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Think 'wedding cake'. What springs to mind?

Probably three tiers of rich fruit-cake, lavished with lacy white-icing, poised on fluted columns and topped with a tiny bride and groom. A vision of Victorian beauty.

Think again. These days it's more likely to be chocolate mud cake - and that's not all that's changed.

Vase wedding cake by 'Ice-It'
Cakes have been an important part of wedding celebrations for centuries. Ancient Romans broke wheat or barley cakes over the bride's head as a symbol of her fertility. Later it became a tradition to pile several small cakes one on top of the other - the bride and groom would kiss over the tower trying not to knock it down. Success meant a lifetime of prosperity. In the late 19th century "bride cakes" were simple single-tiered plum cakes. From these the modern wedding cake evolved.

Ivy wedding cake by 'Sweet Cakes'

Today the wedding cake is likely to be centre stage at the reception with the ceremonial cutting a highlight.

Chocolate cake is the number one choice. "Last year of 200 cakes only three were fruit - and then just for one tier," notes Ngaire Booth from 'Sweet Cakes'. 

Linda wedding cake by 'Decor'

Other popular flavours include carrot, banana and lemon - some couples choose a combination of fruit, chocolate and citrus flavours. "Fruit cake is often only to please mum and the older guests," says Helen Bennett from Décor Cakes.

 

"People are starting to realise it's their wedding and they're having what they like," says Ngaire Booth. "The trend is towards less fuss and more fun with cleaner lines."

"I've done a wedding cake without any icing. It was a stacked three-tier heart-shaped chocolate cake covered with chocolate ganache. Each layer was piped with heart shapes with more chocolate hearts exploding out of the top. It was a challenge but it was exactly what the bride wanted."

"We make of lot of cone shaped cakes," explains Kim Evans from Ice-It. "Often in bright colours like bright red and orange or hot pink. Blue with silver is also popular. Most memorable was a lobster shaped cake for a keen diver."

Despite changes in flavour and the look, most couples still opt for traditional white or ivory icing, adding colour with flowers (fresh or made from icing) and piped or painted decoration. Some use touches of gold and silver. "Draped icing is very popular," says Helen Bennet.

Cone wedding cake by 'Ice-It'
Where to start? Firstly order your cake as early as possible, but at least a month before the wedding. Popular bakers will be busy and only able to make a certain number of cakes for each day. Also some cakes can take several days to make (fruit cakes, for example, must be baked, matured, marzipanned, iced and decorated).

Most companies will work with your ideas and make whatever you want. They have sample cakes and photos of their work along with catalogues to help the creative process. "Most people create their dream wedding cake with ideas taken from several pictures," says Ngaire Booth.

 

How much to order? 

Décor Cakes allow around 1kg of fruit cake for 20 people. 

Ice-it and Sweet Cakes calculate by size - a dessert serve is 2.5 x 5cm, a cake serve is 2.5 x 2.5cm. 

Shape matters - you'll get more slices from a square cake than other shapes.

Bali wedding cake by 'Ice-It'

What does it cost? 

You can expect to pay $350 for a simple three-tier cake, larger cakes and more elaborate designs cost more.

 "Hand-made icing-flowers increase the price because they take so long to make. Fresh flowers can be much cheaper" says Kim Evans. "Our cone cake for 100 people is $450." 

 

Helen Bennett suggests shopping around: "prices do vary."

"A *croquembouch can be a great cost saver because it's your dessert and cake combined," says Ngaire Booth. 

"But be careful of the traditional toffee - in humid weather it's better to use chocolate."

*croquembouch - light éclair puffs, filled with cream, stacked in a cone-shape, and drizzled with toffee or chocolate.

Helen Bennett had another cost-cutter. "Consider using a smaller decorated cake and make up the numbers with iced cake slices which are much cheaper to buy."

Most companies will ice and decorate cakes that you've baked, but there isn't much cost saving "the cake is the simple part," notes Helen Bennett 

Most companies deliver, and if you're having an elaborate cake they will assemble it for you. There may be an extra charge for this service, but it's probably worth it. The last thing you'll need is a collapsed wedding cake on the day. 

Often they'll also dress the table to suit the cake "I like to see a marriage of the cake and it's surroundings", explains Kim Evans.

Sandy wedding cake by 'Decor'

The last word goes to Ngaire Booth. 

"Have exactly what you want, it's your wedding and everything should be special to you."