Amy Dawson has received peculiar requests of her cake decorating talents before, but no custom design has ever equated to the strangeness of the request for a rice crispy and chocolate fondant walrus sculpture that perched atop a couple’s wedding cake in 2013.
The Trumansburg-based cake artist and owner of the cake shop Emoticakes wasn’t sure how to classify the walrus wedding cake on her website’s photo gallery because the request was so bizarre. But despite its oddity, she developed an appreciation for its charming two-tusk grin and what became her most unique project to date.
“I fell in love with it by the end,” Dawson said, laughing. “It was a smaller wedding and they just wanted a walrus cake. I don’t even know if I labeled it as a wedding cake on my website because it was so unusual.”
Local cake artists like Dawson have become accustomed to the changes in the wedding industry, specifically the newfound tradition of, in fact, not following tradition at all. Beyond the walrus cake, Dawson’s lineup of unusual wedding cake designs includes a stack of fondant-covered books, a collection of waterfall-themed cakes, and a Google-inspired cake for a Google employee. In a world of weddings planned completely through a Pinterest board, the modern wedding cake has become one of the most popular wedding elements for a couple to pin pieces of their personalities for display.
“For design, Pinterest leads everything,” Dawson said. “I used to help design the cake, and now I’m getting a smattering of pictures and I have to figure out what I can do with all of these things to capture the ideal.”
The downsizing of modern weddings has come with a push for the customization of every ceremony and reception detail.
“I think weddings have gotten smaller and more intimate over the years,” said Amy Gaines, the owner and pastry chef at DarlingCake in Ithaca. “The design elements are more thought out since the funds don't need to be spread as far. This allows brides and grooms to spend a little more on special additions and more detailed elements, like custom details and memories tied into their cake.”
Gaines has worked on her own share of non-traditional wedding cakes, including a white tiered cake split to the core on one side to reveal a gleaming blue geode design, a groom’s cake in which Superman’s chest popped from a fondant button-down shirt, a Phish themed cake, and cakes with tiers hand-painted with buttercream to resemble watercolors.
Other than design, couples are also becoming more adventurous in cake flavors. Gaines once created a custom bourbon flavored cake with cinnamon vanilla cream icing that was adorned with figs and a caramel sauce drip pattern.
“Thinking outside the box is not only fun, it allows me to continue to grow with all the trends and constantly learn new techniques,” Gaines said.
Lansing-based cake artist and owner of Sugar & Slice Trisha Virgadamo has experimented with unique wedding cake flavors for past orders as well. Last year, she made a groom’s cake that incorporated his love for funfetti cake and mint chocolate chip ice cream. In the same year, she designed a spiced cake with cappuccino filling and chocolate ganache.
“The [flavors] weren’t something I would have ever thought to put together, but I got an email from the wedding coordinator on-site and she said everyone loved the spiced cappuccino cake,” Virgadamo said, smiling.
For some of her most niche custom work, Virgadamo created a Nightmare Before Christmas themed wedding cake, complete with a sculpted skeleton king.
“It’s exciting to do something different, but at the same time it can be nerve-racking because it's something you’ve never done,” Virgadamo said. “You want to make sure it's perfect.”
Emoticakes’ Dawson was presented with her own nerve-racking task when she designed the walrus cake. She had to devise a way to make the cake out of ingredients that were structurally sound, yet still delicious.
“[Conceptual] cakes are tricky,” Dawson said. “You have to focus on flavor and beauty.”
Despite the challenges of working in the always-changing wedding industry, local cake artists have found joy in pushing past barriers of tradition to exercise their creativity and celebrate their clients on their most memorable day.
“You can’t help but get emotionally invested in these clients. You meet them and create such a bond,” Virgadamo said. “There’s nothing cooler than being picked to be a part of someone’s special day.”