Date Back to 2006, Carol—who is a video games marketer—helped pioneer the geek wedding cake trend, commissioning a local pastry chef to sculpt a tower of game consoles.
“When I saw a bunch of beautiful cake designs really showcasing what a talented cake designer could do with fondant, I immediately thought about how I could meld my love for games with my love for cake,” she remembers.
Using vanilla cake, raspberry filling and moldable fondant icing as her medium, Bethesda pastry chef Leslie Poyourow began with an Xbox 360 as the base of my cousin’s wedding cake. A PlayStation and original Xbox made up the the middle layers, and a gold-iced GameCube at the top served as platform for the bride and groom cake topper. Tiny fondant game controllers surrounded the finished design.
Wedding guests admired Carol’s cake, telling the bride, “Of course you did.” Our grandmother just shook her head and laughed. Attendees agreed that it was most unusual wedding cake they’d ever seen, many posing for photos with the edible stack of consoles as much as they did with the bride.
About 10 years later, pricey wedding cakes are gaining post-recession popularity, and custom orders depicting the betrothed couple’s nerdy obsession border on de rigueur. Themed cakes are no longer confined to kiddie birthday parties, and those that serve as reception centerpieces for $20 or more per slice are far more detailed than bell-skirted princess cakes or sheet cakes decorated as SpongeBob’s undersea playground.
American couples are spending more on the cake than they ever have before, with a national average price of $555 in 2014, reports wedding planning site The Knot. Nerdy wedding cakes in the form of Doctor Who’s TARDIS or classic tiers in which the bride and groom toppers battle zombies crawling are taking a slice of what Richard Markel MKL +0.09%, director of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, estimates is the $2 billion wedding cake industry. As fondant enjoys a moment, you can now Google “X + wedding cake” and find a wedding cake for every interest.
Of course, websites such as Cake Wrecks, Jen Yates’ photo repository of baked goods gone horribly wrong, as well as few who got it artfully right—helped spread the delicious possibilities of what a baked celebration could be. Wedding cake bakers I connected with thanks to Markel also pointed to the rise of baking-based reality shows.
“I think the big cake shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss actually started showing people how fun cakes could be,” Rebecca Hauger of Becca’s Edible Art in Sacramento, says. Some of her geekiest cakes include Boba Fett’s mask and a grimacing green orc face straight out of Dungeons & Dragons.
“We all know that nerds aren’t afraid to strut their weirdness, so it was only natural that they would start adding fun themes to their weddings, rather than go the traditional route.”
Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman, won’t accept all the credit. “Lots of people do these cakes, we just made it popular by putting them on television,”
the the executive chef of the Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes told me in an interview.
Goldman puts the beginning of the geeky wedding cake trend at 2002, when he took a commission for a wedding cake shaped like a Star Trek communicator. Since then, Goldman has crafted hundreds of geeky cakes and says that 50% of the wedding cake commissions he receives on average are “nontraditional.” One highlight: a life sized R2D2 with an electronic head that could swivel back and forth on a motor.
“He had a little satellite that pops out of his head and spins around,” he said. “It had almost 300 different LEDs. It probably fed 400 people, but there were only 150 people at the wedding.” A cake like that would cost into the thousands of dollars, he added.
“Our lives are run more and more run by corporations,” Goldman said. “We listen to the same bands, watch the same movies, believe the same philosophies. But your wedding is yours alone. It’s yours and your spouse’s day to make into anything you could possibly want. That’s why you’re starting to see these cakes that are a little less traditional.”
This was the case for geeky wedding cake customers Bill Boulden and his bride, Sarah Kaiser, of Buffalo, New York. The pair decided on a cake shaped like the Companion Cube from video game Portal. In the game, players solve puzzles with the aid of objects like cubes. The Companion Cube, which is studded with hearts, seemed perfect to celebrate their union.
“There are a lot of parts of a wedding to bring out your individualism, and we felt comfortable subverting the cake while keeping other aspects more traditional. A Portal cake was an easy call because we had just finished another playthrough of it together,” said Boulden.
Although cakes don’t only make an impression on wedding guests, their bakers as well. A decade later, Leslie Poyourow still remembers the game console cake she made for my cousin Carol—mainly because of its domino effect for Poyourow’s cake commissions.
“That cake went ‘round the world,” she told me on the phone. “So many people saw that cake and kept sending it everywhere. I had so many people, for years, tell me they saw that cake,” said Poyourvow, who competed on the Food Network’s Cake Wars.
Poyourow’s Washington DC area bakery, Fancy Cakes By Leslie, serves clients like Jennifer Lopez and the Obama administration, but since crafting my cousin’s wedding cake, has seen more “geeky” wedding cake commissions every year.
Before our conversation, Poyourow sent me a photo of a cake she just made for a Lego Star Wars themed wedding. With tuxedoed Jedi knights and a fondant Millennium Falcon, Poyourow said the cake cost about $1,000 and fed 120 people.
“The price reflects the size and the design,” she said. “Usually you’re going to pay an average of $9 to $20 a slice if you’re going to go whole hog.”Hauger of Becca’s Edible Art is experiencing the same trend.
“At the last bridal show I did, I was approached by no less than six brides who were planning on a nerd or geek wedding cake,” she said. “Fairies, dragons, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings… all sorts of ideas, and so much enthusiasm.”
The days of the super elegant cakes and weddings are briskly changing into non-traditional themed weddings,” Hauger says. “Elegant weddings will always be there, and be prevalent, but I truly believe the nerds and geeks will fly their freak flags happily from now on.”
My cousin’s marriage didn’t last, whereas her cake lives on over the Internet. She posted it on GameDaily before watching it spread everywhere else. It’s clear that geeky wedding cakes have stuck a chord, as this decade-old photo of my cousin’s cake continues to make the rounds.