Though the wedding cake has always played a significant role in the classic wedding, the modern take on our favorite bridal sweet is much different from that of its predecessors.
Unlike the cakes of the past, which were treated solely as eye candy, today's tiers have become an integral part of the wedding meal itself Â so much so that many couples forgo an additional dessert altogether.
Though design and style are still incredibly important, flavor has stepped to the forefront. Here's a look at the trends stacking up behind today's delicious tiers.
The big picture
Outlandishly frosted confections are a thing of the past. These days, many couples opt for clean, classic designs that mimic the bridal fashion industry's recent streamlined looks.
Simple, sophisticated designs festoon today's tiers as many couples go the minimalist route. Master baker and designer Sylvia Weinstock, called "the Leonardo da Vinci of wedding cakes" by Bon Appetit, is even taking a Zenlike approach. She recently created an Asian-inspired cake featuring two octagon-shaped tiers topped with an edible vase and sugarpaste orchids.
New York Cake designer Ron Ben-Israel, who has been featured in The New York Times and on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," has his own take on Zen. One of his recent creations consisted of cube-shaped tiers adorned with delicate sugarpaste water lilies and lily pads.
Cheryl Kleinman, a designer who's been in the wedding cake industry for more than 20 years, also finds herself doing many understated yet whimsical designs, such as cakes covered in blush-colored frosting and festooned with tiny silver-dusted polka dots.
Although round tiers are still the favorite choice among most of today's couples, square, octagon and hexagon confections are frequently seen.
Designer Gail Watson Â whose cakes have been featured on HBO's "Sex and the City," NBC's "Today" show and The Food Network Â recently designed a cake made of oval-shaped tiers, which were stacked between layers of sugarpaste burgundy roses and deep red calla lilies.
Square tiers, which give the cake a neat and clean appearance, are becoming quite popular. Different shapes are also being combined to create multidimensional appeal, such as round tiers placed on square tiers.
"I've found that cakes are getting narrower, too," Kleinman says. "Recently, I've done quite a few very tall, slender cakes."
Kleinman has also created cakes that feature differently shaped tiers offset from one another, which she says "gives the appearance that the cake is turning."
Icing on the cake
Although the color white may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "wedding cake," today's cakes are taking a spin on the color wheel.
Cakes in hues of light blush, ice blue, pale pistachio, rum pink and lavender are splashing across the scene, along with shades of butterscotch and cafe au lait Â colors that reflect the bridesmaid dresses rather than the bride's gown.
Rich chocolate-covered confections in all their cocoa-colored glory are also becoming popular. Kleinman has found that cakes covered in chocolate-colored marzipan give off an incredible almond aroma that instantly appeals to many brides and grooms.
"They're fantastic for a fall wedding," she says.
Many designers are also seeing a demand for cakes that incorporate two tones of the same color, often white on white. Snow white fondant tiers may be wrapped with textured white ribbon or topped with white calla lilies, or candlelight buttercream may be adorned with eggshell-colored roses or champagne-hued scrollwork.
Fresh flowers continue to be a popular adornment for wedding cakes, though sugarpaste flowers are still holding their own.
"Many brides are beginning to realize that sugar flowers can be an important keepsake item Â even if they come attached with a higher price tag," says Heidi Cooney, one of Montreal's top cake designers.
Unfussy, simple blooms are replacing the more frivolous flowers; today's most fashionable blooms include orchids, calla lilies, tulips and gardenias.
Daisies are also becoming popular, due to their "light and cheerful appeal," says Kleinman, who has recently done many cakes incorporating the gerbera variety. She's also noticed a trend toward country-inspired creations, featuring basketweave motifs adorned with marzipan fruit, sugared fresh fruit or sugarpaste flowers.
Simple embellishments such as Swiss dots, single rose petals, curving scrollwork and family monograms are also setting the standard.
"Personalization is very popular at weddings, and the cake is no exception," says Katrina Rozelle, a San Francisco cake designer. She finds that monogrammed cakes are one of her most requested designs.
All in good taste
"Today's bride is very concerned about her cake's flavor," Kleinman says. "The modern couple is very willing to spend extra money on a fantastic wedding cake and cut costs elsewhere, such as forgoing a dessert table."
Weinstock realizes the importance of a delicious-tasting cake and uses only the best buttercream to cover her cakes.
Ben-Israel agrees that flavor is crucial: "It's important for each slice to be composed of a variety of complementing flavors Â so each slice can become its own plated dessert."
One of Ben-Israel's favorites combines white velvet cake with passion fruit cream and praline crunch. He also likes to infuse the cake's layers with exotic spices such as ginger, cardamom and star anise.
Moist chocolate cake is also a hot trend, especially when the rich layers are spread with fillings like mocha espresso mousse and amaretto or Grand Marnier cream.
Pistachio-enhanced cakes, which can take on a rich or subtle sage-green hue, are also big on the market, as is a delicate pistachio-laced filling.
Classic desserts such as tiramisu and coconut cake are finding their way to the cake table, too, along with fillings such as cannoli cream.
"Couples want simple yet unusual flavors, and cannoli cream is a nice alternative to the standard vanilla cream," Watson says.
Lemon, a strong summer choice, is being filled with tart lemon curd and white chocolate or light lemon mousse. Other fabulous fruit flavors setting the scene: pineapple, exotic marionberries, wild cherries and passion fruit, mango and blood orange mousses.