A cake is a cake is a cake, right? Welllll, no. Just as your average office worker gradually assimilates the local corporate lingo (side note: can we keep "action" just a NOUN, please? You can't convince me it's sounds right as a verb), so is the way with the wonderful world of baking. Ordering a custom cake can sometimes feel a little like you need a dictionary, so let me break it down for you.
STRUCTURE: Tiered vs layer cake
Let's start simple. So that chocolate-adorned number is a two tier layer cake - one three-layer cake on top of a four-layer cake. That semi-naked rainbow watercolour gold splash cake is a single tier cake. It may have five layers of cake under the frosting, each sandwiched with delicious homemade berry compote rippled through vanilla buttercream, but it's all one, massive, beautiful tier of cake. Most small batch bakers like me will suggest a one tier cake if you're ordering a cake for 15 or fewer people unless it's particularly important to have stacked cakes - placing cakes on top of each other requires more time, more materials and more expertise, so it generally isn't very economical to go small and multi-tiered.
DESIGN: Novelty vs theme
I am in awe of novelty cake makers, I really am.
Novelty cakes are cakes that create a realistic illusion of being something else - a guitar, a superhero or perhaps a mountain, for instance. Themed cakes take an idea and express it through the cake design - they are clearly recognisable as cakes, but will have a custom design, some novelty elements and decoration that represent the theme.
The sculpting skills required to make cake resemble anything other than cake...well. I just take my hat off to people that have the patience, competence and imagination to do it. I am not one of those people. I am allllll about the themed cakes.
For me, a themed cake is a real joy to make because you can really have fun with the cake design. Sometimes the brief is very specific: a bookclub called The Golden Girls asked for glasses and a book on their cake, so I fashioned both from my homemade marshmallow fondant (and took a little artistic license with the name of the book, so apologies if that title actually exists somewhere!) Sometimes - particularly with kids' cakes - I get to just run with it, like with Florence's pirate cake over there. I handmade the compass, rope, treasure map, name and the skull n crossbones on the back of the cake with my homemade marshmallow fondant, because DETAILS!
DESIGN: Naked cakes
Particularly popular with summer weddings and those in a rustic setting, naked cakes are filled between layers but not frosted on the outside. We've been seeing a happy return to lashings of buttercream around cakes over the past year, but I've made many a naked cake for buttercream avoiders, like that ganache and chilli toasted walnut-filled Carrot Kick cake. Semi-naked cakes involve a little of the cake texture peeking through a thin layer of external frosting, as shown in the reggae-themed Carrot + Ginger below.
INGREDIENTS: Organic bakes
As we all look to reduce our impact on the planet, you'll likely see more and more bakers giving you greater transparency on where their ingredients come from. I like to use organic, free-range and sustainably-produced elements as much as I can (plus lots of details on my What's in your bake? page), and you'll find a lot of other small-batch bakers will go for a similar level of careful sourcing and environmental consciousness. It's one of the things that mark us out against cheaper, mass-produced bakes, and certainly an important factor in why my pricing is higher.
I'm keeping a beady eye on what impact Britain's exit from the EU will have on these things - The Soil Association (basically the UK authority on organic food) has this really good summary of some of the agricultural concerns around a no-deal Brexit, including how we ensure decent quality food remains affordable and accessible.
I should probably have started with this one, but it's the one that's often most difficult to talk about. Price should be driven by whatever the value of a product is in the customer's opinion, right? Well, to be clear - customers generally drastically undervalue cake. And It's easy to undervalue if you just look at it as making a mixture of eggs, flour, sugar and butter into something a bit prettier than what you'd do for your dinner guests, but professional baking is obviously considerably more than that. It's hours of prep, recipe development, ingredient and material sourcing, design and up-skilling, and that's before we even turn on the oven.
As bakers start to place more importance on making a living from their work, you'll see more and more of us pricing our products properly. I've written about this before, but the bottom line is this - cheaper generally doesn't mean better value in this context. That said, a smaller budget shouldn't get in the way of having a beautiful, delicious cake. It's best to have a discussion with your chosen baker about what they can do for the price you can pay - I for one will be completely honest with you as to what I can and can't do.
Someone with a £250 budget looking for a wedding cake for 300 people, for instance, is not starting at a realistic base. Even a small chips per person from Maccy D's would cost around £300, and they're literally in a paper bag. Most bakers will give you ballpark starting prices - for weddings, mine are here - you're unlikely to be able negotiate downward from those, but if you're open to suggestions, we can make design choices to help you keep within your budget.
And those are the basics! If you're ordering from me, know that I'm here to help - just drop me an email, let me know what you need, and I'll help you out.
Start designing your custom bake here and let's get your ideal cake going!