Elegant Wedding: Cake Walk

The sugar-covered star of your reception gets a new look

The drama. The elegance. The "How can that possibly be made out of sugar?" moment you’ve been envisioning for each of your guests. It’s the wedding cake. These days, the range of cake presentations is limitless, and if our local bakers were to give you one piece of advice it would be: Dream big. Go ahead and imagine. Whatever cake you


The drama. The elegance. The "How can that possibly be made out of sugar?" moment you’ve been envisioning for each of your guests. It’s the wedding cake. These days, the range of cake presentations is limitless, and if our local bakers were to give you one piece of advice it would be: Dream big. Go ahead and imagine. Whatever cake you see in your mind’s eye — short and square, tall and regal, a whimsical tree of cupcakes, whatever you want — can almost always be done.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS

The elegant, round-tiered wedding cake will always be in vogue, but brides have other options when it comes to the shape of their cake. “In the last six months, everybody wants a square cake,” says Ann Bartholomay, owner of Annie B’s Confections in Newtown.

Kara Doyle, cake designer for Miel Patisserie in Cherry Hill and Center City, thinks it’s a great choice for brides who want something different, but still want the feel of a traditional cake. “Square tiers have a minimalist, more modern feel,” she says.

And if you go square, don’t feel it has to be stiff. “They’re angling [the square tiers] so that they’re off-center,” says Peri Abramsky, pastry chef of Night Kitchen Bakery in Chestnut Hill and Doylestown It’s a technique that adds just a little extra interest to the stacked confection.

Or, if you want to be a little more daring, go with an octagon. “The shape itself is different,” says Doyle. “So go with a smaller pattern for the decoration so it’s not overwhelming.”

And if your dream cake falls outside the boundaries of circles and squares, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with your baker. “Tell me what’s in your mind and we can do it,” says Michel Gras, owner and pastry chef at La Patisserie in Cape May, who’s done everything from sandcastle cakes to cakes that seem to float amid a sea of sugar bubbles.

CENTER STAGE

More and more brides are using their wedding to make a statement about themselves. “One way to do this is with centerpiece cakes,” says Bartholomay, who loves the idea of miniature wedding cakes taking the place of flowers on the reception tables. She’s made cakes in the form of everything from blue Tiffany & Co. boxes complete with decadent bows of white fondant to woven baskets overflowing with glazed fruit. “We’ve done them all the same, we’ve done them all different — it’s really an intriguing idea. It makes the room gorgeous.”

Or, they can tell a story: Nina Asadoorian, owner of Truli Confectionary Arts in Philadelphia, remembers a couple that had each cake themed with a part of their history: The start of their relationship in college (translated into confection by sweet love notes and edible pictures of the two of them), their weekly ritual of antiquing (the icing was a patina antique finish dotted with antique ornaments) and their engagement (complete with a sugar-made version of her ring and the poem he read to her on one knee), all made elegant with extra flowers and added height from pedestals.

And of course, Bartholomay makes sure that the bride and groom’s table has its own special, and slightly larger, version — most centerpiece cakes are only two little tiers.


LITTLE BITES OF HEAVEN

One thing that all of our bakers agreed on: Cupcakes are in — and many brides are choosing cupcakes in place of a wedding cake. “Cupcakes are the thing!” says Bartholomay, who loves how they can be formal and elegant or eclectic and funky. She recently did an arrangement of 300 cupcakes with white buttercream icing and a simple coral spray rosebud in the center of each one. “It was so striking,” she says. “A cupcake is a cupcake. It’s really about the things that are put on top of it. That is what will really carry the day.”

Gras loves the open feel that a cupcake tree brings to a table. “It’s not compact,” he says. “There is air, space in between. It’s different. I can set it up with cake tiers, move things around. It’s fun to look at.”

And the cupcake tree is easy to work with on a budget, too. You can set it up on an inexpensive cardboard cake stand that your florist can decorate with leaves or flowers, or you can buy a stand to keep forever. Bartholomay loves Williams-Sonoma’s simple, three-tiered cake stand. After it’s filled, she likes to place the rest of the cupcakes all around it on the cake table. “It’s a really nice look,” she says.

FRUIT AND FAUNA

Mini is always in, and that includes fruit. The trés petite versions of many familiar fruits are making their way into cake design, taking the place of flowers around the tiers or on top of the cake. “Lots of brides are asking for cakes with mini apples and mini pears,” says Bartholomay, who’s also seen kumquats and figs, depending on the season. Bartholomay recommends that you continue the fruit theme on the table, filling glass bowls with fruit and placing them around the cake for a beautiful look.

For a dramatic twist on the traditional fresh flowers, Doyle recommends using only one large peony or tiger lily placed on top of the cake. Or, you can offset one or two single large blooms in the middle of the second and third tiers.


A SEPARATE PIECE

Tiers and separators are not what they used to be. Cakes are showing up with acrylic separators that have a wrought-iron or silver look, adding an elegant twist to the usual plastic. “You can see a lot of it in Europe,” says Asadoorian. “And it’s making its way here.” She’s also seen a trend toward separating the tiers with glass cylinders filled with fresh flowers or glass balls. “It lends a lightness, an airiness to the cake,” she says.

Tall and narrow cakes are very in, and Doyle is a fan of alternating the height of each of the tiers. “It gives you the feel of a larger cake without being overwhelming,” she says.

For a bride who wants a traditional design but would like to add a little flair, Abramsky recommends angling the tiers — or to have more than one shape of tiers within the same cake. “We’ve done a bottom layer square and then the next three layers are round,” says Abramsky.

Another way to add height and drama to your cake is with a cake stand. For a striking, formal look, Bartholomay loves a silver pedestal platter. “It almost looks like another tier of the cake,” she says. Look for silver cake stands with elegant, engraved swirls. “You want the cake stand to be simple enough that the cake is the focal point, but elegant enough to match the design of the cake,” says Abramsky.

If the cake of your dreams is a five-tiered masterpiece that reaches toward the sky, you may want to think about incorporating dummy tiers, especially if your guest list isn’t large enough to warrant such a large cake. Asadoorian prefers to keep the bottom two layers real so that the bride and groom can cut the cake, the middle two faux (covered in fondant and decorated exactly like the rest of the cake; your guests would never guess they were Styrofoam) and the top tier real so that you can save it for your first anniversary.

SWEET DETAILS

Many brides are now looking to their reception venues for inspiration. One bride noticed an elegant gold filigree pattern in the ballroom carpet of her venue that Doyle worked in around the base of the cake. “It was simple and yet so elegant,” she says, recalling how this extra bit of gold detail pulled together the pale ivory cake with just a hint of gold dust.

Or for further impetus, look no further than your new call letters. Monogrammed cakes are now a frequent request. The monochromatic, white-on-white look is classic, but if you’d like something with a little more color, cover the entire cake with your initials. “The monogram becomes the design,” says Bartholomay. “Across the room, it looks really gorgeous.”


THE FINISHING TOUCH

“It’s very important to think about where the cake is actually going to be placed,” says Abramsky. “It can be the most beautiful cake in the world, but if it’s placed on a plain white tablecloth, it will get lost.” She recommends decorating the table with flowers or other items that will complement the colors or theme of the cake.

The bride and groom should place their cake where guests will see it (making sure the table is not so tall that the top cannot be enjoyed), and make sure it’s lit from above, says Gras. He’s so insistent on this point that he’s gone out and bought strands of white Christmas lights to illuminate a cake that was in the dark. “If the lighting is not so good, then the sugar will not sparkle,” he says. And on your Big Day, everything should glitter.