Inside Wedding Cake Design with Sweet Heather Anne
Meet Heather—owner and cake designer at Sweet Heather Anne in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She’s a passionate cake designer who’s known for her creative voice and intricate designs. Learn from Heather as she shares her top tips for choosing the perfect wedding cake, plus, the recipe for her famous almond olive oil cake!
What are the most popular wedding cake flavors?
Our most popular flavor is vanilla praline. We make caramelized pecans in-house and puree them into a paste to add to the buttercream and spread between the layers. We also chop up crunchy praline pieces so you get praline three ways. The finishing touch is the caramel syrup that we add to our brown sugar vanilla cake. It’s perfect for someone who wants a lighter flavor with some rich elements.
My personal favorite is our blood orange olive oil cake. This cake was inspired by my time spent studying abroad in Italy at the height of the blood orange season. The cake itself is a citrus almond cake made with olive oil instead of butter. The texture is light and spongy and the flavor could stand on its own as a coffee cake. We layer it with blood orange curd and citrus praline buttercream and the result is divine.
What are your most requested wedding cake designs? What goes into creating a custom cake design for a couple?
Our most requested designs are cakes with edible sequins and cakes that look like buttercream oil paintings. We like to take inspiration from non-cake-related things like textiles and paintings and clients have been loving those styles.
Creating custom cake designs for couples is one of my favorite parts of the process. We have clients come in for a tasting and design consultation where we draw their design on the spot, getting direct input from the very beginning.
What are three things to consider going into a tasting?
To prepare for a tasting, I’d spend some time looking at design inspiration so you can give your cake designer direction about your wedding style. We recommend not only taking inspiration from cakes but from other items like textiles or stationery. Flavor is the second thing to consider when you’re preparing for a tasting. Make sure to choose flavors true to who you are as a couple. The flavor options alone might point you in the right direction when looking for a cake designer. Lastly, have a realistic idea of the budget you’re allocating for the cake. Because wedding cakes are usually custom-designed, pricing may vary greatly based on the intricacy of the design. Ask questions about pricing before scheduling to get an idea of what to expect and avoid designing something out of your budget.
Do you have any tips for choosing a cake flavor or design?
My best advice is to stay true to yourself. You know what you love. Your wedding is an expression of who you are as a couple. I wouldn’t worry about other people’s tastes or expectations. We hear all the time that our more adventurous flavors or designs aren’t really “wedding cake” appropriate. Honestly, there are no rules anymore. Just be yourself and have fun with it!
What are the top three things bakers need to know from a couple in order to deliver the best possible wedding cake?
In order for a cake designer to create your dream cake, they need to know your wedding style, what’s meaningful to you, and your budget.
What’s your favorite wedding cake tradition?
My favorite wedding cake tradition is giving the cake a place of honor at the reception. It can really be a showstopper, so put it on display!
What goes into pricing a cake? Is there a guideline?
Our cakes are priced at $7.50 per serving + an additional design fee based on the labor involved in creating a specific design. Prices vary from baker to baker. The main factors that affect cake pricing include the quality of ingredients, whether or not the baker is using cake mixes, the scale of operation, the skill level of the baker, and the amount of detail in the design.
What are some other popular wedding desserts?
We also offer dessert tables with mini desserts ranging from macarons and salted chocolate brownie cookies to intricately decorated sugar cookies. We find that when it comes to desserts, people love to add sentimental touches, like asking their grandmother to bake her famous cookies or getting tarts from the bakery where they had their first date.
What’s the significance of the groom’s cake?
Groom’s cakes can be a fun way to surprise the groom on the wedding day. These cakes often deviate from the general style of the wedding and celebrate the groom’s interests in a playful way. We’ve made everything from sports-themed cakes to a life-size replica of the groom’s dog.
Do you have any cake disaster stories to share?
Back when I was first starting out, one of my employees and I made a cake as a gift for her sister. Because the wedding was closer to my parent’s house than the bakery, we decided to finish decorating the cake there. The house was full of other guests going in and out so the air conditioning wasn’t working very well and the cake got too warm. We stacked the warm tiers fully before transporting the cake down my parent’s gravel driveway. Within 20 minutes, the middle tier of the cake had collapsed. I had to rush home and salvage the remaining cake. Luckily, I was able to bring it to the venue on time, piping frantically in the back of the car as my mom drove me to the venue. The couple loved the cake, but I was crushed that it wasn’t as spectacular as we had originally intended. Now we always make the cakes in our well air-conditioned bakery and we never deliver them fully stacked.
Almond Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Gina DePalma’s Recipe
This is one of my favorite cakes, and a great recipe you can try at home. It can be served on its own right out of the oven with a simple brown butter glaze, or as part of a layered cake. At Sweet Heather Anne, we layer this cake with blood orange curd and citrus praline buttercream.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
- Grated zest of 1 1⁄2 medium lemon 1/2 cup orange juice
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt until thoroughly combined, then set aside.
- Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk thoroughly until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice, and whisk to combine. (Whisking the batter thoroughly before adding the dry ingredients is important to build structure in the cake.)
- Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds. Do not overmix once you’ve added the dry ingredients.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it’s begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
All photos courtesy of Sweet Heather Anne
View the full feature in Volume 1 of The Aisle magazine