Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake, Baker’s Man: Choosing A Bakery
Choosing a bakery was probably one of my favorite parts of the wedding planning process. Why? You get to eat cake! They give you cake samples, how awesome is that? Heck, I had one appointment at 8:45 in the morning. You know what that means? I had cake for breakfast!
Figuring out who your bakery will be can be challenging because cakes are both objective and subjective. While flavor preferences differ, everyone can usually agree on what a bad cake tastes like (dry, grainy, not fully baked), so the inside is relatively objective. The outside, though, is completely subjective, and you’re left to try to decide who you think makes pretty or beautiful cakes and who makes “ugly” ones. Congratulations, you’ve now entered the wonderful world of trying to balance the two.
What usually drives the price of a cake up is the decorating needed to achieve the look you want. Cakes can range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars depending on what area you’re in, what you want, and even the bakery itself. We have a relatively solid idea of what we want our cake to look like, and the quotes we received from two different bakeries for the same concept went from about $400 up to $700, and a third bakery we thought about had pricing that started at around $900. You don’t have to know exactly what you want when you start meeting with bakeries, but have a pretty good idea of the overall vision you have for it. Once you choose a bakery you can always go back and modify your idea, but you want to have someone you trust and who’s within your price point.
Cakes can have a variety of flavors and fillings, and you can get almost anything you can imagine. From classic chocolate or vanilla to banana or orange, batter flavors have become a way for a couple to really inject their personality into the cake without going crazy with the appearance. Fillings can range from simple frostings to Bavarian creams to fruit preserves. Some bakeries charge extra for fillings beyond the simple frosting, but some let you mix and match to your heart’s content. Some even allow you to choose different flavors for each tier of your cake for no extra charge!
While you can do almost anything with the cake, here are the common questions you can expect when you visit a baker:
- What shape would you like?
The two most common cake shapes are square or round, though hexagonal/octagonal cakes are slowly creeping in. You can have almost any shape you can think of, but unconventional shapes lead to higher costs. Cakes with straight edges yield more slices than round cakes, so you can sometimes end up with a lower bill choosing one of those. However, you will most likely also sacrifice some height.
- Frosting or fondant?
If you’ve ever seen Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, or any of those other baking oriented shows, you’ve probably seen them take a rolling-pin to this clay-like material (it’s not really clay, but that’s the best description I can give of the unworked consistency), flatten it out, and place it over cakes. That’s fondant. It’s an edible, moldable mixture that is commonly places over cakes to give them that gorgeously smooth finish. While it usually looks cleaner than a frosting finish (although any truly good bakery can achieve a very close finish with frosting), it is more expensive due to both the cost of the material and the skill needed to make it. Most bakeries use buttercream as their frosting, although others can be used. Cream cheese frosting is typically avoided since that requires refrigeration to be truly safe to eat.
- White or colored?
White cakes are easier (and therefore usually cheaper) to make than colored cakes. Whether you choose frosting or fondant, having to match a color can be a nightmare, both for baker and for bride, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If you want a more classic looking cake, opt for a white cake. If you want some color, it is relatively easy to add either a colored ribbon to it, colored frosting/fondant accents, or flowers. If you’re looking to make a bold statement, by all means go for some color! Just make sure you don’t go overboard and have something neutral to balance it out. Keep in mind that deep and dark colors are not only hard to make, but have a tendency to stain clothes, lips, and teeth of anyone who eats it.
- How many servings do you want?
This can be a deceptively simple question. Ask if the top tier of the cake is a part of your serving count. If you’re a traditional couple, you’re suppose to save the top tier of your cake and freeze it, then eat it on your 1st anniversary. If the baker includes the top tier in your guest count and you want to be able to save it, make a request to have an “extra” tier so that the top portion remains untouched for you and your new spouse. As for the number of servings you need, if you’re having a cake, just a cake, no questions asked, then it’s simply your guest count. But if you’re planning on having anything supplemental (I’ll talk about this in a later post), then you don’t necessarily have to have the same number of cake servings as guests. This is something you should think about ahead of time. If you still don’t know what you want to do by the time your cake appointments roll around, mention to the baker that you’re still deciding between options, and give them your “either this or this” numbers so they can give you as much relevant information as possible.
Most appointments will involve you talking with the baker about what you think you want out of a cake, them asking you specific questions about your vision, and you being given cake in some capacity. Some bakeries have a selection of cakes at the appointment for you to try, while others make a “sample cake” for you to take home and eat on your own time. The sample cake is usually a composition of several cakes (typically each quarter is a different variety, though the exact split can vary) that represent either the most common choices of other couples at the bakery or the bakers personal favorites. Some will allow you to choose ahead of time which flavors you’d like to try, so when you call to make an appointment remember to ask what they do for samples.
This is the one vendor appointment where the vendor is likely to ask you more questions than you ask them. This is also the one vendor where you quite literally have no control after you describe what it is you’re looking for to them, so the flip-flop in questioning is expected. Any cake baker who is NOT asking you questions should be suspect (though not necessarily bad). If you find any pictures that have elements you like for your cake, even if the cake as a whole isn’t what you’re looking for, bring them in! As usual, check out any reviews you can find about a bakery from other brides. Look for any information on delivery promptness (or lack thereof), quality, and interpretation of the design (just because a bride’s cake is ugly doesn’t mean it wasn’t exactly what she wanted; pay more attention to her comments on how well it fit into her vision of the day, not how ugly her vision might have been).
You don’t have to have the design and flavors of your cake figured out in any way, shape, or form by the end of this appointment. The point of this is to give the baker enough information that they can give you a relatively accurate price quote and for you to get a feel for how well they can create your vision, whatever that may end up being. If you are comfortable with how the preliminary appointment went and are okay with the price quote, book them for the day, with the understanding that you will sit down for another meeting closer to the wedding date (usually between 4 and 6 months out) to actually hammer out the details of the cake.
If you’re thinking of deviating from the traditional wedding cake path, I’m going to dedicate a future post to the less conventional dessert options that are gaining in popularity. I’ll also use a post to talk about different design options for decorating your cake (and of course how that affects pricing), and for those of you in the southwest Michigan area I’ll post about the 2 potential bakers we met with (the 3rd one actually went out of business…which is also a story for another time).