Why Are Sculpted Cakes So Expensive?

Like many of my fellow cake designers, I have definitely noticed a large trend in clients requesting elaborate sculpted cakes for birthdays, groom’s cakes & other special occasion cakes.  With the prevalence of these kinds of cakes being featured on numerous television shows, I am not surprised that these requests keep increasing.  What does constantly surprise me however is that many of these clients are floored when they discover how much sculpted cakes cost.

So, I thought I would tackle that very question: “Why are sculpted cakes so expensive?”, in the second installment of the “Did You Know…?” series.

While I can’t speak for all cake designers, I know that I have a policy of pricing sculpted cakes on a by design basis at Sweet Element, meaning that each cake is priced depending on the level of design complexity, and never really by the slice.  While I give a guideline of pricing on my FAQ page, with sculpted cakes starting around $10-$20 per serving, that really is just a ballpark so that potential clients can see that sculpted cakes are indeed some of the most expensive cakes.

And here are the reasons why.  Sculpting cake involves a lot of all of the following things:

  1. Time
  2. Support
  3. Cake

Sculpted cakes typically take a lot more time than traditional tiered cakes to plan out as there is usually a fairly intricate support structure holding up all the funky shaped cake tiers together, that changes for each and every cake.  For instance, in the Gnome Cake above, steel rods, secured into wooden bases were used as support structure in the two legs to support a fairly top-heavy cake, which involved carpentry & a fair amount of construction to get just the inner structure completed before any cake was involved.

In addition to the time spent in figuring out the structural elements, there is also a fair amount of time spent on ensuring that the cake to be sculpted is carved to scale, so that the cake being carved really resembles the object it is being modeled on, which involves a LOT of measuring and an eye for detail that is much different from simply stacking wedding cake tiers so they are level.  Scale also plays a major role in the overall cost of sculpted cakes, since in most cases, the size of cake that a client envisions usually serves far more people than they need to feed, thus making “pricing by the serving” irrelevant.

What also surprises a lot of people is how much cake actually gets thrown away (or is left to make into cake balls) when sculpted cakes get made.  I often use the analogy of cake carving to sculpting marble or wood, which usually makes it easier for people to envision.  In order to get curves and dimension, these sculpted cakes start out a lot like blocks of cake and then slowly turn into objects by having pieces cut away.

So, with all that being said, if you have your heart set on a sculpted cake, but your wallet just isn’t cooperating, there *are* a few ways to cut down costs …

  1. Talk to your cake designer (that would be me!) & see if there is a less complicated way to create the 3D sculpted cake of your dreams.  Simplifying design = cost savings!
  2. Contemplate the idea of a more traditional sheet or tiered cake with 3D sculpted gumpaste or fondant decor instead of a full blown sculpted cake

Oh, and I probably should end this post by recommending that if you do order a sculpted cake – definitely pay the delivery charge & let your cake designer deliver it!  These are usually some of the most fragile cakes, especially as most of them need to be mostly assembled prior to delivery (unlike stacked wedding cakes which are usually stacked on-site), and require VERY careful driving to get them safely to their final destination!

11 responses to “Why Are Sculpted Cakes So Expensive?

  1. WELL SAID! This is a very hard concept for the general public to understand! In fact, I’m working on a structure and plan now for a sculpted cake…I think I’ve made more trips the the hardware store than the cake shop this week (and I probably have at least 1 worker annoyed at me in the process)! And your Nome is phenomenal!

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  3. I just did a baseball stadium cake that was fairly simple as far as 3-D cakes go. I’ve done them before, so I knew what the basics were. It still took me over 8 hours just to do the cake part, not even including any planning. And it wasn’t even tremendously detailed! People really don’t know how long they take…

  4. Thanks so much for your great article. I have just had a shattering experience with a client after I delivered the ‘handbag’ she asked me to make for her daughter’s 40th birthday. She liked the cake but not the price. From now on I’m well armed to explain to clients why these sorts of cakes don’t come cheap.

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  7. Excellent post, Jen. Although I do not carve, I understand the incredible amount of planning time, then time for the actual baking, infrastructure construction, sculpting and detail work takes. Unless we explain the process to them, clients have no way of knowing all this. I think they also don’t realize that if you’re s boutique custom cakery, rather than a volume bakery, turning away other work is required in order to give theirs your full attention.

    The most precious commodity any of us has is our time; once it’s spent, it’s spent and there’s no recapturing it. You did an excellent job of explaining what exactly takes so much time when you render your expert services for your clients.

    Keep up the amazing work, Cake Sister! You’re worth every penny that you charge.

  8. Right on the money! Great explanation. Sometimes I just feel like letting them be part of-the-now-you-try and D-I-Y. So that they do see how much time this takes.

    Great cake:).

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