Icing on the Cake

The scoop on in-demand wedding desserts sure to hit that sweet spot

By Sara Perez Webber

Dessert tables are still hot, and macaroons aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. What other sweet treats are wedding clients asking for, and what cake designs are in? To find out, we asked a few caterers, and rounded up some ideas you may not have considered.

Catering Works

An exquisite all-white wedding cake from Catering Works in Raleigh, N.C. Photo by Brian Mullens.

An exquisite all-white wedding cake from Catering Works in Raleigh, N.C. Photo by Brian Mullens.

Raleigh, N.C.

Recently selected as one of the best wedding cake bakers in Raleigh, with an award-winning executive pastry chef (Anthony Calcagno) and a cookie delivery service, Catering Works takes its desserts seriously. And most of the time, wedding clients take advantage of their expertise, ordering both a cake and a dessert display.

“Sometimes it’s just a small topper cake for cutting, but especially in the South, there is that tradition, and it’s almost an expectation,” says Lorin Laxton, vice president of Catering Works. “I don’t think wedding cakes will ever go out of style.”

A few trends showing up on Catering Works cakes include using fondant to create streamlined, modern designs. “We do a lot of fondant,” says Laxton. “We created one cake with a funky geometric starburst, for more of a modern look.”

Laxton says the company’s same-sex wedding clients often request cakes with a modern, smooth look, “with very little embellishment.” One cake for a male couple featured a black-and-white tuxedo design.

In addition, says Laxton, “people are experimenting and getting a lot more confident in using color on cakes, and, in some cases, saturated colors.” She points to a Catering Works cake that featured navy horizontal stripes on the top and bottom layers, with a pink fondant bow in the middle. “Most people don’t think about navy on a wedding cake,” she notes.

Another emerging cake trend is hand-painted details, created with edible food coloring gel and a paintbrush. One recent Catering Works cake featured a hand-painted clematis on the second layer, with the top layer covered in gold metallic leaf.

As for the company’s most popular pick-up desserts for weddings, “one of the most requested is our salted caramel shortbread bites—they’re decadent, like a homemade Twix bar,” says Laxton. The bite features a shortbread crust with a caramel center, a layer of chocolate ganache on the top and a sprinkling of sea salt, often garnished with an edible gold flake. Another favorite, the B-52 (modeled after the cocktail), features a layer of caramel mousse, a layer of chocolate mousse and a layer of Bailey’s mousse in an edible chocolate cup.

French macaroons continue to be a popular choice—usually colored to the style of the wedding—as do mini pies. Catering Works’ mini pie varieties include S’mores (a graham cracker crust layered with chocolate ganache, toffee and house-made bruleed marshmallow) and Atlantic Beach (a North Carolina specialty with a saltine crust, zesty lemon-lime pie filling and salted whipped cream). Couples often add cupcakes to the table, including Catering Works’ signature blackberry lemon cupcake, filled with blackberry curd and topped with lemon cream cheese icing. Chocolate-dipped strawberries are still in demand as well, notes Laxton.

Bridal clients also gravitate toward “comfort” desserts, says Laxton, and Catering Works offers various interactive stations that pour on the nostalgia. The popular “Dip, Dunk and Sprinkle” station features doughnuts on sticks and a choice of four flavors—chocolate, caramel, maple and glaze—for dipping, as well as a variety of toppings for sprinkles, including crushed Oreos, mini M&Ms and Heath bar sprinkles. Customers can even choose to offer a s’more doughnut variety, with graham cracker crumbs and marshmallow cream, torched by the server. There’s also a gourmet s’mores station, with graham crackers pre-dipped in chocolate (white, milk, dark, or even a raspberry- or orange-flavored chocolate, or perhaps double-dipped “tuxedo-style” in both white and dark chocolate), then topped with crushed nuts, Oreos and toffee bits, and drizzled with a salted caramel glaze before topping with the marshmallow meringue, torched live.

Gluten-free Rice Krispie bars can also be served in an interactive station, drizzled with chocolate or blended with mini M&Ms or butterscotch chips. And Catering Works recently debuted a gourmet Twinkie station that won the approval of the guest of honor, the CEO of Hostess (the maker of Twinkies), and will probably soon show up at a Catering Works wedding. The dessert featured classic Twinkies made into three desserts—English trifle, chocolate-dipped and strawberry almond shortcake.

Catering By Design

Cordial cups are a popular pick-up dessert at Catering By Design weddings, including blackberry mousse and lemon curd cream.

Cordial cups are a popular pick-up dessert at Catering By Design weddings, including blackberry mousse and lemon curd cream.


French macaroons still take the cake at Catering By Design in Philadelphia as the most popular wedding dessert, says Ashlie Bradley, pastry chef. Rosewater with pistachio, topped by black sesame seeds, is their most popular flavor, though bridal clients also often choose macaroons that match the colors of the wedding party.

“We do a little bit of everything,” says Bradley. Cordial cups are another favorite, with popular varieties including a Kahlua mousse cup with chocolate cookie crumbs on the bottom, topped with chocolate shavings; a whipped mascarpone cup with lavender syrup, topped with balsamic glaze and strawberries; and, Catering By Design’s newest cordial cup, buttermilk panna cotta topped with peach compote and pistachio praline.

Most Catering By Design wedding clients opt for dessert tables that open up to guests after the cake is cut, with three different mini desserts served, though some couples choose up to eight, says Bradley. Cookies are another popular option, including shortbread, chocolate chip, biscotti, snickerdoodles and peanut butter, as are mini pies.

As for cakes—which most clients still order to accompany the dessert table—“people are wanting them to be more rustic-looking,” says Bradley. “We’re seeing more texture than a few years ago, when people wanted more scroll work.” Unfrosted naked cakes are still in high demand, as are cakes “where you comb the side with a spatula so the icing is a little messier,” says Bradley.

And though candy tables are falling out of favor, couples still find ways to incorporate childhood favorites into their wedding desserts. Doughnut cakes are a frequent request, and Catering By Design recently created a whoopee pie cake, with one “giant” whoopee pie serving as a topper, surrounded by mini pies.

Cream & Flutter

Cream & Flutter dessert tables feature a natural look, with white and wood serving stands.

Cream & Flutter dessert tables feature a natural look, with white and wood serving stands.

Champaign, Ill., and Cashiers, N.C.

Amanda Wyatt has an interesting perspective on desserts because that’s all she caters, and she does it in two locations. Wyatt owns Cream & Flutter, with storefront bakeries and dessert catering operations in Champaign, Ill., and Cashiers, N.C.

In Champaign—home to the University of Illinois and a large student population—about 20 percent of Cream & Flutter’s business comes from catering, with nearly all wedding clients ordering small cut cakes with other desserts. Popular cake flavors include red velvet vanilla, strawberries and cream, lemon, and dark chocolate salted caramel.

Cream & Flutter’s wedding dessert catering business is bigger and more varied in Cashiers, a mountain resort town where Cream & Flutter opened its second location in May. “Cashiers is growing like crazy, and there are so many beautiful venues,” says Wyatt, adding that 95 percent of the brides she caters to are non-local.

“A lot of people just love simple, textured buttercream cakes with fresh flowers,” she says, adding that the low-key style fits in with the natural beauty of the surroundings. So do naked cakes, another popular choice. “Our branding lends itself to a more natural style of client who wants a more organic look,” she says. In addition to fresh flowers and fruits, clients are requesting metallic decorative elements on their cakes, such as gold accents on a naked cake or gold leaf on fruit toppers.

In addition to cakes, Cream & Flutter offers a complete dessert table service that includes delivery, set-up and design of the table. Wyatt tends to use white and natural wood serving stands, for a natural look. She suggests that brides choose three to five desserts to serve at the tables. “Some want to order two dozen of this, two dozen of that, but I tell them it’s super-confusing for guests,” she says.

Although dessert tables have been popular for a while, “from a guest perspective, it’s more fun and it’s more interactive if they have more choices,” says Wyatt, who says her company “almost never” prepares desserts that are plated. “They can enjoy dessert without having to stop socializing, and that works really well for people in an event setting.” As for the most popular dessert table choices, “French macaroons are huge,” says Wyatt. “We do a ton of dark chocolate caramel brownies for people, and in North Carolina, mini pies are really popular.”