The long, sweet history of the wedding cake is a mix of traditions, dreams and changing tastes. So it's no surprise that cupcakes are playing a major role in the latest version of this multi-tiered, frosting-swirled world.
Call it Wedding Cake 2.0.
Practice: Do a practice run; do it again.
Balance: Flavors and textures, for cupcakes and frostings.
Count: Most people eat one traditional-size cupcake. "We usually recommend you go 15 to 20 percent over the number of guests," said baker Bobbie Lloyd. For 100 guests, have 120 cupcakes.
Top it: "Sometimes we also do a small, 6-inch cake on the top, so the bride and groom can do the cake cutting," said Lloyd.
Buy: Containers for carrying to the event.
The look: A metal tree? Decorated cardboard tiers? An array on a table? Research ideas.
Design: Complement the wedding's colors, personality, theme.
Help: Provide a key if there is a large variety of cupcakes.
Avoid disaster: Give very specific instructions to cupcake handlers. "All it takes is one busboy who says, 'Sure I'll take that,' and he tips over your cupcakes," Lloyd said.
Dozens of cupcakes — tiered on decorated stands or arrayed on a table, often in a variety of flavors, colors and embellishments — let bridal couples personalize the celebratory sweet.
"The whole trend in weddings in general is to make it personal," said Darcy Miller, editorial director for Martha Stewart Weddings.
The ultimate personal touch? Cupcakes you bake and decorate yourself.
America's love affair with cupcakes is intense. "Whether it is a throwback to childhood or another way to make dessert a little more special and fun, these small cakes are a sweet spot for adults and children," NPD Group's Kathleen Cella noted. The research group found cupcake pan sales were up 14 percent in the 12 months ending September 2010, and 555 million cupcakes were eaten between February 2009 and February 2010.
Before you opt for DIY cupcakes for your wedding, realize that they require planning, a strong support team and a cup of common sense.
"In the 48 hours before your wedding, you should have no responsibilities other than being with your guests, enjoying yourself and getting last-minute stuff done that has to be done," said Miller.
However, if you love baking and you've always baked, go for it, she said. "You can make them ahead, then stick them in the freezer, though I think it's better if they're fresh."
DIY success, say experts, depends on finding the perfect first lieutenant in charge of sweets, a cupcake wrangler — an aunt, cousin, friend — with baking savvy.
"Maybe it's a collaboration with you and your aunt. Someone who is close to you so you can enjoy the process, but not someone who has to be at the rehearsal and is in your wedding party," said Miller.
"Whatever you do, practice," Miller said. "You shouldn't be doing anything for the first time at your wedding other than going down the aisle, whether it's your first dance or ... tasting the food or baking the cupcakes. What you don't want the day of your wedding is surprises — cupcakes that are too sweet or too rich."