I know, from my own experience, how creative brides (and grooms, and wedding planners) have to be these days to stick to a reasonable budget and get more for less. We've compiled a few practical ideas on how to have the wedding cake of your dreams without breaking the bank.
First, a few caveats:
1) This may seem cynical, since I'm a cake designer and I made my own wedding cake, but whatever you do, don’t make your own cake! And don’t allow your mother, sister, or best friend to make it. You (and your mother, sister, and best friend) will have enough to do in the hours and days before your wedding. Leave the cake to a professional -- the reduction in stress will be more than worth the cost.
2) Be realistic. A $1.50-per-serving cake from the bakery at the local grocery chain will be of considerably different quality, in ingredients, design and workmanship, than a cake made by a skilled artisan baker that costs more. Consider what you can afford, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Better still, find a talented designer who is willing to work with your budget.
3) Remember: it's your wedding day! There will be so many wonderful things going on that day, that no single detail will have an overwhelming impact on anyone except the bride. Guests just want to eat and celebrate with you. The bridal couple is the centerpiece, not the cake.
Having said that, guests will remember a cake that doesn't taste good! And a beautiful cake that complements the wedding theme and colors perfectly will be a real treat for everyone.
GETTING MORE FOR LESS
1) Rethink the tradition of saving the top tier. After a year in the freezer, your cake will taste like just that: a cake that’s spent a year in the freezer. Ask your baker to include the top tier in the total number of servings for your guests. In short, don’t pay extra for it. Instead, consider buying a nice bottle of wine on your honeymoon and drinking it on your first anniversary. Or, get your cake baker to make a fresh top tier for you on your anniversary.
2) Rethink time-consuming design choices, like custom-colored fondant. You probably already know that the more detail and labor the cake design requires, the more expensive the cake will be. Eliminating or changing certain design elements can significantly reduce the cost. We've found that the most labor-intensive design elements are often not what you'd expect them to be. Yes, fondant-covered cakes are generally more expensive than buttercream cakes, but the difference is only a dollar or two per serving, and fondant contributes hugely towards the look and freshness of the cake. What does add to the cost, considerably, is custom-colored fondant. Coloring large quantities of fondant, especially to match a specific color, takes time. Fondant can be purchased pre-colored, but it's more expensive than white. To save money, opt for white fondant and introduce pops of color elsewhere (like a single, oversized sugar flower in a bright hue as a strikingly modern cake topper).
3) Rethink square tiers. Getting the edges and corners of a square cake perfectly neat takes years of practice and a lot of time. Many bakers charge more for square cakes, for this reason. To cut costs on your cake, you'll want to cut corners, literally, and go for a round cake.
4) Ask questions, and negotiate. During your cake consultation, don't be shy to ask your baker about cost-effective ways to simplify your wedding cake without sacrificing design.
MAKING A BIG IMPRESSION
The size of the cake is a major consideration for many couples. Perhaps you've always dreamed of a five-tier cake, but the reality of your budget won't allow it. Below are some relatively inexpensive ways to make your wedding cake appear bigger:
1) Increase the number of tiers. Each tier of traditional wedding cake is 4" wider in diameter than the one above it, so a cake for 100 guests typically has three tiers: 6", 10", 14". Let's say you have your heart set on a four-tier cake, but you only have 100 guests. Adding an 18" tier would be prohibitively expensive, not to mention wasteful. By decreasing the size difference between the tiers, you could have a four- or even a five-tier wedding cake to serve 100 guests. For a five-tier cake, the diameter of the tiers would be 5", 6", 7", 8", and 9". The less space between the tiers, the taller and leaner your cake appears, which also happens to be a popular 'look' for contemporary wedding cakes.
2) Elevate your cake. Another way to increase the grandiosity of your cake is to lift it. Cake stands and pedestals come in a variety of styles, from antique (and more traditional) to modern and streamlined, and can be chosen to complement the style and color scheme of your cake. You can purchase one yourself, or rent one from your baker (most cake designers will have a range of pedestals available). There are a couple of caveats: firstly, a standard cake stand will accommodate a cake up to 10" in diameter, while the largest tier of a typical wedding cake can be 12-18". Be sure to confirm the size of your largest tier with your baker before you purchase a cake stand so you know it will fit. Secondly, wedding cakes can be extremely heavy, so make sure that your chosen structure can support the weight.
3) Add a faux tier. Many cake designers are happy to add a fake (or "dummy") tier to your wedding cake. These are usually made from styrofoam or a similar material, and are obviously not meant to be eaten. Since dummy tiers are non-perishable, the designer can work on it weeks in advance (at his or her leisure), so they are generally less expensive than a real tier. Dummies can add fantastic visual impact to your cake, your guests will be none the wiser, and you will still have real cake tiers to cut into on the day!
4) Add a cake topper. Vintage wedding cake toppers can be found at flea markets, garage sales, or your grandma's attic. Ebay always has interesting finds too (just search for: "wedding cake topper"). Adding a topper will give your cake more height, and can add a lovely personal touch.
5) Use a smaller table. The larger your table, the smaller your cake will appear. A cake with a 12" bottom tier would be dwarfed by a 60" round table. Using a smaller table will make your cake seem bigger in proportion.