Millennials have laid waste to paper serviettes, put the final nails in golf’s coffin, and now, it appears, they’re in the process of killing off wedding cakes

Three towering tiers of joy, rosettes clustered in filigreed buttercream bouquets. Like the marriage itself, it should stand the test of time, be sweet and tender, and everyone in attendance should sigh at the sheer rightness of it all. With rituals like the inexpert two-armed slicing and the face smush, wedding cake is the sacrosanct cap on the ultimate day…

…unless it’s not.

Cakes, according to caterers and wedding experts, are out. Nearly a third of would-be newlyweds are opting for other sweet endings, according to experts like Los Angeles power-caterer Lulu Powers, who does weddings around the country. Cutting the cake puts a pause on the reception. The buzzwords these days are ‘interactional’, ‘grazing’ and ‘fun’.

“They want the party to keep going and that means roving desserts, often no fork needed.”

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Young couples are turning toward less ceremonious – but often no less expensive – nuptial sweets

In cake’s stead? Cobbler carts and cookie bars with big apothecary jars of toppings. Macaron displays, fruit pies or a waffle station. Tiny desserts with little bourbon pairings. Individual sweet treats served on the dance floor. In large measure, this trend is not cost-driven.

Fuelled by reality shows like Food Network’s Ace of Cakes and TLC’s Cake Boss, the increasing complexity and elaborate design of wedding and specialty cakes was well documented in the first decade of this century, but according to Powers and other caterers, young couples are turning toward less ceremonious – but often no less expensive – nuptial sweets.

Looking back at the tradition of wedding cakes

The tradition of the wedding cake dates back to ancient Roman times, when a hard barley cake was broken over the bride’s head to invoke the fertility powers of Jupiter.

In the Middle Ages, if couples could kiss over a mound of cakes or biscuits without upsetting the stack, it was believed they were likely to have many children. It was a French chef in the 17th century who first hit upon the idea of celebrating nuptials with a sweet, multitiered fantasy covered in sugared lard (proto-icing).

Throwing off the tyranny of the wedding cake is an opportunity for an additional autobiographical narrative

Matt Toigo and his bride-to-be Katie Hanley wanted something non-traditional for their wedding at Khimaira Farm, a converted goat farm in Luray, Virginia, something that would go with barbecued brisket and mac ‘n’ cheese.

Tiffany MacIsaac, pastry chef/owner of Buttercream Bakeshop, a go-to wedding cake baker in Washington, said she personally hasn’t observed a significant decline in wedding cakes, but she says many people are opting to add croquembouche (stacked cream puffs) and macaron towers to a traditional tiered cake. They are getting smaller cakes, sized to feed only half the guests, supplementing with other tiny, stunning desserts.

“The pivot usually has to do with a couple having a special experience that they want to convey through the dessert,” MacIsaac said. “For example, perhaps the couple got engaged in Paris and therefore want a macaron tower featured at their wedding. There is also a certain aesthetic appeal to something beautiful, and a bit outside the traditional box. Towers are lovely as well because they function as finger foods. The pieces are easy to eat with a cocktail in hand or while tearing up the dance floor.”

This fits precisely with the other big wedding catering trends: reflective of a more personal, autobiographical narrative; accommodating of dietary restrictions and individual food choices; less tradition-bound; and a whole lot more portable and interactive.

Weddings are no less formal than they once were, but the wedding reception details have evolved

Art Smith, once personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, says weddings are no less formal than they once were, but the wedding reception details have evolved.

“What has happened is not that weddings have become casual – since Vera [Wang] made the wedding dress this icon, the dresses and flowers have become more outrageous – but there’s a high-low split. Tuxedos and tacos. The food has come to be simpler, more comforting.”

There’s something arch and subversive about embracing the lowbrow when you’re all fancied up. But the biggest driver of new wedding catering trends, according to Smith, can be summed up in one word: Choice.

“We live in an age of dietary restrictions; the idea of stations has replaced tired plated food. People want to be able to make a choice, and I want my guests to be able to choose what they want. People are more passionate about food. They care more,” Smith said.

Couples want their menu to reflect their hometown, their families, their ethnic heritage and even where they’re going on their honeymoon. Throwing off the tyranny of wedding cake is an opportunity for additional autobiographical narrative – like the song (sort of) says: ‘It’s my party, I’ll serve pie if I want to’.

By Laura Reile, first published on ‘Washington Post’

Editor’s note: This article has been edited for relevance.

Author: ANA Newswire