Expert Advice: Guide to Hiring a Wedding Cake Designer and Bakery, Part 1

Whether you envision a stunning tiered wedding cake or a more whimsical cupcake or pastry arrangement, you’re going to need an experienced baker on your side. For some sage cake advice, we sat down with Meredith Ciaburri-Rousseau, owner of Artisan Bake Shop in Rochester, Mass., who gives us her candid “insider’s” perspective. (Part 2, which will cover more general topics such as, Why is a wedding cake so expensive? will follow next week!)

Q: Can you give us tips on timing? About how far in advance should the tasting and consultation be from the wedding date?

A: You’ll want to have big style elements nailed down before meeting with your cake designer. Your color palette, linen patterns, dress and tux details, centerpiece and floral choices will play a huge role in the process of design. Most couples don’t realize how much of a process the cake portion of planning really is. It’s much less about picking a design from a catalog and more about finding a design and style that fit you!

Many couples want to check the cake “off the list” before these details have been planned. To be honest, it’s not the best idea! The most difficult consultations are the ones that, when I ask questions, there are no answers as to colors, linens and flowers. In this situation, it’s really hard for me to get a handle on where to start. I’m here to help you find a cake that makes a statement about you and your wedding style.

Do a little homework before meeting: take a few minutes and look at cakes online and get a feel for your style. You may surprise yourself with what you gravitate towards: a fabulous tiered cake, a small, single-tiered cake with cupcakes, a dessert bar or maybe a combination of these! When you look online, focus less on colors and more on the overall design. Colors are easily changed!

Always plan your cake consultation when you’re fresh and ready to jump in! I’ve had couples come into the tasting after three or four other wedding appointments in the same day. At that point, you’re tired, hungry and just not into it!

Q: Should every couple schedule a cake testing before booking a bake shop?

A: It’s always best to meet with your cake designer for an in-person meeting. Phone consultations are OK, but they don’t give me a chance to understand the whole picture. Meeting with a family member or wedding planner is even more difficult than phone consultations – think about sending a stand-in to choose your wedding dress!

It is important to limit the number of opinions at the consultation and tasting. Bringing the entire entourage means that you’re less likely to choose the option that best suits you and more apt to choose the option that satisfies the crowd. I have found that four total attendees is the magic number.

Q: What can a couple expect out of a tasting? What can a tasting tell you about the baker and his or her product?

A: Everyone has different levels of importance when it comes to the cake. Some couples choose to go about the cake process based on flavors. You may want a super simple design but are a total foodie and can’t get enough of artisan ingredients and great flavor combinations. Or you may have a totally fabulous design element that you can’t wait to show me and then you’re just thinking chocolate and vanilla.

Every cake designer has a style: photos of his or her past work will help you know if your two styles meld together. Keep in mind that the colors of their past work are not important; the details and treatments should appeal to you.

My style is classic and elegant with a nod to the coast and country. I like being inspired by your wedding details: adding elements from your invitations, dress, tux details or floral elements. I love combining buttercream treatments and textures. If it has a coastal element like rope or an anchor, or a floral element, I’m totally in! Adding hints of metallic details, rose gold, copper and pewter are also a favorite for me.

Q: Is a tasting the proper time to discuss design ideas and goals? Budget? Or should you schedule a separate consultation?

A: The tasting and consultation appointment includes a design and sketch session, a tasting and then concludes with a packet that includes pricing and booking details and a contract.

I start with a sketch session: we talk about pictures of cakes, cupcakes or desserts that you’ve found online and design inspiration in the form of your invitations, linens, color palette. Then we leave you for a few minutes with our portfolio and we have you tag photos that you love. From there we start sketching: we take elements from all of the inspiration and find a design that works for you. Then the tasting: we talk about flavor combinations, how many different flavors you should choose, the cost associated with each and how to choose a complementary flavor profile. While you are tasting, we’ll put together a packet with pricing and associated booking details. Many times, the clients will go home with a packet that includes a few options for design and flavor. I find that being able to go home and think about your choices is always best.

Be realistic about your budget and goals for your cake. You may want a fabulous tasting cake with awesome and modern flavor combinations but a simple presentation. I’ve had brides say, “I want the biggest cake you’ve ever created!” I’ve even had clients that aren’t cake people at all and choose a dessert bar with a few cupcakes for the diehard cake fans and a unique cake alternative like a French macaron tower or a marshmallow Rice Krispies Treat cake.

By the end of the appointment, you should feel comfortable with the fact that the designer has understood you and most importantly addressed questions that you wouldn’t have even thought to ask!

Always be certain that you have a detailed sketch of what your cake will look like and colors and details outlined and described. The cake will look like the sketch – if you don’t understand that sketch or the design elements, always ask the designer to elaborate!

Q: If the tasting goes well, what is the next step?

A: Most cake designers and bakeries book quickly, so a deposit and signed contract are the next part of the process to book your date. From there, you may have little details to firm up throughout the time before your wedding date. Your final guest count from your RSVPs is due 20-30 days prior to your date and then your final payment after that.

Images by Lisa Rigby Photography

As a native of South Coast Mass., Jen knows southern New England well but is never surprised when she discovers a new favorite destination. An English major who has worked in publishing as an editor and freelance writer for over 15 years, she enjoys interviewing, writing and especially blogging for Southern New England Weddings (because weddings are endlessly pretty and inspiring!). She lives in Rochester, Mass., with her husband and two young daughters.

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