Perhaps the only thing better than eating a beautiful cake at a party is posting pictures of it online.
That seems to be the philosophy of many special-occasion cake buyers these days, who are scouring sites like Pinterest and Instagram for the latest cake creations, then asking their supermarket bakeries to replicate them.
The phenomenon led Riesbeck’s Food Markets to roll out internet connections to all of its in-store bakeries about a year and half ago, said Peter Riesbeck, director of corporate and fresh programs at the St. Clairsville, Ohio-based chain.
“We have customers come in every day and show us pictures on their phones — ‘Can you make this cake for my bridal shower, or my kid’s birthday party,’” Riesbeck told SN. “Now we can go online with them and look at pictures of cakes on Pinterest.”
Natalie Witkowski, bakery manager at Holiday Market in Canton, Mich., said the prevalence of online cake displays and TV shows that showcase elaborate cake design is driving the demand for ever-more complex special-occasion cakes.
“We used to have your traditional first-birthday cakes, but now rather than sheet cakes, they are asking for three-tiered cakes to feed 60 people,” she said. “Graduation cakes are turning into three-tiered events, and what we would normally put into a wedding cake, we are now putting into graduation cakes, or first-birthday cakes or even third-birthday cakes for that matter.”
She said people are spending increasing amounts of money on special-occasion cakes as they vie to present Pinterest-worthy creations to show off to the world.
“They are looking for something dramatic and unique,” said Witkowski. “The cake is no longer an afterthought — quite often it is the centerpiece for these events.”
Social media is also facilitating the rapid spread of specific trends in cake design, she said.
Last year rainbow-style cakes, in which each layer is a different color, were popular, but recently they have been upstaged by unicorn designs. Holiday Market has even been creating unicorn-head cupcakes to meet demand for the mythical creatures in edible form.
Katherine Dean, manager of Love Cakes by Dorothy Lane Market, Centerville, Ohio, agreed that unicorns are a hot theme in cake design, along with other “magical things.”
“We have been doing lots of drawings and shaping in this category,” she said, noting that demand for shaped cakes is also increasing. “We always seem to be shaping something.”
The cupcake trend has slowed down a bit, but remains surprisingly popular, said Witkowski. She said Holiday Market offers “pull-apart” cakes for special occasions — cupcakes formed in a shape that people can pull apart by hand.
“Customers like the convenience,” she said.
Riesbeck said special-occasion cake buyers are often looking for designs and decorations that offer unique variations of their favorite themes.
“They don’t want something from a kit,” he said. “If their neighbor had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cake, they want a different one.”
Witkowski said her team of 25 bakery staff includes several freehand artists who are able to create the unique character designs customers are looking for. All of the cake decorations at Holiday Market are hand-drawn, she said.
Dean of Love Cakes by DLM said she’s seen similar trends with wedding cakes, where customers are asking for much more hand-painted, personalized work, as well as cakes that have more texture and depth.
Another trend Riesbeck has seen is an increase in demand for cakes for “gender reveal” baby showers, where the gender of the baby is disclosed. Sometimes, even the expectant mother herself doesn’t know the gender, which may be revealed by the pink or blue color of the filling inside the cake.
“We’ve had cases where the mother brings in the sonogram herself but hasn’t looked at it yet, and says, ‘Here, you figure it out,’” he said.
Riesbeck’s special-occasion cake customers also have been getting more adventurous in terms of their flavor preferences, Riesbeck said. They are experimenting with flavors they might be seeing in some of the chain’s popular specialty baked goods and parfaits, such as Boston Crème, strawberry parfait and anise.
“It used to be just buttercream and sometimes chocolate,” he said.
Witkowski has seen a similar trend at Holiday Market, which she said also could be influenced by cake descriptions customers are discovering online.
“People are looking for lemon, strawberry and confetti — flavors we didn’t see much before,” she said. “People are looking to see how they can impress their guests, and what are the best flavor combinations.”
Dean of Love Cakes by DLM said mint-flavored special-occasion cakes have been popular during St. Patrick’s Day season, which she expects to be followed by demand for lemon and strawberry cakes. This spring, the bakery is producing a new strawberry specialty cake with strawberry filling, iced with cream cheese.
The bakery’s signature item is its Love Cake — a white cake with raspberry and chocolate ganache filling, iced with pink cream cheese icing and large-grain crystal sugar around the outside.
“Amazing,” she said.