Expert Advice: Guide to Hiring a Wedding Cake Designer and Bakery, Part 2

In Part 1 of this wedding cake advice post, we sat down with Meredith Ciaburri-Rousseau, owner of Artisan Bake Shop in Rochester, Mass., for her candid “insider’s” perspective on hiring an experienced baker for your wedding day treats. Meredith gave us so much helpful information, we decided to share it in two parts, and this second installment gives a more general perspective on wedding cake creation and budgeting that you’re not going to want to miss.

Q: Why do wedding cakes seem to be expensive?

A: Couples don’t really understand what goes into the process of creating a wedding cake and why they seem to be expensive. Here’s a taste of what you’re paying for:

I have to design it. My expertise and knowledge of design, color, sizes and shape are paramount. Figuring out how to bring your color palette together in a cohesive design and how to bring together your style elements and inspiration in a design that works. Also figuring out the size of the tiers so the cake is scaled properly for your design, treatments, venue and cake stand.

You’re also paying for the cost of ingredients: real vanilla is very expensive and butter isn’t cheap these days! Then you have to think about all of the specialized tools involved: cake boards, turntables, specialized refrigerators for cakes and big mixers that can hold enough batter and frosting for a large cake. Also, there’s the labor of a skilled person who can properly mix a complex recipe and make buttercream from scratch. A person who understands flavors and mixing methods. Then you’re paying for someone to put the cake and frosting together in a way that is engineered and able to travel a long distance and sit out at your reception for hours without falling to pieces. Plus an artist or highly skilled artisan to make the sugar decorations: each petal of a sugar flower is made individually and then colored by hand with a brush. Most cake designers also have a special space that is completely climate controlled for sugar work. Our studio is always 67 degrees and 55% humidity, even in the heat of summer!

Then there is putting the whole thing together, which involves making certain each cake is the same height and completely straight, flat and even. Stacking the cakes with specialized equipment so that they are secure and sturdy for transportation. Then we have to decorate it: painting, piping, applying details, making sure there aren’t any imperfections. And don’t forget getting it to the venue! Driving, carrying a giant cake around, setting it up, adding touches to the cake stand, styling on site, carefully applying floral details and design elements, talking to your coordinator, answering questions. And finally, being certain all the details are correct and set.

Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions regarding wedding cakes, cupcakes and desserts?

A: The first misconception is that no one eats cake. Let me clarify: no one eats dry and flavorless cake. I’ve had so many clients who come back and say that they couldn’t believe how many people went looking for seconds or complimented them on the fact that they had the best cake ever.

The second common misconception is that cupcakes will absolutely and always be cheaper than a tiered cake. The answer is: yes and no. A simple buttercream single-tiered cake with a single statement sugar flower, coupled with simple frosted cupcakes in traditional flavors (chocolate and vanilla), will be less expensive than a large tiered cake with an elaborate design. When you start adding premium or gourmet flavors and lots of decorations to the cupcakes, then they may become more expensive than a cake!

Then there is the aversion to rolled fondant. Many couples have had rolled fondant cakes with a thick layer of fondant and a skim coat of buttercream. When a rolled fondant cake is completed correctly, the buttercream is of a predominate thickness and the rolled fondant is very thin. A thick layer of rolled fondant 1) isn’t tasty, 2) is a waste of fondant and 3) adds unnecessary weight to a cake.

Q: I once read the frequently asked questions section on friend Corinna Raznikov Photography’s website and she had the best question: What really drives you crazy? Well, here is my answer:

A: I’ve never had a client come in and say, “This will be the most elaborate and expensive design that you’ll ever be asked to create.” Everyone comes in and says, “I just want something simple, like this,” and whips out a photo of a cake that has this crazy hand-cut lace pattern, hand-painted floral design, time-consuming ruffles or even a 3D architectural classic building. A professional will be honest about what is simple and give you options for more budget-friendly designs. Always be realistic about how far your budget will take you and be sure to set some expectations ahead of time.

Couples who aren’t honest about their guest count and who want less cake than one slice per person will run out of cake, because people eat really great tasting cake!

Images by Hike PhotographyCorinna Raznikov Photography, Lisa Rigby Photography and Imagemakers Photographic Artists

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