How to Get (or Make!) a Very Good-Looking, Totally Delicious Wedding Cake
People love to hate on them, but wedding cakes aren’t going anywhere (no matter how many doughnut towers you see on Insta this season). In fact, they’re getting better and better, thanks to bakers like Emily Aumiller of Lael Cakes in Brooklyn. Girlfriend makes knockout baked goods that also happen to be gluten-free, and sometimes vegan, even. She also just released her first book, Pure Artistry, an in-depth guide to creating your own way-tasty tiers (her edible ranunculus are so pretty that they’ll help you overcome your aversion to fondant, promise). We asked her to give it to us straight about all things sweet and celebratory.
Q: First things first: What should people look for in a cake-maker?
A: “I always recommend finding a baker that offers a tasting. You’ll usually get to try three to four different cakes and icings. In my tastings with clients, we cover a lot of basics—what they’re into design-wise, what kind of wedding they’re having, and a little bit about themselves. It’s helpful for the couple because a lot of people haven’t ordered a big cake like this before and they don’t know where to start. There are so many different options! From naked cakes to tall, tiered cakes covered in fondant with a ton of beautiful decorations on them; it can be hard to choose. That’s also why it’s really important to trust your baker and put it in their hands to help you make those decisions.”
Image via @laelcakes
Q: What kind of research should couples do before coming to you? And how do you come up with new designs?
A: “You don’t necessarily need to come in and have this very clear vision of what you want, but giving a little bit of inspiration to the cake designer will really help! I ask couples to bring pictures of any kind of design they find aspirational. It really allows me to take the reins and make something completely original. And I pull inspiration from everywhere. I love going into paper stores and checking different textures and color patterns. I go to the botanical garden to get inspiration from different plants. And sometimes I gather ideas from the other vendors they’re working with. Liza from Peartree Flowers makes the most incredible arrangements that incorporate a lot of different color schemes and unusual flowers. Jordan Sondler makes amazing illustrations that I’ve been really inspired by lately.
Q: Are cakes like dresses—do you need to plan wayyyy in advance?
A: “A good general rule is about six months ahead, but I’ve had plenty of couples come to me three or four weeks out. Sometimes I’ll get inquiries like two years before a wedding, before a couple even has their venue or anything, and I’ll ask them to figure out a few more things and come back to me. I recommend having basics like your venue, your caterer, and the guest list figured out first. That way I have an idea of the overall aesthetic—and how many people to feed—because that really will affect what the cake will look like. I also like to know if there’s any other extra little desserts because a lot of the time the caterers will serve something sweet as well.”
Q: Do you have any hard-and-fast rules about flavors?
A:“If I know the meal is going to be really heavy, then I’ll recommend doing something on the citrusy side like lemon to lighten it up a bit. But I have to say, I really recommend sticking to your gut. If you’re an absolute chocolate and peanut butter lover, then to go with that no matter what. It’s your party, and it’s okay for it to be totally decadent and fun.”
Q: Does the whole “freezing cake for your one year anniversary” thing keep you up at night?
A: “It’s the one tradition I wouldn’t recommend! No matter how great of a freezer you have and no matter how well you wrap it up in plastic, it’s going to taste freezer-burned, and it’s going to be dry. I always tell my couples to get in touch with me a month before their anniversary, and I’ll make you a fresh little sampler of what you had at your wedding. That way you can have something fresh to start off your second year of marriage, not stale cake.”
Q: What’s your favorite cake you’ve made lately?
A: “I’ve done a couple of really beautiful Art Deco cakes this season that have been kind of out of the ordinary. I try to push it because sometimes modern cakes can look repetitive. So I did Deco-inspired, old Hollywood glamour kind of design, with alternating dark navy and white tiers and this really beautiful gold leaf topper that almost looked like a Grecian crown. It was structural but modern but still somehow delicate.”
Q: If someone wants to use your book to DIY their own wedding cake, where should they start?
A: “I have a really great vanilla bean cake recipe and a vanilla bean icing recipe. I call it like ‘the mother icing’ and ‘the mother cake’ because they’re just a really great foundation. Once you get those down, you can play around with adding different flavors like a little citrus zest or nuts. And if cakes are totally intimidating to you, I always recommend starting with cupcakes.
Q: All of your cakes are gluten-free. If a couple has one gluten-free guest, should they commit to that?
A: “I think it depends on how important it is to you to accommodate that person. But it’s totally possible to make a seriously delicious gluten-free cake these days, so why not? I include my own gluten-free flour recipe in the book, but I also give a lot of substitution options. I think it’s worth playing around with solutions until you find something that tastes great to you.”
Image via @laelcakes
Q: Your book also goes totally in-depth into all the secrets for making crazy sugar flowers and stuff. Is there anything you’d say novice bakers should hold off on if they’re planning to bake their own wedding cake?
A: “Naked cakes are beautiful, but they’re actually one of the hardest styles to make look nice. You have to be really careful with how you assemble them because they’re exposed—you have to make sure they’re very level in order to give them that pretty stacked look. So that could be a good second project. It might be better to go with something less frustrating, like a rustic icing. It has that kind of spackled look to it, you can cover up or patch up any mistakes you made and it has that beautiful organic look. And, fresh flowers and fruit are always a really beautiful easy decoration too, so if you’re just starting to dabble in cake decoration, go with those or chocolate shavings. Less can be more! You don’t have to do everything for it to be special.”