Its no secret I have a big sweet tooth, so one of my favorite parts of the wedding day is the dessert. Most weddings, cake is what is served to guests. However, it is becoming more popular to offer other dessert options for guests. Some are moving away from cake and offering things like pie, donuts, cookies, and ice cream. Some couple's are opting for a whole dessert spread with multiple options.
For this post, my tips are mostly about cake since that is still the most common dessert served at a wedding. However, some of these tips will apply to whatever dessert you may be serving. I will also touch base on some other desserts, such as the famous Pittsburgh Cookie Table.
Photo of a wedding cake from The Jepsons.
Cake Flavors, Costs, & Decorations
Cake tasting is one of the fun things that a lot of couple's look forward to when planning for their day. A lot of baker's do offer tastings but their usually is a cost and you do have to schedule a consultation in advance. It is not recommended to just show up to a bakery unannounced and expect a meeting; as they may not have time or the proper staff member there to discuss your needs. However, I do recommend if you are considering someone and they have a storefront; to visit during business hours. Not to discuss the wedding; but to try their stuff and see if you want to pursue a consultation.
For the flavor of cake you want to serve its not uncommon to have a couple of options. Of course the most common is a white cake and a chocolate cake. Though I am seeing rise in flavors such as red velvet, lemon, and spice cakes. You can also mix up the basic flavors with some more flavorful icings such as raspberry, mint, or salted caramel. Their are lots of options! Its also your wedding so include your favorite. Just keep in mind that if your favorite is not popular cake flavor, not everyone will eat it. A good example of this is carrot cake; its a cake people love, or love to hate. If you just served carrot cake and ordered a a slice for every guest, you may end up with a lot of leftover. In that case I would recommend at least one other flavor of cake.
The cost of a cake can widely vary depending on what you want. The larger the cake, the more it will cost. Certain fillings may cost more. The biggest thing that can add to the cost is decorations. If you want the baker to create an intricate, all edible design with things like fondant, sugar paste, or chocolate; it will start to add to your costs. Talk to your baker about what you want and see what suggestions they have to give you the look you want in your budget.
Using real flowers on the cake instead of edible ones can sometimes save costs. You can order these from your florist. Just confirm between the cake baker and the florist who actually will be putting them on the cake. Also to make sure if its the baker, that the flowers will be there when they deliver the cake.
Some will purchase their own cake topper instead of having the baker design something to save costs. Just make sure its on the cake table the day of the wedding.
This cake below is a great example of elegant decor to keep costs down. Iced with a simple buttercream it was decorated with a few real flowers, and a custom cake topper they ordered online.
The biggest cost saver I can offer for cake is not doing a huge, multiple tier cake. If you really want to save money, just have the baker do sheet cakes that can be cut and served to the guests. If you still want to do a cake cutting, order a smaller cake for that purpose. That smaller cake can still have the design you want but at a fraction of the cost. I've had couple's do both for larger weddings. Where they really wanted the look of a 3 tier cake but knew it wasn't enough to feed all their guests. They did a couple of sheet cakes extra to ensure their would be enough instead of adding more tiers to their cake.
Smaller cakes with simple decorations below are a great way to have a cake to cut and then sheet cakes in the back to save costs. Photo from Nick Finochio Photography.
Cake and Dessert Service
Some caterer's or venue's will include dessert in the costs. That is great, however, a lot of couple's usually work with an outside baker. If you are working with an independent baker confirm with your caterer if they will cut and serve the cake. If they do, ask if its an additional cost. Also confirm if they will serve the cake to each guest at their seat, or if they will just put it out on a table for guests to grab.
Most caterer's will provide a cake cutting service, though not always free. I will say I have come across a couple caterer's through the years who will not have anything to do with the cake. Some then may ask a friend or family member. Just make sure that person understands proper hygiene for handling food (I always recommend disposable gloves); and how big the slice should be (too big and you could run out). If you can't find someone qualified, it may be worth exploring other dessert options that guests can self serve; such as cupcakes.
Don't forget the plates, forks, and napkins for the cake. Depending on the venue or caterer this may be something they can provide or it may be something you have to get (rent or purchase disposable).
Having self serve desserts like cupcakes and cookies that guest can grab is a way to avoid any sort of cake cutting service fee or concern. Just have some extra napkins or plates available for your guests.
I wanted to touch base on the cookie table. A Pittsburgh tradition that has seem to gain popularity everywhere. If you are unfamiliar, its a massive table with a variety of cookies that guests can eats as dessert or used as a favor. Usually the cookies are baked by family or friends, though some will use a bakery. I have seen some really big displays through the years. I remember a mother of the bride who did the entire table and over a thousand cookies. The cookies were some of the best I ever had, and she said she basically stayed in her kitchen a week doing nothing but baking cookies. I sometimes wonder if she ever baked cookies again after that.....
The problem I usually saw is that people baked way too many cookies and had hundreds left. Some did take them home and freeze them for future use. Most though were trying to give them away to anyone left at the end of the night. Great for us vendors to take a home a treat! However, even then numerous cookies ended up in the trash.
Cookie table photo from Tera Nelson.
For those of you planning how many cookies to have, here is what I notice from my observations. Most guests seem to take 3-5 cookies, if its a favor or the only dessert. Usually each cookie is a different flavor unless or cookie type. The size of the to go container can affect how many cookies are taken also. Most will provide those cute kraft bags, but they may take a few more cookies if the container is larger. If it were me personally hosting I would estimate 2-3 cookies per guest if there are other desserts; 4-5 if it was the only dessert.
FYI those fancy, sugar, iced cookies with beautiful designs are becoming very popular and are usually one of the first to go if on a cookie table. Lots of couples now just use those as a favor, and sometimes its the only cookie they have at their wedding to go with their other desserts.
This couple had iced sugar cookies done and had them at each place setting as a favor; photo from Tera Nelson.
If serving multiple desserts you usually don't need one of each dessert type for everyone. Plan for the leftovers. Some will freeze them or donate them. Just be cautious because food left sitting out for hours is suspectable to germs and bacteria. Some places will not take this type of food donation because of that; especially in a post pandemic world.
I recommend labeling things that may contain items for people with allergies; like nuts. If you know of a specific guest attending with a dietary restriction, some couples will order a special item for them. Gluten free or vegan are big ones, and couples will often get desserts that those guests can eat. I do recommend if you have a special dessert for a person who has a dietary restriction to have it put aside in the back. Do not put it out where any guests can grab it. Some see gluten free or vegan and just take it cause they think its healthier or want to try it. Instead talk to the caterer about it and have that guest request it specifically through them.
Finally keep in mind the time of year and location of your wedding when picking your desserts. If its outdoors in the summer you may not want a cream cheese frosting that will not stand up well in the heat. Ice cream is a fun summer dessert but also keep in mind temperature when serving. You don't want the ice cream to melt quickly but also don't want it a solid brick impossible to scoop either.
Hope some of these tips help!