Weighing in on the sheet cake phenomenon.


After this weekend’s wedding show, I definitely have something to get off my chest… and it’s been a long time coming. As always happens when I’m about to tackle a big subject, I have no idea where to start!

How about this? Sheet cake is tacky. There, I said it.

I know, I know.. all of the wedding magazines are recommending getting a small “real” wedding cake, and supplementing with sheet cake. A lot of people are blindly buying into it, without any real thought. Let’s compare and contrast, shall we?

Wedding cake: Any wedding cake from a baker worth their salt – and any cake that’s worth having as your wedding cake – is going to be at least 3-4 layers of cake and 2-3 layers of filling per slice. It’s a pretty thing – check out our Flavors page for some photographs.

Sheet cake: I wish I had a picture to share, but I don’t do sheet cake at all*. Sheet cake is what you order from a grocery store for a kid’s birthday party – about 2″ tall, and frosted on the tops and sides. That’s it, that’s all – no torting, no filling, no pretty layers. Just a chunk of cake with frosting on top.

Yes, of course sheet cake is cheaper.. in the same way that it would be much cheaper to serve hot dogs than actual prime rib. It’s not a matter of apples to apples, in the same way that hot dogs aren’t a true comparison to prime rib.

What gets more amusing is picturing the logistics surrounding the wedding mag suggestions. Let’s say you order a small 3 tier round that serves 74 people. You have a reception of 150 people, and decide to supplement with ~75 servings of sheet cake. How is it that you and/or your caterers determine who gets the beautiful, fully torted wedding cake slices, and who gets a chunk of grocery store cake? Is there an “A List” and a “B List”? What if the A listers and B listers are co-mingled throughout your tables?

And most importantly.. would you do the same thing with steak and hot dogs? Because there really is that much of a difference in quality, and in visual appeal.. and people DO notice. Check out some of the stories on Etiquette Hell from some of the guests that have attended weddings that featured “sheet cake supplementation”.

Another, often overlooked aspect to the whole thing is this. Wedding cakes, and wedding food culture in general, is at a crossroads. Never has there been such a glut of talented designers in the industry, or such a focus on individuality and contemporary design when it comes to cakes. In addition to producing visually stunning cakes, there is also a much higher emphasis on flavor. From actual designers (I’m excluding grocery stores and big box discounters here!), wedding cakes aren’t necessarily that dry, white wedding cake that has been looked at as “tradition”. They’re moist, flavorful desserts.

However, perception hasn’t necessarily caught up to industry advancements.

Most people would not balk at paying $5-6 for a slice of cake at any restaurant. Sure, it’s a nice way to end a meal. Of course, at many chain restaurants, that’s not a fresh cake – it’s been shipped in frozen, no telling how long ago it was actually baked and assembled. It’s been mass-prooduced, and it’s definitely not custom decorated for you.

Why is it then, that when it comes to wedding cakes, $5 or 6 is enough to make a person gasp?

Now, we’re talking about a gourmet, *dessert* cake – not the dry white “wedding cake” of yore. Something that was custom designed specifically for you, baked fresh for your delivery date, and had an amazing amount of personal attention and labor put into it – no assembly line. (Again, grocery and big box retailers excluded here – you get what you pay for)

I think that, as a culture, people haven’t wrapped their heads around the concept of wedding cake as an actual dessert yet. In their minds – whether consciously or subconsciously – wedding cake is still just a symbol, a decoration that people “don’t really eat”. It’s something that’s not really looked at as a dessert, and as a result of that, a lot of people will order a dessert from their caterer.

I ask.. why? If you want the symbolism of a wedding cake, if you’re a fan of the look that wedding cakes have evolved to.. why not serve a delicious wedding cake as *the* dessert? Hell, most catered dessert tortes or whatever are usually pretty close to the $5/serving mark.. nevermind the 18%+ “service fee” that most caterers tack on to that price!

As an example: The caterer that did my wedding sells many dessert selections at $4.25/per serving. They tack on a 19% surcharge on all food orders, which comes to $0.81 more, or a total of $5.06 (pre tax) per serving. That is for a slice of torte (a cake!), just plated and served. No ceremony, no big glorious centerpiece for your reception, just an undecorated slice of cake on a plate.

With all of the amazing talent out there, it sometimes saddens me when people don’t look at the big picture. $5-6 (or even more, when you order even more labor intensive designs) from any of these food artists is a great deal.

There was a time when all you had to do to make a wedding cake was slap some (cheap,not the Swiss Meringue we make!) buttercream on a cake,pipe a border, and call it a day. This wasn’t all that labor intensive. Some companies (including the grocery stores and big boxes) still do it this way.. and that’s why they can offer it very cheap.

When you get to looking at a work of art, it’s important to realize that cakes have gone from slapped on buttercream, to something that may take most of a day to decorate,or even several. Especially when it comes to sugar work made ahead, many modern cakes can take several days worth of decoration labor.

Now that wedding cakes have come a long way, and can now be delicious desserts as WELL as a gorgeous centerpiece.. it’s important to think of them that way – as a dessert. Of course the prices are going to look outrageous if you’re comparing it to what wedding cakes *were* (or are, when it comes to grocery store cakes!)
If budget is an issue, and you want a gorgeous cake for your pictures.. forgo the catered dessert, and just buy a wedding cake that tastes good!

I’ve never understood the mentality of buying the cheapest wedding cake available, and justifying it as “well,no one eats it anyway”. If that’s really how you feel, then that’s one time when fake cake actually DOES make sense! Personally, I think it makes far more sense to have the wedding cake as the dessert, and pay the few dollars extra (over grocery prices) to have a gourmet dessert-style wedding cake.

*To supplement main wedding cakes in the case of really large weddings, or when it’s not feasible to include all the servings in the main cake for any reason, we do “kitchen cakes”. These are slabs of cake that are the same height as the main wedding cake layers, torted and filled exactly the same. No one being served the cake can tell the difference between the kitchen cake and the main cake.

Author:Marie Porter

Marie is an award winning cake artist based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Known as much for her delicious and diverse flavor menu as for her sugar artistry, Marie's work has graced magazines and blogs around the world. Having baked and designed for brides, celebrities, and even Klingons, Marie was proud to share her wealth of baking knowledge in her two cookbooks: "The Spirited Baker" and “Evil Cake Overlord”. Marie has also authored a book about her experiences surrounding the 2011 Minneapolis tornado: "Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir"

11 Responses to “Weighing in on the sheet cake phenomenon.”

  1. Diane
    July 17, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    I think it is ridiculous to spend at minimum $800 for a wedding cake to feed 250 people when you can buy a small one and sheet cakes to serve from the kitchen. In reality who cares as long as the couple loves each other who gives a crap about the cake!! Who remembers that stuff… Obvious you do and I would hate to have to be married to you!!!!

    • July 17, 2011 at 10:53 am #

      Using your example, it’s ridiculous to spend $3.20 per person for dessert? For people that have given up part of their weekend – and a lot of the time, part of a holiday, or time off work for travel … bought a gift, maybe paid for a babysitter, etc? Really?

      Not sure why you felt the need to insult me personally.

      I would like to think that the fact I would rather invite less people and feed them well, than invite a ton of people and go as cheap as possible on the food is something that my husband appreciates. It’s called “hospitality”.

    • July 17, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      Personally, with as much money people have spent on weddings, I see no reason why not to spend $800 on a cake. If you’re going to save money on it, perhaps you should look at reception venues, money spent on pomp & circumstance, etc.

      In the end, it may be about the bride and groom, but they’re still the hosts of the event. Why not end the feast with a fine desert?

      Oh, and Diane, nice job with the personal attack… way to troll.

    • Albatross
      July 17, 2011 at 11:14 am #

      Wow Diane, projecting much? Such angry judgmentalism says a lot about you and nothing about the target of your ire.

      We deliberately ordered a chocolate wedding cake with chocolate frosting. The goal was to so scandalize the attendees with a brown wedding cake that they would overlook every other possible flaw at the reception. Plan worked like a charm. We could have decapitated chickens with our teeth and nobody would have talked about anything but the cake.

      We saved the top tier of the cake, wrapped in two ziploc bags and tinfoil in between, and froze it. Then for our first anniversary we took it with us to a B&B: it was as moist and unspoiled as if it had been baked yesterday, having thawed in the cooler on the trip. Delicious!

      So OUR wedding cake was memorable to us, Diane, the foundation of multiple happy memories. Now why not get off the Internets and go generate some happy memories of your own instead of projecting your own harsh self-judgements on people you don’t know?

  2. Patrick,
    July 17, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Diane sounds like a joy to be around. Im sure she is either single or has an unhappy nagged to tears and unfaithfulness looming spouse. Try not to leg other peoples unnecessary negativity wear on you. Just know that all the people you care about are you for support and love no matter what you write about on the internets. FYI don’t work too hard out in this heat!

  3. July 17, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Seriously Diane…. if you don’t agree, that’s fine and all, but keep your personal opinions to yourself and don’t attack someone you know nothing about. It speaks far more harshly about your character than anything else, and does nothing but paint you as a troll.

    My wedding was superbly low-key, and we had sheet cake. I love the gorgeous wedding cakes, but for us, it was unrealistic and unnecessary. And our guests didn’t care. For anyone having a bells and whistles wedding, the cake is mighty important. For us, it just wasn’t, yet there was not one person at our wedding who wasn’t moved by the impact of our ceremony. It’s all about what you make of it, and hardly anyone remembers the cake, or the table covers or much of the details, but they do remember the feeling and to me, that’s most important.

  4. Wendy
    July 17, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Wow, insta-troll! Different people have different priorities, I suppose. Some people will cut corners on cake (flowers, decorations, etc.) so they can have a $10k wedding dress. And if you’ve only got $500 to spend on a wedding, yeah, putting it all into cake probably won’t be the way to go. When I married Paul, my wedding dress was from Sears, we had a Justice of the Peace do the ceremony on our back deck, and spent our money on food and a party to celebrate.

    There I go, being rational to trolls again.

  5. Paul
    July 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Well… at the time I think Wendy & I did a decent job on finding a good cake for our reception. It was tasty, moist, and a couple of guests (including my sister) snuck a second helping.

    But as Wendy pointed out we went cheap on ceremony (J.P. on the back deck of our 1st house) and poured a decent amount of cash into a reception with decent food (and an open bar) so that our friends could enjoy and celebrate with us. So yeah I vote for spending money on the cake, people do remember that sort of thing.

  6. July 18, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    While I agree that a beautiful wedding cake that will serve all your guests is ideally the way to go, I also think there are plenty of great local bakeries ‘worth their salt’, that make very nice sheet cakes, complete with a layer of filling. Just wanted to throw that out there too!

  7. Gretchen
    July 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    I know a lot of people look forward to the cake, especially the older guests (grandma and grandpa). People get to eat grocery store sheet cake at every birthday party, retirement party, etc. and only get wedding cake at weddings. Personally, one of the first things I do when arriving at a wedding is to check out the cake, to see how delicious dessert will be.

    My feeling is, with every aspect of wedding planning, don’t do it if you can’t do it right. If cake isn’t a priority for the bride and groom, do something else for dessert, like cupcakes, cookies, etc. but DON’T skimp on a cake. People will remember bad cake, it is the last thing they eat.

  8. July 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Exactly. There are all kinds of lovely desserts that can be served in place of a wedding cake. I’ve just lost track of how many times I’ve heard comments like “no one eats it anyway”, etc. I don’t see how throwing away a bunch of cake at the end of the night is saving ANYONE money!

    I’d rather see a croquembouche, maybe a festive stack of brownies… ANYTHING but bad cake.

    Personally, I’m so caked out at this point that if my husband ever agrees to a vow renewal, we’re getting a “wedding cake” made of sushi. Yum!

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