The tradition of serving cake at a wedding has been around for a long time. A really long time—think all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. Historically, wedding cakes typically featured at least two tiers (nowadays it's often more than two), and in many instances, couples were encouraged to kiss over the tiered cake—if they succeeded without knocking it over, it was believed they would live a long and happy life together and be blessed with many children.
While tiered cakes are still popular—with or without the surrounding beliefs around fertility and luck—today’s brides and grooms are taking things a step further with some over-the-top designs and unique flavors.
“Anything goes,” says Nicky Reinhard (owner of New York City's Nicky Reinhard Events) as she reflects on the time she featured a bride’s cats in the cake. Here, we speak to Reinhard—and many other wedding experts, from wedding planners to pastry chefs—about the one wedding cake they'll never forget. From abundant fresh florals to unexpected cake toppers and even cakes suspended from the ceiling, these confections truly are works of art.
“My clients met in a pastry class where they were asked to prepare Paris-Brest, the famous wheel-shaped French dessert that pays homage to a bicycle race that runs from Paris to Brest, a naval town in Brittany," says Marine Urbain, a wedding consultant at Hotel Manapany and head pastry chef at Sin Garden in St. Barths. "They decided to create their own version of the round hazelnut-flavored pastry, one that included a chocolate crispy praline base, caramel puffs, and vanilla whipped cream, which they served at their own wedding. The cake was nine stories tall, with nine representing the month they met (September), their nine years of knowing each other, and the number of tables set at their dinner reception."
"A showstopping moment I will never forget featured a cake shaped like a chandelier, suspended upside-down from an actual chandelier!" exclaims Meg Walker, executive chef at Made by Meg Catering in Southern California. "The reception took place in a tent, and the combined weight of the chandelier and cake had to be calculated to ensure the ceiling pole could support both. We took the cake down when it was time to serve, packing away the top layer for the couple to enjoy on their first wedding anniversary."
"Spring in the nation’s capital is marked by the flowering of the cherry blossom, which symbolizes renewal and optimism," says Allison Jackson, creative director of Pineapple Productions in Washington, D.C. "One memorable wedding cake I’ll never forget was created in honor of these blossoms," she recalls, "with an exterior featuring blush pink fondant and cherry blossom branches made of sugar strategically placed on the sides of the cake’s five tiers. The separation of the top layers by an illusion spacer made it appear as if the two tiers were floating in the air."
"I made a wedding cake for a couple on TLC’s Say Yes To The Dress that I won’t soon forget," recalls Leen Nunn, executive pastry chef at the Omni PGA Frisco Resort in Texas. "The four-tier cake was covered in fondant, with the second layer made of 24-karat edible gold paper and the third layer made of thin layers of ruffles to match the bride’s dress. The cake is memorable not only because of its beauty but because of how difficult it was to shape the ruffles and find the white peony flowers—in the middle of December—that adorned the cake."
Work of Art
"My clients wanted to incorporate the bride’s Mexican heritage when planning their five-tier carrot wedding cake," recalls Elizabeth McKellar, owner of The Nouveau Romantics in Los Angeles and Austin. "To emulate papel picado, the traditional Mexican decorative craft, we covered the cake first in metallic gold icing and then hand-drew on details, including the couple’s names and the date of their wedding. We finished by adding plum-colored fondant flowers that cascaded from the top tier."
Up in the Air
"Our clients loved flowers, so we surrounded their five-tier cake with a stunning floral arrangement that included smilax vine, Italian Ruscus, deep red peonies, burgundy ranunculus, Juliet garden roses, antique hydrangea, burgundy snapdragons, and red amaranth," says Becca Atchison, founding partner and creative director of Rebecca Rose Events in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "A custom crest was hand painted in gold over black fondant and surrounded with 3D sugar flowers. But here’s what made the cake most memorable: instead of positioning it on a table, we suspended it from the beam of a tent!"
"My clients fell in love with a colorful tapestry, so we decided to use it as inspiration for their four-tier wedding cake," says Heather Anne Leavitt, cake designer and owner of Sweet Heather Anne in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Two circular forms are filled with thousands of colorful, hand-placed sequins representing flowers, leaves, and even an orange moon. I loved how all the sequined colors popped against the matte black icing."
"The wedding theme was rainbows, so we dressed my client’s wedding cake in a bright array of orange, blue, purple, and yellow sugar flowers that popped against a white fondant," recalls Nicky Reinhard, owner of Nicky Reinhard Events in New York, of the cake designed by Ron Ben-Israel. "But what made this cake unique was the bride’s desire to incorporate her two cats into the design of this five-tier cake—if you look closely, you can see edible versions of the cats resting at the base."
"My most memorable wedding cake took a year to plan and design," says Kelly O'Brien, owner of Glass Slipper Gourmet in Martinez, California. "The bride reached out via email, explaining she was having her wedding on the U.S.S. Hornet, a museum aircraft carrier harbored in Alameda, California, to honor her father and fiancé’s military careers. She wanted to create an operational 3D military tank that could shoot out donut holes and marshmallows! The exterior of the cake was covered in edible tracks, antennae, nets, and road wheels, and the inside included a delicious Snickerdoodle filling. The couple's non-traditional cake-cutting ceremony was a target shoot contest—the person with the most points got to do the face smash!"
Dark and Gothic
“The cake I’ll never forget reflected my client’s gothic-themed wedding—think skull motifs, a bride in a black leather jacket, tarot cards, and black tapered candles," says Alyce Machcinski, principal cake designer at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "At the bride’s request, the three-tier cake was covered in hand-painted black images, including spiders and caterpillars, which played perfectly into the dark, romantic feel of the wedding."
"My client’s Sedona-based wedding had a bohemian theme, so I created this four-tier, ombre-colored cake and incorporated the reddish-brown hues found in nature in Arizona," says Deborah Heyd, a pastry chef at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona. "A macramé design, tassel trimming, gold leaf, and a colorful mix of fresh and dried flowers captured the theme, while a tier separator and a hexagonal-shaped stand resulted in a gravity-defying feel."
"This four-tier purple cake was most memorable thanks to its color, along with all of the accompanying cascading real flowers, including roses, anemones, and lavender," recalls Kendra Toy, a wedding planner at The Barn on the Pemi in Plymouth, New Hampshire. "I loved that the bottom tier had this delicate hand-painted floral scene, and the top tier featured a scripted gold leaf cake topper featuring the couple’s last name."
“This completely edible, out-of-the-box wedding cake featured a fondant-iced ‘lobster’ that sat atop a blue bucket filled with brown sugar ‘sand’," explains David Stark, the chief creative officer of David Stark Design and Production in Brooklyn. "[It's] the perfect wedding cake for a couple who got engaged on a beach in Maine. While the cake clearly did not take itself too seriously, its craftsmanship is so extraordinary, it never became kitsch.”
Martine Holzman, the owner of Martine’s Pastries in Lexington, Kentucky, touts a very special pistachio cake as one of her favorites. "This five-tier pistachio cake was memorable because each layer featured a different texture, color, and design," she says, "including an incredibly unique ombre blue and white marbled honeycomb mosaic surrounding the center layer, a bottom layer made of dried hydrangea leaves, and a top tier displaying vertical gold striping along with a gorgeous floral arrangement of dahlias, dyed asparagus fern, blue hydrangeas, and roses."
"To play into our couple's love of true crime podcasts and a groom who resembled Sherlock Holmes, I incorporated a houndstooth print on the bottom layer of this three-tier cake and draped it in mustard-colored spun sugar," explains Heather Balliet, the owner, lead planner, and designer of Amorology in San Diego. "Flowers and pomegranates were placed at the base of the cake for additional texture and color, and as a nod to the bride's family's secret recipe, multiple single-tiered chocolate fudge cakes accompanied the main cake for guests to enjoy throughout the night."
"A bride whose fiancé’s family owns the Detroit Lions wanted to surprise her fiancé with a cake that paid homage to their football team," says Alison Laesser-Keck, event producer and designer for Alison Bryan Destinations in Santa Barbara, California. "The three tiers were topped with a fan hand, football, and helmet, and the players who appear on the cake’s lower tier have the couple’s wedding date inscribed on their jerseys—5-9-15!"
Cassidy Harrison, head pastry chef of Flour & Flourish in Salt Lake City, Utah, describes a particularly intricate floral cake that she won't forget. "One of my very favorite wedding cakes featured a 2D watercolor mountain landscape and floral cutouts printed on edible paper and attached to the cake, along with 3D sugar flowers including ranunculus, pansies, delphinium, and poppies that were strategically placed around the tiers and atop the cake."
“My clients wanted a showstopping five-tier crème brulé cake that mimicked the floral design on the bride’s wedding dress," explains Michelle Leo Cousins, owner of Salt Lake City's Michelle Leo Events. "So we created a cake that featured white sugar flowers that mirrored the floral applique on the gown. It was stunning—I can't tell you how many times I've seen this cake get pinned on Pinterest."
"I’ll never forget these three wedding cakes," says Virginia Frischkorn, owner of Bluebird Productions in Aspen, Colorado. "All featured a petal-shaped design on the fondant, yet each had its own flavor—brewery chocolate, coffee buttercream, and yuzu coconut. The accompanying trimmings on the table—pinecones, greenery, berries, candles, citrus-colored floral arrangements, along with a leaf-inspired paper Picado backdrop—made the white cakes pop."
"The most memorable cake I’ve worked on was a five-tier cake inspired by Dawnridge, the former home of designer and artist Tony Duquette, whose work was known for its ornate maximalism," explains Beth Helmstetter, creative director and CEO of Beth Helmstetter Events in Los Angeles. "Each tier on the cake was a work of art with differing shapes, heights, colors, and hand-painted details, highlighted by a dramatic gold chocolate peacock topper whose tail scaled down the top three layers."
Birds of a Feather
"Resort-chic was the theme of my client’s wedding, which featured exotic live birds at the cocktail hour," recalls Natalie Good, creative director of A Good Affair Wedding & Event Production in Tustin, California. "The cake tapped into that feeling with upscale details, including a base tier made of edible peonies and roses, pink sugar gems, and gold accents like feathers to represent the live birds."
Crème Puff Sparkler
"My clients wanted to infuse some French culture into their wedding, and this delicious crème puff tower proved to be an exciting twist on a traditional tiered wedding cake," says Jenn Johnson, wedding consultant at Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa and owner of EPIC Presentations in St. Barths. "Dipped in white chocolate, it featured fun sparklers that created a dazzling photo moment."
Simple and Sophisticated
"The one cake I’ll never forget was served at my own wedding," says Brian Hatifled, executive chef of Thompson Washington, D.C. "Each of the three tiers showcased a different cake (vanilla, chocolate, or almond) and filling (strawberry preserve, mocha, or chocolate fudge). Horizontal piping on the vanilla buttercream sides, along with fresh white roses and a gold cake topper featuring our last name, played into the cake’s simple yet beautiful design."
"One of my clients got married in Costa Rica and asked me to create a sponge cake covered in rich Dutch chocolate with a delicious chocolate ganache filling," says Eddy Dhenin, the executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis. "What made this cake so unique, and what has now made it my signature wedding cake, is the rippled texture that mimics the country’s native bamboo."
"This towering eight-tier vanilla sponge cake incorporated various textures, including a quilt-and-pearl design and the couple’s monogram, along with blush-toned orchids, hydrangeas, and white and pink roses," explains Steve Benjamin, the culinary director of Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. "But what literally made this cake stand out were the six cakes on the bottom, which supported this soaring tower."