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How to order a custom cake

 how to order custom cake

Often we'll hear "I've never ordered a big cake before."

No Problem! It's easy and should be fun!


What you need to know and what the baker needs from you to make ordering a cake the easiest part of planning your party or event.


1 - Do your research early and contact the bakery well ahead of time.

Gather information the baker will need (listed below) as well as research any themes and example pictures you find online.

Contact the bakery EARLY. How early depends on how complex the cake is and how busy the bakery is. It's not out of the question to simply call the bakery a year ahead for a wedding and just ask how much notice they require and how far ahead to schedule a consultation. Contacting the bakery early also ensures they are available and not on vacation, etc.


2 - Information to bring with you to the consult to streamline the order taking process.

Date of event and pickup/delivery time and address.

Budget - Have this ready when you are ordering a complex custom cake. Have realistic expectations. It's impossible to scale a 5 tier cake for 400 people down to 12 servings. Don't volunteer a budget upfront but providing one early will help the baker give you the best options. The shop should be willing to give a rough estimate or price range ($50 to $100, Over $400, the average price per serving, etc.).

The number of servings needed.

  • For some cakes, the servings needed doesn't apply if you are going after a style that has many more servings than guests.
  • Are there going to be other desserts? Don't over-order the size of the cake if there are other desserts as part of your reception package or family is contributing desserts for your party.
  • Cake style - Pictures, sketches, anything to represent your vision.
  • Cake flavors and colors.

Based on that information the bakery can provide you with a range of cake options and average pricing.


3 - What you need to know from the bakery

Yield / Servings per pound. What are their recommended servings per pound and their yield? We go by 5 servings per pound. Many caterers and venues will cut our cakes to 6 servings per pound. ASK how big (heavy) the cake is expected to be. (more on this in another article)

See our servings chart for more... Cake Servings Chart

Cake dimensions - Number and dimensions of main cake/tiers (diameter AND height)

Cake box dimensions for pickup and storage - See our cake care tips page for more

Consultation Checklist

The paranoid baker and his box of rocks

The paranoid baker and his box of rocks.

Top Secret Recipe Mayfair Bakery

Are "Secret Recipes" really that big a secret?

My dad told me this story when he was working towards his certification in Germany, of an old baker and his box of rocks. So fearful of his secret formulas being stolen he wouldn't use standard weights for scaling ingredients. Every morning he brought downstairs a box of colored rocks. Instead of using weights in Kilos and Grams of flour for a pound cake it would instead be measured in say, 3 red rocks, and 2 brown rocks. All the formula cards were written that way. He was certain his secret recipes were safe that way.

Now where this goes wrong is EVERY SINGLE bakery product has to follow standard percentage range for each ingredient.
(Not to be confused with Baker's Percentage*)
For a certain product, you may have 25% butter, 25% cake flour, 25% eggs, 25% sugar, and some trace ingredients. Oh wait, don't read that. It's an old super secret formula for traditional pound cake. The point is that butter for this formula should be at or close to the 25% range. If it goes below 20% or over 30% you have a different product.

The younger bakers in training could easily figure out how much flour was going in the bowl by what was left visually in a sack of flour. Once you know that and what you were making the rest is relatively easy. If you change the percentages too much then your sweet dough, for example, becomes donut dough.

Great myths and lore have arisen about secret formulas in bakeries. The ingredients are basically the same. The ratios are basically the same. What does make a big difference is the quality of ingredients, how they are combined and the use of flavors. High-quality ingredients, old-school production, and using fine flavors make a better product and if you've been doing it for years you can pretty much taste what's being used and how. If you value creativity and variety you don't publish "secrets" used by other shops just like magicians don't spoil the magic.

So secret formulas really are secret while at the same time not so much. The real secret is using the right stuff, the right way, and making it from scratch.

Having said all that one little-known factor is the water. Philly water has a certain ... umm, flair. I was on the radio once in another town where they were asking me about Philly pretzels and Philly steak rolls. Other towns can't match what we have here. People who move away become obsessed with the food they grew up on. They search and search and are almost always disappointed. I was asked why. "Simple, the water." There are 3 main water sources for Philly and all three are different. They taste different, at least to me they do and they are certainly significantly different from other parts of the country. People who grew up in South Philly raised on local Italian Rolls get hooked on them. No other rolls anywhere else come close. Add some homesickness and voila, obsession. Some roll companies have moved to or have always been in South Jersey and they taste just a little different. Not better or worse, just different.

Heat and high humidity will wreak havoc on baked goods. Especially those super damp early morning hours. I'm thankful for the air conditioning we have in the shop and to Willis Carrier for inventing it. Altitude is another factor that will ruin your day baking. Baking in Denver? FuhGetAboutIt.

Next time you have some awesome bakery product made from scratch in a local shop with locally sourced ingredients take the time to savor the creativity and effort.

* = Baker's Percentage is where flour is always 100% of a formula. Everything is by weight, not volume. All other ingredients are based off that so with the above recipe you have
Flour 100% - 1 lb.
Sugar 100% - 1 lb.
Eggs 100% - 1 lb.
Butter 100% - 1 lb.
Total 400% - 4 lb.
When you want to break down a formula the math is lot easier this way than halving or quartering cups of flour and number of eggs.

Baker to Baker

Baker to Baker

Just some notes and links that other bakers may find helpful.

International Bakers Services
Flavors: Huge variety of top notch flavors. Great customer service, fast shipping. "INTERNATIONAL BAKERS SERVICES offers an extensive line of flavors and flavor blends that have been trusted by baking professionals for decades. These flavors require a minimum order of only 10 pounds of dry flavor or 1 gallon of liquid flavor. Most flavors are available in both dry and liquid forms."

pfeil and holing

Decorating Supplies: There are dozens of suppliers online for bakers but we've favor Pfeil & Holding at They carry most major suppliers without unreasonable markups so you can get something from everyone all shipped at once. They have free shipping over a certain amount. Shipping is FAST. We've ordered on a Monday morning and the box shows up Tuesday afternoon (East Coast).

avalon deco supplies

Avalon Deco Supplies: Happy with everything we've purchased from them. Gum paste flowers are packed well and look nicer than the pictures. One bride loved the Rubrum Lilies ordered for her cake. FOR BAKERS ONLY.
"Avalon Deco Supplies, Inc. has been a supplier of Wholesale Cake Decorations to the trade for over 15 years. We are a family-run business which stresses courteous and punctual service to all of our business customers. Please be aware that we do not sell to the public." -


Costing Program: If you want to cost out your formulas and/or be able to print out nutritional labels check out nutraCoster at I started using this in 1994 and highly recommend it. Good documentation on the website. Owner provides phone support if needed but read the instructions first! Has a support group and 99% of the answers refer to easy documentation and the other 1% is "call us when you're at your computer."

Website Hosting - We changed hosts from lunarpages to SiteGround after LP's customer service deteriorated to unacceptable levels.

Sheeter Belts: If you have a Rollfix brand sheeter and need new belts or parts Fritsch-USA is where you need to go. We were the first bakery in Philly to purchase a rollfix dough sheeter many years ago. When we replaced it they sent somebody to pack up the old machine and take it back to their museum in Germany. Their office in the USA is at,
Fritsch USA, Inc.
216 Little Falls Road, Unit #4
Cedar Grove, New Jersey 07009
Phone - 973-857-7272
Note: there is a company unrelated to Rollfix in PA that supposedly makes sheeter belts. No, they don't work.

Quickbooks - Note that if you want to use QuickBooks for payroll tied to your desktop version of the software you are forced to upgrade software every three years. I had no complaints with their service when I used to use them other than they don't file local city taxes. It's highly recommended to look local first for a payroll service. Their desktop software is not for the beginner. I enjoy reading. To use QuickBooks effectively and solve issues you better like reading too. Lots and lots of figuring out why something doesn't work. Bugs in the software go unresolved for months. Updates always have new bugs, some get fixed, some don't.

Circus carnival tent cake

Lindsay's Circus Carnival Tent Cake

How to make this tent cake

Mayfair Bakery circus tent cake

First, we start off with some fresh icing.

VERY important so the icing doesn't tear and pull up crumbs from the cake.

Mayfair Bakery buttercreme icing

After baking the cake has to be chilled so it cuts easier and with a cleaner edge.
Cover the cake with a sheet of food grade plastic and cool for 12 - 24 hours.
A freshly baked cake will just fall apart.
Here we have 2 full sheets baked high.  Enough cake for 150+ people.

Marble pound cake sheets being chilled

The first sheet is trimmed along the sides and icing is placed in preparation for the next sheet.

Mayfair Bakery circus tent cake being assembled

Here the second chocolate marble sheet is trimmed to a 2 peak tent shape and held together with icing.
The "door" is cut from an end piece and attached to the front

Mayfair Bakery circus tent cake being assembled

The tent is iced, this one was airbrushed yellow.
Yellow airbrushes especially well and there is no waste.
You can also add enough color for solid tinted icing but too much color adversely affects the flavor.

Mayfair Bakery circus tent cake getting iced

The door gets a second coat of black and nut brown then the bottom is iced.

Mayfair Bakery circus tent cake getting iced

Red piping, American flags, and stripes are added. The bottom tier has some blue airbrush, the sides brown swirls.

Here it is at the Hilton Inn on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia.

Mayfair Bakery circus tent cake at The Hilton

Phone book ads versus internet

The effectiveness of phonebook ads versus the internet

October 11, 2010

In a recent survey done by Gallup for SuperMedia (the people that run the phone books for Verizon) it's been shown that the number of people using the white pages dropped from 25% to just 11% of all households. They will be ending delivery of the white pages unless you request it.

I read this with interest because it reminded me of our recent experience with the yellow pages advertising. We had an ad in the yellow pages as long as I can remember. 20 or so years ago the usual annual increases started getting out of hand and we reduced the size of our ad from something like a 1/10th-page size to a single column 2" tall ad.

Things went along fine for a while then the increases became ridiculous. Every time renewal came up there would be charts and info claiming how everyone on the planet used the yellow pages. As the Internet grew in the 90s I could see from the server referral stats that more and more people were finding us through search engines.  All this was in the pre-google days too. I would ask new customers how they found us and over the past 10 years (2000-2010) the number who use the yellow pages as a source has dropped to zero.

 The straw that broke this camel's back was this past year they (SuperMedia) would no longer contact us at renewal time. We received a letter informing us of the new (higher) price and that unless we contacted them it would automatically go into effect for another year. They gave us 5 days! Not a good way to retain customer trust and loyalty especially since this was added to your phone bill and if you didn't pay you would face penalties. I was pretty annoyed so I called them up and canceled the ad until a representative would contact us about options. They never did. I wasn't the only one either. When I compared this year's book to one from a few years ago many shops pulled their ads as well. Phone books may still be vital for large companies with higher profit margins and a wide market area but small shops serving people within a several mile radius have to rethink things. I look at the big ads and wonder how much the prices are raised to cover an ad with such limited market penetration?

Where do new customers come from? Outside of word of mouth and a large storefront sign the big dog is by far Google. Bing and Yahoo! are next. Far behind are the default ISP search engines (Comcast, etc.) and those are powered by one of the larger search engines anyway. With the growth in smartphone use more younger customers are finding us that way. I can see now how people are using smartphones to do local searches as they are out and about. They do quick short keyword searches, often something like "bakery, cake, zip code" then they get a very basic search result list with the closest shops. THAT is the new target customer block for business.

So what to do if you run a small bakery? Phonebook ads will become ever more expensive and fewer and fewer bakeries (and customers) use them. Customers will break down into 2 basic groups. The first wants as much detail and info as possible as they research for specialty products like party and wedding cakes. The second are those looking to find your phone # quick from home or on the go so for them even the most basic website is a must!

As small bakers, we can either continue to shell out absurdly high phone book ad rates and pass that along to our customers or leave the horse and buggy days behind and embrace newer and vastly more cost-effective ways of reaching out to those looking for us. I'm betting our customers will appreciate my efforts to save them money.

Update Winter 2014:
I was showing another local business without a website how people search for him using a smartphone. A simple touch on the screen and the user speaks the keywords into the phone and up pop the results on the screen. If you don't have some basic listing somewhere you don't show up. We now get calls for other businesses in Mayfair that don't have a website because we come up #1 in the results. That's not always as good as it sounds when they call us up for rock salt in when sleet is coming down outside! A basic website is $4 a month plus $12 or so for the name each year. A lot cheaper than a phone book ad.