Cakes Galore and More

It is the last bite before you say good night, the sweetness meant to symbolize a prosperous life together. In ancient Rome it was smashed over the bride’s head in a gesture of good fortune, and in medieval England spiced buns were towered as high as possible in front of the bride and groom – a successful kiss between the newlyweds over the tower without it tumbling down ensured a bright future.

Wedding cakes stand front and center and should be an expression of the bride and groom’s interests, while maintaining the highest standard of tastiness. On the Vineyard, bakers work with clients to express individuality on their special day while keeping the price tag within reason.

Cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts, pies, and other desserts populate long buffet tables to amuse guests’ taste buds. Set up a consultation with one of these or other Island bakers to explore flavors and design, nail down pricing, location, and dietary needs, and create a vision to cap off the event. Gone are the days when cakes looked good but tasted like cardboard. You can have a pretty cake and happily eat it too.

Black Dog Bakery & Café

The Baker: Executive pastry chef Laura Beckman has seen her fair share of creative requests, including a circus cake with dogs atop an eight-tier peanut butter cake, and a tiered cake where each level matched a different Lilly Pulitzer bridesmaid dress, but the Island girl and graduate of Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts advises couples to keep it simple.

Most Popular: The Black Dog’s signature “Majesty” cake is a chocoholic’s dream come true: thin layers of chocolate cake alternating with white, milk, and dark chocolate mousse, covered with whipped cream, and topped with chocolate ganache. “It’s black and white and really unique-looking,” says Laura. The white chocolate raspberry mousse cake is also popular “because it goes with either vanilla or chocolate.”

Chef’s Favorite: “It changes all of the time but the strawberry, blueberry, whipped-cream cake is really good,” she says. “It’s a great summer cake and goes well with everything. It’s nice to not eat something too heavy at the end of the meal.”

Odd Requests: This past fall Laura created a traditional Brazilian passion fruit cake, “that was far out of my usual realm.” The couple brought Laura the recipe, which she tested several times before the big day. In the end, she says, “It tasted delicious and authentic.” She also made an international military-themed cake. “The military couple gave me a two-year head start on the cake to get it perfect,” Laura recalls. “She e-mailed me all of the patches and stickers and pictures over the course of their deployment from all of the places they had been.”

Beyond Cakes: Cupcake weddings are popular, with such options as red velvet, carrot, chocolate – “really the sky’s the limit,” Laura says, adding she can vary flavors on request.

On a Budget: The best thing is to tell the baker ahead of time if you’re on a budget, Laura says. Prices for Black Dog cakes start at $350 for fifty people. Some brides opt to have a backup sheet cake for extra slices, “but if you don’t want people to be able to tell you have a backup, just get the next size up.”

Advice to Couples: Laura says to keep it simple. “It’s going to taste delicious, so let’s not make it not taste delicious with crazy decorations,” she says. Fresh flowers and homemade decorations are encouraged.

Cakes By Liz

The Baker: With more than twenty years’ experience making brides’ dreams come true, Liz Kane is on a mission to break the stigma about wedding cake. “People tend to think it can be beautiful but not taste good – I don’t believe that’s true,” she says.

Most Popular: Cakes tend to be simple these days, Liz says. Vanilla cake with cream, strawberries, and raspberries is one of Liz’s most popular cakes; sometimes she adds Grand Marnier to “make it extra special.” Vanilla cake with a dark chocolate mousse and chocolate cake with ganache frosting and fresh raspberries are also popular options.

Chef’s Favorite: “I’m a chocolate girl – chocolate cake and chocolate ganache and buttercream. Even though I like chocolate, I like a little white in there,” she says. “Simple but really good.”

Odd Requests: One wedding last summer in Chilmark featured individual little cakes for each guest, with an over-the-top approach to the wedding cake itself – vanilla cake laced with caramel, crème fraiche, cream frosting, and Butterfinger candy bars. “It was awesome,” Liz says. “We’re mixing two worlds here and it really worked. Sometimes people say, ‘I want something different. I want crunch and flavor.’”

Beyond Cakes: “We did something fun at the Winnetu [Oceanside Resort in Edgartown]. We made individual cakes, twenty vanilla and twenty chocolate – for a fifty-person wedding,” Liz says. The cakes were displayed on an elaborate platter, and in addition “the couple wanted all of their favorite sweets: chocolate éclairs, key lime tarts, and strawberry shortcakes.” Ice cream sandwiches were also in order for a rehearsal dinner at one wedding last summer.

On a Budget: After securing the tent, rentals, flowers, and the like, bakers are sometimes the last stop on a couple’s list, “but we try to work with them on cost to make it simple,” Liz says. If her price points don’t work for the couple, sometimes she’ll refer them to someone else, she says. “You have to be helpful to people.”

Advice to Couples: Cake-making competitions on television have made some customers more demanding lately, Liz says. They want multiple tiers with multiple flavor combinations. “I try and hone people in,” she says. “I never try to talk them out of a flavor because it’s their wedding,” but rather she might make other suggestions to consider.

Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery

The Baker: After twelve years of making wedding cakes (and famed Back Door Donuts), owner Janice Casey and pastry chef Raffi Jabri know how to satisfy the sweet tooth with whimsy. Raffi, who is originally from Jordan, trained in England and France. When he’s not holding a pastry bag, he’s serving hot apple fritters to Back Door customers.

Most Popular: The multi-tiered “beach cake” in the front window display – with dune fencing, lounge chairs, and white chocolate shells – is a popular summer option, Janice says. For couples looking for more variety, dessert buffets are also a good option. “We did a large croquembouche this fall, with a large cake under that and a dessert table that included little mousse chocolate cups, brownies, cookies, doughnuts, and small apple fritters,” says Janice.

Chef’s Favorite: Fresh whipped-cream frosting with a strawberry filling is a favorite of Janice’s. “It brightens up the cake and gives it some good flavor,” she says. “Raffi makes a wonderful strawberry shortcake,” she adds, although whipped cream frosting can be dicey for an outdoor event. “The other I really like is a piña colada cake – with no alcohol unless you request it – which is white cake, pineapple, coconut, and whipped cream. That’s a nice summer cake.”

Odd Requests: “Instead of cupcakes we did tiered cinnamon rolls at the Winnetu this summer,” Janice says with a laugh. “That was a first.”

Beyond Cakes: Cupcakes are popular. “Generally people do a seven- or nine-inch cake for the cutting ceremony, and cupcakes. If they’re doing a hundred cupcakes or more they might have four different flavors going.” For late-night revelers, Back Door Donuts can be delivered to the dance floor.

On a Budget: Prices for cake start at $5.50 per guest, and fondant and more detail add to the bottom line. Cupcakes start at $3 each. Another way to go is with a three-tiered cake with a backup sheet cake, which can help with the price, Janice says.

Advice to Couples: Janice says come to the baker prepared with information about your wedding. “How many people are coming? Is it formal or more informal? Where is the reception?” Location and timing are key. “Sometimes people rent houses that are a mile down some dirt road, which gives them a great view, but getting the cake down the road, we go three miles an hour,” she says.


The Baker: Classic comes to mind when choosing a cake from Soigné. Ron “Puppy” Cavallo and Diana “Dede” Rabaioli have been making cakes out of their Edgartown gourmet and provisions store for nearly thirty years. Her number-one advice to couples: Elope.

Most Popular: Chocolate lovers rejoice over the chocolate dacquoise cake, with meringue and chocolate mousse filling. Lemon cream and carrot cake also do well, Dede says. Red velvet cake “has gotten very popular” and some couples opt for a spice cake with orange.

Chef’s Favorite: “My favorite is probably vanilla,” Dede says. “I’m not a big chocolate cake person. I like working on chocolate because it’s easier to work with, and the technique sets it up nicely and easily, but personally I’m a vanilla fan.”

Odd Requests: One couple had their hearts set on a four-tiered cake, all different flavors, all soaked in rum. “It was important to them,” she says. Other people have custom accessories made, she says, frequently by Vineyard artist Margot Datz. Carly Simon and Diane Sawyer figurines have sat atop cakes Dede has made.

Beyond Cakes: “I love doing cupcakes. There’s so much less labor – a lot more individual things but you don’t have to worry about things caving in or anything like that,” Dede says. “And if one gets messed, just slip in another.” For one wedding last fall, Dede made three different kinds of cupcakes and fairy cakes (mini cupcakes) – 120 cupcakes and 100 of the smaller variety.

On a Budget: “Cakes are not quite so formal anymore. People are more interested in good stuff and not so much the pomp and circumstance, but everybody still likes good cake,” Dede says. “It’s always funny [when they] say, ‘People had thirds.’ So much for the diet.”

Advice to Couples: “Have a nice dinner and a great little cake and have it be the end of it,” she says. As far as flavors go, the sky is the limit, but she tries to steer people away from nut-based cakes. “One of the first cakes I made was for my brother-in-law and [had] a hazelnut mousse filling, and the maid of honor had a nut allergy, unbeknownst to us at the time. Thankfully it wasn’t the end of my career.”

Val Cakes

The Baker: Val Stoyer is always looking for a challenge. The pastry chef at Lattanzi’s in Edgartown took her talents to the piping bag in 2000, making cakes for private clients, but her latest obsession is French macarons, a meringue-based almond cookie. “I discovered them in New York City at Payard,” she says. “I love them myself. I make extra and keep them at my house. They make you feel like you’re not eating something really terrible.”

Most Popular: The lemon chiffon cake – lemon cake with a white chocolate mousse, a crisp meringue filling, and raspberry preserves – is a frequent choice among couples. “It’s so light and refreshing after eating a heavy dinner. It’s a nice ending,” Val says. “I’ve had a lot of brides ask me for roughly frosted cake, a stucco effect....It almost looks like your mom frosted it but a little neater than that. Perfectly messy. That and a stripe or wave in the frosting, with some fresh flowers.”

Chef’s Favorite: “I love coconut,” Val says without hesitation. “I am a sucker for coconut with a coconut buttercream filling with raspberry. It brings me back to when I was younger and my grandma used to make jelly rolls.” Her cake is aptly called the Jelly Roll Cake.

Odd Requests: The French macaron is the new cupcake, Val says. “I’ve had so many requests for them over the last three years I’ve added them to my list of cookies and sweets.” This past summer Val made a macaron tower. The bride’s colors were lavender, gray, white, and fuchsia, and Val created a cone-shaped tower with alternating colors. “It was pretty spectacular,” she says. “It looked exactly like what you see in the windows of Ladurée [the French company credited with inventing the now-trendy sandwiched macarons]. It was a great centerpiece for a dessert table.”

Beyond Cakes: In addition to macarons, which she now frequently recommends to brides, Val also makes her own gelato and sets up gelato stations for summer weddings. Sugar cones and custom cone holders make it a fun option, she says.

On a Budget: “Brides are trying to save money sometimes...but always [be sure to] get enough cake for all of your guests,” Val says she tells couples. “You don’t want to shortchange people. You never know if it’s so good they want another slice, and you don’t want to assume that not everyone is going to have a piece unless you have other desserts to complement it.”

Advice to Couples: “Always go with your first instinct of what you like: It’s your wedding day, your cake,” she says. “You saw that picture of the cake and you fell in love with it.”