Let’s talk wedding cakes. Specifically, wedding cake catastrophes.
Over the last 35+ years that we’ve been catering weddings, we’ve seen all kinds of cakes, from small and simple to enormous, elaborate creations that belong in an art gallery. Whatever type you choose, your wedding cake will be an expression of your personality and style, as well as a special way of sharing your love and appreciation with your guests. No one wants to see your day ruined by something going wrong with your cake.
But, once in a while, that’s exactly what happens!
We talked to three experts about the horror stories they’ve seen and their advice for how to avoid wedding cake catastrophes. Ale Wortmann is the owner of cake by Alessandra and one of our very favorite cake vendors in Utah. Ryan Crafts is, of course, our COO and co-owner of Culinary Crafts. Cassidy Harrison is the owner of Flour & Flourish and the genius behind their real-as-life sugar flowers. Honestly, even up close, you’d swear those things are real! Check out these examples of her work:
Here’s what the experts had to say.
1. The Sun Is Not Your Friend
Cassidy told us about one of her wedding cake nightmares. Once, she delivered a four-tier buttercream cake to the venue and noticed that the cake table had been set up in full sunlight. It was late in the evening, but there were still a couple of hours before sunset. Cassidy warned the planner that the cake table needed to be moved, but the bride was adamant that she wanted it under the gazebo. There was no way to change the bride’s mind, so Cassidy hurried home to dress for the wedding. (The bride was a family friend.)
When she returned 45 minutes later, the whole wedding party was in a panic. People mobbed Cassidy, apologizing over and over, "The cake! I'm so sorry! The cake!" Sure enough, it looked like a melted candle.
“Ever since then,” Cassidy says, “I've been really stern about moving the cake table.” Her advice is “Listen to your cake artist about not putting the cake in the sun on a 96-degree day. We aren't being annoying for no reason. Nobody wants a melty cake at their wedding.”
2. Be Careful About Taking Your Cake Outside
“Outdoor pictures are amazing,” Ale says, “but don’t leave your cake outside very long. Even the shade is hot during our Utah summer months. These cakes are made with butter . Fondant also has buttercream underneath, and it will melt, bubble, and crack in the heat.” Leaving your cake outside on a hot day is probably going to ruin it, even if you avoid direct sunlight. Your best bet is to set up your cake indoors and keep it away from any heat sources. (Cakes have been known to melt indoors just from being placed too close to a sunny window.) But heat isn’t the only danger your cake can face in the great outdoors. Rain, wind, squirrels, ants, leaves, dust, dogs, and other outdoor factors can all lead to wedding cake catastrophes.
3. Don’t Move the Cake
“Transport is the hardest part,” Ryan says. “Most mishaps happen when someone is moving the cake.”
One of Culinary Crafts’ most harrowing cake-moving experiences was a few years ago when a groom insisted on having a 17-tier cake. That’s right; 17 tiers, and each one had to be a different flavor! It took four team members just to carry it, and we had to move it in pieces, four tiers at a time. Everything went well, but nerves were definitely wracked that day!
Our experts advised against trying to move the cake yourself, including delivering it to the venue. Many times, Ale has been horrified to see a client show up to take their cake in a car filled with balloons, kids, and dogs. (Yes, dogs!) “Please don’t,” she says. “The cake is structured to travel well; however, once it leaves our hands, we can’t be responsible anymore.”
Just pay the delivery fee; we promise, it’s worth every penny. Not only will your cake be handled by the experts who made it, but they will be there at delivery to set it up properly and to fix any issues that may have arisen during transport.
4. Keep It Level
Ale’s next piece of advice is “Make sure your cake table is leveled. Even a slight tip on the table can create a huge impact on tiered cakes, especially on tall ones.”
“One time we had this gorgeous five-tier cake,” Ale remembers. “We did all we could to make it level, but this one was quite tricky. I kept tabs on it all night long. I knew the chef at this restaurant, so I kept asking about the cake, and like I told the client about two hours in, the cake was a Leaning Tower of Pisa. No kidding…. I am just glad it never tipped!!!”
If, despite our experts’ advice, you’re going to have your cake outside for a significant length of time, it’s even more important that you check the table for levelness. Don’t just eyeball the table and assume that it’s “good enough.” Ryan will never forget the anguish of watching the legs of a cake table slowly sink into the soggy ground after a rainstorm. Save yourself a lot of stress and grief by putting your cake on a safe, solid, level surface to begin with.
5. Work With an Experienced Cake Vendor
The best way to protect against wedding cake catastrophes is to work with an expert. Ryan’s advice is, “Choose a cake vendor/baker who has been around for a while. A newcomer might be able to make a cake that’s just as beautiful and delicious, but will they be familiar with all the issues that can arise? Driving on Utah roads? Adjusting to Utah weather?”
A few years ago, Ryan worked with a bride whose mother insisted that she wanted to make her daughter’s wedding cake. She created a gorgeous four-tier cake covered with amazing sugar roses. On the day of the wedding, she wrapped every rose individually in tissue paper and drove the whole thing from St George up to the State Capitol.
They set up the cake at the top of the granite staircase, and it was stunning! Unfortunately, there were problems with the cake right away. The recipe she’d used for the buttercream was too soft, so even in the air-conditioned room, the cake started to sag. As the ballroom filled with guests, they heard a crash that sounded like a wine goblet being smashed on the staircase, then another and another. They looked up to see that the delicate sugar flowers that the bride’s mother had so carefully crafted were sliding off the cake and crashing to the floor. Then the whole cake buckled and started to lean.
How to Handle Wedding Cake Catastrophes
Ryan raced up the stairs and got to the cake at the same moment as the mom. Together, they caught the cake and held it up with their bare hands. The mom was in tears. She wanted to redo the cake, but Ryan said, “It doesn’t look like this cake is dowelled,” and when she responded, “I don’t know what that means,” he knew the cake was doomed.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’ll walk this cake down the stairs and behind the curtain to our back of house. My team will take off the top tier, and when you’ve had a chance to redecorate it, we’ll bring that tier back up the stairs for display. My chefs will save the parts that can be salvaged, and we’ll serve those to your guests.”
So that’s what they did, and as heart-breaking as it was to see the mother’s work of love collapse, it didn’t ruin the evening. Would a more experienced cake-maker have known that they needed to reinforce the cake with dowels and dividing supports? Sure. And they probably would have used a different buttercream recipe, and the whole incident might have been avoided. But kudos to that mother for showing her daughter such love by (a) making a magnificent cake and (b) not letting the cake’s demise overshadow the wedding.
And that leads us to our final piece of advice….
6. Don’t Lose Perspective
You may do everything right—you may work with an experienced vendor who makes a structurally sound cake; you may keep it indoors and away from the heat; you may set it on a level surface and not move it—and something could still go wrong. The A/C could go out. An unattended child can start licking the frosting. A freak draft of wind could knock a decoration into your beautiful cake. Those unexpected things don’t happen very often, but if they do, it’s important to keep your perspective and not let the day be ruined.
Believe us, after nearly four decades of working in Utah’s catering industry, we’ve done a lot of weddings and seen a lot of surprises. We know how important it is to absorb setbacks, adapt on the fly, and make things work. Even if there’s not a problem with your cake, the flowers will arrive late, or the bride’s dress will snag, or Uncle Kenny will show up inebriated. Whatever goes wrong, keep your cool and don’t let your focus be taken from what really matters.
It might help to repeat this mantra to yourself: “The difference between a catastrophe and a great story is just a bit of time and a little perspective.”
Congratulations to all the couples preparing to cut their wedding cakes this summer. Bon chance! And eat well.