Have you ever bitten into that perfect, ornately decorated slice of cake and wondered why it costs so much more than the one that you bake at home? After all, you’re a pro baker, with a killer carrot cake recipe and decorating chops to avoid #cakefails. You’ve watched all the baking competitions and thought: well, that doesn’t look too hard.
The thing is, you’re paying for not only the baker’s time but their expertise when you buy those custom creations in the bakery. And those prices can vary greatly due to a wide array of factors.
Cakes can be priced per slice or as a whole, and sometimes include consultation and cake tasting sessions with the customer. Frosting a cake with fondant (which tends to lend itself to elaborate preparations due to its pliability) tends to be more expensive than just buttercream, since most fondant cakes require a buttercream layer underneath anyway. Fondant can also sit for longer with less depreciation in quality since it creates a seal around the cake layer — a big bonus for busy bakeries around wedding season, which tends to fall within certain time periods of the year.
Related: Anna Olson’s Cake Decorating Ideas for Swiss, Italian and French Buttercream
Fondant isn’t just restricted to nuptial bliss, however. Although wedding cakes used to be the big showpieces for ornate design, today, people are splashing out for custom cakes for all sorts of occasions, from birthdays to other milestone events, such as awards, albums or even retirements from pro baseball (hey, athletes like cake, too, as evidenced by these creations from Buddy vs. Duff‘s Buddy Valastro.)
Let’s take a look at a few more elements that rack up those cake costs.
Time Is Money
Duff Goldman, pro baker and Food Network baking judge (he’s also set to go up against Valastro in the new season of Buddy Vs. Duff), sets prices for cakes according to difficulty and labour at his bakery Charm City Cakes. It takes a lot of time and training to properly spin sugar, work with isomalt and execute elaborate technique-driven decorating styles (such as macramé and crochet textures, a big trend for 2020, according to Harper’s Bazaar), and the price you pay reflects that level of expertise and experience. A study by The Knot in 2017 estimated that wedding cake makers spend an average of 15.4 hours per cake, with each ornate floral decoration taking about 26.8 minutes.
Related: 50 Wonderful Wedding Cake Recipes to Celebrate Your Big Day
Ingredients Add Up
Both quantity and quality of ingredients also factor into the final price. Even though professional bakers often pay wholesale prices, the cost of that single bean chocolate or gold leaf adds up. Smaller bakeries also aren’t getting the same bulk discounts on flour, butter and sugar as those large scale facilities churning out cakes on conveyor belts, so they are paying a premium (and those costs add up fast: the Knot study estimated that the average wedding cake uses a whopping 13.5 cups of sugar).
Get the Recipe: Naked Wedding Cake
Convenience Is Key
Like most things in life, you’re also paying for convenience. Although the bragging rights for successful checkerboard cakes or other elaborate designs are high, consider what you’d have to stock at home in order to make that creation. Commercial ovens suitable for large scale cakes, scales and piping equipment all cost money (not to mention available storage space), and you’re forking over the cash to avoid storing your own forks. The ability to have someone else take care of the details on your big day, whether it’s a wedding, birthday or other celebration, is often priceless—among other things, cake bakers are often pros at moving sky-high creations, which is a task that’s not for the faint of heart.
So the next time you wonder why that elaborate bakery cake costs what it does, consider the time, labour and love behind each forkful.
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