Every wedding cake tells a story.
Until recently, the wedding cake was only a standard tradition that looked pretty but often fell flat on flavor. Couples made sure they had one but didn’t give it much thought until the cutting ceremony. But today’s newlyweds want more than just dessert—they want a cake that is truly memorable, inside and out.
As celebrity bakers like Cake Boss Buddy Valastro have shown, a creative approach to flavors and decorations ensures a personalized confection, a multitiered reflection of its intendeds’ personalities.
Like a storybook made of butter, sugar, and flour, a successful cake keeps guests engaged until the last meaningful, delicious, and beautiful bite.
A Little History
Historical references to sweet cakes at weddings date back to Roman times when a wheat or barley cake was broken over the bride’s head at the ceremony’s end. Later references to spiced buns or even the savory 17th-century Bride’s Pye (a spiced blend of meats and animal parts) preceded the more traditional wedding pastry.
More than just sustenance, the cake represented superstitions of good luck, prosperity, or other predictions, and guests played a vital role. After the couple cut the first slice together, guests ate pieces to guarantee everything from good luck to future children. Fortunate guests even received symbolic trinkets baked into the batter.
The Romans may not have envisioned today’s grand creations, but no matter the century, the size, or the level of detail, a wedding cake still harkens back to the firmly rooted tradition of good tidings. Over time, cakes became more elaborate symbols of status and wealth, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s white-icing wonder weighing in at 300 pounds in 1840.
“When I meet a couple, I encourage them to choose something that expresses their personalities,” says Hilary Larson, owner of Eat Cake! in Newburyport. “A wedding is such a personal statement, and couples are looking for ways to set themselves apart,” she adds.
Christina Karsadi-Tadiello, wedding coordinator at Cakes for Occasions in Danvers, says a bride wants her cake to tie in family memories or something especially meaningful to her and her fiancé.
“It is the signature of the couple, not just their wedding,” says Karsadi-Tadiello, noting how she once made a cake with a Ghostbusters character emerging from the bottom tier in a nod to the groom’s favorite movie. And even if guests don’t get the reference, the originators understand it intimately.
Many couples begin the design process by gathering pictures of cakes they love—their dream cakes. But these found inspirations must ultimately mesh with the big day’s emerging color scheme and décor. “The cake ties in with the entire wedding—the invites, the colors, the flowers,” says Karsadi-Tadiello.
The cake table itself can provide a means of bringing family and friends into the fold with photos, heirloom cake servers, or special linens. “Everyone is looking for a way to honor family and the past in ways that are personal and meaningful without necessarily broadcasting it,” says Larson.Jenny Williamson, owner of Jenny’s Wedding Cakes in Amesbury, is skilled at incorporating an upcoming wedding’s nuances into her sugary works of art. For clients Noelle and Joey Levis, Williamson echoed the wedding gown’s petal pattern in the frosting. “The cake blended seamlessly with everything in the room,” says Noelle of the finished effect.
Substance Meets Style
The traditional combination of white cake and white frosting is still beloved, but many couples are choosing richer, more exotic ingredients. Today’s available flavor possibilities are seemingly endless—and if the betrotheds can’t decide on just one, there is no reason to limit themselves, asserts Williamson. Even a traditionally styled cake can be comprised of differently flavored tiers united by uniform frosting.
Selections often recall happy memories or travels. Williamson has made a banana, praline, and sweet coconut cake for a native New Orleans couple and a limoncello cake for a couple seeking to honor their engagement in Italy.
Sometimes choosing flavors becomes a family affair. Jenessa Pease comes from a family that takes baking seriously, so the cake was an integral part of her September wedding. “I knew I wanted it to be something special and an experience for everyone,” says Jenessa. As part of the decision process, she and her husband-tobe, Todd, invited family members over for a tasting party of different options from Jenny’s Wedding Cakes. Each person cast a vote for his or her favorite and the family had fun interpreting the results.
“Each layer had a personality, and it was fun to see who picked which flavor,” continues Jenessa. The couple picked a classic red velvet cake while Pease’ father, who is Italian, went for the orange pistachio vanilla. Rounding out the layers was a chocolate banana cake and a vanilla cake with strawberry purée and Champagne buttercream.
Flavors are only one way to infuse a cake with personality. Fondant can match the lace on the bride’s dress; a Celtic knot can reference an Irish heritage. Frosting patterns can even evoke monograms or architectural details of the wedding site.
Because the wedding date is carefully chosen, seasonal flavors are a big consideration, notes Williamson. Mango passion fruit or strawberry lemon cake in summer, for example, might give way to pumpkin spice or carrot cake come fall. Chocolate, on the other hand, is popular year-round and pairs well with complementary flavors ranging from banana to hazelnut to mocha.
Top It Off
Cake toppers are another fun way for couples to shine a light on their interests, hobbies, and personalities. Some couples make their own toppers, often gleaning ideas from what they see on Etsy or Pinterest, says Larson, while others forgo a traditional topper in favor of a sugar flower bouquet.
When Sarah and Landon Shadoff married last June, the pair, both zookeepers at Stone Zoo, decided to highlight their shared profession via their cake. Working with Karsadi-Tadiello of Cakes for Occasions, they opted for a traditional tiered vanilla cake with white chocolate frosting adorned by trails of leaves and vines symbolizing nature. For a special stamp, they asked for two fondant cak e toppers: a snow leopard bride and an ar ctic fox groom wearing a yamaka. “They were fondant replicas of our animal alt er egos,” says Sarah with a laugh. “We knew we wanted a relax[ed], simple cake but still personalized. It was very ‘us.’”
When it comes to wedding cakes, anything goes for the flavors inside and the styling outside. Whatever the choices, it’s clear that couples really enjoy telling their own story in a very unique way. “Authenticity is key,” says Williamson. “Do something special. Don’t try to make something you that isn’t you.”
Jenny’s Wedding Cakes
6 Inn St., Newburyport
Cakes for Occasions
57 Maple St., Danvers