Why on earth are wedding cakes so expensive? Well, they don’t have to be.
You can get an inexpensive wedding cake, but you’re probably getting one made with different ingredients than a custom wedding cake. The cost basis for commercial production-line pre-frozen cakes and custom cakes, the latter of which is made fresh from scratch and with high-quality ingredients, is completely different.
To have a custom-crafted wedding cake that’s a work of art, couples in the New York metro area pay from around $7 a slice to, well, the sky’s the limit, depending on the degree of the custom work desired, and any specialty ingredients.
Whatever for? Well, a lot goes into a custom wedding cake that doesn’t go into the usual cake.
For starters, there’s artistry and experience. For me, there’s my specialization in gum paste flower art, learned from the master in the industry who has taught every high-profile cake artist in business today. There’s elegant craftsmanship. Then, there should also be a very personal level of service.
With a custom cake designer, you should be getting the best ingredients from around the world. If they limit the number of bookings they accept in order to bake everything fresh, their cake will never, ever be baked ahead and frozen. The disadvantage of baking ahead and freezing is that a cake can arrive dried out and frozen to an event, basically inedible.
Your custom designer should be using genuine buttercream as well – which, by the way, is never snow-white. (Crisco is snow white. Butter is pale yellow, and genuine buttercream is ivory, after all the sugar is added to the butter.) Even if you choose a fondant cake (its taste pales in comparison to genuine buttercream, but it does photograph nicely and is a food safely necessity outdoors in high heat and humidity), there should be genuine buttercream or marzipan and jam beneath it, adhering it to your wedding cake.
Because of the seemingly endless hours of work that go into it, a custom cake designer can’t really be adequately compensated for exceptionally abundant gum paste work on a wedding cake. For example, sculpting and hand-coloring a single peony takes me four hours of labor from start to finish, and three to four days of drying time (depending on the humidity level); a rose (another popular choice for wedding cake gum paste flowers) requires three hours of labor from the time the first petal is sculpted to the time your brush leaves the last rose leaf and all of the petal dust and luster dust colors are applied. Multiply that quantity, and expect to hear a high price per slice quoted, as it’s impossible to charge the complete hourly rate for what will go into that cake. These prices can go as high as $20 (and far more) per slice for lush gum paste arrangements, as well as for specialty items such as edible pure gold leaf, or a wedding cake covered in fresh hand-rolled chocolate truffles.
Another substantial factor in cake design pricing that clients often don’t have any reason to have advance knowledge of is the labor involved in any given cake project. For example, if you have your heart set on a football stadium groom’s cake with bleachers, artwork in the end zones, full detail on the field, and custom chocolate goal posts, that’s something that entails several days of work. Your expert designer is happy to create involved cakes for you, but expect to compensate them for their time, and that expertise you were looking for. (This, by the way, may include compensating them for the other business they must turn away if they do everything fresh, and therefore must work on a fairly exclusive booking basis. For instance, we accept only two major bookings per day, which means we have to carefully consider what jobs we accept in relation to what’s already booked.)
If you come in with a concept and find that it is far more labor-intensive (and therefore costly) than you ever dreamed, don’t be afraid to ask if there are ways that the design can be simplified to bring the cost down. There’s usually something that can be done toward that end to try and accommodate you. Part of your designer’s expertise also lies in being able to explain whether a concept that a client comes in with is realistic. So, don’t get too attached to an involved concept until you hear whether it’s physically do-able, and whether it fits within your budget as well.
The cake designer you choose should treat you with the utmost professionalism and respect, and that should be a two-way street. If you’ve purposely sought out a custom cake artist, asking them “if there’s any wiggle room in the price” is not suggested, when they’ve just explained that you’ve asked for a cake that will take several days of their time to craft. Again, most of us delight in taking on involved projects that people with less training and experience can’t properly execute. But if you’ve gone to an expert for a reason, you should expect to compensate them properly, or have them simplify the design to make the cost more manageable if you find yourself reeling from sticker shock. (After all, budget is reality. We understand that.) To make sure that working with a particular expert is within your budget, you can always inquire as to their base level pricing before you schedule a consultation and tasting.
Working with a custom cake designer is for those who are seeking the experience of dealing with a true professional, and a trained artist – someone who wants a wedding cake that’s out of the ordinary, and who wants to feel fantastic about the process from forming the design concept, to feeding each other that first bite of cake in your first act as a married couple. Likewise, professional cake designer delights in choosing clients who are a pleasure to work with, and who energize them in the collaborative creative process. Their aim is to make your experience something so amazing that you want nothing more than to share it with everyone you know!
Couples definitely get a great deal of value for the price when they work with an expert cake designer.