Chocolate, lemon curd, spice: Wow your guests with the cake

Some wedding traditions just shouldn't be trifled with. Tinker all you want with the setting, the flowers or the vows, but when it comes to dessert there's one thing your guests want. So, please, let them eat cake.

Sure, your guests are touched by the love you share, but what they're really looking forward to is that vision in white. White cake, that is. In fact, the Wilton Celebration Report says that a three-tiered affair with vanilla butter cream frosting takes the cake as America's favorite reception confection.

But white cake doesn't have to be boring. Flavors abound that can be added between layers and to the icing. Today's brides and grooms have sophisticated palates they want pleased. A beautiful cake is not enough; it must also be delicious.

Like every other detail in your wedding, choosing the perfect cake will take some research. In this case, however, that means tasting a lot of samples.

Wedding experts say you should select your gown and reception decor before ordering a cake so that the wedding's theme can be incorporated into the cake's design.

Domestic diva Martha Stewart says in "The Best of Martha Stewart Living Weddings" (Clarkson Potter, $50) that "the cake defines the style of a wedding almost as much as a bride's dress."

But style and substance must work together to create a truly magnificent cake.

"Whatever the design, the wedding cake should be awe-inspiring," says Stewart. "Though the trick is to be sure it tastes fabulous, too."

Stewart suggests cakes of all flavors — not just yellow and white, but chocolate, spice, lemon, carrot, chestnut and hazelnut. She also delights us with delicious choices for fillings — lemon curd, fresh fruits or whipped cream.

The book's pictures are sure to inspire brides as well, with cake after gorgeous cake from which to choose, including a virtual ode to summer — a three-tiered cake with basket weave icing, each tier piled high with tiny strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries and currants.

Stewart advises brides to remember to include the price of the wedding cake when formulating a budget.

The cost will be based on the number of servings. Expect to pay from $1.50 to $15 per slice, depending on the type of cake and how elaborate the design. Labor-intensive details, such as latticework piping, pulled sugar embellishments and handmade sugar flowers, will increase the price.

The Knot, a wedding-planning Web site (, offers advice on how to choose a cake designer, plan costs and get a dream cake.

According to the Knot, when shopping for a wedding cake some of the questions you should ask include:

*Will the designer do a custom cake, or are there set styles from which to choose? Look at pictures of the designer's work or actual cakes.

*What ingredients will be used? Ask for a list of cake flavors and fillings.

*How far in advance will the cake be prepared? You want to be sure your cake is as fresh as it can be.

*Is the designer able to modify an opulent style to work within your budget?

*How many wedding cakes does the shop produce each weekend? This should tell you how much time goes into each cake.

*Does the shop deliver? How much does it cost?

The Web site also offers a glossary of cake terms that will help you speak the baker's language. If you don't know your basket weave from your dotted swiss, check it out.