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Planning a wedding happens in stages. There are plenty of details to worry about but, for the bride, the most important item is the dress and once that's taken care of... the wedding cake!

The single item that most guests pay attention to — besides the bride and groom — is the cake.

It stands in a place of honor during the reception, is the focus of many pictures plus traditional wedding reception activities and happens to be the last piece of the party ... the one most people will remember best when they leave your wedding.

How to choose the right wedding cake

The size of the cake will probably be dictated by the number of guests you plan to serve. A local pastry shop will probably tell you how many servings you can get from different sized cakes, but this information is especially important to know if you're attempting to learn how to make your own wedding cake.

Above all, a wedding cake is a personal choice. Today's couples choose cakes that reflect their personality and lifestyle. The bride who chooses to wear her mother's wedding gown will probably value the same sort of traditional display when it comes to the cake. Chances are that the bride and groom who choose bold colors or miniskirts for the bridesmaids will want a the same non-traditional statement when it comes to cake design.

Traditional cakes are tiered and white, but many couples are foregoing the classical cake in favor of more modern and elaborate pastry. Cake designers offer a wide range of cake flavors, fillings, colors, heights, shapes, toppers and other decorations to make your wedding cake truly an original.

Some brides incorporate their dress patterns or the wedding colors into the cake design. Others drape the cake with real flowers or sugar imitations of the bridal flowers Many couple are going with a nontraditional tier arrangement, so you may see a table decorated with tiers at various heights instead of a towering cake.

Individual or "table cakes" have made an appearance in the last few years and are frequently chosen by modern brides. A cluster of wedding cupcakes or petite, individual cakes to serve the guests with a small bridal cake for the cutting ceremony is another trendy alternative.

Other decorations may include real ribbons or faux fondant ribbons, jewelry, actual functioning water fountains and odd shaped or mismatched tiers added to create the wedding cake. As brides move away from the traditional white, designers are seeing more dark chocolate as frostings, although some sweet loving couples will use white chocolate to have their favorite flavor and still keep the traditional white frosting look.

Take a look around in bridal magazines and online to see what the trends are and when you find a look that matches you... take a photo or drawing to the designer to show exactly what you have in mind.

Designers are not just bakers

With all of the choices, the wedding cake you choose with your designer can be pricey. The most elaborate cakes can run about $50 a slice! There is no need to go that high, though. Let the cake designer know what budget you are working with and alter your design to bring the cost down. There are several ways to cut costs and still have a stunning presentation.

One secret that saves quite a bit is using fake tiers. Styrofoam or other lightweight materials can be frosted to add height without significantly adding to the cost of the cake. For a real money saver, you can just have the bottom tier for cutting and the top tier to save... use a sheet cake to serve the guests and you can have the wedding cake of your dreams on a modest budget.

Another factor that effects the price is the filling. You should be asked to sample the cake flavors and fillings before you place your order. Ask what the costs are before you make a choice if that is a concern. The more expensive the ingredients used in your cake are... the more the final product will cost. The same goes for complex designs for the frosting. The more time your cake takes to decorate, the more you will have to pay. Try to strike a balance between a "to die for" cake and a cake that leaves some money in your account for after the wedding!

Order in advance and check for fees

Be sure to order your cake far enough ahead of the wedding to avoid stress. Top designers and complicated cakes may need as much as a six months advance order, but generally two to three months is adequate. Talk about transporting and setting up the cake at reception. If there are any additional fees involved, find out ahead of time. You should also check with the place where your reception will be held. Many wedding halls provide the cake and will charge an extra "cutting fee" if you do not use their cakes.

What size wedding cake do you need?

If you are not having a tiered cake, these are the number of servings you can expect from a two layer round cake based on the size of the cake. Calculate one serving per guest:

Size of round 2 layer cakeServings:
4" x 2" x 1 3/8"
sheet 9 x 13
sheet 11 x 15

NOTE: If you guest list hovers around 60, err on the side of too much than too little, and order an extra smaller sheet cake to accommodate all of your guests.

These are the servings you can expect from a tiered cake based on the number and size of the tiers (excluding the top tier)

Tier SizesServings
16 - 19
26 - 29
23 - 30
56 - 64
56 - 99
76 - 89
78 - 90
96 - 109
103 - 125
121 - 144
126 - 144
146 - 184
161 - 189
198 - 230
231 - 274
293 - 350
381 - 449

More about wedding cakes around the Web:

Picture perfect wedding cakes
- Your Wedding 101 goes the extra mile with sections covering wedding cake designs, unique and trendy wedding cakes, toppers, cupcake wedding cakes, how to get the best pictures, seasonal design suggestions and make your own as well as other tips on ordering and saving money on the cake

Design Wedding Cakes and Toppers - A blog gone wild with ideas for designer and theme wedding cakes, cupcakes and advice. Browse around for more great baking tips and photos to stimulate your creativity... yum!

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