Your Go-To Guide to Pulling Off the Perfect Wedding Dessert

From classic cakes to trendy doughnut walls

Updated 02/28/17
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Photo by Perry Vaile Photography

Next to the bride and her gown, the wedding cake may be the most singularly striking piece of any wedding celebration. But a standard three-tiered confection may not be the right choice for every couple. The dessert has to taste delicious but also, perhaps more important, feel unique and particular to the newlyweds as a pair. How to achieve such a lofty ambition? Here are some great ways to make your wedding dessert a special and spectacular part of your big day.

01 of 09

The Classic Cake

Photo by Nicole Berrett Photography

A gorgeous tiered cake can be a crowd pleaser, but it can easily become boring. WeddingWire trend expert Anne Chertoff says wedding cake is at its best when each tier is a different cake and filling, so the tiers alternate and each table gets to sample more than one flavor.

"Since most guests are sitting with their significant other, they can share and each enjoy both options!" she says.

Make the cake your own by having as many tiers as you've been together as a couple or by using an heirloom cake topper that's been passed down in your family. Along similar lines, chef Jeff McInnis of Sarsaparilla Club at the Shelborne South Beach in Miami says that the largest, bottom tier should be something that most people will enjoy, like buttercream and strawberry. The second tier can be the couple's favorite or a decadent layer like a rich chocolate with pecan praline. For the top, go with whatever the newlyweds love because they often take it home to freeze.

02 of 09

A Towering Centerpiece

Croquembouche Wedding Cake

Corbin Gurkin Photography

The pièce montée, or croquembouche, is making a comeback from its 19th-century heyday, according to Alejandro Muguerza, president of Le Basque. Made with edible confections, most often cream puffs held together with spun sugar or caramel, this towering and architectural masterpiece is quite elaborate and as much a sight to behold as one to consume.

"It is a showcase of abundance and generosity as well as celebration," Muguerza. It may not be the right choice for every couple, but those with a classic aesthetic and fans of the Edwardian era can appreciate the grandeur, he notes.

03 of 09

Cupcakes Your Way

Photo by Rachael Osborn Photography

If you're worried about cupcakes being so five years ago, don't be. Kevin Futamachi, head pastry chef at Roundabout Grill and Roundabout Catering, says that the fad isn't going anywhere. "Cupcakes are something familiar that people gravitate toward," he says. Plus, couples can get a little creative with different fillings or frostings. "It's refreshing to see couples doing things that are nontraditional. And it makes things more personalized to them," he adds.

04 of 09

Doughnut Wall

Wedding Reception Doughnut Wall

Marianne Taylor Photography

If you're digging the idea of having handheld desserts at your wedding, consider a doughnut wall. Virginia "Gigi" Santa Ines, CWS-senior catering service executive at the San Jose Marriott, says this kind of casual take-and-go treat display emphasizes dancing and socializing. You can make the wall by putting pegs into any vertical surface, then hang the doughnuts. Self-service and replenishing are a breeze.

05 of 09

Interactive Dessert Stations

Pan Dulce Wedding Dessert Bar

Heather Roth Photography

Elisa Marshall, founding partner at Maman, thinks that stations and minis are the way to go for many couples. "The more options, the better, in my opinion, so you have something to please all," she says. "After a long meal, you want to get people standing and get the party started, so having a seated dessert or cake tends to drag out the dinner part for too long."

Try an ice cream sundae or sandwich bar, hand-scooped gelato with all the trimmings, or even flaming doughnuts, where chefs warm up glazed doughnuts with butter, add rum, and light them on fire, says Santa Ines.

06 of 09

S'mores Stop

S'mores Wedding Dessert Bar

Stacey Hedman Photography

For an interactive and totally deconstructed DIY feel, why not set up a s'mores stop for your guests? They can choose how much chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow to smoosh together to create a one-of-a-kind dessert. Opt for SmashMallows if you want to go bold, with tastes like toasted-coconut-pineapple and espresso bean.

07 of 09

Alcoholic Sweet Treats

Spiked Hot Chocolate Bar

Megan Wynn

To turn up the fun factor even more at your wedding, give guests the option of slurping something sweet and distilled, like root-beer floats with whiskey, Santa Ines suggests. Or find a baker who can whip up some spirited cupcakes, like Savannah's liquor-infused Drunken Cupcake, says Jodi Jackson of Savannah Wedding Dreams.

08 of 09

Say "Cheese"

Cheese Wheel Wedding Cake

Harwell Photography

Not everyone has a sweet tooth. So a "cake" made of cheese can give the visual appeal without being too sugary. Try tiered wheels of your favorite cheeses, says chef Janine Booth of Sarsaparilla Club at the Shelborne South Beach, who suggests "soft and buttery French triple cream for the top, a fancy blue for the middle, and a firmer aged tomme for the base."

09 of 09

Keep In Mind..

Photo by Jessica Castro Weddings

While you'll want to select something that you and your fiancé love and that represents your personality and style, it's not a bad idea to pick flavors and textures that appeal to a wide audience, says Andrea Zelen, director of bakery operations at the Sweet Shop by 4 Rivers Smokehouse. "Most cake decorators can suggest flavors, fillings, and embellishments that match a couple's style and desired venue," she says.

For more inspiration, look at the time of year you're hosting the affair. Wedding experience curator Emore Campbell recommends light and airy options for spring and summer and more creamy and filling ones for fall and winter. It's also fun to have the dessert be an expression of your culture. "One Polish couple I'm currently working with is incorporating a table of Polish desserts for their American wedding," Campbell says.

Just don't forget that you're dealing with the venue's environment, which probably isn't perfectly suited for long-lasting confections. Anthony Cuellar, catering pastry chef at Wente Vineyards, says heat and moisture are the enemy of baked goods, so keep that in mind if you'll have both as unwanted guests at your reception. It's also smart to avoid anything that has potential allergens or could pose a risk to guests, like nuts and red dye, Campbell warns. But beyond all of that, make sure it's a dessert that you and your new spouse will enjoy and remember for years to come.

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