Taking the Cake

What wedding cake trends are hitting the sweet spot? Talented bakers fill us in on their customers’ top requests

By Sara Perez Webber

A wedding cake must serve two purposes. It has to look good—the cake takes center stage for at least part of the reception, after all, and shows up in wedding albums for generations to come; and taste good, as an eagerly awaited sweet treat to cap off a good meal. These days, the cake also increasingly reflects the style and personalities of the couple getting married. So what types of cake are brides and grooms choosing to serve their guests? We asked some talented bakers and cake artists to fill us in on the trends.

Frost It Cakery

A semi-naked cake with fresh flowers and fruit by Frost It Cakery in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Photo by Luna de Mare Photography

Thousand Oaks, Calif. ••• frostitcakery.com

Lesley Bodwell and Rhonda Santora, owners of Frost It Cakery, started out small, making cakes for 10 weddings during their first year of business. Now they average about 20 to 25 each month, and had such a successful 2015 wedding season that they closed their storefront and transitioned to an appointment-only cake and dessert boutique last year.

The most common size wedding cake for the company is a three-tier round with 80 servings, and about half of its bridal customers also order dessert bars. “Clients and their guests love mini desserts, and we have a large variety to offer,” says Bodwell, adding that the most popular are lemon bars, brownie bites and its signature mini brookie, which is a brownie base with a chocolate chip cookie baked on top. Couples no longer are requesting cupcake towers, however. “We don’t offer tower rentals any longer, since most of our couples are looking for a dessert-bar-style set-up incorporating a mix of desserts, mostly including mini cupcakes,” she says.

As for cakes, white velvet is Frost It Cakery’s signature and most popular flavor, along with almond and red velvet. “Metallics are definitely a trend this year, especially gold,” Bodwell notes of design trends. “We have also done some geode designs and hand-painted cakes.” She adds that textured buttercream continues to be popular, and two styles trending this year have been semi-naked cakes and marbled fondant cakes. Floral trends on cakes include “lots of clean, simple designs with whites and greenery.”

When it comes to designing the cakes, Bodwell says she’s often inspired by her clients’ wedding stationery. “I usually ask to see that in addition to the color palette and other textures they are using throughout their wedding,” she says. “For example, this year, we did a cake with a hammered copper texture on one tier, a vibrant watercolor tier and a semi-naked tier. We pulled these ideas from their overall inspiration board put together by their wedding planner. It was quite unique!”

Amy Beck Cake Design

Beck created this pyramid-shaped plinth cake topped by a golden symmetrical shape inspired by a bride’s dress. Photo by Angela Renee Photography

Chicago ••• amybeckcakedesign.com

In the architecturally celebrated city of Chicago, it should come as no surprise that many couples want sophisticated, geometrically designed cakes to show off at their weddings. And when they do, they turn to such custom cake companies as Amy Beck Cake Design, which creates seven or eight wedding cakes each weekend during Chicago’s busy wedding season (late April through early November).

There’s “an entire wedding market for very modern couples looking for very sleek and geometric designs,” says Beck. One show-stopping example was inspired by the bride’s wedding dress as well as a beautiful asymmetrical chandelier. “We decided to make it a symmetrical golden design sitting on a pyramid-shaped plinth with art deco elements,” says Beck. The edible plinth base featured two flavors, separated by a foam board. Beck’s team covered the cake with black fondant, painted it with gold and emerald artistic streaks, and then applied an art deco design as a finishing touch.

Beyond architecturally designed cakes, “the biggest trend that we are seeing this year is still ruffles,” says Beck. “We can take ruffles from the bride’s wedding dress and put them right on the cake.” She points to incorporating lace and dress details into the design as a way to tailor a wedding cake for a specific bride.

Other trends favored by Beck and her clients include marble fondant, which she calls “a timeless look.” Metallic colors are also still in, says Beck. “Gold, silver, rose-gold, copper—all of these look gorgeous on the wedding cake and are a great way to tie in the floral design,” she says. “I am also seeing a movement to really tall cakes, which makes me happy. I want to show off our skills and make everyone see the wedding cake!”

Black has also emerged as a wedding cake color. “Pair it with sugar flowers, and it is absolutely gorgeous,” says Beck. Rustic, textured buttercream wedding cakes are also on trend right now, notes Beck, though she tries to steer her clients away from naked cakes. Very sleek fondant with streamlined designs is also in fashion. “Even floral arrangements on cakes have shrunk in size,” she says. “We used to do a lot of cascading down the sides of the cake. Now we look for more of a small, perfectly placed arrangement.”

The best-selling cake flavors coincide with Beck’s personal favorites, since those are the ones she enthusiastically sells to her clients. “My absolute favorite cake is our devil’s food cake with salted caramel buttercream,” she says. Other popular varieties include passionfruit cake with passionfruit buttercream; lemon cake with alternating layers of raspberry buttercream and lemon curd; chocolate bourbon cake with crunchy peanut butter buttercream; and almond cake with alternating layers of chocolate ganache and raspberry buttercream. “We are also in the process of rolling out our cinnamon cake with our maple bacon buttercream,” she adds. “Advance warning—I could not stop eating it!”

Butterfly Bakeshop

Butterfly Bakeshop created this design, inspired by a cherished Wedgwood vase inherited from the client’s grandmother.

New York City  ••• butterflybakeshop.com

A small bakery that makes about 15 to 20 wedding cakes a month, Butterfly Bakeshop’s tagline is “Everyone Deserves a Custom Cake.” To deliver on that motto, the company offers Wedding Cakes A La Carte, which allows couples to create their own unique wedding cake in three steps—by selecting a base cake, choosing a trim and adding design options.

It’s “a convenient and simple way to plan a delicious, custom cake while staying on budget,” says Orlando León, cake artist, who owns the business with his wife Stacey. “Budget-conscious couples are a large segment of our business.”

About 75 percent of Butterfly Bakeshop’s wedding customers choose from the A La Carte collection. “We try to make the design elements offered on our A La Carte menu traditional things that never go out of style and add on what is trending for that year,” says León. This year the most popular choices have been Watercolor Buttercream, Marble Fondant, Metallic Accents, Ganache Drip, Rosettes and Colorful Sprinkles, while Quilting with Dragees, Swiss Dots and Lace are perennial favorites.

León calls 2017 “the year of color” for wedding cakes, with watercolor, marble and metallic gold designs all popular choices. “There were a lot of vibrant colors used,” he says. “What we see coming for 2018 are a lot of unstructured accents with muted colors.”

Buttercream designs are trending more than fondant, notes León. “Cakes have become less formal and more fun,” he says. “This not only refers to the designs but the flavors as well. We have made a lot of Funfetti cakes for weddings this year.” Whimsical fillings such as cookie dough and Nutella buttercream have been popular this year at Butterfly Bakeshop, as well as its signature filling of guava and dulce de leche. The company offers convenient to-go tastings for the customers it’s working with, in which couples choose up to six cake flavor and filling combinations, pick up samples, and then taste them in the comfort of their own homes.

For Butterfly Bakeshop’s luxury custom cakes, couples are encouraged to send photos of other cakes that peak their interest. “It’s helpful in starting the process,” says León. “Then our cake consultant meets with the cake artist to come up with a personalized design and pricing.” Interesting examples of cakes that Butterfly has created include a Wedgwood wedding cake, based on a vase passed down from the client’s grandmother; a “favorite books” cake for a couple getting married in a bookstore; and a black, gray, and white tuxedo and hat cake for two men who wanted a masculine cake that reflected their style. One original creation—the Dulce Vida cake—is now a top request for the bakery. Originally created for New York Magazine’s wedding issue, to fit the theme “Cakes That Look Good Enough to Eat,” it’s decorated with churros, and filled with guava and dulce de leche.

Sweet Lisa’s Exquisite Cakes

Sweet Lisa’s decorated this buttercream-iced cake with 3D sea-life shapes made out of white chocolate to match the wedding’s beach theme.

Greenwich, Conn. ••• sweetlisas.com

Cleaner and simpler looks seem to be the trend among bridal customers of Sweet Lisa’s Exquisite Cakes. “Some brides are moving away from fondant [to buttercream frosting] because they are having more casual weddings,” says owner and head pastry chef Lisa Maronian. “They are more into the vintage, rustic feel.”

The back-to-basics trend even applies to cake flavors at Sweet Lisa’s, which makes about 15 to 20 wedding cakes each weekend, and employs a team of eight pastry chefs and 3D designers. Its vanilla and chocolate combo is the top cake flavor among wedding customers. “It’s the best of both worlds,” says Maronian, a Culinary Institute of America grad who started the shop 25 years ago with her husband, Stephen. “For fillings, raspberry is the most popular during the spring and summer months.” Carrot and spice cake with a cinnamon cream cheese filling is a popular fall combination. Sweet Lisa’s prepares mini butler-passed desserts for about half of its weddings. The most popular choices are mini cupcakes, hand-painted heart cookies with the couple’s initials on them, and petit fours.

Maronian has noticed that customers celebrating second (or third) marriages—about 30 percent of her bridal clients—tend to choose more personalized and whimsical cake designs than couples getting married for the first time. For example, for one second marriage, Sweet Lisa’s created a hand-painted floral design for the cake that matched the linens on the guest tables. “They are more willing to do something fun,” she says.

And while generic bride-and-groom wedding toppers have been out of style for a while, now couples are increasingly choosing to adorn their cakes with personalized ones—such as hand-sculpted edible scuba diver and mermaid atop the cake, with a dog next to them wearing a snorkel; a penguin groom in a Marine Corps uniform and his cute penguin bride; characters from a comic book; and two New York grooms sitting on the edge of their cake. “We are getting a lot of requests for custom-made cake toppers to look like the bride and groom—and very often their beloved animals!” says Maronian.