Alternatives to Wedding Cakes

Wedding Cake Alternatives

Wedding cakes are tradition, but many couples are putting a fun and unique spin on their wedding desserts. Chef Ned Grieg from the Essex Room discusses alternatives to wedding cakes. Listen or read more to find out about interesting desserts to offer wedding guests.

John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Chef Ned Grieg, Corporate Chef at The Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about alternatives to wedding cakes. Welcome, Chef Ned.

Chef Ned Grieg: Hi. Good morning.

John: Good morning. Chef Ned, why would a couple want something other than a traditional wedding cake?

Chef Ned: That’s a big question right there. A wedding we just did recently is donuts. They wanted a wall constructed with little pegs on it. It was like you could’ve played a game with that with your children. They wanted donuts. I don’t know why, but they wanted designer donuts, and so the whole wall was full with designer donuts, and we kept replenishing that.

John: Is it just a desire to want to have your guests experience something a little more unique, and to have your wedding to be more unique that people are trying to go outside of that traditional wedding cake?

Chef Ned: I think it was the bride’s choice. She just really liked donuts.

John: Well, make it more personal, I guess.

Getting Creative with Wedding Desserts

Chef Ned: Yes. It’s a personal choice when it comes to that. When we sit down with a potential client, meaning a bride and groom, and we ask them these questions, they don’t really think about what they want to do for dessert until the very end. And, if going out and buying a wedding cake . . . is not inexpensive. For the price of getting a wedding cake to feed 150 to 200 people is a significant amount of money, and why would you choose to do that if it wasn’t something that all your guests were going to eat, and you chose another alternative to a wedding cake, what would you do? So, the donut wall was a wonderful idea, and we’ve seen that come up a number of times. Other things that we’ve done, that people have had, is we’ve done interactive s’mores bars where we don’t have an open fire in the dining room, but we’ll take like a rain gutter, not one that’s used obviously, and we’ll put like little pea stones down inside, and we’ll put Sternos in there, and then this homemade marshmallows.

Do you ever make homemade marshmallows? They’re frigging awesome. They really, really are, and then we have homemade marshmallows, and different types of chocolate, not just a milk chocolate. They’ll be some bitter sweet. It may be salted with a little bit of cayenne pepper. It may be a Rollo concept. We make our own, what they call chocolate turtles, where we’ll take a salted pecan, and put it in a little miniature muffin tin with homemade caramel sauce, and then put a piece of chocolate on top. We melt it down in the oven a little bit, and then you chill it down, and you just pop them out. It’s so easy to do these things, but people don’t even think about it, but we do these for the guests and for the clients. So that was an interesting thing, and people seemed to like to do the s’mores stuff.

Something else that has become really, really popular, and we use this gentleman. He’s based out of Portsmith, New Hampshire. His name is Coffee Dave, and he comes in here, and he makes the most unbelievable espressos, cappuccinos, flat [whites]. He makes the hot coffees and cold coffees on a real high-end designer end, and that’s been a lot of fun. When it’s around Christmas time, he has peppermint, and different flavors like that that are going on. In the summertime, he’ll be using different flavored agave syrups to flavor his coffees, and people seem to really, really enjoy them. I know I do every time he shows up. He is the busiest person in the building when he sets up his little coffee thing.

Guests Love Dessert Choices

John: Is one of the advantages of this, too, that you might be able to have several different types of desserts instead of just one cake for everybody, and then you’re getting people up off of their chairs. You’re getting them going to get that coffee from Coffee Dave. You’re getting them to go over to the table, and have a chocolate turtle. You’re getting people up off of their chairs, and talking about the food, and interacting with each other, and I think that’s what a lot of couples want these days is for their guests to interact with each other.

Chef Ned: Yes. Especially at weddings, you’ll have an age group anywhere from children being 6 years old to grandparents, and great grandparents kissing 90, 95. So you do want to have a variety of things out there so everybody has a piece. It does make sense to have as many choices as possible within your budget, and thus being said, you also have to realize that there are limitations also. You can’t be putting out 20 different things unless you want to spend an extra $35 a person just for the culinary offerings on a confectionary basis at the end. So, you do have choices you have to make. One thing I’ve noticed that isn’t working as well as it used to be is people are not requesting fruit, doing a fruit display. People are not . . . they don’t want to wrestle with it. They don’t want to have to have a fork and a plate, and get up, and go back to the table, and cut a piece of melon. If it’s an Israeli melon, or purple pineapple, it may be intriguing and fun for them to look at. They want it to be a convenience food where if they’re going to consume it, that they can either do it right there or if they choose to go and sit down then they can do it at their table.

So, convenience is usually the biggest factor when we put these things out. Hence, we kind of move back towards the miniature concept or the interactive station like a s’mores bar. We did one about a month ago where we had an interactive station with three chefs cooking, and we were doing all these different variations on crepe suzettes. It’s a wonderful thing to do, and people loved it, but we had three people cooking them. Then there was banana fosters there, and crepe suzettes, and different fruits, and different toppings, and then ice cream, and then whipped cream, and one of the guests came up and he said, “What am I going to get,” and he couldn’t make up his mind. He literally put his plate down, and went back to his table.

But too Many Desserts Can Overwhelm Guests

John: So, there’s such a thing as having too many choices.

Chef Ned: Too many choices. And I felt badly for him, but he sat down. I had a line of people that wanted food, so I went back to him afterwards. He said, “You gave me too many choices so I really don’t want anything.” So, I made him up a plate of food, and took it over to him afterwards. So, if you have too many choices, especially with your clientele that maybe, I don’t want to put an age on it, but let’s say 80 and older, they want it simpler. The younger people want it fascinating where they can get up, go to dance, come back, grab something to eat, go and say hello to Coffee Dave, grab a petit fours, go back out on to the dance floor. It works on different levels.

Unique Wedding Cakes

John: Let’s go back to cakes a little bit. Are there some other types of cakes that might make a good alternative to a more traditional wedding cake?

Chef Ned: Oh, definitely. We had a wedding here, and I thought it was the most fascinating cake that I’ve seen in a long time, and they’re doing wedding cakes in the size, in Bundt pans, but not the normal little ones, but big ones, and they’re drizzling with white chocolate ganache, and I said, “That looks so good.”

John: How large were they?

Chef Ned: These were pretty good size. They were about 24 inches round, but they had their hole in the middle.

John: It’s like a giant Bundt pan. That’s funny.

Chef Ned: But one of the best wedding cakes I ever had, it was when I was living in Ohio, and I went to this club called the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club, and they had a frozen angel food cake that was frosted with a mocha caramel frosting, so the cake was frozen in the middle, which it’s hard to cut an angel food cake anyway, but at least when it was frozen, you could cut it, and this salted caramel chocolatey frosting over the top, it was just the best thing. It was light, but it had sweetness to it. Then you got a scoop of ice cream on the side, and next to it they had an assortment of homemade chocolates, and that to me is a perfect dessert.

John: All right. That sounds great, Chef Ned. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Chef Ned: You’re welcome.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at or call 978-768-7335.