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Charlestown, OH Wedding Cakes, Wedding Cake Decorator, Designing a Wedding Cake

Charlestown, OH Wedding Guide

Wedding Cakes

The wedding cake is the center of the reception and represents a combination of your wedding and personal style.  A wide range of options are available and you may have a tendency to get a carried away with the possibilities.  Remember to stay true to the style and look of the wedding, but feel free to let your personalities show through as well.

Wedding cakes have come a lot way from their traditional Roman roots of breaking bread across the head of the bride symbolizing good fortune. The bride and groom then ate a few crumbs together, followed by the guests as a gesture of good luck.

In today's Western culture, cakes are multi-layered, multi-dimensional and decorated in a variety of colors, breaking away from the traditional standard of being completely white. Whatever your style includes, a great cake decorator can make it happen. Utilize the tips and guidance within this section to create the cake that fits your unique personality and taste.

Choosing Your Cake
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A number of details and decisions go into choosing a cake and making a few determinations before consulting a decorator will keep the stress levels downs and the budget in line. 

True to Theme
Like the majority of decisions, the cake should be no different in staying with the color scheme, formality and theme of the wedding.  At this point, the color palette should set, so ensuring the cake follows suit should be an easier task.  Consider the reception location to determine the look and size of the cake.  If the venue is smaller, consider keeping the cake size small.  If the venue is larger with high ceilings, opt for adding columns or separators to add additional height and make the cake more dominant.

Selecting a Look
Go back to bridal magazines and websites for inspiration.  Get ideas as to what elements you want to incorporate and take them to the cake decorator.  Keep in mind that many of these cakes were created by professional designers and food photographers. Some elegant or creative elements were created without using edible ingredients or by using Photoshop to get the perfect image.  Cake photos provide great ideas, but don’t expect your decorator to be able to recreate everything perfectly.  Work with them to determine what is possible.

Determine the Budget
Before you talk to a decorator, determine the budget for the cake.  The guest list has a major impact on the size of cake you will need.  The cost of a wedding cake is based on a cost per slice, and can range anywhere from $1.50 to $20, depending on the final decoration.  Based on the number of guests to serve, determine the number of tiers needed and overall size.  As a standard, 50 to 100 guests are served with a three tier cake.  From here factor the per slice cost you can afford, and work with your decorator to embellish the cake based on budget.

Adorning the Cake
Wedding cakes have come a long way and with the skill of great decorators, the possibilities are endless in creating an extravagant design.  The more elaborate the design, the higher the price tag.  The cost significantly increases with each adorning element added.  You may want handmade sugar flowers or marzipan fruits but adding too many to the cake will significantly increase the budget.

Consider using real flowers or fruits to decorate the cake.  This makes a cake look elegant and can tie into the look of the wedding by incorporating flowers you are already using.  Depending on the number of flowers needed, it can also keep the costs down.  Coordinate this with both the decorator and the florist and outline who will be responsible for what.  Many times the decorator handles the cake and the florist decorates with the flowers.  Factor this into the florist's duties, especially if they are decorating the majority of the reception, to ensure adequate for both jobs.

Selecting the Top
Finding the right top to finalize the cake is a personal preference.  There are a number of options to choose from: porcelain figurines, plastic bride and grooms, or fresh flowers.  Many brides are choosing to be sentimental and incorporating a family heirloom into the top.  Whether using the cake top her mom or grandmother used, or a family broche, adding a family treasure brings an emotional and personal feel to the cake.  Whatever top you choose, consider the weight the cake will hold.  You don’t want the top to sink into the cake because it is too heavy.  Share your choice as soon as possible with the decorator to ensure it will work.

If a creative cake top is not for you, opting-out of a top is fine.  It is really up to you.  Using the cake itself as a centerpiece without a top can be just as elegant, and just as beautiful.

Cake Table
As the cake is the centerpiece of the reception, make sure it is on adequate display for everyone to view.  The cake table should be prominent at the reception and effort should go into decoration for the table.  It does not have to be elaborate and can include a flower arrangement, fresh fruit, pictures, colorful tablecloths, etc.  The motif and decoration of the table should blend and complement the look, while showcasing the cake.

While you want it to be seen, you also want it to stay in one piece.  Don’t place the cake in too prominent of an area where it can be knocked over or have people continually running into the table.  Make sure the table has stable legs and can carry the weight of the cake.

Serving Tools
Talk with the caterer or cake decorator to determine if they provide serving tools, and if they are included in the price.  Many times they are offered free or for a minimal fee, if you don’t want to provide your own.  Don’t forget this requirement however, as you’ll need these when it comes time to cut the cake.

Finding a Decorator
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Designing the cake is definitely something to leave to the experts.  While you may have some experience making cakes yourself, your time is better spent focusing on the wedding.  In the long run, time is more valuable than the budget you save by making your own wedding cake.  Your cake should be fresh, so it can’t be created too far in advance, and the last thing you want to worry about in the final week is making and decorating a cake.

Start Early
Book your cake decorator at least six months in advance.  Depending on the date of the wedding, start earlier to ensure your decorator is available.  The best decorators book quickly and may need to be scheduled a year or more in advance.

Talk to Your Caterer
A majority of caterers also provide cake decorating services.  Choosing this option can save the budget as well as add convenience, since you will be working with only one food vendor.  However, cakes are generally not their specialty and their skills may be more limited.  If you want an elaborate cake, consider a custom cake decorator

Talk to the Reception Coordinator
Many times a venue has a set list of vendors they prefer and they can provide you with a list of recommendations.  Depending on the venue, some require you to choose from their preferred list, or additional costs are involved.  Check with both the caterers and the reception coordinator in advance to make sure you are free to bring in your own decorator and eliminate any hidden fees.

Custom Cake Decorator
Start with research to determine the three or four decorators you want to meet.  Ask friends and former brides who they used.  Check out their websites and review their work in advance.  Once you determine a short list, book appointments with them to sit down and discuss your needs and wants.  Bring the pictures you have selected, a swatch of your colors, and a picture of your dress, and work with them to sketch out your cake design.  Determine which decorator most fits your style and is most willing to work with you.

Schedule a Taste Test
As part of your sit down meeting, sample their work.  Confirm the cake not only looks good, but tastes good.  All decorators should be willing to let you come in for a taste test, and this is an excellent way to ensure the groom is involved.  Sample a variety of flavors and if there is one in particular you want to consider, ask the decorator in advance to sample that specific flavor.

Review their Book
Look through their book to get a feel of their style and range of decorating ability.  You may want something they have never done before, and their style and artistic ability will demonstrate if they can pull it off.  A true cake artists can create any look.  Make sure the pictures you are looking at are from the decorator who will be designing your cake and not someone who has since left the shop.

Commercial Bakery
A lower cost option can be right around the corner at your neighborhood bakery.  Perhaps you have a favorite in town that you always turn to for birthday or party cakes.  Often times, these bakeries create quality, good tasting cakes and design for weddings as well.  Design capabilities may be limited, but the taste and budget savings may be worth it.

Taste, Taste, Taste
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Once you have found a decorator, sit down with them and work to design the look.  As you consider frosting colors, ribbon designs, gum paste roses, etc., don’t forget the cake should have exceptional taste.  Keep this top of mind as you make your decision on the inside and outside of the cake.

Choosing a Flavor
Traditionally, wedding cakes were white cakes, white frosting with a few colored roses.  Cake design has evolved and become more elaborate making the options unlimited.  Instead of traditional white or chocolate cakes, choices have opened up to include key lime, carrot cake, strawberry swirl, chocolate mint, cherry vanilla almond, with a wide variety of fillings as well; mango, coconut, cream cheese, mocha-praline, etc.  Each tier can be a different flavor, allowing both the bride and the groom to have their individual tastes accounted for or more than one of their favorites to be included.  The combinations of cakes and fillings available allow for enough differentiation that all taste palettes can be catered to. 

Choosing a Frosting
While the choice in frosting base is a bit limited, most of them can be colored to match any wedding palette.  The frosting color can match the bridesmaids' dresses, the floral design, or be decorated to match the lace pattern on the bride's gown.  Whatever the desire, a clever use of frosting can be molded or shaped to create any vision you can imagine.

To begin, choose the frosting base you want for your cake.

Buttercream:  This is traditionally the most popular and the most utilized due to its ease of use and adaptability.  It is smooth and creamy and the taste is often more preferred.

Fondant:  Provides a smooth and elegant look to any cake, but is blander in terms of taste.  The frosting is formed into a ball and then rolled out into sheets that blanket the cake providing a smooth surface.  Many brides often choose to utilize both by having the cake frosted in buttercream and then covered in fondant.  Fondant can be dyed to match any color and is often used in creating decorative elements.

Whipped Cream:  Made from heavy cream and sugar, it is most often used with a fruit flavored cake or filling.  It is very light and requires refrigeration.

Marzipan:  Made from ground almonds and developed into a ball and sheets like fondant.

Ganache:  Combination of chocolate and heavy cream.  This frosting is much thinner and is typically poured over the cake.

Consider the Season

The time of year will be a strong consideration when choosing a frosting.  While you prefer the taste of whipped cream frosting, due to the need to be refrigerated, it will melt outside at a summer wedding.  Therefore, consider the needs of each frosting when it comes to temperature.  Fondant is your best bet all year round as it can stand more heat and more cold.  Buttercream is a strong choice as well, but it melts in higher temperatures.

Regardless of the frosting, place the cake in an area that will help it stand up the best.  Often times the cake is required to sit for an average of four to five hours and ensuring it is taken care of will help it last the entire ceremony and reception.  If planning an outside wedding, keep the cake indoors or shaded to avoid any direct sunlight.  Talk to the decorator or caterer to make sure the cake is not brought out until the final minutes before the reception starts.

Preserving the Top

Think twice before deciding to save the top for the one year anniversary.  While it is a sentimental and romantic way to remember your wedding, the reality is, it won’t taste good.  Professional decorators don’t recommend freezing a wedding cake any longer than two months.  There are other options to consider in keeping the moment special and ensuring you benefit from the great taste of your cake.

Celebrate Early
Instead of waiting the full year, opt to bring out the top at the two week, one month or two month anniversary.  It is a great time to look back and remember the day because with a busy wedding day, you may not have had time to enjoy the cake.

Buy a New Top
Order a new top in the same flavor and décor as the first cake and celebrate the first year with a fresh cake.  This still provides the sentimental feel, on the date you wanted, and allows you to enjoy the taste of the cake.  Take notes of the flavors and pictures of the top to provide to the decorator when it is time to recreate it.

If you really want the original top to celebrate your one year anniversary, here are the steps to ensure it is the best it can be.

  1. Strip the cake down to just the icing.  Keeping the flowers and other embellishments on the cake creates too many gaps for freezer burn to take hold.
  2. Refrigerate the cake to harden the outer layer of icing ensuring the plastic wrap won’t stick when it is removed.
  3. Cover the cake several times in plastic wrap making sure that as much air as possible is removed.
  4. Place the cake in an air-tight freezer bag—again removing as much air as possible—and set it in the freezer.

Let your cake decorator know in advance that you plan to preserve the top. Different flavors and fillings freeze better than others. Chocolate and carrot cake will freeze best and stay moist longer. Whipped cream, cream fillings and fruit fillings will lose their moisture more quickly and taste staler. Work with your cake decorator to determine what combination is ideal for the top layer.

Make sure to mark it so you know it is the cake top when it is time to bring it out.  On the day of the wedding, make sure the caterer or whoever is cutting the cake, knows to keep the top aside and not serve it.  Account for losing this portion of the cake when it is time to serve the guests.  Typically, add an additional 10 guests to the count if you save the top for your anniversary. 

Keeping Costs Down
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If you want a custom, highly creative cake, but the budget won't accommodate it created in the size needed to feed everyone, don’t panic.  There are cost cutting alternatives that allow you to have your dream cake and eat it, too.

Faux Cake
Who says the entire cake must be made of real cake?  Cut down on costs by making a few layers of the cake cardboard or Styrofoam instead of real cake.  This allows you to be more elaborate in decorating, but not have to pay for the full cake.  When it comes time to serve, sheet cakes are created in the same flavors and served to the guests.  Most guests will never know they were not served from the original cake.

Keep It Small
Costs can be minimized by cutting down the overall size of the cake.  Instead of a large elaborate cake, a smaller sized version is created and again, sheet cakes are used to serve guest.  This allows for freedom and creativity with the smaller cake, and reduces the cost and labor of a large, embellished cake.

Mini-mize Them
As an alternative to a large cake, let everyone have their own.  Mini cakes or cupcakes are made for each guest in the flavor and style of your choosing.  There are a lot of creative ways to showcase these mini cakes or cupcakes to make them appear more traditional and even quite elaborate.

Dessert Alternative
Instead of a traditional wedding cake, a dessert bar featuring different pastries can be created.  This provides a variety for guests and allows the cake to remain smaller, or done away with all together, if you choose.

Groom's Cake
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As a fun alternative, borrow a Southern tradition and incorporate a groom's cake into the wedding. A groom's cake is typically casual and fun, and reflects the personality and likes of the groom. If he is into golf, a cake can be designed as his favorite hole or favorite golf ball. Whatever his hobbies or tastes, a fun cake can be created to bring a little more of the groom into the wedding.

The bride traditionally chooses the cake for the groom and he doesn't see it until the wedding day. It should be a surprise. The flavors and fillings are up to you and it does not have to follow suit with the bride's wedding cake. It can provide a great alternative to bring in new flavors to complement the other cake. For example, if white cake was used, consider making the groom's cake in chocolate or mixing up additional and creative flavors. The options are endless.

Get It in Writing

Choosing a cake decorator again, requires another contract.  Get everything in writing before signing any agreements.  The contract should include:

  • Dates, times, locations and contact information.
  • Details on the design and description of the cake. Specifically the flavors, fillings, servings, tiers, icing, decorations, cake topper, etc.
  • Final cost of the cake.
  • Delivery and set up times and costs involved.
  • Rentals for cake stands or serving tools.
  • Detail the final costs and payment schedule.
  • Identify the cancellation policy and what refund would be available.
Ensuring every detail is accounted for will minimize errors and ensure a stress-free wedding day.

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