How to Shop for a Wedding Cake
Mar. 27, 2014

Usually left for one of the last duties in the planning of a wedding is the selection of a wedding cake. And no matter your rationale for getting it, a wedding cake is a centerpiece of the decoration on your special day and deserves no small amount of care and thought.

These days, at least, wedding cakes are actually eaten. The tradition dates back to Roman times, and for more than a thousand years it involved breaking small unsweetened wheat cakes over the bride's head to ensure fertility (which is the same reason wheat, and later rice, were thrown at the couple). The guests were expected to scramble for crumbs to bring the same blessings upon themselves.

After a while, the tradition changed to piling up small sweet cakes. The couple attempted to kiss over the heap of the baked goods, and the higher pile, the more affluent the couple would become. Once again, guests were expected to scrabble through the ruins for crumbs.

About 500 years ago, everything changed when French chef visiting the court of King William III of England, appalled at the spectacle of cake crumbs everywhere, decided to produce a "pile of cake" with some design behind it, inventing the tiered wedding cake we now expect at receptions. Originally frosted in pure white, it was cut by the bride to symbolize her separation from family and impeding loss of virginity. Now couples feed each other the first slice as a demonstration of the lifelong support they plan to offer each other.

If you haven't shopped for a wedding cake before, you're in for a major surprise. Expect to spend several hours just looking at photographs of somewhat standard designs, and, if you choose, you can take it from there. The choices of decoration and color are nearly unlimited, and that's just the beginning.

There are multiple options for frosting, but keep in mind that your cake will be baked at least a day in advance, probably even earlier if it has any fancy decoration. Whipped cream frostings are delicious, but it's a struggle to keep them fresh and looking good through a long decoration cycle and a hot afternoon.

Enter fondant. This popular "frosting" is made of white chocolate (which is really cocoa fat) and sugar, beaten and kneaded until it has the consistency of pie crust. It is the rolled out and stretched over the individual layers of the cake, producing a solid, shiny and smooth surface. Fondant can be colored in many ways, but think carefully.

"We had a customer ask for navy blue decoration on a silver fondant cake," said Manette Roxas of Goldilocks Bakery, with locations throughout the Bay Area. The requested color, however, necessitated so much food coloring that the frosting began to fall apart. thus, the lesson - while this probably your first wedding cake (or at least close to it), it could well be your baker's 400th of the past year. When in doubt, defer to the judgment of the experts.

The bridal couple can help out by doing some homework in advance, at the very least to see if there are styles of cakes that they don't want to consider. The fondant icing makes it possible to do some structurally amazing things with a cake, such a making it appear to be a series of wedding gifts piled casually atop each other or a stair-step of tiers with candles and even fountains in the spaces between the layers.

Fondant is thick and sturdy, but it's also heavy, so if you have your heart set on light, spongy cake you will be somewhat limited in the type of frosting you can use. the cake, however, can still be a traditionally elegant tour-de-force of rosettes, swans, decorative swirls and flower petals.

Be certain to arrange with your caterer, and with the hall or room you rent, to have a table large and sturdy enough to display your cake throughout the reception.

"We did a wedding where the guests crowded around the table and someone bumped one of the table legs, "said Jaeca Yuzon of Goldilocks," and the table, with all the cake's layers, collapsed into a pile on the floor." A baker will decorate, assemble and deliver your work of art, but it's up to you to make sure the caterer is prepared to properly display and serve it.

It's all worthwhile, of course, because it's one of the lasting images people carry from your wedding - the magnificent confection that you designed and selected, and that they got to share with you in your first married hours in a tradition more than 2,000 years old.