Expert Advice: Wedding Cakes

Wedding planner Marcy Blum and confectioner Sylvia Weinstock's top tips

I was lucky enough to get a peek at the workings of the bakeshop of Sylvia Weinstock, the undisputed grand dame of wedding cakes. There's magic brewing in Sylvia's very busy, four-story townhouse in the hip downtown area of New York City. From within 50 yards of the front door one is tantalized by the scents of baking; not just the yeast and flour smells common near commercial bakeries, but the seductive scents of chocolate (100 pounds a week), eggs (1,500 per week) and lots and lots of butter (600 pounds per week).

Tip #1
Be aware of the style of the cakes as well as the type of materials a baker uses before you place an order. Not every baker can create the type of cake you want. To be sure the baker shares your vision of perfection, ask to see pictures of finished cakes.

I start trailing the Cake Lady (as she is often referred to) in her cozy office, where brides meet to talk with her about their cake concepts. On the day I visit, a bride and her parents have come from Niagara Falls to order a wedding cake.

Tip #2
Start cake shopping four to six months before the wedding. Have your basic information together—the date of your wedding, approximate guest list tally and site. Otherwise it's impossible to go forward and place the order.

To get a concrete idea of what this bride has in mind, Sylvia asks as many questions as a hardcore investigative journalist. "How do you envision your wedding? What color/design are your flowers? Is it a lunch or dinner? What's the theme? Is the meal a buffet or sit-down? Are you thinking of something offbeat or classic? What does your dress look like?" Sylvia is full of ideas after she discovers that the groom is from Barbados. "How about a cake topper showing the two of you riding a surfboard on a great wave? What about decorating the cake with hibiscus?" The family then contributes all sorts of possibilities themselves. That's the way the creative process is supposed to work.

Tip #3
Cut out photos, bring swatches and doodles—all sorts of inspirations for you and your baker to discuss. These don't even have to be of cakes, just ideas to spark your imagination.

The walls of Sylvia's showroom are covered with photographs of cakes in seemingly hundreds of styles. Many of these shots show cakes flanked by celebrities like Hillary Clinton, Eddie and Nicole Murphy, Donald Trump, and Cyndi Lauper. If a bride isn't inspired by any of this, perhaps she should consider serving oatmeal for dessert! The final touch to the meeting (and I've never seen it fail to clinch the deal), is the cake samples that are served. The baking crew keeps plenty of minicakes on hand for this purpose. No matter how often I've visited I can never resist having seconds—and I've found that I'm not alone.

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