Why Custom Cakes Cost More


I have been getting a lot of inquiries from people expecting a cake at a $2 per serving or less price. I thought I would take a moment to explain why the home bakers in the Philadelphia area and beyond charge at least $4 per serving and up.

First, there’s the designing. We search for inspiration, make sketches, some even know how to make sketches on the computer. That takes at least a half an hour. Many times my client has some changes, so I draw up a new sketch, and we go from there. It’s truly a great customer service experience for you!

Then, there’s gathering information and special materials. What flavor, how many people are you serving? Gluten free? Let me find the best gluten free flour you can afford. Many of the bakers in our area use King Arthur Flour, Nielsen Massey Vanilla, Domino sugar, and even imported fondant (cha-ching). Some of us make our own homemade fondant, which takes at least 20 minutes per batch.

And then there’s the baking. Say you want a 10″ butter cake and an 8″ red velvet cake. That’s going to take at least 2 hours to bake, PLUS all those dishes. Home bakers and custom cakers don’t have huge commercial dish washers or a guy to come in to do it for them. They prep the pans, cut the parchment, carefully refine their recipes so that they are the best to their abilities. Some large bakeries don’t let you have different flavors for different tiers!

And, like I mentioned, most bakers either buy expensive fondant or take the time to make their own. Then there’s preparing all the many colors that your special design needs. Sometimes I have to dye 8 colors for a cake and that takes more time than you may think. Usually at least a half hour and then my arms ache.

Then there’s preparing the cake board. Some people buy them pre-made (money) or piece them together with boards and foil (that’s money AND time). Many or us add a special coordinating ribbon that brings the whole thing together. When the design calls for it, a lot of the time we cover the board in fondant (oops, looks like we should buy or make even more fondant). Sometimes I cover my board in fondant, even if you’re not really paying for it, because you’re a great customer and I appreciate you.

I personally specialize in custom-cutting characters, a technique I have been working on for years. I learned to use an X-Acto knife in high school and it’s honestly one of my favorite things. But after coloring all the fondant colors I need, and then it’s time to cut. Depending on how many decorations I need for your cake, it may take an hour or it may take two or three. Then I usually have to paint on some details. I am VERY detail-oriented with my characters and may notice things you never saw before!

Then there’s the Tappit letters (the letters you see on the cake board above). You roll that fondant out, let it sit for a while, and get tapping. These letters look perfect, it’s worth it, but for me it takes 15 minutes and for newbies it may take much longer.

Then everything is ready — it’s time to put it all together! Depending on the size of the cake, it may take a little buttercream or a ton of buttercream, but either way you’re looking at a half hour to an hour of work. Most of us sift our sugar to ensure nice, smooth buttercream. Plus the expensive vanilla that tastes AMAZING.

Covering the cakes in buttercream and fondant takes anywhere to a half hour to an hour or two. Depends on the cake, skill level, and how fast one is, but either way, it takes time. Then it’s obsessing until it’s PERFECT.

Then comes measuring and adding dowel rods so your cake doesn’t fall apart on transport or make an ugly bulge from the weight, etc. That takes at least 10-20 minutes.

Throwing on (erm, I mean gently placing) the decorations is usually the easiest part and quickest part. But sometimes you need to wait until the cake is covered to make decorations that can’t be dried out (the decoration needs to wrap around the cake, for instance–like Frankenstein’s hair in the cake picture above).

And then, after 6-10 hours are up, you have a BEAUTIFUL cake. Custom cake decorators really are artists making art that also happens to be very delicious. It’s not like a super market where the cakes are prepared with less-than-stellar ingredients, shipped to the store in big boxes. Then the big bakeries are able to make HUGE batches of buttercream at once. Which is GREAT. There’s a place for budget cakes for people who need budget cakes. But there’s also a place, and will always be a place, for the people who want something more. Something designed just for you, prepared with fresh and quality ingredients, and put together with care.

And what you might not also know is that most cakers love it SO MUCH that they put in extra time that you haven’t paid for because it will make your cake that much more special. They do that out of love and generosity, knowing you may not notice or care. They do it because they want their cake to be the best. And, hey, maybe you do notice, so you give them a TIP — which WOW. That makes one feel really appreciated.

So the next time you find a baker to make you a cake for $50 when it takes six hours to make, don’t ask someone else who values their time for a quote. Just don’t do it.

And to those of you who value and understand, and can afford these cakes, thank you. You are supporting small businesses, helping make dreams come true, helping to provide for Christmas and birthdays and new dance shoes. Not to mention bills. These cakes may cost a lot, but most of us are not rich. After all, we can only charge so much–unless we are a celebrity and most of us are not.

And thank YOU for reading. 🙂


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