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Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware)

Article written & submitted by Melissa Capyk
Wild Cakes, Brantford ON 

There are a lot of things you have to take on faith when you hire a cake artist to create your wedding cake but there are a few key things you should look for and ask!

1. How much experience do you have?
You need to get a sense of how many cakes or how many years experience she has. While we all have to start somewhere, if you want a large or intricate design, you probably don’t want to be her first wedding cake! If you are looking for a simpler design, you may be able to save some money by using a less experienced decorator.

A more useful way to judge if a decorator will be able to produce the cake you desire is to look at her portfolio. She may have a book or a web site for you to look at.

Keep in mind that what is in her portfolio is just a sampling of what she has done… many cake artists will prefer to create something just for you so don’t treat it like a menu that you have to pick from – just an indicator of her skills.

WARNING: Always ask if all the cakes on her web-site or in her portfolio are actually decorated by her. Some inexperienced or unscrupulous decorators will “pad” their own work with images that they have “borrowed” from other cake artists. If you suspect this is the case, RUN the other way – you have no way to tell what she is really capable of producing, and you already know she is being less than honest! (note – this warning does not refer to an artist who shows you a collection of “for inspiration” images – we all have those folders so we can illustrate an idea or design we have not yet produced ourselves… the difference is that an honest cake artist will not display these images in her own portfolio or web site, and will clearly tell you that these are not her cakes!)

2. What does the price include? What additional charges might there be?
There are many different ways to price out a wedding cake. Some artists will provide an “all inclusive” price that includes everything from your initial tasting and design, right up to delivery and set up. Some will provide you with a base price for the cake, then additional costs are applied for whatever décor you require. Cakes can be priced per tier or, more typically, per serving.

A tasting session may be included or there may be a specific "tasting charge" which may be applied towards your cake if you decide to order. You will normally be served a set number of small cakes with various fillings and icing types which you will pre-select when you book the session.

A cake order deposit is normally charged at the time you place your cake order. This charge is put towards your final cake costs and may be in the 50% range. This deposit then makes the baker's time slot "yours" and they will now turn down other orders above what they are able to make that week. It is generally considered a non-refundable deposit since they will be turning away other potential clients.

Final payment for your cake is normally required a full two weeks prior to your wedding date. If you'll be paying by cheque, expect this to be a little sooner as the cheque will need to clear before being considered "paid". Any final colour swatches and fabric samples will also need to be passed over at this time.

Any extras you select, such as rented topper, cake stands, serving set, chocolate fountains and so on, plus a damage deposit equal to the full replacement cost of the rented items, will be required in that final payment. This rental deposit portion will be returned to you if all rented items are returned on time and in good condition. Be sure that, should you still be away on your honeymoon on the return deadline, you've assigned a responsible person to return the rented equipment on time or you will lose your damage deposit. This is one potential "cost" you have complete control over and can easily turn into a bit of "money back".

Delivery is often (not always) included if your reception is local to the decorator but expect to pay a delivery and mileage fee if your site is further away. Some cake artists will decorate your cake table for an additional fee or may include some simple accessories. Your serving set may be rented from your cake artist, or you (or the reception hall) may want provide it.

All these items, fees and deadlines should be detailed in the contract you sign at the time of booking.

Last minute changes to the cake will almost always result in exta charges so be sure you're happy with all the specified designs, servings, details and extras at the time of booking to keep your costs down.

3. Flowers
You have several options when it comes to flowers on your cake. There are many different opinions on the safety and appropriateness of using fresh flowers on your cake – your decorator will have her own preferences. However, many beautiful flowers are actually toxic and should not come in contact with food – for these blooms, you should only select gumpaste or silks for the safety of you and your guests. If you choose to use a “safe” bloom on your cake, ideally you want flowers that are designated as food safe. Barring that (as they can be VERY difficult to find) you want to ensure that they are pesticide-free and usually the best way to do that is to purchase organically grown flowers. Some cake artists are not comfortable with this option either (considering what organic farmers use for fertilizer) but most consider this a viable option.

Some decorators will insist on providing the flowers themselves in order to ensure the appropriateness of the selection used but most will require you purchase the flowers through your wedding florist (this ensures the colours and variations are consistent with your other arrangements, and you can often get a better price when you are buying a large number of flowers.) Some decorators will arrange the flowers for you but many will expect the florist to have at least wired and prepared the flowers (as that is their expertise.)

Keep in mind, real flower stems should never be inserted directly into your cake! If you decide on gumpaste flowers, expect these to cost as much as a high quality real bloom. Also allow plenty of extra time as these are often hand crafted and requite a lot of advance notice to produce.

4. Serving sizes & requirements
Here is another area where you will find a wide range of answers from different cake decorators. Some consider a `serving` to be three-quarter inch by two inches by 4 to 6 inches tall; others will use 1 by 2 by 4 to 6" tall. Generally this will include 2 to 4 layers of cake, and 1 to 3 layers of filling . Obviously, when your cake is priced per serving, this make a difference in how much you are paying for the cake you are getting! If the slices from different designers are different sizes, you can't compare these two cakes properly.

Beyond that, there are MANY different charts being used, with widely varying numbers of servings being allocated for the same size cake. Ask how many servings are in a 12 inch round tier… you should expect to hear from 45-56 pieces for a standard 4 inch tall tier. If the number is near 56, you are getting 1”x 2” servings… if it is more than 75, than you are not even getting 2x¾”!

Generally speaking, there are two "typical" serving size: the "Wedding Slice" and the "Party Slice".

The Party Slice is generally assumed to be used for birthday and anniversay or special event cakes where the cake is "the" desert. It is therefore a more substantial sized slice.

The Wedding Slice is normally a smaller slice since, as per western traditions, the wedding cake is not considered a desert but rather a symbolic celebration of the wedded couple's union and future fortunes. Consuming a slice of the cake is more a ritual bonding with friends and family, it therefore doesn't require to be a filling serving. Wedding cake is also normally served along with an actual desert table so even then it is more "one of" several deserts available.

5. How much cake do you need?
That will depend on several factors! Are you serving the cake as the main dessert or with a buffet later in the evening? Will there be other sweets? Are you having more than one flavour of cake? Will your caterer be serving the cake, or putting it out for self-service? If self-serve, do your guests have a sweet tooth, or are they very sugar-conscious?

Let’s look at these one at a time.

a. Dessert or buffet?

If your cake is the main dessert, the usual rule is to allow 1 serving per person, plus 10% for cutting errors and seconds. If it’s being served on a midnight buffet, some guest will already have left, and many may not want too many sweets. Your decorator will probably recommend between 50-75% of your guest list for a serving count. The final choice of slices, of course, is yours to make.

b. More than one flavour of cake?

You’ll need more cake! Many people will go back for 2nds or even 3rds in order to taste the different flavours. Add at least 10% more for each additional flavour you order.

c. Caterer serving everyone at the tables?

Your counts are pretty straightforward. Self serve? You need to consider who your guest are, and adjust accordingly.

At the end of it all, ask your cake artist to provide a cutting chart or guide with the cake to help ensure your caterer serves the cake as intended. Remind your caterer that even though they may have cut a hundred wedding cakes, this chart is how your cake was designed to be cut. They can disregard it if they want but they will be held responsible if your serving count is not achieved!

6. What’s Inside?
Depending on your baker, you might get a freshly-baked scratch cake made from premium ingredients, filled with layers of decadent fillings, covered in rich butter-filled frosting and overlaid with tasty premium fondant. You might get a box mix, with little or no filling, covered in a sickly-sweet shortening-based frosting, and fondant that should not even be classified as a food product. This is why tastings are important!

Be aware that terms like “home-made” or “my own recipe” don’t always mean a cake fully from scratch. If you are concerned about preservatives or additives that are in commercial or boxed mixes, ask your baker point blank if they start with these bases and modify them, or if they bake ENTIRELY from scratch.

NOTE: Many of these modified mix-based cakes are very good and if that is what your baker is comfortable with, it’s probably not a good idea to insist they experiment with a scratch recipe for your wedding cake! Your cake-tasting session will provide you with an opportunity to see if the type of cake your baker makes is acceptable. If you love the cake's flavour and texture at tasting time, then go with it.

Expect to pay more for certain cakes and fillings as the ingredients can be more expensive! When booking your tasting session, ask your baker to provide a sample piece of the fondant they will be using – there is at least one major supplier brand whose fondant is easy to work with but smells and tastes really foul (which is a shame, as there are many really good brands out there!)

Also… TRUST YOUR BAKER! If she tells you that a flavour combination you are requesting is iffy, you are on your own if you insist on it and it’s not pleasant to eat! Some types of cake are too delicate to be safely stacked and some fillings may not be suitable for leaving un-refrigerated for hours on end! If she resists a design that requires fondant, she knows her own skills, and will produce a more attractive cake if you work within her tried-and-true skills (no-one is good at EVERY style of cake!)

Please note that any and all of the above points are given as basic guidelines only and the specifics for your cake order with your selected baker may or may not be precicely as mentioned here.


Article written & submitted by:


Melissa Capyk
Wild Cakes


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