Wedding season is upon us, and many people have already planned much of their details in advance, while some maybe are still figuring out a few last-minute suppliers and vendors. In some cases, that may include hiring a baker to make your dream cake for your special day.
I have now baked cakes and cupcakes for a few weddings, made many custom cakes, and received numerous inquiries on orders as well. Planning “the perfect day” can be stressful for both the couple and the suppliers! Throughout these experiences, I have learned a number of things to be aware of and would like to share them with you. Regardless of who you hire to create your wedding cake, or even a special custom cake, I have determined 6 things you want to be aware of and will help you hire the right baker/y.
Top 6 Tips for Hiring a Custom Cake Baker
1. Be aware of the good-fast-cheap rule. When I was a student at Simone Fraser University, I remember learning in one of my classes about this rule of business. Many of you will have heard of this rule of thumb and may be aware that when it comes to business, you can only have two of three of these things: good, fast, and cheap. You cannot have all three, it generally does not work that way. If you want to have a good product that is cheap, then it probably won’t be done quickly or on time; if you want to have a product that is done quickly and with quality, then it won’t be cheap; and lastly, if you want cheap and fast then you are likely going to sacrifice the good.
If you apply this to buying a custom cake, think about what you are looking for. Which comes first for you, the budget, the quality, or the time frame? You have to prioritize these.
I recognize that not all business services and products offered are necessarily this cut and dry in definition, but it’s a good place to start. Allow me to elaborate in the next few tips.
2. When and where is your event taking place. This tip applies to the “fast” point above. If you realized your dad’s 60th birthday is tomorrow and wanted an amazing cake to help celebrate the event, you are probably gong to have to spend a good amount of money to make that happen on short notice. Or you may end up at a big box-chain grocery store sacrificing quality in lieu of time. Depending on which baker you speak to, some might be able to make it happen for you with 24-hours notice, but be prepared to have a larger budget for that. Many places may require a few days notice, up to a couple of weeks for more detailed cakes, and sometimes for weddings you need to be many months to a year in advance.
You also need to think about where your event will take place, and how you are going to get it there. Do you need your baker to deliver the cake? Some bakers have a limited area to deliver to, and if set up on-location is required then extra time and cost will be factors in pricing. Some cake designs can only be complete at the venue location too, be mindful of this.
Ultimately, the more time you can plan ahead for your custom cake, the better for you and potentially your wallet. It is perfectly reasonable to approach a number of bakeries and ask them for quotes about pricing, but be clear about your time frame, budget and needs up front: see my next points.
3. Ask for quality ingredients. Especially for your big wedding day, if you love desert (as much as I do) you probably want your guests to enjoy a sweet treat at the end of your celebration to cap off the whole day. I just love this part of the weddings, the cake cutting is often a ceremonial part of the tradition – it can be a HUGE deal. It’s all up to you.
That said, do you want, or care if, your guests may eat shortening instead of real butter? There is a huge difference in quality here and flavour. For one, shortening is not a real food – it does have its applications in a bakery (for example when working with fondant, it’s helpful) but it should not be used (in my opinion) in place of butter. Butter is expensive. Think about how much it costs to buy one block of butter in your grocery store, often it’s in the $5-$7 range. A large cake serving up to 100 people could require many pounds of butter. The food costs add up, especially when you are using high quality ingredients, but this leads to a better end product. If seek organic ingredients or non-gmo, this could be harder to find, and if you do, then the price will be that much more.
If you want to save money then maybe you are okay with cheaper quality ingredients and service, that is an option, but you may have to change vendors then. Some bakers have chosen to work with certain ingredients because it’s part of their recipe, brand and reputation of quality. Know what you want, and what you are flexible on.
4. Know your budget. Continuing with the theme of knowing what you want. This should probably be the number one item to know, be conscious of your budget. Have a range of what you are willing to spend. Be prepared to pay at least $5-$6 per person on a cake serving when ordering a basic custom cake for larger events. If you are looking for a more special themed cake, to suit your event, with fondant work and special handmade details then the price will go up from there depending on who you hire. All of these details take time, and require an experienced person to deliver on your request.
Some people may thing, it’s just cake? The ingredients are cheap, why does a cake cost so much? Well largely it’s about time. What is your time worth to you? If you want a cake for a special event, it could take 12 hours for someone to create it, even at minimum wage you’re looking at paying someone $123 for labour alone – not including the ingredients. I was sent this image a while ago, and I wish I had a source to link back to, but in general the image breaks down the cost of a shaped, themed cake. Not all cakes have to be this level of detail, but it gives you an idea of where your baker is coming from when they put together a quote for you. You get what you pay for. Take a look at some of these cake fails (via DailyMail.co.uk) to see what could go wrong if you do not hire a professional baker.
5. Have an idea of flavours, colours you are looking for, what your theme is (if you have one). Just to save you some time when ordering, think about what the theme of your event might be, or if it’s for a wedding, do you want your wedding colours to be incorporated into your cake design? What kind of cake do you like, what kind of cake do your guests want to eat? Sometimes more general flavours are better for large groups, which is why you see a lot of vanilla and chocolate options. But you could go outside the box and have a lemon meringue cake, or a chocolate peanut butter cake, or a mocha dream cake… or classic carrot cake with rich cream cheese frosting. Let’s not forget about red velvet, c’mon. Heaven. I could go on, but I digress…
It is also good to be mindful of guests with allergies and dietary preferences, if this is important to your group then ask your baker if they can cater to dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, nut-free, etc, options.. Not all bakers can make these options happen, but there are some speciality bakeries around that do cater to this. Perhaps you don’t need your entire cake to be gluten-free, but you don’t want that guest to be left out so maybe find a small treat for them from elsewhere. No one should be left out of the dessert course (if you can help it)… that’s just good host-etiquette.
And if you are lost for ideas and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend Pinterest. I pin stuff all the time and I constantly search for new trends and ideas in baking. I have MANY boards, including this one cake board: Follow Jeanette’s board Cakes on Pinterest.
That said, your baker may not be able to replicate a cake you find online exactly, due to some copyright hurdles, but they may make their version of the cake. Be open to discussing these options.
6. How many people are you serving? Do you want extra dessert too? In my cake board linked above on Pinterest, I have included some pins that outline different cake serving guidelines. This can give you an idea of not only how to cut your cake once you receive it, so you get an adequate number of servings from the cake, but also help you plan for size and ultimately budget (see #4 above).
At the end of the day, it’s about having an idea of what you want ahead of time, and remain flexible to discuss your options. Know if you want your cake to be of good quality and on time, or do you just need it right now and taste good. Prioritize two of good, fast, cheap, and take it from there (see #1 above).
For me, the most important take away is know what your maximum budget is. This will save everyone a great deal of time. The reality is, you can’t buy a Porsche on a Kia budget, custom cakes are no different. However, amazing cakes can be made and decorated simply within affordable budgets, you just have to be clear about that up front.
I hope this helps you with ordering your cake the next time you have a special event coming up, or you are part of planning someone’s special wedding day.
Food for thought but remember to have fun throughout the process, cake is fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The above points just help streamline everything.