By Taylor Meredith
Photography by Naomi Chokr
In the quest for a perfect reception treat, some common questions always arise–such as what size dessert will be most appropriate and which flavor will be most appreciated by guests. Leigh Growney, owner of The Short Giraffe Mini Confections and Catering, sat down with us to share some valuable wedding dessert tips, all from a baker’s perspective.
What tips do you have for brides who don’t know where to start when it comes to looking for their cake? How should they begin the process?
It’s not uncommon for brides to start the process without knowing what they want. A lot of brides simply say they don’t care, which gives the baker a lot of freedom and flexibility. I definitely see it as a positive thing when you put your trust in a baker and allow them a lot of room to be creative. That’s the whole reason we get into the business!
When a bride comes in with a picture of what she wants, that’s easy. I’m just replicating another cake. It’s nice to have a personalized element instead. It means you’re going into it with an open mind. It’s nice for the bride, too, because it takes some of the extra pressure off of her.
Usually the bride will come in with a planner and they bring swatches from another bakery, or photos of the flowers they’re going to use. That’s helpful. But it is possible to give too little information; like if the wedding colors are pink and purple, sometimes the bride will just say “Go for it!” That’s when I try to pick her brain a little and find out more details about the wedding, such as [details about] the bride’s or bridesmaids’ dresses. I try to get a feel for the décor and overall theme of the wedding.
How can brides pick their perfect flavor?
Nine times out of 10, the bride does a formal tasting. Most of my brides contact me via e-mail, and most of them are very open. On my site, I have over 40 flavors listed, so I often tell brides to look at what I already have to offer. If they have something different in mind than what they see on the site, they’re encouraged to let me know so we can come up with something custom-made. There’s a lot you can do, like different flavors on different tiers, for example. If they have a hard time deciding, I ask them to choose their top five flavor choices. Then we meet somewhere, like Starbucks or their home, and I bring samples.
What are some of the most important factors when choosing a cake?
Size! I tend to have a unique spin on my business because I specialize in mini-confections and catering. I’d be more than happy to do a full size wedding cake—last week I did a three-tier cake—but my niche is mini-desserts. I hear from brides all the time that they ordered a big cake with one flavor, and barely anyone had any. The trend is becoming cupcake towers, or even whole dessert bars and buffets with tons of different choices. It gives the guests a lot of options. I have a bride who did a whole table of seven different eight-inch cakes. Some bakers will only do one flavor on a three-tier wedding cake, but I think what most brides like variety. If they have a hard time deciding, I say, “Let’s do five different types of cupcakes, then.”
A mistake I often see is brides grossly overestimating how large their cake should be, which then leads to the common complaint that there’s always a large abundance of cake left over. I recommend that the brides factor two cake slices (or mini-desserts) per guest.
Do you get a lot of grooms cake-shopping with the brides? How do you help couples who may not agree on what cake they want?
I’d say about 50 percent of the time the grooms are involved in the process. Sometimes they’re not present, but the bride will take a piece of cake home for the groom to get his input.
Another benefit of doing multiple flavors is that if the bride wants chocolate and the groom wants vanilla, it’s possible to have both. I have never, ever done a wedding where there has been one cake with just one flavor, even if it’s just a two-tier cake with two flavors. When it comes to the bride and groom agreeing, it’s never really a problem because there are so many different flavor varieties.
What is your favorite part of making wedding cakes?
I’ve been able to grow as a baker. That’s what I like best. I’ve baked my entire life and have always been more of a baker than a chef. I started off my business doing most of the baking myself. It was just me for almost two years before I was able to hire other staff. I like to do it because of the creativity involved, like the watercolor-inspired cake I did for Sarasota Magazine. I like that I get to hone in on my decorating skills. I also like when someone gives me a design idea, and then I get to bring that idea into fruition. I just delivered two cakes for two brothers’ joint birthday party; one was a choo-choo train, one was Star Wars. When the mother opened the cakes, she started crying. She said, “I didn’t know what I was picturing, but this is what I was picturing.” I like taking someone’s vision and turning it into their perfect cake.