When it comes to wedding planning, here's a tasty piece of advice: Don't cut the cake.

When it comes to wedding planning, here's a tasty piece of advice: Don't cut the cake.

Anja Winikka, editor of TheKnot.com, a Web site about planning weddings, says those tiers of joy are an important part of the celebration.

"There's nothing more iconic than a wedding cake at a reception," says Winikka. "Without it, what you have is a party."

Although trendy cupcakes and elaborate sweet-endings buffets have grabbed dessert center stage at weddings for the past several years, specialty cake bakers have seen a recent return to the stand-alone creations — with some updates.

"It may not be seven tiers covered in fondant," says Winikka. "It may not even be white. But when you see it, you recognize it as 'the cake.'"

"Couples relate to the wedding cake as one of the focal points of their special day," agrees Carol Murdock, owner of Classic Cakes in West Hartford, Conn. "We get a lot of frantic calls from brides and grooms who had initially decided not to have a cake, then change their minds at the last minute. They realize they want it for the pictures and for the ritual."

Although more happy couples are putting cake back on the wedding-feast table, fewer are opting for the old school, frilly white or ivory confections. These days, the "something blue" may be dessert, and shapes can be unexpected, even asymmetrical.

TheKnot.com calls it "high fashion meets fondant." According to the Web site, five of the hottest wedding-cake trends are sophisticated black and white cakes (think a beautiful toile pattern); flower-free designs decorated with sewing-inspired embellishments of ribbons, pearls, jewels and even "buttons"; new silhouettes, such as square, oval and rectangular; coordinating wedding and mini take-home cakes in nontraditional colors; and classic tiered cakes frosted in deep rich chocolate.

More than half of Classic Cakes' wedding customers choose shades ranging from to Celadon green to pale lavender.

"Colored cakes are one of the biggest trends we're seeing," says Murdock. "Brides are matching the cake to their flowers or attendants' dresses."

At Sugarbelle in Glastonbury, Conn., co-owner Kristen Ehrlich has also seen an increase in interest in nontraditional color combinations.

"People are ordering pink and green or the very contemporary black and white," says Ehrlich. "Cakes with monograms are very popular. Couples want weddings to reflect their own personal style."

That sentiment goes for flavors and fillings as well. TheKnot.com identifies coconut-key lime, blood orange-mango and chocolate hazelnut-mocha as new favorites.

Flavor selections are often seasonal, with heavier combinations such as chocolate cake with mocha praline filling for winter weddings and lighter sponge cakes with fruits, curds and preserves more popular for summer affairs.

Cake toppers, long ignored, are back in favor — but not the kitschy, plastic bride and grooms. Winikka says vintage or antique pieces or unique, handcrafted items from Web sites like Etsy.com are showing up at even the most chic weddings.

Whatever wedding cake they choose, most brides and grooms are looking for value for their dollars. With costs ranging from $2.50 to $8 or more per serving, that dream dessert can carry a hefty price.

"In this economy, couples are much more budget-conscious," says Murdock. "They're looking for cost-effective alternatives to the giant cake."

Those alternatives can include cutting back on the size of the cake (most dinners include an alternative dessert anyway), having a smaller, "presentation" cake for display and sheet cakes in the kitchen that are cut up and served, and even fake layers or "dummy" cakes. (At Ultimatefakecakes.com, decorated Styrofoam cake rentals start at $100.)

Butter-cream frosting can cost less than rolled fondant and simpler decorations can save money on the bottom line.

"Individual layer cakes presented on a tiered 'tower' can give the illusion of a wedding cake at a smaller cost," says Winikka. "Bakers have a lot of ways to help you stretch your cake budget."