A philosophy of wedding cake

Wedding cake is nuts. Sure we all like eating it. Sure it’s pretty. And sure, it’s a ritualistic centrepiece of wedding decoration that helps your wedding feel more legitimately weddingy. So, when a lot of people find out its going to cost $5 or more a piece, or $500 for a 100-guest wedding, they get over their initial horror, and suck it up and pay the price, because that’s what it takes.

Now obviously, a good bit of this price is the infamous wedding mark-up. But even lopping off 30% (or whatever the wedding mark-up is), wedding cake and its price still retains a high level of ridiculousness. I don’t know what the hell it’s doing as an expected part of the The Standard Wedding – you know, the wedding that even non-rich folk are supposed to have. As always, I say if you’re rich and can afford it, go ahead. If you’re not rich, maybe it’s still important enough to you that you want to devote that much money to it. We all have our quirks. But first, consider what you think you’re getting for that money:

1. We all like eating it

At the last three weddings I’ve been to, we all ate a huge 3-course dinner, and often struggled to finish even that, before the cake was attended to. At some of these weddings, I was so over eating that I had no cake. Are you flabbergasted? No, you’re not. In fact lots of people ate no cake at these weddings.

2. It’s pretty.

My tastes don’t always run mainstream, but has anyone else noticed that the typical wedding cake doesn’t look that good? I mean, for starters, only a tiny portion of them are pretty. So, good luck with that. (For example, look at these uninspiring exemplars from an Auckland bakery. Prices are included for extra fun.)

Then there’s the fact that most, nay, practically all wedding cakes don’t even look edible (even if they’re very pretty). They don’t look like food. In my book, a good looking cake is one that makes me want to eat it. (Expect to drool if you follow that link).

3. It’s a ritualistic centrepiece that makes a party feel more weddingy.

It wouldn’t feel like a proper reception without a multiple-tiered, white fondant-covered cake on display? The thing is, most people just don’t care about it. They will wonder past it, and if they’re really interested, spend an entire 10 seconds looking at it. And maybe out of lack of things to do, take a photo, which they will then never look at again.

Wedding cake is such a emperor-has-no-clothes situation. Even blogs that are devoted to living a life on the cheap, will, as Rogue Bride says, foster a culture of incompetence, and go for the old “how to fake being rich” kind of advice. For instance, Living Richly On a Budget has 7 tips for us on how to have inexpensive wedding cake. Tip 3: Don’t go homemade.

Why not go homemade? So much can go wrong with baking. If you leave it too long in the oven, the cake will burn. Getting layers even can be tricky. Stuff can go wrong when you’re decorating. And what about keeping the cake cool so the frosting won’t melt? Plus, the person making the cake will have to deal with the pressure of delivering a “perfect” product, because after all, this is your wedding.

Wow. Do you have any idea how hard it isn’t to whip up a decent cake? I’ve been doing it since before I was a teenager, as have many others. The ingredients are cheap – milk, flour, sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, vanilla. Maybe you’ll go all out and spend a whole extra $10 to put some cherries in there or something. They have this handy thing called oven-timers, or failing that, the ability to tell time and do basic arithmetic, to ensure you don’t leave it in there too long. And this new innovation, called waiting, that allows it to cool before you do the icing. Also, no one is judging your wedding based on the perfection, or lack thereof, of the cake.

But seriously, making your own cake is really sensible, and really cost effective. You can make it in advance, you can try out recipes for months beforehand to tweak the oven timings and temperature if you want. Really, anyone can do it.

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7 responses to “A philosophy of wedding cake

  1. As someone who did, in fact, make her own wedding cake, I say: DO IT. And I highly recommend you do a practice run to make sure you like the flavors, have confidence in the baking & decoration, and also to eat more cake. Because, yum. (You can read about my cake here, if you like: http://cindyandjulia.blogspot.com/2011/07/pumpkin-and-mocha-and-berries-oh-my.html)

  2. Yay! Eat more cake! 🙂
    THANKYOU, its so rare we get to hear that we can actually do it. And, thank you for going into detail, its great to have an idea of how much time and actual cost it takes. I think I will most likely attempt something a bit less ambitious – no squiggles for me 🙂

  3. Hi,

    You might be interested to know (insider secret!) that many weddings cakes these days are actually not cake! They are Polystyrene wrapped in icing! As you mentioned after a 3 course meal many guests are full anyone! Cakes are usually taken away and cut up and if brought out on plates who’s really the wiser? A large cake for a small wedding! Pretty clever I think!

  4. Yeah, polystyrene cake is just the kind of fakery that grates my carrot. Actually, all aesthetic fakery makes me twitch. Including pretending-to-be-real flowers, and we see that one all the time. Authentcity for the win!

  5. Oh boy – I have nothing but respect for people who attempt making their own wedding cakes. I’m a terrible baker. I can’t follow directions to save my life, and baking is all about exact measurements. But, I completely agree with you that way too many cakes don’t look edible, are obscenely overpriced, and are a bit of a let down. And – they aren’t that memorable. The only cake I remember is my cousin’s, and only because the fondant tasted like plastic.

    Hindsight Bride and I are actually devoting our next podcast – “The Bridal Koolaid Cocktail Hour” on iTunes – to cakes, the challenges of baking your own, and the whacked-out wedding cake industry. We’re recording it the first week of September, so keep your eye out for it!

  6. Fondant: looks like plastic, tastes like plastic.

    Also, I love the term Bridal Koolaid.

  7. Pingback: Can we rid ourselves of our photography addiction? | Frugal Wedding

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