Wedding cakes are big business. Couples spend, on average, about $600 for their cake, according to the Bridal Association of America. The category accounted for 9 percent of a retail bakery’s sales in 2011, according to Modern Baking’s Full-line Retail Bakery survey.
But the business of wedding cakes is changing. “Today’s bride is a completely different bride than even 10 years ago,” says Beth Fahey, co-owner of Creative Cakes, Tinley Park, Ill. Gone are the days of the traditional white wedding cake (both in design and cake flavor) as are the days of a bride picking a cake from a book. Brides are more connected than ever with the internet and social networking sites, which have spawned a desire for individuality.
“Everyone is looking for that individual touch that they present at the wedding where guests say isn’t that fun or that is beautiful,” says Sandy Polletta, co-owner of Edgewood Bakery, Jacksonville, Fla.
Move to color
So what do today’s brides want? Color.
“Bright colors like oranges, bright blues and hot tropical colors are what we’re seeing a lot of requests for,” Fahey says. Anne Heap, owner of Pink Cake Box, Denville, N.J., is seeing a lot of ombré cakes, where the color starts dark on the bottom tier of the cake and fades lighter as it goes up to the top tier, which is then a very pale version of the color or almost white.
Edgewood Bakery has a lot of requests for bright tropical colors for summer weddings and various shades of green, such as lime, clover and sage, for fall weddings. The green often is used as a base color and then Polletta adds floral colors to it. “A couple of years ago we were really heavy into the champagnes, mochas and lattes, now I’m actually seeing clearer colors like malibu, purple and lavender. Purple is still huge,” she says.
Using other elements of the wedding to influence the cake design also is growing. Pink Cake Box often gets requests to replicate the invitation or certain elements of the bride’s dress on the wedding cake.
“Couples like to have the cake almost become the glue that holds everything together,” Heap says. “We’ll take an element of the invitation, or the flowers or a section of the dress and we’ll put it together in one centerpiece cake. The cake really brings the whole event together instead of being a separate thing on the side.”
Fondant has seen widespread use for several years but has always created a bit of controversy of flavor vs. design, and that remains unchanged. “About 95 percent of our wedding cakes are fondant,” Heap says. “We do use buttercream, but most of the brides who come in asking for buttercream usually wind up leaving with fondant.”
She explains that there is a perception that fondant has an unfavorable flavor, but Pink Cake Box ices all of its cakes with buttercream before covering them with fondant. “So you’re getting the best of both worlds,” she adds. “You’re getting the beauty of fondant with the taste of buttercream.”
Edgewood Bakery has actually seen a decline in brides requesting fondant. “Fondant has gone from about 30 percent of our wedding cake business to about 15 percent,” Polletta says. “The brides come in and they tell you automatically that they love the smooth look but they don’t want fondant.” She attributes some of this to flavor, but more to brides in her area wanting a more casual feel for their cakes.
A lot of brides in northern Florida are requesting textured icing that looks like an artist’s palette or stucco, Polletta says. Flat rosettes also are popular for Edgewood. Fahey gets a lot of requests for a single, large, not-found-in-nature type of flower. Damask designs also are a growing trend.
Trends with staying power
Some trends from the last year or two still remain big. Bling, such as crystal ribbons or crystal brooches, remains popular. Brides still want monograms, either blingy or in bright colors. Ribbon banding around the tiers is still frequently requested.
Cupcake towers also aren’t going anywhere. Brides often select cupcakes as a more economical choice, but as decorators know, creating the 300 flowers needed for the cupcakes is much more labor intensive than the 30 flowers needed for a tiered cake. “For cupcakes, it’s the labor,” Fahey says. “What we do is charge a fairly significant setup fee of 75 cents per cupcake. If there are drums or pillars we use as part of the tower, we charge separately for that as well.”
The list of Creative Cakes’ charges associated with cupcake towers brings the price more in line with a cake of similar servings. “It was a decision we made earlier this year to bring the pricing closer together because we found people were wanting cupcakes for just a cost savings. For us, we’re in business to make a profit, and if we’re not making a profit on a product, then we’re not going to offer it,” Fahey adds.
Brides also are breaking away from the traditional tier sizes and shapes. Decorators are beginning to play with tier height, with a single cake showcasing both short and tall tiers. Pink Cake Box has some designs that feature a double layer tier so it is almost 8 ins. tall with a short, 3-in. tier underneath it. “That’s cool because it’s kind of a contemporary look,” Heap says.
Rearranging the order of tier sizes also is a new trend, where a 4-in. tier, traditionally a top-tier size, becomes the base tier with an 8-in. cake on top of it followed by another small tier. Unusual tier size combinations, such as a 4-in. paired with a 6-in. or 7-in. tier, are growing in popularity.
However, Charles Feder, owner of Rossmoor Pastries, Signal Hill, Calif., does throw in a word of caution. “I like to do cakes that make sense, that you can cut and serve quickly. I live in the real world where the banquet manager wants to be able to cut the cake and serve it fast. I like to be neat and orderly, but the trend seems to be not neat and orderly. These strange designs are getting more popular and I have to do them, but I sort of put on the brakes a little bit if I can.”
While decorators and brides are having fun with tier heights, they also are playing with tier shapes, moving away from the traditional round. “People are responding to what they see on television, so we need to come up with designs that are more abstract, maybe using hexagons or octagons. Square/round/square is popular here,” Feder adds. Pink Cake Box is seeing a similar trend of mixing squares and rounds or even rounds, squares and hexagons in one cake.
Stacked cakes have been popular for several years, but offsetting the tiers for a stair-step effect or turning square tiers so the corners do not align is trending up.
Expanding flavor options
Design isn’t the only cake element that is getting a makeover. Cake flavors also are moving away from the traditional white and chocolate. “Fewer people are doing traditional flavors, even if they are doing a traditional design,” Heap says. Pink Cake Box’s classic flavor, hazelnut raspberry, is still highly requested, but the bakery also is seeing a lot of requests for its less traditional flavors, such as Oreo, chocolate peanut butter or even funfetti. The bakery also offers almost every type of “velvet” cake, from the traditional red velvet to pink velvet. “We make every color of velvet and people are having fun with that,” she adds.
“Red velvet is huge,” Polletta says; a sentiment seen across the country. Edgewood also makes a lot of tropical flavors like key lime or white coconut, and adds liqueurs, not to the cakes but to the fillings. For example, it may pair the white coconut cake with a pineapple-rum filling.
If the couple can’t make up their mind on a particular flavor, many are requesting each tier be a different flavor. However, both Polletta and Feder caution couples about going this route. “Unless they are having a sit-down, plated dinner for the reception, then I recommend they stay with one flavor simply for serving ease,” Polletta says.
Feder asks the couple if guests will be allowed to request flavors or if the cake will be served as it is cut. In most instances, the cake is served as it’s cut and guests are unaware they have a choice, Feder says. “I’d rather see the couple choose a cake flavor they really love, and then their guests will really love it as well.”
But Rossmoor Pastries can get around this dilemma because its cake tiers are made up of three layers of cake, and the couple can request two flavors in a single tier. A traditional tier, for example, is a layer of chocolate cake, a layer of filling, a layer of white cake, a layer of filling and then another layer of chocolate cake. “It makes a striking appearance when you put it on the plate. It’s very popular,” Feder says.
In the future, Feder predicts more savory cake flavor requests for weddings. “We come across a savory request every now and again. People are putting bacon on cupcakes, so why not wedding cakes?”
Where the reception is held also may influence the wedding cake design. Polletta mentions that cupcake towers are very popular in part due to receptions having a more casual feel to them. She also is seeing a lot of shabby chic, eco-friendly and “green” wedding receptions, many of which are held on area farms or ranches.
For sit-down meals during receptions, many of Edgewood Bakery’s brides are doing a combination wedding cake and sheet cake. “They order a wedding cake for at least half the number of guests, and then a sheet cake is used for the additional servings,” Polletta says. Much of this is for time savings during the reception. “They don’t want to keep guests seated for a long period of time and this helps expedite cake serving,” she adds.
Dessert tables are another option brides are choosing for their reception treats. Edgewood has catered a few all-dessert receptions recently.
Pink Cake Box also is seeing more requests for dessert tables and cake tables with one main cake and smaller satellite cakes. “We are doing more dessert tables where people have it all color coordinated. It’s not just a Viennese table, but everything is matching. There may not be a huge cake, but a smaller cake and lots more desserts.”
For Creative Cakes, requests for dessert tables took a nosedive in 2008 when the economy tanked, but Fahey is seeing them start to climb back slightly. However, many brides have discovered candy displays where they have bins of nostalgic candies set up. “If a bakery can offer that service, great, but really a bride can go to Costco and get all she needs,” Fahey says. “That is something that has eaten into our sweet table revenue.”
Effects of the economy
The economy has influenced wedding cake design. For the past several years, brides have been scaling back. “Our average wedding cake size eight years ago was 175 servings; now our average size is 135 servings,” Fahey says. Creative Cakes also asks for the budget when it takes the appointment for the consultation.
Feder also is seeing smaller weddings in southern California. “If a wedding would have had 150 guests, now it has 100 guests,” he says. But that may be turning around. “More recently, it seems to be trending the other way,” he adds.
No matter the economy, weddings and their requisite cakes, are here to stay. “People will always get married,” Polletta says. “And they will want to have a wonderful celebration whether it’s for 20 people or 200.”