Interview with Libby Godecke of Chicago Custom Cakes
What should our readers know about you?
I am Elizabeth Godecke, founder and principal baker of Chicago Custom Cakes. I have a hand in everything - from recipe development to consultation, baking to decorating. I started teaching custom cakes decorating in 2014 and opened Chicago Custom Cakes in 2016. Chicago Custom Cakes have been featured in "Chicago Style Weddings" and "Strictly Weddings".
What are the most common questions that couples ask you?
Most of our clients are excited to share the vision they have for their wedding, but they may not know exactly what they want in a cake. The consultation usually starts with them sharing their thoughts about custom cakes and what they imagine their wedding cake will be like.
I use that as a starting point to suggest wedding cakes design ideas and flavors to help develop something unique and special for them. It's really more of a conversation than an interview. We do also cover a lot of practical details, like the time of year, the venue, the size of the reception, colors, and of course the wedding cake prices.
“Ordering a wedding cake is quite different than ordering other cakes.“
What questions should couples ask when selecting a "wedding dessert" provider?
Custom cakes are a specialty item, and they involve special construction systems and transportation methods. Ordering a wedding cake is quite different than ordering other cakes. I strongly recommend that every couple schedules a tasting with the bakery where they want to order their wedding cake.
I would also confirm with the baker that they work with your preferred medium-buttercream, fondant, marzipan, gum paste, etc. I would also look at websites and social media to be sure that their custom cakes style aligns with your vision. Another consideration is the time-frame involved. Other cake orders can be places days/weeks in advance, however, wedding bakers typically are booking up 6 or more months in advance so plan accordingly.
What is the path to a good custom cake?
Baking a successful custom cake starts with the first consultation. I am always most inspired when I hear a couple telling their story. After I know a bit about them, I start brainstorming and suggesting different ideas.
Based on their reactions, I can focus on enhancing the elements they find most appealing. We also prefer to have a tasting with each consultation. This helps the couple select their flavors and medium, which can impact the design.
“For me, one of the most stressful times of the day is transporting the cake. I joke that Google maps needs a "cake delivery" route option.”
What does your day at the wedding itself look like?
Every wedding is unique, but for most venues, the cake arrives well before the couple. I have packed a little kit with an offset spatula, buttercream, a piping bag, and toothpicks. That comes with me. I might also bring extras of the elements for the custom cakes - sugar flowers, ribbon etc., just in case.
For me, one of the most stressful times of the day is transporting the cake. I joke that Google maps need a "cake delivery" route option. Between the speed bumps and potholes, it can be nerve-wracking. Once the custom cake arrives safely, it's time to get the cake set, add any floral or delicate details, get the table set and place the topper.
At this point, I try to snap a picture but it's amazing how frequently I forget to do this! It's like once everything is perfect, I can exhale, and it slips my mind. Then the custom cake is either ready to go, or it gets wheeled into the fridge, depending on the timeline and reveal the couple wants.
“As for left overs, at one time the top tier was always left for the one-year anniversary. To me, that is a sort of antiquated tradition.”
What are some of your most popular custom cakes?
It seems like the custom cakes are starting to make a comeback. For a while, things like cupcakes, pies, donuts, macarons, and cookies were trendy, but it seems like more and more people are looking for custom cakes. Also, if there is a fun grooms cake, those seem to always go really quickly!
One thing gaining in popularity is our cake shots. They are pretty, perfectly portioned and portable. Couples like that they are available in gluten free, dairy free, vegan and regular in a variety of flavors, so there is something for everyone.
As for leftovers, at one time the top tier was always left for the one-year anniversary. To me, that is a sort of antiquated tradition. Urban couples rarely have the space to freeze a cake for a year, and honestly, a cake is not the food that is getting better with age. Certainly, if the tradition appeals to you, go for it.
I usually encourage couples to just book a little 6-inch anniversary custom cake with us. We are happy to do a little version of your wedding cake, and you can still enjoy reminiscing about your big day, but with fresh custom cake.
“I recall last year I had a bride who wanted 3 custom cakes--a main cake with 2 satellite cakes. It was less common at the time and they explained they had 3 family heirloom cake stands they wanted to incorporate.”
What is the most unusual dessert that you ever served?
After the Royal wedding with Harry and Meghan, I started seeing more cake displays that included several smaller custom cakes. However, before this, I recall last year I had a bride who wanted 3 custom cakes-- the main cake with 2 satellite cakes. It was less common at the time and they explained they had 3 family heirloom cake stands they wanted to incorporate.
I love touches like this-when the cake is a real collaboration between the designer and couple. Incorporating something meaningful into the design was so beautiful.
Another fun custom cake was a cake I made for a couple who had eloped in New Orleans. When they got back, they threw a big reception for friends and family to celebrate. They ordered a cake that fit the day of their wedding. It was whimsical with three tiers, colors, fleur-de-lis, and gold! Really fun to make, and a great nod to the original wedding day.
“All of our cakes are custom designed and made to order, so design is always a part of the Chicago Custom Cakes experience.”
Tell us something fun!
Some of the funniest memories are delivering custom cakes to notable clients or venues. We were lucky enough this year to make a custom cake for an artist celebrating an opening at the Art Institute Chicago, as well as a custom cake for the cast of Hamilton, Chicago.
Thankfully we have never dropped a cake (knock on wood) but we did have a client who insisted on transporting their own tiered cake. Unfortunately, hot days, buttercream cakes, and car trunks do NOT mix! Needless to say, we strongly recommend letting us do the delivery for anything over 2 tiers.
What additional services are usually provided?
All of our cakes are custom designed and made to order, so the design is always a part of the Chicago Custom Cakes experience. We also encourage couples to do a tasting with us. It's a great way to get to know your baker and communicate what you are looking for in a cake. In addition to tastings and consultations, we also offer some decor, stand and knife rentals.
“For couples who are thinking about a budget, one good option would be to consider a smaller display cake, and then supplementing with a cutting cake, cupcakes, or cake shots.”
What's the typical budget that the couple should expect to spend?
Of course, the price of the custom cake depends most heavily on the size of the cake, and the design.
Beautiful buttercream tiered cakes start at five dollars a serving.
For couples who are thinking about a budget, one good option would be to consider a smaller display cake and then supplementing with a cutting cake, cupcakes, or cake shots. Other ways to help stay on the budget would be looking at buttercream over fondant, and most bakeries charge less for buttercream cakes.
I would also recommend telling the custom cakes artist what you are looking to spend--they may have ideas about how to best stay within your budget. For example, we always try to work with people, when possible, to get them something special with what they are looking to spend.