Once upon a time, wedding cakes were simple fare, comprising small wheat, spiced or fruit cakes or sweet buns, breads or rolls that symbolized fortune and fertility for the newlyweds. As sugar became easier to obtain in the 19th century, the confections became bigger and more elaborate -- Queen Victoria famously had a wedding cake that weighed more than 300 pounds. Today's wedding cakes, though typically not quite that large, are, indeed, a focal point of a couple's special day. And while fashions may come and go -- and certainly anything goes, depending upon a couple's taste and inclination -- here are five trends marking this year's pastry centerpiece.
Tradition with a twist
New takes on classical elements -- fine garlands, latticework piping and old-school fillings -- are finding favor among today's brides and grooms.
Michael Fallon, executive chef and owner of MaCayla Michaels Desserts in Nesconset, has seen brides of all ages and cultures gravitate to "a variation of lace overlays. It is elegant and delicate, yet a twist on the classic wedding cake."
"A lot of choices are going back to the vintage style -- lacy, and buttercream, too," agrees Vyancka Kilimet of Little Sugar Shop in Valley Stream. But while couples want their cake to look old-fashioned, they are keeping it current with pattern, she said. "Chevron is popular now," she added, "and different shapes as opposed to a regular round cake."
Corina Elgart, owner and pastry chef at Taste in Syosset, is bringing a modern, edgy twist to the traditional wedding cake using accents. "For example, the softness of a brush embroidery technique or lace work, paired with a single statement piece 'fantasy flower,' is very popular right now," she said.
Brian Fishman, executive pastry chef and owner of Sweet Karma Desserts in East Meadow, agreed. "I'm seeing one focal flower, a fantasy flower or peony. We call them cabbage roses, like four inches in diameter, as a twist on traditional styling."
The sky's the limit
In an age of reality programming and oodles of cooking shows, many of today's couples have become amateur bakers or are versed in cake decorating, so they have lots of ideas. Bakers find themselves fashioning many-tiered cakes in various sizes, not only for weddings but engagement parties, bridal showers and rehearsal dinners.
Bakers can work within any budget -- and those budgets are growing. The tiered cakes at Madame Butterfly Cakes in Babylon Village start at $10 a serving, and most cakes run around $10 to $15 a serving, said owner Micheline Cummings.
"With the economy uncertain, you would think people would be scaling back, but while they're inviting fewer people and cutting corners elsewhere, they're still going crazy with the cakes," Cummings said. "They don't go with a typical choose-one-of-these-10-cakes type of cake. They want something specific."
Plus, couples are excited about the cake process, Fallon added. They come in "to meet the executive chef that will be making your cake and speaking about your vision as they rough-sketch your dream cake, tasting the cake and filling combinations you helped to create. The excitement is contagious and provides a newly found comfort in allowing for a budget to be allocated for the cake."
Although white has been a mainstay for wedding cakes since Queen Victoria's time, many couples are opting for dramatic shades and patterns.
"Ombre, ombre, ombre has taken the world by storm," Elgart said, referring to the French-termed hair dip-dye trend that features a gradual lightening of color at one end. "Typically, the ombre cakes are done in textures, ruffles. Ruffles, top to bottom, or even just on one tier are also all the rage and have been now for over a year.
"We are also seeing a lot of color blocking and mod style tone-on-tone patterns and impressioned geometric textures that are softened with a super girlie flower, like an oversized peony, ranunculus, or garden rose," Elgart added. "Happily, I am also seeing a lot of vintage femininity, mercury glass, soft peaches with hard silver or other metallic elements. I am loving this!"
And those bold statements can be found inside the cake as well, Fallon said. "The color scheme is carried into the cake, literally -- going from dark to light shading on the sponge cake inside and in some cases tinting the filling layers as well to help achieve the shading. The outside is airbrushed to go from light to dark to continue the flow of the concept."
Cherie Rosen, who married Benjamin Rosen in May 2012, wanted a spring garden theme for her wedding at the Sea Cliff Manor (formerly Sans Souci) in Sea Cliff, and worked with MaCayla Michaels Desserts, where prices range from $4.25 to more than $10 a slice, to create just the right cake. "I wanted lots of bright colors and flowers," said Cherie Rosen, 36, a Hewlett native who attends Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan. "Though I've seen lots of lovely white wedding cakes, I just knew that type of cake wasn't for me."
Cakes that tell stories
Couples are adding personal touches. Fallon has been asked to incorporate a couple's favorite candy or beverage in the cake, or filling, or both. "A bride liked apple martinis and white chocolate," he said, "so we created a white chocolate almond cake with green apple martini mousse."
Last month, guests of the wedding reception hosted by Amanda and Dave Pryor at a private residence in Water Mill were treated to a wedding cake with white cascading ruffles inspired by the bride's wedding dress, and a theme of soft green moss foliage with hydrangeas on top, representing the couple's love of nature. It had four tiers, each with its own flavors: pineapple upside-down cake, chocolate with peanut butter cup, lemon with raspberry cream and Italian cream cake with strawberry.
"Pineapple upside-down cake represents the homemade birthday cake from my mom every year," said Amanda Pryor, 30, of Bay Shore who co-owns Sherry's Market in Babylon with her new husband, also 30. "Chocolate-peanut butter is a childhood favorite of both of ours."
A return to opulence
While cake jewelry, rhinestone ribbon inlays and monogram toppers were very big in 2012, Fallon said these trends are giving way to gold hues from metallic accents to cakes that are very ornate.
The wedding cake of Melissa Anne and William Franklin Nirode of Huntington, who married in August 2012, featured five tiers of ivory cake with gold patterns.
"One pattern was similar to a golden fleur-de-lis, some tiers had a ruffled effect wrapping around them, and there were a few standout flowers to tie everything together," Melissa Nirode said, adding that the couple designed the cake with Melissa's mother, Renee Silverstein, and Taste's Elgart.
"I wanted the cake to work with the room and go along with the trend of the wedding, which was elegance," added Nirode, a veterinarian who grew up in Woodbury. "Everything from the invitations to the centerpieces and tablecloths was sophisticated but not outdated. We wanted ivory and gold to match the linens and the ballroom decor."