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Cutting a wedding cake


Malawry
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I'm catering two weddings this fall. I've catered different types of events before, including a couple of dessert-and-champagne receptions, but I've never done a full-fledged wedding. (That was easy--I preportioned things that needed to be cut and put them in petit four cases...so they could be eaten with one hand if you had a glass of champagne in the other.) Both couples are outsourcing their cakes at my request--I can do simple cakes and do them well, but I'm not about to attempt wedding cakes on top of everything else on my plate.

I'm having anxiety attacks about cutting the cakes for these two weddings. I will be asking the artists in question for guidance, but thought it would also be worth asking the pros in here. What do you wish caterers would do when you're done handing a cake over? Is it hard to follow cutting guidelines? I'm worried about running out by cutting the cake too large...

For one wedding there will be a classic three-tiered cake to serve 80 guests. The couple has specifically requested that I not move the cake for cutting it (*knees knock*). There are two different sets of flavors--one on bottom and top and one in the center--and they plan to serve the top tier. I will be providing fresh fruit as well. They want to take some cake from the bottom layer to serve each other, and then they want me (or my staff, but most likely it'll end up being me since the buck stops with me) to stand there and portion the cake into slices. Then one of my servers will run them to a separate table with the fruit display for people to help themselves between dancing etc. How do you finesse doing this in public?

For the other wedding, there will be several layer cakes--I think 3 or 4 types--not tiered or anything, for about 60 guests. They are specifically arranging for round cakes because they like that look of variety, and they didn't want something tiered. The happy couple plans to cut and serve each other from one of the cakes, and then they want the rest cut for self-service. Should I try to get the cake slices onto plates? We planned to display the whole cakes attractively on a buffet, which I will be setting up (I plan to use boxes/pedestals to create different heights on this table, and get some fall leaves to arrange attractively around them. As far as I know, the baker/pc will not be doing any sort of setup, especially since these are not tiered confections). How do I make it so the slices don't look wan--it looks better to plate them than to cut them and leave them on their trays for people to take their own, right? The couple is taking my guidance on this issue and doesn't seem to have much preference.

Thanks for your advice.

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I suggest you look at either the http://www.Wilton.com site or pick up one of their books to see how they guide cutting various portions out of cakes. I think alot of decorators use Wilton as their guide to how many servings per cake they get. I've also noticed alot of decorators like the serving chart from http://www.earlenescakes.com, which is a litte more generous of a portion.

For cutting in the room, I've usually seen people set their plates in a stack on the table near the cake.... a server picks them up, placing them on a banquet tray walks them to the destination, takes them off the tray onto the serving table. Theres no finesse secret I know of..........just walk it over, keep things neat, use trays. Put any mess or supports on a tray to your side, keep it covered with a clean napkin so it's not seen.

I'm not sure I understand your last question......."wan--it"?

I'd cut half of each cake into slices placing each portion on it's own plate. Then set that near the remaining cake. Then as needed I'd cut more into slices. When the cake has lost it's decorative effect take it off the table, clean the cloth around it, then in it's place set plates of sliced cake.

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Thanks, Wendy. The Earlene's site had some especially useful information.

What's the best way to cut this sort of thing cleanly? In the kitchen, if I'm cutting a cake, I usually use a serrated knife, and I get a pitcher of hot water and a stack of clean towels. Between each cut, I dunk the knife in the water and then wipe the knife clean on the towels. But I worry this would look kinda bad "in public." Do I have to rent fancy cake servers to do this? Earlene recommends just wearing a glove and using one hand with the knife, the other with the glove to cut and move slices.

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I rarely use a serated knive to cut a cake for serving. Only for cutting the plain cake into layers that I'll fill. I usually use a french knive to cut cakes, because that's whats most available at work. If I had a choice, I'd choose a thin non-serated knive on the larger side. Really any knive you like is fine.......... Choosing a wide bladed knive lets you use it as a spatula if needed to lift your cake slices. Often the prettier the knive and spatula the less functional they are..... I wouldn't rent either, and if I wanted them I'd buy them thy aren't too expensive.

Fancier places take the cake back into the kitchen to be cut out of site. Where I've seen cakes sliced in the room in front of the guests it's best to keep the production down, just be swift and clean. Get in, get out.

Technically, you choose your knive by what kind of cake your cutting just like cooking. I'd use a serated knive if I was serving an angel food or chiffon cake in public....but not a wedding cake.

You really need to dip your knive into hot water between each slice if your cutting a cheeesecake or a flourless chocolate cake, a dense cake. But for a typical wedding cake consisting of white cake with buttercream frosting you can wipe your knive on a towel between slices to clean the blade or every couple of slices. You don't need to rinse it under hot water for each slice.

Dunking in hot water in front of people does complicate the process.........and I'd avoid that if possible. I'd rather do that in a kitchen where no one will see just how gunked up my knive and towel gets. When I cut a cake in the kitchen, ideally I'll do it next to the sink so I have fresh flowing hot water. That's easier then using a container of water that cools down. I also us the water pressure to clean off my blade.

For cutting cakes I hold my knive in my right hand (because I'm right handed) and push the slice I've just cut into my gloved left hand. Then I place it on the plate from my gloved hand. If you'd prefer to use a cake spatula to lift the cake slices that looks nice.......but it's more time consuming. I don't flip the piece over out of my hand onto the plate. The side that was on my gloved hand goes face down onto the plate, so the best view (unsmudged frosting) is face up on the plate.

Part of the trick of slicing the cake in public is doing it quickly and effortlessly and no one will really have time to observe what your doing.

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You mentioned that you'll be asking te cake artists for guidance....smart move! Ask them which serving chart they're basing their cakes on; Wilton vs. Earlene? Those are the 2 serving charts most commonly used and their cake portions vary greatly. If you abide by the serving guide they give you should have no problems like running out of cake. Also make sure to ask if there's any equipment like supports that need to be returned.

As already mentioned, Earlene's way of cutting, with a plastic glove on one hand and a knife in the other, really is the most efficient. And as well, do keep a tray nearby with clean napkins to cover up messy bits like supports, as said above. If you're more inclined to use your regular method of cutting, with the serrated knife, hot water, and towel, go ahead and do so. You can keep the hot water container and dirty towels tucked down at waist level on another serving cart out of sight and still keep things looking discreet. It's a little more work to do it in public but those clean cuts really are nice and presentation is everything. It helps to also have a plate runner who takes the plated cake from you and sets it where it's going to go, so all you have to do is cut & plate.

You don't need the fancy serving sets.....those are for the bride/groom cut only (traditionally taken from the bottom tier) and they're pretty much useless for cutting up the whole cake. Most Brides buy their own or get a loaner from the cake artist. But you stick with your serrated knife.

One of my biggest pet peeves though (aside from caterers or decorators moving the table with the cake on it, but that's another thread!) is when the portions are plated then left to sit for an hour or two or even more. Cut cake is like bread and it gets dry when cut pieces are exposed to air for some time. It doesn't matter how moist & wonderful the cake was, leaving it plated for long periods always results in "Gee, too bad the cake was dry" comments from guests, when in fact it wouldn't have been if handled properly. You mentioned the first bride wants it plated as soon as they do their traditional cut, then left on a buffet. Bad idea. Instead, let them do their cut, then you don't start cutting until the cake is ready to be served. Preferably, if you can do it, serve the cake to guests rather than letting them come to the buffet in their own time, because some will take hours to do it. (I've seen people actually do this.) But having said that, plating the cake and leaving it on the buffet is still preferable to letting guests cut their own piece, because they almost always cut themselves a piece 3x larger than what was intended, so of course that way you'd run out. Is there going to be any of your staff manning the buffet table? If so, I'd get them to cut & plate pieces as guests request them. I'm suggesting staff because I know you likely won't have time to stand there & do it yourself all evening. :o)

Hope that answers a few of your questions.....any more just hollar. And don't, as you said, have an anxiety attack over this....you do fine!

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The "Earlene" site has good info on cake cutting.....I agree.

All I'll say is that you should always always ask the cake artist for cutting instructions. They know what their serving sizes should be...... they have to. Any reputable cake person really appreciates being asked by the people serving their cakes about how they should be handled, because mis-handling can make THEM look bad, as well as the caterer. I always provide detailed cake cutting guides to the caterers, either as I'm delivering the cake, or by meeting with the servers beforehand and training them myself. This serves two purposes. One, when caterers get to know you, they are more likely to refer you to future brides, and two, you are more assured your cake gets handled correctly so you look good, the caterer looks good, and the bride is happy.

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I use the Wilton cutting guide (though I didn't realize it) to cut wedding cakes.. and any other cake on a pastry table.

I've never sliced and plated a cake, setting the plates on a table for people to help themselves. I've always cut the cake as people come up and request a piece - but I would say at 99% of the weddings I bake for, they have a whole table of cakes/tortes - so not everybody wants the wedding cake.

I always have hot water at the table. Depending on the venue, I try to find a good container - a silver jug, something that you can't really see into. If possible I like a serated knife - though I've had to cut some cakes with a butter knife (NOT a good choice).

A couple of weeks ago my mother and I baked a pastry table for my cousins wedding. Cutting nstructions were given to the hotel staff. After about 1/4 of the guests swooped through the line I saw the huge chunks that they were being served and had to instruct the servers to cut smaller pieces - I was afraid they'd run out.

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Well, it's a good thing ya'll are giving me all this advice, because I just called the baker for the tiered wedding cake and they basically gave me bupkes (that's nada) for information. They just said not to serve the top tier (which the bride and groom want me to serve, but whatever) and that I should cut in a diagram similar to the one that appears in Joy of Cooking: cut pieces from the exterior in a circle, leaving the center intact, and then cut the center circle in the same way. She says the two tiers will serve their 80 guests, but couldn't tell me how many slices I should get per tier. Sigh. I'll probably print out some of the Wilton and Earlene guides and take a good look at the cake once it's delivered and figure it out on my own. There will be no dessert table, they are only serving the cake and some fresh fruit, so I really do need to get 80 servings out of this thing. I'm a bit baffled that they seemed unprepared for my request for a cutting guide.

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Ask them what size the tiers are. Pin them down on that.

edited to add--Also with two different cake flavors guests will be more likely to expect two slices--not that that is right to expect, but they will, especially with only fruit to head them off at the pass.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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I used to work for a caterer. We did hundreds of weddings from every budget. We never took the cake to another room for slicing. I thinks it's kinda weird unless the plates are getting some elaborate garnish. Most of the pastry chefs delivered their cakes with a diagram and/or some verbal direction. If they say their portions are generous, slice accordingly. I think if you're going to go to the trouble of placing plates on trays for moving you should just deliver a slice to each guest at the table. If they don't eat it so what. The bride and groom will be off on their honeymoon, not home eating leftovers from their wedding. When we didn't deliver the cake we left a server at the cake station until the guests had all come up for a slice. Before leaving the station the server sliced 5-10 pieces and left them plated on the table for straglers or seconds.

Don't sweat it, slicing a wedding cake really is simple. It's taking care of the bride that's the challenge. My caterer once removed a rattlesnake from under the wedding canopy! Must please the bride.

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Do you know what sizes these cakes are? We can tell you servings just based on that.

I've never heard of a cake artist being unable or unwilling to provide a serving chart. And a reference to the Joy of cooking one no less! Hope that's not indicative of things to come. :o( And cutting a round cake by slicing the circles first is much harder than just cutting each pece as a rectangle, which is quickly becoming the standard cake slice as far as I can tell.

Also with two different  cake flavors guests will be more likely to expect two slices--not that that is right to expect, but they will, especially with only fruit  to head them off at the pass.

I disagree with this though.... two flavours means guests get a choice of one flavour or the other, not both. :o)

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  And cutting a round cake by slicing the circles first is much harder than just cutting each pece as a rectangle, which is quickly becoming the standard cake slice as far as I can tell.
I disagree - I think cutting in circles is the way to go - it gives you even pieces.
Also with two different  cake flavors guests will be more likely to expect two slices--not that that is right to expect, but they will, especially with only fruit  to head them off at the pass.

I disagree with this though.... two flavours means guests get a choice of one flavour or the other, not both. :o)

I don't know if they will all expect two pieces, but I think that many will request two pieces if there are 2 different types of cake. It would be one thing if there were other desserts, but if this is it you shouldn't be suprised if they want both.

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FWIW, I was the one who mentioned Joy of Cooking--not the baker. The technique she described over the phone to me sounded a lot like the images I've seen in my copy of the book. I'll call back later and ask what the tier sizes are.

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Also with two different  cake flavors guests will be more likely to expect two slices--not that that is right to expect, but they will, especially with only fruit  to head them off at the pass.

I disagree with this though.... two flavours means guests get a choice of one flavour or the other, not both. :o)

Actually, you're both right. I have found that there are those guests who, once they find out there is more than one flavor, will help themselves to another piece of cake. Then, there are those that will choose between the two and have just one slice. To be on the safe side, I always warn the bride that the presence of more than one cake flavor can lead to cake shortages if guests choose to try all the flavors, so I recommend that she "up" the servings a bit if she has her heart set on multiple flavors. :wink:

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Doesn't it all balance out? I've never catered or attended a wedding where there was a cake shortage. I imagine there are just as many people who decline the cake as there are people who enjoy seconds. I was at a wedding on Saturday where the slices were tiny and there was a ton of cake leftover. It was an angel food with buttercream and fresh berries. I had a total of 4 bites of angel food cake (2 from each layer) and 2 raspberries and easily 8 bites of frosting. Come to think of it, this has happened at many of the weddings I've attended.

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Doesn't it all balance out?

You know, to be honest, one never knows. I've had brides who were chintzy with their serving numbers and had leftover cake. Then I've had brides that ordered 50 extra servings of cake and

ran out. True. So many variables......what kind of crowd......have they had dinner? Are they drinking? Are they drinking a lot? Who's serving the cake? How are they serving it...tiny slices or big? How long is the reception lasting? Some receptions are over and done with in 2 hours, and some go on all night.....

All you can do is make an educated guess.....and still, it's just a guess. The business of catering is a very very inexact science. :unsure:

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry it took me so long to come back to this issue. The cake has the following tiers:

Bottom: 14"

Center: 10"

Top: (the bride and groom want me to cut and serve the top rather than saving it) 6"

I am getting more mystified by this bakery by the minute. Apparently they are not delivering or setting up the cake--a friend of the bride and groom is picking it up and setting it up before the wedding. :blink: I don't want to alarm the bride, but I have a terrible feeling about this. And I don't personally have the time or the willingness to accept responsibility to get the cake myself. I'm considering bringing a pastry bag and an offset spatula just in case something awful happens...

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Well, the wedding is over, and I didn't run out of cake. The bride and groom did end up biting the bullet and paying for delivery of the cake, which made everything seem a lot less nervewracking.

I used the Wilton guide. The cake was not layered, which I didn't realize when I posted, so it was actually really easy to cut cleanly. However, I had trouble slipping offset spatulas underneath the tiers and lifting them off without leaving a bunch of frosting attached to the bottom of the cardboard cake circles (and a center of unfrosted cake on the tier underneath). Is there some trick to doing this that I should know for next time? I feel a lot more confident about cutting and serving a wedding cake now, but I hadn't anticipated problems with separating the tiers.

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Well, the wedding is over, and I didn't run out of cake. The bride and groom did end up biting the bullet and paying for delivery of the cake, which made everything seem a lot less nervewracking.

I used the Wilton guide. The cake was not layered, which I didn't realize when I posted, so it was actually really easy to cut cleanly. However, I had trouble slipping offset spatulas underneath the tiers and lifting them off without leaving a bunch of frosting attached to the bottom of the cardboard cake circles (and a center of unfrosted cake on the tier underneath). Is there some trick to doing this that I should know for next time? I feel a lot more confident about cutting and serving a wedding cake now, but I hadn't anticipated problems with separating the tiers.

Parchment paper. I don't worry about it for fondant-covered cakes. But for stacking on buttercream, I always place a parchment circle on the cake surface where the next cake will sit. I've seen suggestions for using a layer crushed nuts, coconut, graham cracker crumbs, etc. But none of those appeals to me because of the added flavor/allergy possibility. The parchment paper peels off, leaving the icing behind.

B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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Next time I'll look for parchment. I really didn't see any underneath the cake circles on this cake though. Hmm. There were dowels in the cake for support but those don't help with the frosting. Thanks for your response, Bkeith--I tried to convince the bride and groom to consider using you for their wedding cake but they were too tight on budget apparently.

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Next time I'll look for parchment. I really didn't see any underneath the cake circles on this cake though. Hmm. There were dowels in the cake for support but those don't help with the frosting. Thanks for your response, Bkeith--I tried to convince the bride and groom to consider using you for their wedding cake but they were too tight on budget apparently.

Thanks -- I understand. I'm not the cheapest decorator in town (but not the most expensive by a long shot).

As I read back through the thread, I realize my answer doesn't really help you much. The person building the cake needs to put the parchment circle on before the next tier goes on. If there's not a barrier of some sort there, then the person cutting the cake is pretty much out of luck. I don't know of any real technique to lifting the circle without taking icing with you unless the designer built some protection in for you in the first place.

B. Keith Ryder

BCakes by BKeith

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