How to Budget for a Wedding Cake
A long time ago, wedding cakes were tiers of fruit cake, covered in marzipan, stacked flatly, and decorated with fresh flowers supplied by the bride's florist. Whether they were eaten or not was not a priority. Their presence was merely traditional.
Thankfully, those days are long gone!
Over the past decade, wedding cake design has experienced a renaissance. "Bespoke" became an applicable term to cake-making, and a world of creativity has been unleashed. This brought the wedding cake right into the spotlight, literally! These gorgeous designs have taken center stage, proudly standing on their pedestals while the reception unfolded around them.
And the fruit cake tradition has also faded into darkness.
Modern pastry techniques introduced wild and innovative flavors: from your mellow and subtle vanilla, to passion fruit and coconut. This meant that cakes were now delicious, too!
Yet, for some reason, the budgeting for wedding cakes has not caught on!
There is no real average price of a wedding cake because they come in all shapes and sizes and prices. Couples who plan their own wedding don't always have all the resources to budget properly for their event, and allocate only a small amount towards the cake.
So can't a cake be made for £100?
I can only speak for myself, a few bespoke bakeries, and colleagues I have worked with along the years. At my company, a three tier cake costs around £70 in ingredients alone. Granted, I use expensive ingredients, but that's because I create a high-end product. The number of hours spent making the cake range from 24 to 40 hours for most projects, NOT including any prior consultations, travel to meet clients, preparing samples, or laboring over paperwork related to the order.
If I paid myself a modest £15 per hour (but I'm not telling what I actually pay myself ;) ), and spent 24 hours on the cake (i.e. 3 to 4 day's work), that comes up to £360.
£70 + £360 = £430.
Most cake makers charge for delivery and set-up, too. Plus, there can be other expenses, depending on the project.
But it's just a cake, you say, I've made cakes before! It's sugar, flour, butter, and eggs!
Nope. A celebration cake is an entirely different species. It is not a normal bake-a-slab-and-frost-it type cake. There are so many steps to the process, it would make your head spin! A celebration cake has to taste fresh and moist, bear the weight of a ganache coating, a fondant layer, decorations, and flowers (which are heavy, by the way!). It has to withstand transportation, awkward handling (possibly), temperature fluctuations, humidity, and hours of sitting on the side waiting to be cut.
You can now see the elements a bride or client can control are:
1- The size/number of tiers
2- The design - the more elaborate, the more hours, the more expensive.
While some cake makers charge more for a wedding cake than a celebration cake of the same size due to the "wedding" tag, this is not something I do. The starting prices of our cakes are same across the board. The baking and decorating process is exactly the same for both!
In London, three-tier cakes tend to fall above the £500 price tag. Outside the M25, the prices may be lower, but don't count on it!
The things that can significantly increase the price of your cake:
- Edible gold and silver leaf
- Large sugar flowers, or dense arrangements, including cascading flowers
- Hand-piped designs
- Ruffles of all kinds
- Hand-made toppers
- Colorful designs, including ombre effects (coloring fondant is very labor-intensive!)
- 3D carved shapes
- Hand-painted designs
- Layered designs, where several elements are layered to create an attractive and interesting result
Here are a few tips to keep your cake budget from going out of control:
1- Choose a cake size that makes finger/coffee servings instead of dessert servings.
2- Do your own design research, and approach your cake designer with clear ideas.
3- Choose a simple color palette.
4- A statement flower surrounded by a few smaller, filler flowers can have a large impact, but be kinder on your budget.
5- Lace designs are fast to create, therefore easy on your wallet.
6- Choose a cake company that's within a reasonable distance to your venue, and check if a delivery charge applies.
7- Create a focal tier, where the art is concentrated, with the remaining tiers kept plain and simple.
8- Find trust in your cake designer, know that his/her work is up to your standards by checking their portfolio, and tasting their cakes. A bad, cheaper cake does more damage to your budget than a great cake that would have cost more!
One important note I have to make is that with cakes, you get what you pay for. Typically, the more experienced, qualified, and reputable cake professionals charge more. They offer a very high quality product that is made with superb ingredients. There are cheap options out there, sure, but there's a compromise somewhere. Perhaps the sugar flowers look plastic, or the fondant is sagging, or the edges aren't neat, or the cake is dry, or it tastes bland, too sweet, or worst of all artificial. Mass produced cakes tend to contain preservatives (not necessarily harmful stuff, but preservatives nonetheless), and they tend to be made with cake mixes, which usually contain very high levels of leavener, i.e. raising agents like baking powder. The low price on these cakes indicates that their ingredients aren't great, either.
The key point to remember is that cakes are extremely time-consuming, and require a huge amount of talent and skill. You are paying for a bespoke art creation that will remain in your wedding photos forever. This is the pinnacle of food art, where taste and appearance matter equally. Ultimately, your budget is what it is, yet this is your wedding, isn't it? ;)