Once upon a time, virtually all wedding cakes in the UK were fruit cakes covered in royal icing, the stuff that could set rock hard, and that was it, take it or leave it. That was the tradition. In this blog we’ll take a look at what flavours my customers have asked me for over the last few years, the popular ones and some that are a touch more unusual. Anything goes, it seems, nowadays! If you’re looking for inspiration for your own cake, perhaps you’re getting ready to book a wedding cake consultation and you’re looking for ideas, then read on for inspiration. Do bear in mind that your cake should taste as good as it looks. You're paying for the taste as well as the appearance so you want to make sure you're really getting good value for money.
Madeira cake - a safe place to start
Madeira cake is a good safe choice to start with. It’s what some people might call ‘plain cake’ or ‘vanilla sponge’. It’s denser in texture than Victoria Sponge so stays fresh for longer. It doesn’t contain any ‘Madeira’ wine as some of you might think, neither is it a recipe that originated on the island of Madeira. In olden times it was eaten along with a wee glass of Madeira wine hence the name. If you're a fan of vanilla you might be really happy with a Madeira cake filled with vanilla-flavoured buttercream. On the other hand, some people love a spreading of strawberry or raspberry jam as well for a fruity, summery taste.
Chocolate cake - what's not to like?
Many couples ask if they can have a chocolate cake for one or more of their wedding cake tiers. If one or both of the couple is a real chocoholic then this might be their first choice. There are lots of variations of chocolate cake recipes, each with its own taste, texture and yumminess, so make sure you get to taste your cake maker’s recipe and make sure it tickles your tastebuds. It could be filled with chocolate buttercream, milk or plain chocolate ganache, and what about a hint of orange added in? Remember the chocolate orange you eat at Christmas, or Jaffa Cakes? Or what about some Bailey’s soaked into the cake? I’m getting hungry just thinking about this. One word of warning - you might want to bear in mind that a minority of your guests will be amongst that small group of people who don't like chocolate. Later on I'll talk more about whether you need to please every single one of your guests.
The refreshing taste of a citrus-flavoured cake
The next most popular flavour I find that people ask for is lemon cake. I actually adapt the Madeira cake recipe by adding Sicilian Lemon Extract and grated lemon rind. It tastes even more lemony if you spread a layer of lemon curd below the vanilla buttercream, or perhaps white chocolate ganache.
If you like the idea of a citrus flavour you’ll find that a number of cake makers offer coconut and lime flavour, for example the Madeira cake recipe can have coconut and grated lime rind and I would recommend a layer of lime curd as part of the filling. Coconut cream mixed in with buttercream is perfect to go with this cake.
Is any flavour possible?
Your cake maker will no doubt have a number of other flavours on their standard list – I include carrot cake, caramel cake and fruit cake. Don’t dismiss fruit cake out of hand because you don’t normally like it. You might have older relatives as guests who’ll be disappointed if there’s no fruit cake to go with their cup of tea. You might even find that your cake maker’s recipe tastes better than you might have thought. I’ve converted quite a few couples to a lighter version of fruit cake that has apricots and figs in place of those big, red glacé cherries and mixed peel. If it’s baked and fed with a sweet Italian dessert wine, you’ll find it’s not as intense a flavour as those made with brandy.
If you want a flavour that’s not on your cake maker’s list, feel free to ask for it. Occasionally, people ask me if they can try red velvet cake. Recently I researched strawberry and champagne cake (although, admittedly I did use Cava for the version I made for the cake tasting) and I did like the slight tang it had. One bride gave me the recipe for hazelnut cake from a chef on the cruise ship that she worked on. Making this was like the challenge on Bake Off – I had to read between the lines to work out exactly what to do as it appeared that some of the detail I needed wasn’t written down.
Are the cake makers with the longest list of flavours the best ones to go to?
Why don’t I offer a massively long list of 20+ flavours like some other cake makers? I think it blinds people from being able to make a decision – funnily enough I was watching a programme with Greg the grocer from MasterChef recently, and they were tackling this exact topic – can consumers be faced with too much choice? They conducted an experiment with a market stall holder who usually offered about 26 types of preserve. When they cut the display down to 6 flavours, she made a lot more sales as people appeared to find it easier to decide which one to buy. So watch out for choice ‘blindness’ if you are presented with a massively long list of cake flavours. I also believe that the length of cake flavours offered is no guarantee of the quality of the flavour, texture etc. of the cakes, so I don't recommend you use this criteria as the sole decider when you choose your cake maker.
Should you choose cake flavours based on your preferences or your guests?
Finally, should you put your own preferences first or consider what flavours you think your guests would like? If you’re having 3 or 4 different cakes then you can indulge your own choices and consider your guests as well. It’s your wedding so it’s really up to you. I know of one couple who are completely in love with dark chocolate and their whole cake, 3 tiers tall, will all be chocolate flavoured, and wrapped in strips of dark chocolate like a helter skelter. There won’t be a choice of any other cake but considering all the other food that their guests will be able to enjoy, I don’t think that should be a big deal.
So there are no rules any more, it’s up to you to find a cake maker with cake flavours and fillings that you’re completely happy with. My next blog will look at the Scottish Baking Awards and how they give customers confidence when selecting a local cake maker, a Scottish coffee shop or a provider of Scottish baking..
If you've got any questions about cake recipes or you'd like to tell me about a really unusual cake flavour that you've come across at a wedding (a tower of cheeses, for example!) then let me know in the Comments below.