10 Alternatives to Wedding Cake

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No one's going to argue that a beautiful cake isn't an integral part of a traditional wedding reception. For many couples, an elegant, tiered cake is non-negotiable, and skipping it would seem strange. Although wedding cakes are still the most common reception treat, they aren't the last word in desserts by a long shot. In fact, some brides and grooms choose to add an extra dessert to the table, while others replace the standard cake outright!

For couples who want to start their marriage on an extra sweet note, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Coming up are 10 alternatives that don't necessarily involve frosting, but are sure to satisfy the hankerings of hungry wedding-goers!



Cupcake Cake

If the surge in cupcake shops and overall availability of the sweet treat are any indication, cupcakes would be a smash hit at any wedding reception. Wedding guests of all ages are sure to devour everything from traditional vanilla to more creative flavors and fillings.

Cupcake cakes can be served in tower form or as pull-apart cakes. The latter can be decorated like a traditional sheet cake, making it a great option for grooms' cakes since many brides like to get creative with the design and theme on their secondary desserts. However, cupcake towers can be every bit as beautiful and nuptially-appropriate as a standard wedding cake in both appearance and formality. As an added bonus, cupcake cakes are a cinch to serve. Simply pick one up and put it on a plate -- no pesky or messy cake cutter is necessary to enjoy this delectable dessert.



Candy Bar

No, we're not referring to a giant Snickers or Three Musketeers (although that does sound fantastic). Instead, envision all your favorite sugary treats displayed colorfully on what is sure to be an exceptionally drooled-over buffet.

The beauty of the candy bar is that the options are virtually limitless. Everyone enjoys traditional favorites like M&Ms, chocolate-covered raisins, Gummy Bears, Red Hots, Sweet Tarts and rainbow-colored lollipops, all of which are obtainable in bulk. Or, you can opt to provide candies in colors that mesh well with your ceremony's chosen hues, particularly since most of these sweets can be specially ordered in specific shades.


To serve, simply dish your treats into decorative bowls and let your guests have at it. Make sure someone's responsible for monitoring the status of the candy bar throughout the reception, though. Nothing starts a riot faster than a dispute over the last handful of Reese's Pieces.


Assortment of Pies

If you really want to diversify the dessert options at your reception, serve pie instead of cake.
If you really want to diversify the dessert options at your reception, serve pie instead of cake.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Even the pickiest eater is bound to favor at least a few flavors of pies with their ooey-gooey fillings and flaky crusts. Whether you choose to enlist the help of a bakery or a few trusted friends in the production of your reception's desserts, it's easy to tailor these baked sweets to your wedding's particular season and theme. For example, you can offer fruit-filled options representing the season you wed, with peach, blueberry and key lime dishes for summer weddings. Receptions held during the cooler months are the perfect venues for apple, chocolate or pecan pies, all of which are rich, filling and delicious cold-weather favorites. Provide whipped topping or ice cream as appropriate and leave your guests to mull the merits of each delicious option.



You don't have to be of Italian heritage to appreciate the flavor of cannoli. If you've never had the pleasure, we insist that you go out and try one immediately. Once you enjoy the fried dough filled with sweetened, flavored ricotta cheese, it's highly likely you'll add a new favorite to your list of top desserts.

Cannoli can be artfully stacked on platters or served in individual portions to each table or seat. Common options include chocolate, marsala and pistachio, although creative chefs can experiment with other flavors with a little bit of guidance from the bride and groom.



Cookie Buffet

If it's one thing that can take the place of cake, it's cookies.
If it's one thing that can take the place of cake, it's cookies.

The only real roadblock to organizing a cookie buffet is narrowing down the options for your guests to choose from. Naturally, any all-American soiree should include traditional chocolate chip cookies, but there are literally hundreds of other selections to choose from. If your party is more down-home than highbrow, consider setting the table with sugar, macadamia nut and peanut butter baked treats. If you really want to earn brownie points from your guests, provide vanilla ice cream for classic ice cream sandwiches.

There are plenty of options to choose from if you'd like a little more style at your dessert table. Any flavor of biscotti, cream-filled sandwich cookies, pecan tassies, fruity pinwheels and macaroons are all popular selections that go well with coffee, wine, Champagne or whatever beverage your guests choose to enjoy.


Be sure to identify the cookies so people with nut or other food allergies can make safe selections.


Ice Cream

Ice cream sundaes have plenty of charm when they're served in pretty parfait glasses.
Ice cream sundaes have plenty of charm when they're served in pretty parfait glasses.

With so many weddings happening during the sweltering summer months, guests might need something a little more refreshing than a heavy pastry packed with butter if they're expected to cut a rug on the dance floor later. Consider hiring an ice cream bartender to whip up spectacular creations and invigorate the guests at your sultry summer wedding.

The beauty of chilly confections is that they're infinitely adaptable. Besides letting people pick their own toppings, there are hundreds of flavors and styles to choose from. Do you go the healthy way with frozen yogurt, or the decadent route with old-fashioned ice cream and hand-dipped milkshakes? How about the rich and refined aesthetic of gelato or a light and palate-cooling choice of sherberts, sorbets and Champagne ices? The possibilities are endless.



Barista at Your Service

Lattes will give your guests the energy to dance all night long.
Lattes will give your guests the energy to dance all night long.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

For an autumn or winter wedding, guests coming in from the frosty weather need something to perk them up, as well as to heat their hands and bellies. A dessert barista, with his know-how and ingredients, can easily work some coffee alchemy and infuse the party with a hot, sweet buzz. Stock the coffee bar with fresh milk and cream, turbinado sugar and flavored syrups. You'll also need plenty of sweet treats like chocolate-dipped biscotti, gourmet cupcakes and madeleines. For an extra dose of warmth, you can even provide some coffee mixers like a nice bourbon, amaretto or dark crème de cacao to make the evening even cozier.


Festival Fare

Spun sugar is as sweet as your first kiss as husband and wife.
Spun sugar is as sweet as your first kiss as husband and wife.

Sure, a wedding is a serious time with all the vows and 'til-death-do-you-parts, but it can be a spectacle and a festival, too. Part of the appeal is mixing the formality of the ceremony with a hopping reception! If you choose to go this route, basic carnival classics like corn dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy and caramel apples are a must, but you can posh things up with snow cones flavored with fruit liqueurs or frozen bananas dipped in gourmet chocolate. How far down the black-tie carnival rabbit hole you want to go is up to you, but deep-fried candy bars served on bone china with a fine cognac sound like a great idea to us.



Croquembouche is staggeringly sophisticated and scrumptious.
Croquembouche is staggeringly sophisticated and scrumptious.

For those looking for a spectacular visual display to supplement the wedding cake, we present the croquembouche (pronounced croke-em-boosh). A traditional French pastry construction project, this confection is comprised of fluffy, bite-size cream-filled choux pastries assembled into a cone shape using caramel syrup. The traditional decoration for the dessert is spun sugar ribbons (think hard strings of cotton candy), but it can be drizzled with melted chocolate or more caramel. Its gravity-defying visual effect is impressive, but taste is the unique dessert's best feature.


The Dessert Breakfast Bar

The party doesn't necessarily have to last until dawn for your guests to appreciate a few sweet breakfast treats. The simplest route to go on this one is to serve a nostalgic array of cereals in elegant glassware. Colorful sugar cereals make the best visual impression, plus you can jazz up the presentation even more by serving them in martini or margarita glasses. On the other hand, if you long to serve something warmer and fancier, there's also the option of going all-out with a decadent Belgian waffle or crêpe bar, equipped with fresh fruits and berries, whipped cream, pure maple syrup and ice cream as toppings.


Do You Dare? DIY Wedding Cakes

Do You Dare? DIY Wedding Cakes

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  • Bonisteel, Sara. "Do-It-Yourself Wedding Ideas." 2011. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/holidays/weddings/diy_pie
  • Clukey, Keshia. "Let Them Eat Cupcakes." Utica Observer-Dispatch. Dec. 22, 2011. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.uticaod.com/news/x550226398/Let-them-eat-cupcakes-Trend-hits-the-region-in-a-big-way
  • Mahalo. "Cannoli Background and History." 2011. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.mahalo.com/cannoli/
  • Martha Stewart Weddings. "Candies, Cakes and Cookies." 2004. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/227147/candies-cakes-and-cookies
  • National Coffee Association USA. "History of Coffee." 2011. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.ncausa.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=68
  • Wedding Channel. "Are There Alternatives to a Traditional Wedding Cake?" 2011. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://weddings.weddingchannel.com/wedding-planning-ideas/wedding-cake/qa/are-there-alternatives-to-a-traditional-wedding-cake.asp