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Friday, June 21, 2013

The Cost of Custom

Cake has gained so much popularity in the past few years thanks to TV and social media. There's Last Cake Standing, Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, The Food Network Challenge, Amazing Wedding Cakes, and Bakery Boss. There are hundreds of cake artists on Facebook from nearly every country, both hobbyist and professional. These sites and shows feature beautiful works of art and extremely detailed work. It's no wonder that the general public wants to get their hands on their very own custom made cake. However, there are a lot of things you should consider when it comes to purchasing a custom cake. For now, though, I'll just cover the costs.

The one thing the general public needs to realize is just how pricey a custom made cake can get. I'm not talking about a cake from Wally World that has your name piped on and plastic toys stuck in. I'm talking about those cakes you see on the TV shows that blow your mind.
Lame Wally World sheet cake

<---- Not what I'm talking about.

THIS is what I'm talking about!-------->

See the difference? One was made in a factory, sent to a store to be decorated further, kept in a fridge until bought, and probably took a total of an hour to make. The other was made in a bakery, hand-carved, hand-painted, hand-everything-ed just for a special someone, and probably took an entire week to put together, plus an extra few weeks for the miscellaneous decorations to dry. One costs less than $30, the other (probably) costs upwards of $1000, depending on the size.

Yes, you saw that right. A thousand for a cake, give or take a few hundred. "Why?" you ask, "Why in the world would someone pay crazy amounts of money for cake? It's just cake, after all!" No, it's not just cake. Wally World cake is "just cake." Cake from a box mix is "just cake." The custom cakes you purchase from cake artists are never "just cake." Let's go through the costs, shall we?

Supplies aren't cheap. Here's an overview:
Ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, flavors, butter, etc.) - $80 (We're going for high-quality stuff, ok?)
Supports (cake board, structure, cake box, etc.) - $10
Costs to run a shop (ovens, A/C, lights, refrigeration, etc.) - $100 (Just an estimate, for the time it takes to make the whole cake)
Delivery and insurance - $30
Total: $220

Now for the time that goes into making it:
Setting up a consultation, sketching, and emailing or calling back and forth - 2 hours
Baking (mixing, waiting, washing dishes, etc.) - 4 hours
Setting up (filling, frosting, carving) - 2 hours
Decorating (covering in fondant, painting, airbrushing, texturing, adding supports, etc.) - 8 hours
Extras (flowers, objects, people, animals, etc.) - >2 hours (plus the time it takes them to dry)
Total time: 18 hours of work, minimum x $18/hour = $324

Combined we have a total of $544. Now you're asking, "Why does it end up costing $1000, then? $544 seems adequate." Realize that the $544 is just breaking even. There's no profit in that. You're also paying for the artistic talent that went into your cake, the years and years of experience that allowed the baker to make it for you, the guarantee that it is quality work from a licensed business owner, and everything else you couldn't possibly imagine the decorator went through.

The next time you're out "shopping" for custom cakes, realize what you're asking for. Don't go looking for a custom Mercedes with all the bells and whistles when you can only afford a used Jeep. Custom cakes are made with time, consideration, and heart. Wally World sheet cakes are made on conveyor belts. Their prices are reflective of those facts.


  1. This is so excellent. I'm up against this constantly. People don't understand why they can't get a 2 tier detailed cake with fresh fruit and premium ingredients for $40 dollars. This is very informative. THANK YOU!

    1. You're welcome! That's a big problem in the city I'm currently in. The frustrating part is that there are other "decorators" that will do cakes for those low prices, essentially giving them away. When I see the pictures of what they did, though, I always think, "You get what you pay for."

  2. I should have seen this along time ago and print it out to, and hand it to every customer that comes, they just don't understand the hard work and dedication that goes into baking and decorating cakes. They always want to compare the prices of cakes at BJ'S to what you quote them. Well as my wilton instructor told us sometimes you have to say no to certain jobs and save yourself the fatigue.