Take the Cake: Wedding Desserts and Alternatives

by Erin Elizabeth Waters

Photo Courtesy B-Rap Studios

While an intricate, layered wedding cake will always be considered elegant and classic, ‘traditional’ is not a fit for every bride and groom. In an era where creativity and innovation is more sought after than ever, many couples are looking well beyond the obvious to really make their wedding day special. And who said everybody can afford a decadent, ten-tiered cake?  Whether you are the classic type or the budget-conscious couple, there are many chic alternatives and faux options to look into. Consider these unique catering ideas to decide what “takes the cake”, and ensure your reception has that elegant but modern edge you are after—for any budget.

Simple & Chic

Ombre Cakes

Ombre cakes have become increasingly popular for weddings in the past few years, partly due to their elaborate color gradients, which can compensate for smaller size and therefore offer an inexpensive but still glamorous alternative to larger tiered cakes. This impressive effect is achieved by using colored buttercream that has been tinted in variegated tones of one color, which are then arranged from light to dark, or vice versa. If you find that ‘bigger is better’, the same effect can be achieved by using cake layers of varying shades of one color. To really establish a modern vibe, try using the same color gradient scheme with square-shaped tiers.

Ruffles, Lace, and Layers

There is really nothing that says romantic or ‘fairytale’ more than a wedding cake with fresh flowers and lace appliques. These types of classic cakes are especially appropriate for vintage and traditionally inspired weddings, and often serve as the stunning centerpiece of a wedding’s reception. In order to achieve the vintage vibe, designers use a molded lace applique fondant to serve as the icing “embroidery” around the base of the tiers. Candied sugar pearls and edible flowers are additional embellishments that can be added to enhance your dessert’s authenticity. Want to put a modern edge to the romance but not spend a fortune? Ruffles have been an age-old antique fashion statement around for centuries, and lately they’ve found their way into the wedding cake world. Using fondant ruffles on smaller, one or two tiered cakes or in combination with an ombre color scheme throughout will break tradition while amping the romance—without burning a hole in your wallet.

Photo Courtesy B-Rap Studios

Modern Trends

Faux and Fabulous

While at first many people may cringe at the thought of having a fake wedding cake on their special day, the idea is actually advantageous, especially for weddings with larger guest lists. The more people at your wedding, the larger the cake needs to be—and by opting for a faux design you are likely to save a few hundred dollars in the process. Many of these cakes have fake, Styrofoam layers beneath the elaborate façade of real or fake frosting and flowers. The top layer of the cake is often real and can be saved for your one-year anniversary. And don’t worry—you will still be able to share the cake-cutting tradition with your new spouse, as many faux designs include a secret slice of real cake inserted into the base!

Gourmet Coffee Bar

To keep your wedding classy, elegant, but original, try incorporating a gourmet coffee bar into your reception. This is a beautiful and fun alternative for those guests who would not like to indulge in an open bar, or even those who would prefer a dessert option other than cake. An advantage to this unique option is the sense of variety you will be providing your guests. If you do opt for a coffee bar, you can offer a wide array of coffee beverages and dessert drinks, including cappuccinos, macchiatos, espressos, and even dessert “shooters” or “shots”. Dessert flavors can include chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon, and drinks can be served with cake shooters, gourmet pastries, and even chocolate covered spoons—elegant editions that can also be used as wedding favors.

Wedding Pies

Wedding pies are unconventional alternatives to cake that are often inexpensive, and are perfect for rustic receptions and countryside weddings. The beauty of wedding pies is that they are a statement in themselves, without having to be ornately adorned with appliques, icing, and flowers. Individual pies of different types and flavors can be layered in a three or four tiered dessert display or stand, to mimic the design of a classic wedding cake. The stand can be decorated with ribbons, flowers, and pearls to showcase your wedding pies and add the extra embellishments you need.

Fun & Healthy Alternatives

Fruit “Cakes”

Yet another dessert idea in addition to traditional and faux wedding cakes is fruit “cakes” or trees, which are cost-effective, aesthetically unique, and most importantly, healthy alternatives. While it is important to match your needs as a bride and groom, it is also important to consider the dietary needs of your guests, who may be vegans or allergic to dairy. This idea is perfect for tropical weddings where the reception is held either beachside or poolside. Artists who design these specialty features can create a multitude of designs and shapes using your favorite selection of fruit—from palm trees and towers to full-on mock wedding cakes with tiers. Adding a chocolate fountain amidst the fruit display gives your fruit “cake” the dessert flare it needs to compete with any wedding cake.

Photo Courtesy B-Rap Studios


Being that there are many people who are die-hard sushi fans out there, a fun and creative way to bring the cake theme into your wedding entrees is opting for sushi “cakes” and catering displays. If you are less of a dessert fan and more of a sushi lover, choosing this technique will allow you to save money on a more modest dessert, and is perfect for smaller, more intimate gatherings with only family and close friends. If you are not so keen on having a sushi cake as your wedding’s centerpiece, smaller platters with maki hors d’oeuvres may be the perfect way of catering to all your wedding sushi lovers. Specialty chefs may make this cake by molding rice in various cake molds and concealing it with slices of your favorite fish, using sprigs of basil, edamame, and avocado slices for added décor.

Cake or Pie-Pops

We love the idea of having cake or pie at your wedding—on a much smaller scale. Ordering cake pops or pie pops and serving them on a catering “tree” at your reception is not only fun and unique—it is also much more cost-effective, less time-consuming, and easier on the cleanup crew (no dessert dishes involved!). A variety of small, individualized treats can be displayed on a centerpiece, and guests can indulge on their leisure. If you would prefer to have a cake or pie to preserve for your one-year anniversary, consider still incorporating the pops in your wedding’s reception, but this time as favors to your guests.