Wedding Cakes Don’t Have to Taste Bad

September 30, 2010

 Why do so many people have low expectations on how wedding cakes taste? I have been to two weddings recently and I and the other guests were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cake. It’s sad that we go to weddings assuming the cake isn’t going to be that great.

One of the weddings was in the Bay Area and the cake was made by Jill Branch and Ann Sakai of Branching Out Cakes. It was a delicious- lemon cake with a lemon curd filling and buttercream.

Assuming the bride and groom have picked a cake flavor that tastes first-rate, the key factor is the frosting.

Many wedding cakes are covered with a layer of rolled fondant. This is not the same fondant that is used inside candies.  Made out of powdered sugar, gelatin, glucose and glycerin, it is rolled thinly and draped over the cake. It is popular because it can be dyed to any color and pieces can be cut out and used to form flowers and other shapes to decorate the cake. Fondant cakes are impressive to look at. They also hold up well when placed on display during a wedding reception when it is 85 degrees. The down side  is that it tastes gross- like gummy sweet cardboard.

I give huge credit to pastry chefs that are able to roll the fondant very thin making the texture better and to  cover a cake without seams and cracks. Using fondant is an art in itself and takes lots of practice. I will be the first to admit my fondant skills are lacking. I have made fondant cakes but never bothered to perfect them because no matter how great it looks it still tastes like fondant.

Buttercream is the other popular frosting for wedding cakes. There are delicious buttercreams and those that are inedible even though they are made of edible ingredients. Some butter creams aren’t made with butter but with shortening. Like fondant they hold up well at room temperature and are great for piping decorations on a cake, but that’s about it. They taste artificial and are generally way too sweet. Most buttercream cakes you see in grocery stores with the piped roses are made with shortening. Stay away at all costs.

Buttercreams made with butter is the way to go, but the right balance of ingredients is crucial. Too much butter and they taste as though you were eating a stick of butter, too much sugar and they hurt your teeth. The buttercream recipe I use is an adaptation of Rose Beranbaum’s. It has white chocolate in it; not a lot but just enough to give it some background flavor and make it stable. Real buttercreams don’t have the luxury of holding up well at room temperature when it’s hot outside so even though that’s the frosting that tastes the best you don’t see it on many wedding cakes.

Fortunately we are in a trend where the taste of a wedding cake is becoming as important as to how it will look in photographs 10 years after the ceremony. Nontraditional wedding desserts like cupcakes and gelato bars are all about flavor.  If you are a bride and groom planning a wedding make sure whatever you serve tastes terrific. Hopefully the more great tasting wedding cakes we have our fear of them will change.

What wedding cake experiences have you had?


  1. My experiences with wedding cakes has been for the most part…boring. It seems like it’s an obligatory and traditional food to serve. The cakes lacked flavor, as did the whipped cream (or whatever it was on top).

    I did attend a wedding once whereby they served a carrot cake w/cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist and flavorful, as was the cream cheese frosting.

    It there is a dessert table, most people I know head to that table,instead of a slice of the wedding cake.

  2. Both of my wedding cakes tasted delicious, because I insisted upon it. I think the cake was my first priority in planning each of them, in fact. Both had buttercream frosting, including the flowers and other decorations — no fondant, no gum paste. Both bakers did a fabulous job of making them gorgeous, though they were working on decidedly different scales (my second wedding was very small, so the cake was only a layer-cake-sized creation).

    That second cake came from Elite Sweets here in Livonia, Michigan: http://www.getelitesweets.com/ They do a wonderful job of marrying beauty and edibility.

    Actually, this prompts a question: The one thing no baker (including the one linked above) has ever managed, in my experience, is to make bright-colored frosting that doesn’t taste bitter. Perhaps I’m an over-taster of food colorings, but is it possible to get rich, bright colors without the nasty bitter flavor?

  3. My son and his fiance asked me to make their wedding cake. Fortunatley this was a small affair about 25 people. I experimented with various cake recipes, fillings and frostings. The one that was a winner was a recipe I have had for about 25 years stuffed away in the archives. Torn from some magazine I have no recollection of, was a recipe for Tropical Trifle by Chef Jeremiah Tower and Chef Emily Luchetti. Made a sponge cake with a sabayon filling and I made a frosting of cream cheese, whipped cream, and creme fraiche. The frosting was a little tough as it was mid summer in northern California and an outdoor wedding and even though we kept in the barrel room at the winery where the wedding was it did start to melt. But it was decorated with orchards and was beautiful and was a hit for taste. I have been commissioned to make two of the same cakes since.

  4. did my comment get posted

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