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Cutting (out) the cake

Not so long ago, a cake was the traditional — and only — dessert option at a wedding reception. Now, brides and grooms are embracing dessert tables featuring pretty much anything their sweet teeth desire.

"Just like how the rest of their menu is a reflection of the couple and their experiences, they are using their wedding desserts to brand their wedding as 'so them,' too," said Brittany Ferrin, executive chef and owner of Truffleberry Market, Westmont, Ill., near Chicago. "Cake is a lovely tradition and can be delicious, but just like anything — more can also be more. Why not have your cake and other desserts and eat them, too?"

Chicago-based wedding and event planner Lauren Housley of Ryan Alexander Events, who often works with Ferrin, said, "It is completely OK to forgo a traditional cake. Many of my clients who want to experience the 'cake cutting' are opting for smaller cakes or even pies. By creating a table of smaller and different flavored cakes and pies it allows the clients to interject their favorite flavors."

This add-on dessert trend is becoming "incredibly popular," Ferrin said.

"I think in the last six years, we have yet to execute a wedding where cake was the only dessert offered. That said, I don't think we have ever not had at least a cake appearance. Whether brides and grooms opt for something traditional or original, the cake is still a fun tradition for brides and grooms," Ferrin said.

With a customized sweets table, the bridal couple can offer a variety of desserts that are designed to be unique to them, such as something they had on a special date, a childhood memory, a favorite trip or a college tradition.

"It's fun for guests to interact with the menu in that personal way, too. When they see Door County Cherry Pie Pops they know it is because the bride always vacationed there with her family growing up. ... Add some custom signage and curated styling pieces (wine boxes, lucite cubes, antique trunks) and you have a one-of-a-kind sweets table," Ferrin said.

One bride who "seriously" loves Dr Pepper soda asked Ferrin to incorporate it into her desserts. Ferrin and her team created dark chocolate and cherry mini cupcakes, then added Dr Pepper-infused buttercream and topped it with a maraschino cherry.

"Some Dr. Peppery-ness was missing, though, so we made a Dr. Pepper reduction and injected it into a pipette. So fun to watch guests squeeze (it) inside the cupcake or their mouths and say, 'Oh, my God, this is so Brittney,' " the bride, Ferrin said.

Some other ideas from Ferrin and Housley:

  • A doughnut and coffee bar can be a parting gift on a cold night or late night snack for night owls. Guests take a paper bag printed with the name of the bride and groom and wedding date and fill with a warm doughnut, then visit a toppings bar stocked with cinnamon and sugar, vanilla bean powdered sugar, chocolate toasted coconut or sea salted caramel to personalize the dessert. Coffee accompanies the treat with optional Bailey's.
  • Cheese courses are a perfect opportunity to mix sweet and salty, such as a strong cheddar paired with sliced apple and candied walnuts. It is an unexpected way to end the meal and clear the palette.
  • A hot chocolate station is a perfect fit for fall or winter brides, with different mix-ins such as red velvet hot chocolate with white chocolate stir sticks. If it's an adults-only reception, add mix-ins such as brandy or Kahlua. Make it interactive with a gourmet-flavored marshmallow bar.
  • The cupcake movement is in full swing. Chefs can create custom cupcakes for guests with choices of base flavors (German chocolate, snickerdoodle, vanilla bean) and icing combinations (chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, cream cheese, coconut-pecan). Guests can mix and match based on the interaction with the chef.
  • There's no sweeter way to send your guests home than with a bag of candy from a candy bar stocked with childhood favorites.

Cutting (out) the cake