A baker's secrets for buying a wedding cake

Amanda Oakleaf in her bakery in Winthrop. Amanda Oakleaf in her bakery in Winthrop. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Courtney Hollands
February 13, 2011

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If you dream it, chances are Amanda Oakleaf can bake it. A replica of Fenway Park, complete with bat- and glove-wielding bride and groom? No problem. A frosted airplane for a couple who met mid-flight? Done. “Basically, we don’t say no,” Oakleaf, 25, says with a laugh. The South Dakota native – who learned how to bake from her mom and grandmothers – began crafting and selling cakes out of her Boston apartment in the fall of 2008, during her senior year at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Last April, she opened a bakery in Winthrop with her husband, Tyler Oakleaf, and has since competed on the Food Network’s Cake Challenge and TLC’s Fabulous Cakes. Oakleaf shares her trade secrets to buying the wedding cake of your dreams.

Try a conversation piece Oakleaf steers people toward cakes that are more personal, that tell stories. “If it’s a cake that reflects the couple, then it starts a conversation, unites the families,” she says. Couples often tell her that months after the Big Day, guests are still talking about their cake.

Taste the frosting Oakleaf and her staff whip up fondant in-house from marshmallow, powdered sugar, and plant-based gum tragacanth (for pliability). They don’t charge extra, because even though it takes more time to create and roll out, it’s easier to perfect than buttercream frosting, so the total decorating time is a wash. “Using fondant is what we do, that’s how we get our designs,” Oakleaf says. And ask your baker for a tasting of his or her fondant to make sure your guests won’t be peeling it off. “You want to eat the whole thing – that’s the point.”

Small cakes add up You can go all Martha with a cluster of cute mini cakes, but don’t expect them to cost less than one big one. It takes longer to decorate 50 small servings than one 50-serving cake. “It’s the same amount of cake,” Oakleaf says, “but you are multiplying our decorating time.”

Go floral Real flowers are often cheaper than sugar flowers because nobody has to craft them; you’re just paying for the cake and the florist is putting the flowers on, Oakleaf says. But you can save sugar flowers after the wedding. “Dry and out of the sun, [they] will last forever.”

Watch the thermometer You can opt for buttercream frosting for an outdoor August wedding, but treat it with care. “If you have it outside, it should be under a tent,” Oakleaf says. “You don’t want to display it in the sun all day. Keep it indoors, keep it air-conditioned. ... Bring it out, cut it immediately, and serve.” Cake with fondant is a little more forgiving, but should still be kept at room temperature.

Eat it now Sorry to spoil this charming custom. But after a year in the freezer, even the moistest cake will dry out and taste off. “We don’t have control over your defrost mode, how you wrap it – I wouldn’t even eat my cake after a year in the freezer,” Oakleaf insists. Instead, why not start a new tradition? Put the top tier in the fridge, hang a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign, and, when you return from your honeymoon, enjoy.