What You Need to Know About Wedding Cakes

Top pastry chefs offer their best recipes for wedding-cake planning success.


White wedding cake
Photo Credit: Sara Kauss Photography / Cake by Kursten Restivo

Brides’ frequently asked question: Can you make a cake like the one in this photo?

Anastasia Simpson, pastry chef at The Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach Resort, California: “Pastry chefs are artists, each with a different skill set and style, and replicating another’s work is no easy task. So, before you set your heart on that dream cake you found on Pinterest or Instagram, show it to your pastry chef and ask if she can, in fact, re-create it. I, for one, gladly accept these challenges!”

FAQ: How much will my dream cake cost?

AS: “Always keep in mind that many of the dream cakes posted on social media have prices to match their extravagant design — designs that entail hours and hours of skilled, painstaking work. Couture cakes like these can be priced as high as $25 or more per slice. To avoid sticker shock, be sure to determine your cake budget from the get-go, so that you and your pastry chef are on the same page.”

FAQ: How tall should my cake be?

AS: “The height and overall size of your cake is based on guest head count as well as the type of cake you envision. Do you want a round cake? Square? How many tiers, if any? Armed with this info, we can give you several options to choose from.”

FAQ: Can you create special, customized flavors?

AS: “Yes, but to keep costs in line, we always like to start by presenting couples with five or six readymade, standard cake flavors to choose from. You’ll find that pastry chefs often are happy to mix, match or even start from scratch, so don’t hesitate to ask. We want to bring your cake vision to life!” Adds pastry chef Kursten Restivo, “We encourage our couples to think beyond the flavors presented during a tasting. We might start with a wedding cake menu, you can always switch up the flavor of the cake and pair it with a different filling. And if you don’t see your favorite favor, just ask. Chances are we can make it for your big day.”

FAQ: Which is better, fondant or buttercream?

Kursten Restivo, pastry chef at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa in Florida says: “There are certain designs that can only work in fluffy buttercream and others, generally the more complex designs, that only work in firmer fondant. In addition, in most cases, fondant is an upcharge. So, when you’re looking through photos for your dream cake, check to see which type of covering was used. Where your wedding cake is to be served is also a consideration. Buttercream doesn’t stand up to heat and humidity, for example, so be sure to factor that in during your consultation and tasting.”

FAQ: Will you provide the decorations?

KR: “This is a must-ask question! If you have your heart set on a cake with ribbon around each tier, seashell decorations or cute flip-flop toppers, for example, ask if the pastry chef provides those. If they do, it could be at a significant upcharge. Always ask first — you might find that even if the pastry chef can provide them, it’s more cost-effective to source and purchase non-edible trimmings and decorations yourself.”

FAQ: Do you provide the flowers?

KR: “Couples often assume that their pastry chef provides fresh flowers for the cake or that the pastry chef communicates directly with the florist. This is not always the case. Always let your florist know the kinds of flowers you want on the cake and ideally show her a photo of the design you want — particularly if you’re not sure how many flowers are needed to achieve your vision. By communicating with both your pastry chef and florist about your fresh-flower cake design, you can be confident that we’ll have what we need to execute it as you imagined it.”

FAQ: May we see photos of your wedding cakes?

KR: “These days, every professional pastry chef documents her work. We always have photos of cakes we have done in the past for special events of all kinds. This is a perfect opportunity for couples to see examples of what we do and what our capabilities are. You might just find we’ve already created the cake that perfectly aligns with your wedding-cake vision.”