding day’s romance, as well as the brightness of your future together.
Mmmmm…how sweet it is!
READ MORE ABOUT CAKES:
Hottest Cakes for Northern California Brides
Questions To Ask When Hiring Your Wedding Cake Designer
The Icing on the Cake
Find your perfect wedding cake designer:
Northern California Wedding Cake Designers
Southern California Wedding Cake Designers