Wedding cakes are the traditional dessert at most weddings, but in recent years, couples have gotten a lot more creative with the tasty sweets they offer to their guests. When it comes to wedding cake etiquette, there's no rulebook that says you have to serve an extravagant five-tiered wedding cake. Thankfully, that's where cutting cakes come in. If you want to participate in the classic cake-cutting tradition—but don't actually want a wedding cake—this small cake is the perfect alternative.
What Is a Cutting Cake?
A cutting cake is a very small cake created for the sole purpose of giving newlyweds the opportunity to participate in a tradition without spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on something they don't actually want to serve for dessert.
The History and Meaning of Cutting Cakes
Cupcakes were the first deviation from the norm, but then the trend expanded to include fantastic dessert buffets, candy displays, and make-your-own-sundae bars. Some clients will go as far as to request extensive cheesecake displays, and for one Thanksgiving weekend wedding, even a "pie-stravaganza." There are absolutely no rules as long as you can afford whatever you have selected.
With that said, many couples want to serve an alternative to wedding cake but don't want to give up the tradition of formally cutting the cake—and sometimes smashing each other with it—in front of their guests while the photographer snaps away. The solution: a cutting cake. This age-old tradition continues to be a hit with modern brides who don't want to miss out on all the fun.
Moriah Michelle of Wildflower Cakes says, "We typically see cutting cakes for elopements and smaller parties, and for those, I suggest a two-tiered cake with soft textures and flowers." It should be noted that the cutting cake is not actually meant to be served. Once the newlyweds have finished cutting the cake and getting their pictures, the cake is promptly removed. Guests craving something sweet can then be directed to the dessert bar.
Meet the Expert
Moriah Michelle is the founder and owner of Wildflower Cakes, a cake boutique in Denver. She studied at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and specializes in wedding cake design.
Cutting Cake FAQs
What types of cutting cakes can you order?
Remember, there are no dumb questions when it comes to wedding cakes! Typically, cutting cakes are pretty understated—topped with French buttercream or adorned with flowers—but that's your call. "Since cutting cakes tend to be smaller, they often aren’t as elaborate as a traditional wedding cake, but don’t let this stop you from having your dream wedding cake," Michelle says. "Show your baker your inspiration, and we scale down that design and find ways to make a smaller cake feel just as special."
Can the cutting cake be served to guests?
A cutting cake isn't meant to be served to the guests. In fact, the little cake is whisked away to the kitchen as soon as the bride and groom finish the cutting tradition. Usually, it's wrapped up and put in the fridge so the bride and groom can enjoy it late at night or the next day. It's never cut and served because it couldn't possibly feed all of the guests. It wasn't made to feed 100 people—it's only big enough to look cute and support whatever cake topper or decoration the couple has chosen.
Be sure to wrap and refrigerate any leftover cake as soon as possible to extend its shelf life. If you plan on saving the top tier for an important milestone, consult your baker to determine the best preservation method.
What if you don't want a cutting cake?
Just to be clear: You do not have to have a cutting cake if that tradition isn't important to you. You can feed each other bites from the dessert bar or share a cupcake for the cameras. Or you can skip the moment altogether and just keep dancing when they announce dessert has been served for those who would like a sweet treat.
Are there any alternatives to cutting cakes?
In the event that you and your partner don't like cake, this is your chance to give the tradition your own twist. "I love the idea of tiered cheese rounds for couples that don’t have a sweet tooth. They can be just as beautiful, and traditionally cheese plates are served at the end of the meal and not as a first course," Michelle says.
What should you do if guests want a slice of the cutting cake?
As crazy as it may sound, occasionally, a wedding guest will chase the cake into the kitchen demanding to have a piece. Unless it's been planned in advance, caterers politely decline their request. It would be very impolite to serve cake to one or two guests but not the entire group. If guests happen to notice other people with a slice of wedding cake, then they may wonder why they weren't given a piece. Thus, leading them to speculate why they aren't as "special" as the guest(s) who got a real piece of wedding cake.
How to Incorporate a Cutting Cake
First things first, you and your partner will want to weigh your wedding cake and dessert options. "Generally speaking, brides tend to go with a more traditional wedding cake if they’re having a larger party. There are a lot of factors that come into play when choosing a cake. We like to hear about the venue, look at design inspiration, and discuss what the best option is for your guest count and budget," Michelle says.
Be sure to tell your immediate family and wedding party the game plan for dessert to avoid any potential cake conflicts. Letting them know that the cutting cake will not be served sets expectations ahead of time. Count on your mothers, for instance, to explain that—while the cutting cake won't be served—there are plenty of other delectable dessert selections to satisfy their palate.