A Slice of Your Life: Finding the Right Reception Dessert

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By Elyse Glickman

There are so many choices to provide your event with the sweetest ending imaginable. Here are few ideas.

In Philadelphia, with today’s foodie culture in full tilt, there is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” option when it comes to choosing a bakery to create the perfect wedding cake — or sweets table.


Since it is often the bride who makes the final cake decisions, she’ll soon realize that it can be as complex as finding (and fitting into) her perfect wedding dress. In fact, there are so many post-nuptial dessert trends coming out from all directions that it would make even Buddy Valastro’s head spin.

“It used to be that cake was off the table for glatt kosher weddings because it was hard to find a baker who did not use dairy in the recipes,” observes Brittany M. Craig, an award-winning event designer and coordinator of Crowning Celebrations, an Ohio-based cake specialist that frequently works in the area.

“There are more bakeries willing to go that extra mile, to not only come up with recipes that are dairy-free, but also free of other things,” Craig adds. “It not only has to do with people keeping kosher, but also there being more food allergies out there. The accommodations made for people with allergies have helped the Jewish community and those who observe kosher dietary rules in that they can have a dairy-free cake that does not compromise on flavor or style.”

Danielle Rothweiler, whose Rothweiler Event Design has several offices in Pennsylvania and South Jersey, notes that on many fronts, her clientele is clearly thinking outside the bakery box.

“Brides are asking for the kinds of dessert tables that will allow their weddings to stand out from their friends,” Rothweiler says. “In fact, many of them are anti-wedding cake and want to have fun breaking with tradition and don’t want to serve cake just for the sake of serving it.”

Rothweiler reports some couples put dessert choices on a menu to allow their guests to either opt for a slice of cake or try something else being served on the sweets table. Her clients’ dessert tables have run the gamut from cake puffs to berry shooters, tarts to homemade cookies, brownies and chocolate-covered strawberries. She adds that many couples like to organize dessert as a buffet to allow people to pick and choose. For couples really wanting to make a statement, she says that “cupcake trucks” timed to arrive at the end of the party offer a sweet alternative to disposable or useless party favors. As guests are leaving, they select cupcakes or other desserts to get boxed and go home with them.

Rothweiler reports that the range of “hot” dessert flavors is also deep and wide. On one end of the spectrum, she gets requests for chocolate chip cookie dough-flavored cakes; on the other, she gets many requests for desserts integrated with seasonal fruits.

“Couples not only want to offer their guests a healthier dessert alternative, but have it be part of an entire menu that’s more health-driven,” Rothweiler says. “I personally like the fruit alternative because guests are often so full by dessert that they are not interested in heavy cakes or desserts.”

As Jen Kramer, founder of the trio of Sweet Freedom Bakeries (Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr and Collingswood, N.J.), was a wedding coordinator at one time, she understands the pressure the bride experiences in terms of accommodating everyone with desserts that not only reconcile taste with kosher dietary rules but also an increasing menu of guests’ health concerns, from lactose and gluten intolerance to portion control.

“I was a more independent bride, so I had the guests eat the way I do,” says Kramer, whose bakeries are not only certified kosher, but also free of gluten, wheat, soy, dairy, corn, eggs, nuts and refined sugar. While many of her customers don’t advertise their desire to keep kosher or vegan, they come in knowing that what Sweet Freedom specializes in will be both safe and delicious.

“I am still a chef and it is important to me that my menu and food choices would be appealing to the majority of the guests,” Kramer says. “On the other hand, many brides are people-pleasers and want to make sure their wedding menu has something for everybody. I respond to the call of what’s needed.”

Beyond the wedding day sweets table, which often includes cupcakes (still standing tall as a major dessert trend and popular alternative to a whole tiered cake), Kramer notes her brides also come to her bakeries for doughnuts and muffins to be served at the breakfast before the wedding, special tiers to be added in to the main wedding cake (coordinated with their caterer) and a variety of simple, old-fashioned sweets. Her best-selling cake flavors include “Fauxstess” (inspired by Hostess Cupcakes), “Samoa” (inspired by the popular Girl Scout cookie) and salted caramel.

Roz Bratt of Homemade Goodies by Roz, known for her famed apple cake, says that less fancy, more “homestyle” sweets tables are big with brides. She also sees homespun and handcrafted desserts for weddings as both a way to keep the mom-and-pop bakery alive and an alternative to the elaborate fondant cakes that have been so en vogue over the past decade.

“While fondant looks beautiful, it doesn’t taste very good, and people often take the fondant off the cake before eating it,” she says. “It’s a shame to pay big, big bucks for something people will remove. Although the bride typically wants the best of everything, including the cake, she should do her homework to see how she can cut corners but still get something she wants, that looks as good as it tastes and vice versa.”

“While the look of fondant is sleek and beautiful, there are ways we can work with buttercream to keep the look simple and yet elegant,” points out Joshua White, owner of the Swiss Haus Bakery, which is also certified kosher.  “If somebody wants a comparable look, we apply the buttercream smoothly in their choice of flavor and then add decorative flourishes like Swiss dots, a buttercream ribbon in a contrasting color, or flowers on the borders. Another option we offer is covering the cake with chocolate shavings, which is comparatively less expensive than other frosting options but also brings a really cool, textured look to a multitiered cake.”

The Swiss Haus’ chocolate shavings are an integral part of its signature hazelnut cake, where hazelnuts are ground up and combined with vanilla spongecake batter to create a unique texture that’s further enhanced with white buttercream icing and the shavings. White, however, points out that a cake’s resulting flavor is given an even higher priority than the physical appearance of the cake. While the cake will look great and serve its purpose as a part of tradition, it will also be eaten and enjoyed.

For brides going for the bling, meanwhile, Millie Colón from Philadelphia’s Avant-Garde Cake Co. explains there are still many glamorous tiered extravaganzas light years away from their mothers’ cakes. As Colón explains it, gone are the days of plastic columns, water-spouting fountains and mini-bridges connecting one cake to another.

“These days, wedding cakes are more than dessert,” says Colón. “Wedding cakes are made to truly reflect the couple’s personalities and capture the essence of the celebration itself.  Tall cakes stand out and make a bold statement: ‘I’m here and I’m fabulous!’ To achieve this look, combine different tier sizes. The second tier from bottom to top is called a double barrel tier and is essentially two cakes stacked on top of each other made to look as one.  It makes your eye think it’s taller than what it is and creates that ‘WOW’ factor every bride is looking for.”

Colón notes that impact-making frosting effects include ombre (graduated color form bold to lighter), ruffles, hand-painted decorations, with edible colors and metallic hues for evening affairs.

“I suggest couples put as much thought into the dessert as they would the rest of their meal and wedding day,” Rothweiler says. “Many people planning weddings and Bar Mitzvahs put off the dessert part of the program until the last minute because they think that part will be easy. It is actually not. The couples and families planning these events really need to consider not only what guests want to eat, but what they will be able to eat. Be careful about wanting to accommodate everybody — you will hear that aunt complain no matter what you do. However, you should really consider what will make the greatest number of people happy.”

Elyse Glickman is the culinary affairs correspondent for Simchas. This article originally appeared in Simchas, a Jewish Exponent publication.

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