My love of wedding cake started at an early age. As a young wedding guest, I’d stare at the beautiful confection in the corner and wait for the magical moment when the bride and groom glided over to it and began to cut. As the bride lovingly got cake shoved in her face, I’d eagerly lick my lips in anticipation.
As soon as Ben proposed, one of the first things on my to-do list was to find the perfect cake. When I’m not being a bride, I work as a producer for a national crime television show, so I basically hunt down criminals all day. But now I was on the scent of a sweeter prey: a baker.
The first thing to do was look at online reviews. My two favorite sites for this are WeddingWire.com and Washingtonian.com. The first is a nifty site where you can plug in the type of service you’re looking for and your Zip code to find a variety of vendors in the area along with dozens of reviews from other brides. I used Washingtonian.com’s wedding guide in conjunction with WeddingWire to come up with a list of bakers I wanted to contact.
I then e-mailed the bakers to see if they were available for my date, if my venue—Antrim 1844—was within their delivery range, and what their price range was per slice. This information helped me figure out which bakeries I wanted to visit for tastings. I have to mention here that although it didn’t deliver to Antrim, Fancy Cakes by Leslie in Bethesda was among my favorites. I didn’t have a tasting there but have enjoyed more than a couple of cupcakes from there over the past year.
Another baker I would’ve loved to work with was the legendary Ann Amernick. She has built quite a reputation over the years as one of the best confectioners in the area, and she now works out of her house baking wedding cakes. I spoke to her on the phone, and she explained that because she bakes out of her home, she doesn’t have the room to do tastings for brides before they book her services. She suggests going to different bakeries, finding out what type of cake you like, then coming back to her and planning your cake together. I considered doing this because of her amazing reputation, but I’m the type of person who wants to know exactly what I’m getting before I sign on the dotted line.
With my list narrowed down to five bakeries, it was time to take my hunt into the field. I grabbed my mom and my maid of honor, Kerri, and drove to Catonsville to visit Sugar Bakers. As soon as I walked into the cute shop, the warm scent of sugar and freshly baked cookies made me want to eat the air. While the presentation was nice and the buttercream delicious, I found that the cake samples were a bit dry. Not wanting to risk my actual wedding cake being dry, I crossed Sugar Bakers off my list.
The Yum Yum Shop, located in Pasadena, Maryland, was next, and my mom and Ben accompanied me. The owner was extremely friendly and confident about her confections. The book she showed me was full of beautiful cake pictures, and the tasting was good but not what I was looking for. If you like the nostalgic taste of birthday cake and are looking for a more affordable option, then this is the place for you. However, I was looking for something a little more upscale. So I crossed Yum Yum off my list.
Creative Cakes in Silver Spring organizes its tastings as more of an open house. While you don’t get the personalized service of a private tasting, the higher number of visitors at an open house means the bakery can make more fresh cakes to taste. While the cakes were good (highlights were the tiramisu and mandarin-orange flavors), I still didn’t find the wow factor.
The Sweet Life had a definite wow factor, but this came more from the estimated bill than from the cakes themselves. The prices were on the high end, but what really tipped the scale was the delivery fee from Northern Virginia to Antrim. The 90-minute drive each way would cost me dearly. Were the cakes worth it? They were really good, and owner Norman Davis certainly knows his craft. The pastry chef has been featured on Food Network cake challenges and is a master sugar artist. The cakes slices were moist and flavorful, and Norman gave me a little extra cake to take home to Ben, but I still wasn’t sure that I’d found what I was looking for. Almost but not quite.
I was starting to wonder if I’d ever find my perfect cake. The goal was a confection that was beautiful to both the eye and the palate—the type of cake where you savor every crumb and wish your slice would last just one bite longer. Did such a dessert exist? I had one more bakery to visit.
Just Cakes is within walking distance of my office in Bethesda, so I grabbed a few girlfriends and headed over during our lunch break. The shop is an oasis nestled in a cluster of ugly office buildings. As soon as I walked in, that wonderful aroma of sugar and spice once again overcame my senses. There’s something about that soothing smell that seems to make everything right in the world, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if Hansel and Gretel had suddenly skipped into the cake shop surrounded by sunshine and puppies.
My ladies and I sat at one of the cheery yellow wrought-iron tables and looked through pictures until the baker, Steven, sat down to discuss the cakes. He gave us each a little plate with cupcake halves of different flavors surrounded by an assortment of fillings and buttercreams and instructed us to mix and match bites until we found a combination we liked best. This was so much fun! When we talked about design, I don’t know who was more excited, me or Steven. He had so many ideas, and we brainstormed about the perfect cake for my wedding. I found that it’s really helpful to show your vendors how passionate you are about what they do. When Steven learned about my irrational love for wedding cake, it made him more excited to design something I’d love (with a price I’d love, too).
A couple of additional things that set Just Cakes apart were that Steve not only would bake my cake; he’d also hand-deliver it to Antrim to ensure that it arrived in perfect condition. Just Cakes also gives each couple a special cake to eat on their anniversary, so they don’t have to choke down freezer-burned, year-old leftovers. Another little bonus is that each bride gets two tastings. After I picked out my flavor combinations, Just Cakes created slices of my top three choices and wrapped them up for me to bring home to taste with Ben. He couldn’t get enough of them, which speaks volumes considering that he usually forgoes cake in favor of plain ice cream and sprinkles.
The dream cake Steven and I created is a three-tiered, rotated-square-shaped, white-fondant-covered confection that’ll be decorated with fresh flowers and Swiss dots. The first tier will be almond cake with raspberry-curd filling and raspberry buttercream, the second Dutch-chocolate cake with raspberry-curd filling and raspberry buttercream, and the third carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting.
At long last, I’d found both my perfect cake and my perfect baker. Now, I’ll eagerly wait for the magical moment at our wedding when Ben and I glide over to the beautiful confection in the corner and begin to cut. And as Ben lovingly shoves wedding cake in my face, I’ll smile happily and eagerly lick my lips.
Read Diana's story from the beginning, here.
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