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Wedding Cakes

Wedding cakes have come a long way from towering tiers of dense fruitcake, separated by columns and enveloped in white royal icing. When this spicy dried-fruit-and-nut cake—never a universal favorite—reigned, an old English custom mostly ensured that no one would actually eat the cake. The custom suggested that unmarried guests who put a slice of the bridal dessert under their pillow would dream of the person they would marry.

Fruitcake has given way to chocolate, carrot, vanilla and lemon, while fillings and frostings echo these crowd-pleasing flavors. The rigid figurines of the bridal couple have largely disappeared from the top of the cake, and the tiers are more often stacked one on top of the other rather than divided by pillars. Some brides opt for the tradition and elegance of a pure white cake, but colors—even black— turn this bridal tower into a focal point of the reception.

Prices, usually quoted by the slice, vary from baker to baker.

The average price per slice is about $5, but a custom cake with intricate design and decoration can run $10 and more per slice.

We surveyed area wedding cake designers to ask about their personal styles and the trends they see in this area of the bridal business. Here is what they had to say.

Ana Parzych Custom Cakes

108 Elm St., Cheshire, 203-439-7979, www.anaparzychcakes.com

Ana Parzych’s exquisite cakes have been featured in People magazine, on Food Network and as the viewer-chosen cake selected for the “Today Throws a Wedding” feature on the NBC morning show in 2010.

“Every bride wants something special,” says Parzych, who combined her training in the culinary arts, graphic design and painting to open her business in 2006. The designer often covers her cakes in fondant to create a smooth canvas for her signature sugar flowers. Catering to brides who “are conscious of where their food is coming from,” Parzych uses only fresh ingredients and makes edible flower work. She also receives more requests for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free cakes.

As for cake flavors, chocolate, lemon, almond pound cake and red velvet garner the most requests. Parzych fills each layer with a rich mousseline, based on French buttercream flavored with fresh fruit purée, coffee reduction or melted choco late.

“During the summer, we get more requests for tropical fruit flavors like guava and passion fruit,” says Parzych, who also has a studio in Greenwich. “Years ago, you didn’t see this type of filling in wedding cakes.”

Parzych offers custom design services, including several meetings, a sketch of the cake and a higher price tag. Last July, she introduced the more affordable “AP Signature Cakes,” a collection of 12 design elements such as seashells, pastel-colored sugar flowers, branches of flowering dogwood and lace against white or chocolate fondant. “I’ve done these designs repeatedly, they are very popular and I thought, ‘Why not launch a line?’” she says.

Erica O’Brien Cake Design

1242 Whitney Ave., Hamden, 203-200-0350, www.ericaobrien.com

Erica O’Brien, who has designed, baked and decorated wedding cakes for the past 15 years in California, returned to Connecticut in 2011. She sees some differences in bridal customs between the two states. “Cakes—and weddings—are bigger here,” she says. “East Coast weddings are more elaborate.”

The designer describes her style as “contemporary” and says that most of her brides “want a traditional wedding cake with a modern flair.” She also sees the influence of food magazines and television shows on cake choices. “We live in a foodie culture now, so I don’t limit myself to traditional fruit flavors. If it tastes good with butter, I’ll make it,” she says, referring to more offbeat flavors such as matcha green tea and pumpkin latte.

The from-scratch baker works with French buttercream but prefers fondant. “For me, you can’t beat that perfectly smooth look of fondant. It has that clean look that lends itself to my designs.” She decorates frequently with handmade sugar flowers. “With sugar flowers, you can get hydrangea in the middle of January,” she says.

Inspiration for the design comes from “the usual jumping off points—the bouquet, the invitation, the color palette or the dress,” she says. Those elements have spurred new ideas. Last summer, O’Brien colored cakes in ombré shades, graduated color from light to dark, or incorporated geometric designs into the decoration.

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