CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Once a symbol of prosperity, wedding cakes embellished with bright white royal icing are giving way to colors, textures and themes unimaginable to brides of years gone by. As a result, area bakers are increasingly pushed to their creative limits to fulfill the wedding cake dreams of today’s brides.
“These kind of cakes take many hours and multiple days. Caking is a mental and sometimes physical battle,” said Stacy Yednock, self-taught cake artist and owner of Sweet Babes Cakery (sweetbabescakery.vpweb.com) in Morgantown.
“It’s a race against time to make your deadline each week, so if you have cake that isn’t cooperating then you might have to pull an all-nighter to figure it out,” Yednock said. “Overall, you just have to love creating these showpieces and have a good eye and hand for detail, color and proportion.”
Many brides and grooms, though, are using their cakes to help tell their stories. Newlywed and wedding photographer Angie Candell Brandon had seen and photographed so many wedding cakes, she knew she wanted something a little different.
“So many of them looked the same,” Brandon said.
In her search for the perfect design that typified her personality, she found a whimsical cake photo on Pinterest, a social media image sharing website, and made it her own by sketching it out just the way she wanted. Instead of a cake topper, the tiered cake featured two yellow birds tying a ribbon on the top layer.
“I love anything fairytale-like, and the cake is kind of a nod to Cinderella, when the birds put the ribbons on Cinderella’s dress.”
She handed over her sketch to Yednock, who brought it to life for Brandon’s big day.
“Truthfully, it was one of my favorite details at the wedding,” she said.
The Westfall and Birchfield families may take the cake when it comes to putting thought and symbolism into their wedding cake. From the oak tree base to the custom-carved wooden topper, their wedding cake tells the story of generations and blended families as well.
The base was cut from an oak tree at the bride’s home near Sutton. Not just any oak tree — it was the tree that held a swing made from her father’s childhood toy, a metal wagon wheel.
Brynn Westfall Birchfield, 33, said her mother surprised her with the unique and sentimental addition to the cake.
“It was so memorable because many of the people at the wedding played on that swing as children,” Birchfield said. “I’m going to have our names and the wedding date carved into the base and keep it forever.”
The otherwise traditional tiered wedding cake, baked by her cousin Marilyn Williams, who enjoys baking as a hobby, was topped with a carving of two deer.
“It was a gift from my stepdaughter and her mom. They had it made by a man in Randolph County, but it’s not from the same oak tree,” said Birchfield. “We both love to be outdoors and hunt, so the topper was perfect.”
Another fairytale wedding cake theme was inspired by English author J.R.R. Tolkien, whose “Lord of the Rings” novels have been brought to life on the big screen. It was the perfect representation of Amanda and David Gianino’s “love, love of books and their inner geek,” said the bride’s mother, Lori Chambless.
The couple met in a Facebook group called “A Long Expected Party,” that celebrated everything Tolkien. Then, they met face-to-face at a “Lord of the Rings” Renaissance festival at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Versailles, Kentucky.
The couple, now honeymooning in the Bahamas, themed their entire wedding on “Lord of the Rings,” from the ceremony itself, to the costumes worn by guests at the reception, to the cake — including a fairy-and-knight topper reminiscent of characters in the books and movies.
“Amanda was a fairy at the Renaissance fair when she first met David, so the topper was perfect,” Chambless said.
The groom’s cake was also part of the theme. It was a replica of a Hobbit hole, said cake artist Paula Vega of Paula Vega Cakes (paulavegacakes.com) in Huntington.
“The right cake for a wedding should be the cake that tells the story of them both — the bride and the groom,” Vega said. “A wedding cake can also set the mood, fun or relaxed or formal. And, every one of them is beautiful. I’m so glad they all aren’t the same.”
Petra Vasale Newkirk, owner of Cakes By Appointment (cakesbyappointment.com) in Charleston and a graduate of Sullivan University’s culinary arts program, said she enjoys putting her artistic talents and creativity into making every wedding cake unique.
“I prefer every bride to get a cake like none I’ve ever made before,” Newkirk said. “Every cake can be very special and unique — just for them.”
One of the most interesting cakes she’s made was for a 15th anniversary and renewal of vows for Angie and Danny Moore, who have a special love for “everything Halloween,” said Angie Moore.
“It’s our favorite holiday because we get to be somebody that’s not accepted normally.”
When the couple renewed their vows in May 2012, they enlisted the help of Newkirk and supplied her with a photo, also from Pinterest.
The tiered wedding cake was traditional on one side — the part that was edible — and “gruesome” on the other, which featured a creature feasting on human organs, Moore said.
“Once I saw the photo, I just had to make it,” Newkirk said. “It took 10 to 12 hours with some of the cake made the day before.”
Newkirk said she pulled up actual photos of the heart and other body parts so she could sculpt and add realistic details.
“The cake turned out better than we thought it would,” Moore said. “Anyone who knows us well knows it suits us.”
Erin Bowes, who worked in the pastry kitchen at The Greenbrier resort for a time, now owns B Sweet Confectionery (bsweetconfectionery.com) in White Sulphur Springs. She said that being in the wedding cake business can be “nerve-wracking” because it’s not just a cake. It is a centerpiece for the wedding and reception and there are traditions and superstitions attached.
“People are superstitious in a way,” Bowes said. “Like, they hope it doesn’t rain, and if something goes wrong it’s bad for the marriage.”
She’s made a few cakes in her career that really stand out, including a Viking ship wedding cake made for a couple in Pocahontas County whose entire wedding was Viking-themed, and a wedding cake with brightly colored sugar flowers — each one taking up to an hour to create — for a bride from Colombia to honor her culture.
Bowes said there is a trend toward wedding cupcakes.
When brides opt for the cupcakes, they usually have a “smaller version of the tiered cake and various flavors of cupcakes for guests,” she said. “Cutting a wedding cake is not a pretty business. Cupcakes take that out of the equation.”
For their wedding in July, Emily Banton and Trevor Young, an American who grew up in Russia, are both world travelers who met in Elkins. Their wedding cake will map out their lives — literally.
A globe sitting atop a stack of suitcases will feature flags pinpointing the nearly 50 nations the couple has visited or lived in during their lifetimes, as well as the honeymoon sites in France and Spain.
“I have always said I want a super-awesome wedding cake,” Banton said. “It’s more important than my dress. I think this one will be nice because we’ve both been all over the world and we’re going to Europe for our honeymoon.”
Entrusted to the skills of Yednock and her staff at Sweet Babes Cakery, Banton is sure the custom cake with lyrics from a Frank Sinatra hit — “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away” — written on the banner will make her special day even more meaningful.
Wedding cakes typically start at $150 and can go up in price based on the number of people served and the types of ornamentation. On the higher end, they can cost $1,000 or more.