In my great-grandmother's day, wedding cakes were single tiered and plum flavored, but today's cakes are three to six layer artistic masterpieces. I’ve heard brides moan that wedding cakes are just some staple ingredients baked together, but the truth is, they require carefully calculated ingredients and a lot of work. It's no wonder confection perfection can blow your wedding budget, so I've asked five wedding gurus for their tips on how to cut corners without sacrificing taste.

1. Order the right-sized cake.

According to Michelle, cake-designer and owner of the blog Sugar Mama NYC, "Cakes are usually priced by slice, but some bakeries charge by the pound or by the size."
The average slice is 1 inch wide and 2 inches tall, and the price range for each slice can be anywhere from $2 to $18, based on the number of servings, the complexity of the design, and the experience of the baker. Since most newlyweds freeze the top tier of their cake for their first anniversary, brides may need to purchase a bigger cake or serve their guests half servings. You can use the chart below to estimate the total number of servings based on size and shape.

 

2. Make your wedding cake look larger by renting a dummy cake.

You can make your wedding cake look larger by renting a dummy cake, where each tier is separated with a layer of styrofoam that's wrapped in designer fabric or iced with fondant. Kaylee Glass of Second Floor Bakery says "Dummy cakes are great for brides with a smaller wedding or a smaller budget who still desire a large cake for pictures."

Some bakeries like Jessie Sturgill, the co-owner of Always Blooming Rentals, allows brides to rent and decorate a three-tier dummy cake. She suggests buying and serving sheet cakes from grocery stores, like Walmart and Publix, because they’re "beautiful and very inexpensive." Sturgill's number one rule: "When you go to a bakery, ask for multiple, different cakes for a brunch or a party, and the price will drop exponentially. Tagging the word ‘wedding’ onto anything automatically makes it more expensive."

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3. Get the facts on frosting and fillings.

Jenny Evans, a caterer for Wedding LDS, says fondant is more expensive than buttercream icing. Fondant holds up better in hot weather, but it often has a waxy, rubber texture and bland taste—unless you request flavored fondant like marshmallow or white chocolate.  Buttercream, on the other hand, has a texture similar to whipped cream or mousse, and bakers can substitute shortening for butter to give the frosting more heat resistance.

White, yellow, chocolate, orange or strawberry batters are cheaper than strawberry swirl, chocolate swirl, red velvet, or carrot cake. Lactose, gluten, and sugar-free cakes will also bump up the cake's price by $10-$20. Basic fillings (vanilla buttercream, pineapple, strawberry or lemon filling) are also cheaper than extravagant fillings (raspberry, caramel, mocha ganache, custard, or key lime).

4. Negotiate the reception site's cake-cutting fees.

Some sites charge a cake-cutting fee, ranging from $1 to $8 per slice and totaling anywhere from $150 to $2,000, when you serve an outside baker's cake. To avoid paying the cutting fee, you can request that the waiters cut and serve the cake since they’re paid by the hour—not per service. Or, you could have family members volunteer to be cake cutters.  You could also tell the caterer that you'll gladly upgrade your dinner by the amount of the cake-cutting fee. Finally, you can serve cupcakes or miniature cakes topped with real lace, silk flowers, iced dots, or even chocolate-covered berries, which can stand in for floral centerpieces.

5. Do it yourself.

If all else fails, "do it yourself," urges Diane Duarte, co-owner of Duff's Cake Mix in Los Angeles, CA. After all, there are plenty of free online courses to help you.

King Arthur's Flour offers three cake decorating guides with step-by-step instructions and high-resolution pictures. Paul Bradford also offers a free online cake-decorating course that teaches everything from hand-piping to cake-stacking techniques. Craftsy instructor Nicholas Lodge provides students with his own free gum paste recipe as well as classic sugar flower tutorials ($24.99). You can also ask a talented family member to make your wedding cake.

This is a guest post by Cherese from Tennessee.

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