Cheat sheet: Stretching the cake budget

Photo: Morgan Salyer Photo: Morgan Salyer

Though never featured in formal wedding photos and usually tucked behind closed doors during the reception, the humble sheet cake has long played an important role in wedding planning, and for good reason. Sometimes referred to as a “kitchen cake,” a sheet cake can be prepared alongside the main, multi-tiered wedding cake, called the “cutting cake,” and the combo offers several advantages.

“For weddings with larger guest counts, it can be pretty stressful for the caterer to quickly serve the guests after the bride and groom have cut the cake,” says Gerry Newman, owner of Albemarle Baking Company. “With a sheet cake, they can have 100 slices plated and ready to go, so everyone can be served at once.” A sheet cake can match the cutting cake’s flavor or be entirely different, and typically goes without the elaborate embellishments of the main cake.

Beyond the strategic benefits, the cost savings due to the sheet cake’s simpler design can be significant, potentially halving the wedding cake bill. “My sheet cakes are made of three layers, just like the main cake,” says Kathy Watkins of Favorite Cakes in Charlottesville, “but because there is no decoration, it’s priced per serving below the more complicated and detailed wedding cake.”

Designing and building the main show cake is an incredibly labor-intensive process. “For me it’s not necessarily artistic,” says Newman, who bakes one or two wedding cakes per weekend during the busy spring and fall seasons. “I’m a technician—I know just what I need.”

Even so, an experienced chef can spend six or more hours mixing, baking, assembling and decorating the cake, plus additional time corresponding with the clients and transporting the finished creation—carefully!—to its final destination. For couples on a budget, the secret sheet cake can make that dream cake possible.