The Wedding Series – The Wedding Cake

In the photo above, my Wedding Cake, October 4, 1980

My mother, who was a master cake artist of some renown in Chicago back in the day, had always looked forward to making her only daughter’s wedding cake. During her long career Mom produced some spectacular wedding and other special occasion cakes and catered affairs for many people, including a smattering of the rich and famous as well as many of our relatives. She certainly expected to do the same for me when my wedding rolled around. But when that momentous occasion arrived I was living in New York and it was not practical to transport a multi-layered wedding cake across several states, only to have it break or dry out before the wedding.

Fortunately, my wedding was a smallish affair (60 people), so Mom wound up baking and decorating the wedding cake in my tiny New York City apartment kitchen. On top of that, one of the dividers Mom brought with her broke in transit and we didn’t have time to go to Wilton’s to buy a replacement (no Amazon Prime back then!). Despite the challenges, Mom turned out a cake that was not only delicious, made from my mom’s own wedding cake recipe, but beautifully decorated. Her lovely creation was transported in a limousine to the Bronx Zoo, where I had been a volunteer for a decade. My husband, Ted, and I were married at the edge of the Waterfowl Pond and hosted our reception in what was then the members’ dining facility. Our wedding turned out to be an extraordinarily entertaining occasion, which we were able to enjoy with our friends at one of our favorite places.

Reflect the Occasion and Your Personality

Your wedding cake should reflect your style and personality. Because of my mother’s occupation, over the years I have seen an array of wedding cakes from the large and elaborate to the small and elegant, as well as the trends in wedding cakes that have evolved. The traditional white wedding cake and icing has expanded to include chocolate, red velvet, carrot, hazelnut and the cake, fillings and icings include an unending array of flavors, colors and textures. Some couples opt for several small cakes in different flavors, or choose to have petit fours or cup cakes. Some even prefer not to have a cake at all but a dessert table with a variety of pastries, fruits and cheeses.

Many couples are very laid back about their wedding plans. My BFF tells about her elder son’s small, casual wedding on a mountaintop in Colorado. Shortly before the wedding, his future mother-in-law inquired of his bride-to-be from whence the wedding cake was coming. It turns out that the couple hadn’t thought about a cake! So they quickly arranged with the restaurant where they planned to gather for a post-nuptials nosh to provide cupcakes, which turned out to be delicious and festive.

Maybe it’s because of my mom that I believe that a wedding cake is a must. It can be large or small, plain or embellished or really out there, and other desserts can be included to supplement; but the cake is the thing. And because my mother passed away at the age of 97 of a heart attack — ironically not long after taking test cookies out of the oven in preparation of baking for an upcoming charity event — collaborating with our daughter, Lyn, on her wedding cake has been a very sentimental and bittersweet journey for me thus far. Thankfully, Lyn’s wonderful wedding planner recommended the perfect wedding cake vendor. We feel that Chef Leslie will work with Lyn, who has the type of design flair that would make her grandmother proud, to ensure a stunning and unique work of cake art that is reflective of both her and her fiancé, Paul, and the style of their wedding. We’ll keep you posted on this.

Cake Toppers

Placing bride and groom dolls on the top of a wedding cake is an old custom, and there are many lovely variations. But the dolls do not have to be on top of the cake, nor do they have to represent humans. Doves and other animals have represented the bride and groom, or at least their love and personal interests.

On our wedding cake, the bride and groom dolls were placed in the divider on a half shell pulled by swans. The divider was decorated to depict a lake surrounded by flowers. Dolls and other decorations can be placed anywhere on a cake, depending on the size, shape and weight of both the cake and the decorations.

Sometimes fresh flowers are used as a topper, or a couple might choose no topper. Again, it’s the couples’ choice how they wish to express themselves.

Displaying Your Wedding Cake

After investing time, money and effort into your wedding cake it should be displayed as long as possible to be admired by you and your guests. It will depend on the time of year, weather conditions and the type of venue you have chosen whether your cake should have buttercream icing (the tastiest but doesn’t hold up in a warm climate and must be refrigerated until about 45 minutes before serving) or fondant (less tasty but holds up well in a warmer room). You and the baker must discuss which types of cake, fillings and icings will work best with your vision, design and venue.

The wedding cake can sit on a separate table of its own, or in the middle of a long buffet table. It all depends on the size and layout of the room. Whether you are working with a caterer or it’s a DIY project, select linens and other decorations that complement the cake. Make sure that there is enough room around the cake table for your photographer and videographer to work and for people to gather round to admire it.

The Artful Cutting of the Cake

Because it takes awhile to cut, plate and serve the wedding cake don’t wait until the end of the reception to start the process. Arrange in advance with the caterer the timing of the cake cutting, and advise the wedding party so they are prepared.

The cake cutting is a highlight of the wedding celebration. For practical as well as entertainment purposes, the sequence is as follows:

  • The AnnouncementAfter a courtesy check with the bride and groom to make sure that they are ready, the Best Man usually stands at his table or proceeds to the cake table and announces the cutting of the cake. This honor may also be assigned to the MC, DJ, orchestra leader, catering manager, another staff member, a member of the wedding party or guest. Someone should be standing beside the cake table to greet the wedding couple as they arrive for their ceremonial cutting and tasting. Their attendants should follow and gather around the cake and the couple in a pre-arranged grouping for this important moment. The photographer and videographer should position themselves appropriately and guests as well may be invited to take photos and videos, if practical, provided that they do not get in the way of the hired staff.Here is a sample announcement:“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your kind attention. It is time for our newlyweds to cut their wedding cake. (Applause) Will (name of bride) and (name of groom) and the members of their wedding party please join (me) OR (name of staff member standing by the cake). Guests should feel free to take photos) (or videos), while also allowing (name of photographer) and (name of videographer) space to do their work. Thank you.”The bride and groom then proceed to the wedding cake table. (It’s a nice touch when the groom offers the bride his arm or hand as they walk to the cake.) The wedding party follows them and arranges themselves around the table and couple, as directed or rehearsed.
  • Cutting The Cake – For the couple’s use, the staff will have placed a cake knife, one plate, two napkins and two dessert forks on the table. The bride takes the knife and places her hand over the handle, and the groom places his hand over hers. Together they make three cuts (for two slices), and remove one slice onto the plate. (When the bride and groom are ready to return to their table, attendants place the second slice of cake on the other plate and take the two plates of cake to the couple.)
  • First Bites – First the groom delicately feeds his bride a small bite; then the bride feeds her groom a small bite. There should be no smashing of the cake on either’s mouth or face. Such a gesture is not only rude but very messy, requiring a cleanup at a most inopportune moment. No bride wants to risk cake, filling or icing falling on her beautiful wedding dress, nor does the groom want any on his suit or tux. Ironically, the origins of the wedding cake tradition involved dropping cake and other sweets on the bride’s head as a sign of prosperity and good fortune; but today’s custom requires the only contact between the bride and her cake to be via a fork raised gently to her lips. It’s not the most natural thing in the world for a couple to feed each other with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of guests looking on. So, should there some nervousness or self-consciousness, or if some cake accidentally falls on either the bride or groom, a sense of humor, sportsmanship and forgiveness should be evident. Remember that the exchanging of cake bites is symbolic of the couple’s commitment to care for each other and fulfill each other’s needs. You don’t want to start off with a public food fight.
  • The Kiss – After exchanging the first bites of their wedding cake, the couple usually shares a kiss to symbolize their commitment to fulfill each other’s emotional needs. Demonstrating playfulness and affection is wonderful for your family and guests to witness, such as dabbing a bit of frosting on her nose and kissing it off, or dabbing the corner of his mouth with a napkin and then kissing him. Following the kiss — or kisses, and before the cake is removed for cutting and serving, it is an especially endearing gesture for the bride and groom to serve the next slices of cake to their respective parents, grandparents and godparents. Traditionally, the bride serves the groom’s family and the groom serves the bride’s family; but if there are more on one side then both bride and groom, either separately or together, can serve both sides.

The Groom’s Cake

A Southern wedding tradition includes a groom’s cake along with the wedding cake. You might remember the groom’s cake from one of my favorite movies, Steel Magnolias (if you haven’t seen this movie gem, I highly recommend it). Thus, if the bride and groom cannot agree on the flavor cake they want, a groom’s cake in addition to the wedding cake might be the solution!

Cake to Go, Place Under Your Pillow & Freeze

An option to serving the wedding cake at the reception is to send the guests home with cake slices in little individual boxes, especially if you’re short on time. A bit of folklore says that if a single woman sleeps with a slice of wedding cake — or groom’s cake — under her pillow she will dream of her future husband. Finally, a custom to consider is to freeze the small top layer of your wedding cake to eat on your first anniversary; if you decide to do this make sure your caterer or wedding planner knows your wishes so the top layer isn’t cut up and served, but boxed properly for you to freeze. (Also make plans for any leftover cake to be boxed so that it can be taken home for you or your family to enjoy later.)

There are many choices and details to think about when selecting and ordering your wedding cake, and not the least of them is cost. But there are many choices out there. Or maybe your mom can just make you one!

Until next time,

Jeanne

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