Kate Sullivan, owner and chef, Lovin Sullivan Cakes, New York City.
Stephen Harty, pastry chef, Silver Lake Lodge at Deer Valley Resort, Park City, Utah.
Steve Lindsey, executive pastry chef, One&Only Palmilla Resort, Mexico.
Q. Where should a bride look to find/choose a confectioner?
Kate Sullivan: To get an idea of different bakers' work and to find one specific to your location, I highly recommend using the Internet. Doing a search for "custom-designed cakes" for your destination should provide you with a list of bakers and confectioners with links to their websites where you can see the baker's work.
Stephen Harty: A bride should consider the style of her event when choosing the design of her wedding cake. Depending on the location or resort, the bride will then go through her coordinator to contact the pastry chef.
Q. What are some of the biggest wedding cake trends you are seeing right now?
Sullivan: Two trends that I am seeing are very minimalist, meticulously designed cakes and cakes in unexpected shapes. Most of my clients want something very specific and are usually looking for bold, graphic designs. I once made a cake for a bride who brought in a book of her groom's favorite artist. On the bottom of the cake, I duplicated a wallpaper print that the artist had done.
Harty: The biggest trend I'm seeing right now is the flavor of the cake. Depending on the bride's tastes, I am doing either single-flavor cakes in tastes like lemon, carrot or chocolate, or cakes with a variety of different flavors throughout. I've also been using a lot of fresh flowers and fruits for decor.
Steve Lindsey: I see different styles in the world of pastry art and believe it depends on the season and the couple's desires. I tend to use bright, happy colors, graphic designs or perhaps something to identify the location: local artwork or symbols, oceanic themes and fun shapes.
Q. How far in advance should a bride order her cake?
Sullivan: Depending on your date and location and how busy the chef may be during that time, I would say a minimum of three months. If you want to work with a certain baker, I would say as soon as you have decided on your wedding date.
Harty: I recommend as early as six months or as late as two months in advance. At Deer Valley, it takes about three days to bake a cake, but I stress the importance of reserving "the space" to bake the cake. For a midsummer wedding in July or early August, when we tend to host more events, I recommend a minimum of three to four months in advance.
Q. How is the price of a wedding cake usually determined? Is there any way to cut costs?
Sullivan: I charge a flat rate of $10 per serving, or a minimum of $600 for the cake. Obviously, if it's something really extravagant design-wise, I may charge more.
Harty: Deer Valley starts at $4.50 per person for a standard cake, which is one flavor in buttercream with floral decorations. This price will get you one slice of cake per person, plus a 6-inch topper for the bride and groom. Depending on the desired flavors and decor, the price could increase; for example, we would charge by the hour for decorating. To cut costs, a couple can buy a display cake, for about $2.50 per person. This includes a two- to three-tier cake for presentation and cutting, while sheet cakes are baked and cut for serving to guests.
Lindsey: At many resort and destination locations, the cake is included in the wedding package, and the couple can discuss price with their wedding coordinator. Some couples might choose to offer a dessert buffet that includes sweets like miniature chocolates and pastries instead of serving wedding cake to guests.
Q. How ambitious can a bride be in customizing their cake? Do you recommend that she bring photos from a magazine or book?
Sullivan: It's always a good idea to have a sense of the design that you want, and who you choose as your baker will play an important role. Pictures are great because you can give your baker a visual idea of the shape, size and colors you are looking for. A lot of my brides also bring fabric patterns, colors and textures instead of other cake photos. My designs are truly unique, so I'm rarely asked to duplicate a cake, which is nice because I'm so passionate about my cake design. I really like to be as collaborative as possible with my clients.
Harty: I like to see what the bride would like and give my ideas too, so we can meet somewhere in the middle. Once, a bride brought in a photo of her dress, and we designed the cake to match the beadwork on it.
Lindsey: I believe every cake should be an original, but pictures are a great way of giving your pastry chef a clear idea of what you are looking for. Then you can customize from there.
Q. Should the bride make a point to taste samples?
Sullivan: Because I'm such a small business, I generally won't do a tasting unless the couple really wants me to design their cake. Making a cake is very labor-intensive, and I just wouldn't be able to fill all of the requests. If someone is particularly interested in a certain type of cake, I might try scheduling a tasting when I know I'm going to have some of that cake in-house. I also recommend asking to see a display cake; seeing a cake in person versus a photo can be very different.
Lindsey: Tastings are a good idea, but not always necessary. Instead, I strongly suggest having a conversation with the pastry chef at the hotel. Often brides are satisfied with putting their trust in you, so long as you can follow their flavor suggestion. Having the wedding coordinator involved in the conversation is a good idea. She can help you put all the details into a signed agreement so everyone knows what is expected.
Q. What about shipping cakes? How often is it really done, and is it practical?
Sullivan: I don't ship cakes, and most of the confectioners I know agree with this philosophy.
Harty: Shipping cakes is not very practical. Not only does the shipping tend to cost more than the cake itself, but cakes are heavy and must be packed a certain way and handled carefully when they arrive. That said, Deer Valley has shipped cakes before and then sent one of our own pastry chefs on location to complete and decorate the cake. We don't do this any more than three to four times per year.
Lindsey: I don't recommend it. I work with a lot of delicate fillings and cake interiors like white-chocolate mousse, Bavarian cream, fresh berries and tiramisu. These will not travel well, nor do they taste as good as if prepared and consumed onsite.