How to choose a wedding cake

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We asked pâtisserie chef Selina O’Connor from Selina’s Cakes in County Kerry to explain how to choose your wedding cake designer, what influences the size and flavouring of the cake and how to brief the cake designer to make the cake of your dreams.

What is the traditional size for a wedding cake?
Traditionally, a wedding cake would typically be an eight, ten or 12 inch round or square. There are a wide variety of different shapes available now and also the chosen design has to be factored into the size of cake required.

How do you decide how many tiers to have?
It really comes down to personal choice. If you see a cake that you like it can always be adjusted to suit your own taste, for example, tiers can be added or taken away. If you like the simplicity of a one tier or two tier for display, additional cutting cakes can also be prepared for serving. Mock tiers can be added, for some people they want a WOW factor when it comes to their cake but don’t necessarily need a lot of cake to eat, so we add mock tiers to give it extra height and glamour.

What influences the design and flavouring of a cake?
The design is influenced by the couple getting married and again it comes down to personal choice. The bride may have seen a cake in a magazine or at a friend’s wedding or want it to match a detail on their dress. The cake designer or baker may make suggestions about suitability but in my opinion the last word should come from the couple. After all, it’s their day!

In terms of the flavour of a cake, some couples factor in what will be crowd-pleasers, other couples choose flavours that they personally like. I suggest a balance of flavours depending on the profile of the guests, maybe have a different flavour for each tier. If one of your flavours is going to be rich and dense, you could have another lighter cake, and if there’s a third flavour and you as a couple have a personal favourite, then choose that one.

Should you choose different cake flavours on different tiers so that every age can enjoy the cake or is it better to stick with one type of cake throughout?
I recommend a different flavour for each tier. For some couples a parent of either the bride or groom may be involved in the deciding of the flavours, and may really want a tier of traditional fruit cake. This should all be talked about and decided on before booking your wedding cake as the fruit cake needs to be made months in advance to ensure it is nice and moist. So don’t ask the wedding cake designer for fruit cake at the last minute!

What cake flavours do you find are most popular with young people and older people?
Cake flavours have completely evolved in the last 15-20 years. The traditional three tiers of rich fruit cake has been replaced by couples choosing three completely different flavours for their cake. From my experience the younger people love Rich Chocolate Biscuit Cake, Lemon Drizzle Cake and Chocolate and Orange Fudge Cake. Favourite flavours amongst the older people would be a rich or a light fruit cake, Lemon Drizzle Cake and Vanilla Madeira Cake.

What are the 3 questions that a good cake designer should ask brides-to-be so you can work out what cake they will like?

  1. Are you having a particular theme for your wedding? Traditional? Vintage? Modern? Simple-No Fuss?
  2. Have you a particular image of a cake you particularly like?
  3. Where is your venue? (This allows the designer to decide if the particular design can be transported without any huge risks of being damaged during transport.)
  4. How many guests will attend?

Should you bring anything with you when you go to see the cake designer – an image of the dress or a detail on it; tear sheets from magazines of cakes that you like or photographs of cakes from other weddings you have been at? What would you, as a cake designer, like the bride-to-be to bring with her when she meets you?
Ideally, the couple should have an idea of what they are looking for. Images would be great if possible as it is a great starting point. Also it helps if they have looked at the cake designer’s past work on their website or social media channels.

It is great if they have a good idea of the colour scheme for the wedding party, flowers etc. They should also be aware that many of the pictures on the internet are not edible cakes and are unrealistic to produce if the cakes are to be made fresh. Also many cakes that they will see on the Pinterest or Instagram will have been taken by professional photographers with professional  lighting, and if the lighting and backdrop at their hotel isn’t the same, this could reflect on the overall display of their wedding cake. It’s important to remember that using an image as a guide can be very helpful but a couple should also keep an open mind and be open to making changes, so that the cake is personal to them. You don’t want someone else’s cake!

What should you expect from a wedding cake designer?
That’s easy. They should have the relevant qualifications. I spent years studying pastry and sugar craft in the UK and worked at a five-star hotel in Germany so I have genuine expertise. Don’t hesitate to ask about qualifications. The designer should be professional in their dealings with the couple, have an exceptional attention to detail, tell the couple the truth about what is realistic so they are not disappointed on the day, be honest with them and offer a real personal touch. And you should taste some cakes that the cake designer has made when you meet them.

Have you had any hair-raising moments as a cake designer?
I did have one instance when a wedding cake had to be delivered and due to extremely bad weather conditions and multiple road closures in Kerry it took nine hours to deliver the cake. But we did it! And we had a very happy client which is the most important thing.

Any other critical questions the bride should ask the cake designer?
– How many wedding cakes do you schedule for the same day?
– How soon before the wedding will the cake be baked?
– What are your specialties?
– If I provide you with a picture of what I would like, can you recreate it?
– If I don’t have a clear vision of what I would like, can you offer some design ideas based on my theme and budget?
– How will the cake be displayed?
– What if I want fresh flowers on the cake?
– What if I want sugar flowers on the cake?
– Do you deliver and set up on the wedding day?

Anything that the bride should not do?
– They should not underestimate that they are dealing with a professional who will guide them and give them the best result as it is in the interest of all parties involved.
– They need to be realistic in what they want and how it relates to their budget.
– They should listen to the advice of the cake designer and not decide to make last minute changes to their cake!

What is the average spend on a cake?
It would normally be between €400-800. The factors which will influence this are:

  1. How many tiers
  2. Are they all real cakes/dummies cakes?
  3. The level of complexity
  4. How many and what type of cakes in each tier?
  5. The size of the cakes

How can you preserve your wedding cake?
If you wish to preserve a tier or part of your wedding cake for the christening of the first child or for say a first wedding anniversary, I would suggest this can only be done using the traditional fruit cake. You can freeze the fruit cake – wrap it in parchment paper and tin foil and put in an airtight container with a lid on it (this stops it getting bashed or damaged from any heavy food!). Sponge cakes are not suited to freezing.


You will find Selina’s Wedding Cakes here.

Photography courtesy David Frain Wedding Photography


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