No more tiers

Traditional wedding cakes are history. Now anything goes - from butterflies to chocolate flaming skulls, says Michael Bateman
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Going to a wedding this summer? If so you may be in for a bit of a surprise – no, I'm not talking disaster stories, but cakes. Now I know what you're thinking: it's bound to be a tiered fruit cake with white royal icing and cute little models of a bride and groom on top. Well, don't be so sure.

Going to a wedding this summer? If so you may be in for a bit of a surprise – no, I'm not talking disaster stories, but cakes. Now I know what you're thinking: it's bound to be a tiered fruit cake with white royal icing and cute little models of a bride and groom on top. Well, don't be so sure.

First, you need to get rid of the idea that fruit cake is the only choice. In fact, they're very much out of fashion, and for good reason. Traditions are all well and good, but how often have you seen guests eat the icing and discard what's underneath. And if you're the one who has shelled out at least £500 (it could be thousands) on it, then it's a sight that's harder to swallow than even the stodgiest boozy cake.

These days the options are wide open. "We are often asked for light Madeira cake or lemon sponges, sometimes even carrot cake, and especially chocolate," says Sue Cloke, the woman in charge of wedding cakes at that harbinger of modern taste, Harvey Nichols. "People like the idea of a cake which can be served up as dessert, as part of the meal."

But the fun really starts when Cloke asks her clients how they want the cake to look. Just about the only time she is asked to go down the old route is when a bride comes in with a persuasive mother. "The younger generation want off-the-wall designs," she says. And believe me, the sky really is the limit.

So how strange can wedding-cake design get? That's a question for Christine Taylor, a former graphic designer who now runs a Brighton chocolatiers where even the name is a mouthful: Choccywoccydoodah. Her chocolate wedding cakes (often "iced" in white chocolate) have become something of a speciality, and in terms of design, Taylor is a trail-blazer. "An S&M couple instructed me to do a wedding cake," she says. "So I made one with spikes all over, glossy and black, rubbery and very intimidating. And expensive. I asked Craig Morrison, who designs fetish-wear, to lend me the mould he used for a sofa covered in rubbery spikes." Sound odd? Well, it's no one-off. Taylor has also done black-magic themes; Hell's Angel motifs; skulls with flames, sitting in a sea of poppies. "Very decadent, very scary."

Of course, changes in our habits and ceremonies don't happen over night, and the revolution has been a long time coming. Sandra Boler, editor of Brides magazine for 18 years, watched the movement gather pace. "How To Make Your Wedding Reception Different is one of the most popular lines on our cover," she says. "Everyone wants their own input now, and they want to reflect their personalities with a quirky cake." It's a trend that really gathered pace in the mid-1990s, she says, and still shows no signs of letting up.

But if you're planning a wedding that's a little more subdued than Hell's Angels bikerthon, you can still have a slice of the action. Gerhard Jenne, of London patisserie Konditor & Cook, makes the most delicious cakes in the business (and for a very reasonable £3 per head, too) but he's certainly not immune to demands for food architecture, and freely admits that "eating quality is the last thing in peoples' minds". So he too has largely abandoned the concept of tiers for his own speciality – cones covered in ribbons, flowers or even butterflies.

But hang on – if you go conical, where do you put the bride-and-groom figurine? Even these have a new spin. Take a look on the Internet. Mixed race wedding? No problem, order them at www.blindheart.com. Gay wedding? Go to www.gayweddingstore.com – and the choice does not stop at "male-male" and "female-female". For lesbian ceremonies, there's a "femme-butch" option – one in a white fairytale dress, the other in a rather dapper suit.

Of course, the brave new world of wedding cakes is driven by conspicuous consumption. But when else do people blow five-figure sums on a single party? And why be shackled to tradition when you can give the people what they want? Still, there is one option that's bound to disappoint guests. Imagine the scene: on display is a beautiful, traditional tiered number. It looks expensive and you can't wait to tuck in (well, to the icing, at least). But all may not be as it seems. As fantasy creations get more expensive, there's a counter movement for faking it.

At www.bakingshop.com the tricks of the trade are exposed. For $49 (£35) you can order a six-tier dummy cake. Or you can buy them in the UK through a professional baker. Sometimes they're hidden under real icing, but even that can be faked: "Display Coat frosting... handles like the real thing, but provides a non-edible surface that can be cleaned and maintained on display... One gallon – $49." There's an appetising prospect.

You may think that's a cheap trick. But I've heard a rumour that Liza Minnelli (of all people) had a 12-tier cake, 11 layers of which were fake. And you never know, it may be worth having a fake in reserve, just in case. After all, as the orders get more complicated, there's always room for error, as Gerhard Jenne found out to his cost.

On one occasion his couriers mixed up two deliveries. A couple who'd ordered a chocolate-covered whiskey and orange bombe got a model of Middlesex's splendid Syon House instead (they said nothing). The couple who were expecting an edible stately home ("a surprise for my wife," said the groom) got the bombe. "It remained untouched," says Gerhard. "I compensated them for the loss and tried to get them to see the funny side: 'You'll remember your wedding then,' I said. Unfortunately, the lady didn't have a sense of humour." *

Konditor & Cook, 22 Cornwall Road, London SE1, tel: 020 7261 0456. Choccywoccydoodah, 27 Middle Street, Brighton, tel: 01273 329 462

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