When it comes to wedding expenses, sometimes it’s hard to understand just why a particular item costs what it does, or why there’s such a range in rates. Something as seemingly simple as chair rentals can cost anywhere from $1.00 to $15.00 each! Today we’re taking a look at wedding cakes to see if we could better understand some of the factors that might result in a certain price tag, in our second installment of Budget Breakdown, with special thanks to Jasmine from Jasmine Rae Bakery.
1. The Cake (and Filling)
First things first: the cake itself! The quality and availability of ingredients used to make your cake will affect the price. For example, vanilla beans cost more than pure vanilla extract, which costs more than artificial vanilla flavoring. In general, organic ingredients will cost more than conventional ones, and in-season ingredients are less expensive than out-of-season (fresh strawberries will cost less in June than in January).
Most bakers have a standard menu of cakes and fillings that they offer, with per slice prices based on ingredients and techniques. If you want something custom (maybe your grandma’s famous fudge cake recipe?) or something that accommodates dietary restrictions (say, gluten-free cake with dairy-free filling), that will generally add to your per slice price, anywhere from $1.00 to $5.00 more per slice. Because it’s unfamiliar to the baker, it may require that they source special ingredients they don’t normally use, and it may also require them to do one or more test runs, which equals more time and more ingredients.
And then of course the quantity of cake adds to the total cost. Most bakers price cakes on a per slice basis (with some having minimum requirements), so naturally a cake for 50 guests will cost less than a cake for 250.
2. The Baker
The baker (sometimes called a cake designer or pastry chef depending on their preference and experience) that you hire will play into the final cost of your wedding cake. As with any vendor, the more experienced, skilled, and in-demand they are, the more they can charge for their work.
Bakers also have overhead expenses that get factored into their rates: rent and utilities (retail space or work space), transportation costs (to and from the venue), and equipment (baking pans, stand mixers, parchment paper, etc.), to name just a few. And as you would expect, their costs depend on location – the mark-up will be higher in a city with higher overhead (New York City is more expensive than in Nashville, so hiring a baker there is likely to cost you more).
3. The Design
Do you want a multi-tiered show-stopping wedding cake? Or maybe just something small and lovely for cutting? The style and design of your cake will play a large role in its final cost. Cakes that require more time and skill to decorate and assemble will cost more than simpler ones. For example, fewer tiers cost less because they require less assembly, and are easier to transport than taller cakes. A round cake with a rustic buttercream finish requires less time and skill to complete than a square cake with perfect rolled fondant corners. To better understand how a cake’s style and design contributes to its final cost, we’ve asked Jasmine from Jasmine Rae Bakery to share some of her gorgeous cakes. Keep in mind that the prices listed are for a San Francisco-based bakery.
$9 per Serving | Scantily-clad buttercream cake with fresh flowers.
Most bakeries will charge their base price for this style. Naked and almost-naked cakes require very little technique, though a more experienced cake maker will be able to create a more intentional look. Real flowers save time and money compared to handmade flowers – just ask your florist about getting a few extra blooms! Round cakes are the easiest to work with, and this cake is easy to transport because it won’t tip over.
$13 per Serving | Fondant torn paper finish with torn paper flowers.
A unique finish requires experience, and adding a finish beyond a simple fondant covering requires more time. Handmade decorations like these fondant torn paper flowers are time-intensive and require lots of practice and a high level of skill, as does the fondant torn paper cover the rest of the cake – it is very delicate and requires lots of rolling and tearing. This cake cannot be assembled on site the day of your wedding, meaning it must be transported whole which creates more of a challenge!
$15 per Serving | Rice paper blossom, square-tiered tower.
Square layers are the most difficult to cover because there is no room for error when laying fondant over sharp edges as opposed to round edges. The layers must be perfectly even to prevent gaps in the fondant, which cannot be hidden with piped pearls or ribbon on such a clean, modern design. Three techniques are required including specially-treated fondant covering, hand-painting, and rice paper flower creation. Tall designs are prone to tipping over and are difficult to deliver, which may require more hands on deck! If this cake needed to be proportionately scaled up in size to accommodate a wedding with 120 guests, the tiers would have to be twice as high, which would actually make it an 8-tier cake internally. Above all, the high-end designer style looks deceptively simple but requires an incredible amount of skill and a precise level of perfection from an expert cake maker.
It’s always helpful to know which factors to keep in mind, but the right baker will be able to bring your vision to life in a way that fits your budget. They may even recommend a surprising style or feature you’ve never seen or considered before! By keeping your preferences flexible and your budget in line, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see (and taste!) the final product!
Looking for more budget tips? Learn about the cost of a wedding bouquet in our previous Budget Breakdown!