Last summer I interned at Sugar Flower Cake Shop in New York City and was able to experience the entire wedding cake design process from the consultations to the delivery. A well-made cake can create memories that last a lifetime, and if you’re thinking about taking on this responsibility, there are a few important things you should know.
The process of making a wedding cake begins with an interview with the bride and groom. The couple will most likely come in for a cake tasting and decide on their flavors. At Sugar Flower, the owner threw a tasting party once a month where prospective clients came in to get a feel for what her cakes taste and look like. When setting up these tasting parties, we made the most popular types of cakes, such as vanilla, chocolate, almond and gluten-free. We also made each flavor of buttercream and piped them onto plates in several different designs. Set up like a buffet table (as seen below), visitors were able to walk around and try different combinations of cakes and fillings.
Image: Sugar Flower Cake Shop
Once the bride and groom decide on the flavors they like, a sketch would be made of the cake according to the bride’s and groom’s ideas (below).
Image: Stephanie Zauderer
After the sketch is approved, the couple decides on the decorations they want and what flowers they would like on their cake. Every cake shop or baker is different; Sugar Flower specialized primarily in flowers, and our most popular requests were for orchids, roses and hydrangeas. Below is a picture of the finished cake, sketched above.
Image: Stephanie Zauderer
For a traditional large celebration or wedding cake, a white or chocolate cake is most commonly used. Chocolate cakes can always be hidden under a white buttercream frosting to get the classic smooth, white surface. Some couples may prefer fondant on the outside of the cake, which is a type of sugar dough that can be rolled out to make shapes or to drape over the cake for a clean look, but you can get the same effect with the right buttercream technique if fondant isn’t for you.
There are two major categories of cakes: sponge-like cakes and butter cakes. Sponge-like cakes rely on the air that develops when whipping the eggs for their batter, which makes the resulting texture a bit fluffy. It’s difficult for light sponge or angel food cakes to hold the weight of the buttercream frosting, nor are they able to support the weight of the tiers, so they are not often recommended for weddings or large celebration cakes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we avoid recipes similar to quick bread because those tend to be too dense.
Butter cakes are a happy medium and are most often used for layered or tiered cakes, and they tend to rely on a leavening agent (baking powder or baking soda) and either butter, oil or shortening for a rich and moist result, making this type an ideal choice.
Now that you’ve chosen the type of cake you want to make, I recommend browsing the Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum to help guide you through the execution. It has every cake recipe you can imagine and gives many tips and tricks for making large celebration cakes. This book is extremely effective for beginner bakers because the author takes complex techniques and gives you every detail that you need to know.
The cake can be the most memorable part of a couple’s wedding, and although a cake may look beautiful, if the taste is not up to par, it can be very disappointing. Creating something magical for your customers is one of the most amazing feelings. Knowing that you were able to make one of the best days of their lives even more special is extremely satisfying.
This article is part of a week-long series by Culinary Institute of America student Stephanie Zauderer on wedding cakes, from the beginning stages through delivery to the event. Check back for more every day this week.