Why do custom cakes cost so much?
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I’ve had this blog post swimming in my heads for months now and I’ve been on the fence about writing about this subject. I don’t want it to become misconstrued or taken as anything other than a way to educate on why simple ingredients such as sugar, flour and eggs can end up costing so much.   But that’s the thing, making cakes is not just the sum of their ingredients.   I hope to shed some light on why custom cakes are “so expensive” and a peek behind the process of creating a custom cake.

Just like any other legitimate business, there are expenses that are factored in before you even get to the point of talking about making a cake.  Just to name a few, insurance (business and personal), licenses, utilities, rent, website, marketing, software, TAXES (that’s a whole other conversation) the list goes on.  All these things get factored into the cost of a cake.

Now we move onto one of the main factors that separates high end cakes vs. their less expensive counterparts, quality of ingredients.  One thing that I pride myself on is the quality of my cakes, and I am not just talking about their appearance.   When you choose to use high quality natural ingredients, they are just going to cost more.  Have you seen the cost of vanilla extract these days? A 16oz bottle is at least $35 and that’s on the low end of the scale.   I could easily swap it out for imitation extract, but I will leave those ingredients for supermarket cakes. If you have ever wandered into the bakery section of a grocery store and wondered how their cakes are so cheap, well here is why.  They are baked in a huge mass production bakery (with low end ingredients, and preservatives), frozen, and then shipped to the stores.  The icing that is used to decorate them comes out of a bucket, and trust me, you probably won’t see butter listed on the ingredient list.

Look at how long the list of ingredients are on the label! This is a great last minute cake option to feed a crowd, but there is no way I could sell my cakes for that price. At that point, I would be paying my customers to take the cakes from me. While that sounds like a great deal, it’s not realistic or sustainable for a small business.

Look at how long the list of ingredients are on the label! This is a great last minute cake option to feed a crowd, but there is no way I could sell my cakes for that price. At that point, I would be paying my customers to take the cakes from me. While that sounds like a great deal, it’s not realistic or sustainable for a small business.

I am not trying to knock grocery store cakes.  I grew up on them, and in high school one of my first jobs was working in a grocery store bakery.  They are a great option when you want a quick cake and don’t want to spend the money on something custom.   It’s like going to McDonalds, instead of getting a Kobe Beef Burger.   There is nothing wrong with either option, just don’t expect a Kobe burger for a McDonald’s price.

The second factor which separates custom cakes is the quality of execution.  There is a huge range of quality out there, just like any other profession. I personally spent about 5 years working lower wage jobs in other bakeries before I even thought about starting Blue Lace Cakes.  I took on the projects that no one else wanted to do, because they were “hard”, to grow my skills.  I spent countless hours at work, and on my own time, teaching myself techniques, practicing, and trying to absorb as much info as I could.  Now, I spend money on educating myself by taking classes online and in person, learning the new trends and building my skills.  I would like to say that I just woke up one day and could make all these awesome things, but that would be a lie.  This is an ongoing process which probably won’t end until I stop making cakes.

An example of a cake sketch.

An example of a cake sketch.

Everything mentioned above had to happen, even before a single order was placed.  Creating a custom cake for a client starts at the first email.  Before any designing starts, I try to find out as much as I can about what the client is looking for.  Many times this requires research on my part to better understand the subject.  I try to give an estimate on cost, and many times I ask the client if there is a budget I should be respectful of.  This does not mean that I am trying to charge you as much as possible for a cake.  Being honest about your budget helps me in designing. I don’t want to spend time on designing a cake only to find it’s out of the client’s price range. Almost all my custom designs include a cake sketch, to better help you visualize what the final cake will look like.

Being honest about your budget helps me in designing.  I don’t want to spend time on designing a cake only to find it’s out of the client’s price range.  The design, as well as the size of the cake, is the biggest factors that go into determining the cost of the final cake.  I try to be accommodating as a can, but if you have a budget of $300 and need to feed 100 people, I am not going to be the right fit.  To be honest my cakes are not for everyone, and I know I am not in everyone’s price range, and that’s okay.  I like to think my cakes are the Kobe burgers of the dessert world.  They are high quality, delicious, take a lot of time and care to execute and are meant for truly special occasions. 

Once the design is locked down which may or may not involve an in person tasting/consultation, then the planning begins.  At this point a couple hours have been invested in the order.   Shopping for supplies, ordering specialty items online, and coordinating deliveries start.   Depending on the cake, working on the sugar décor, such as sugar flowers, figures, etc. begins a week or 2 in advance. The week of the event everything gets made from scratch. The batters get made and the cakes are baked, all the buttercreams, fillings, are made and the cakes are assembled.  Then my favorite part starts, decorating.  To be honest, I probably spend 75% of my time prepping to get to the decorating part.  This is where a lot of the cost of the cake goes. This is the part where you take a great cake, and make it into art.   I can easily spend 10 hours just decorating a cake, not counting any of the things that have to happen before I get to this point.  Every piece of fondant, every line, every character, every flower, is all made by hand, and all this is done specifically for YOU!   Living in a world where everything is mass produced in the cheapest way possible and meant to last for a short time and be discarded, something high quality and handmade for you can be a hard concept to wrap your head around and is why people are sometimes shocked at the price of my cakes.  

At the end of this process, you end up with a centerpiece for your event, a piece of art that you can eat, and something your guests will photograph and remember.  That piece of edible art was designed and handmade just for you.  Hours of planning and work has gone into it, to make it special and to make it yours.  On top of that, you are supporting a small business, and person who has a passion to make people happy through cake.   If that doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies, I don’t know what will.