Five tips for making small wedding cakes beautiful AND stand out

Cherry blossom wedding cake: for an intimate springtime wedding


You're having a small wedding. Perhaps it's an intimate family celebration to accompany the main do in another city or even another country. Perhaps it's a coming together of only your very closest friends and family. Perhaps you're getting married for the second time and want to keep things low key. Or maybe you’ve got a tight budget that you need to stick to.

You'd like an utterly beautiful, unforgettable wedding cake; something that will make an instant and lasting impact. But how on earth are you going to achieve that if your cake only needs to serve a handful of guests?!

The first thing I’d say: don't stress about it. It's NOT your problem. Hand that one right over to your cake designer! This minute! Because there are a number of techniques they can employ to make even the smallest of wedding cakes showstoppingly beautiful. 

#1: Height, for an instant elegance boost


I designed this cherry blossom wedding cake for an intimate springtime wedding. It features a 6-inch round, which serves approximately 20 people. On its own, I confess that would have looked pretty unimpressive! So I added a dummy booster in underneath, bringing the height from the standard 3.5 inches or so to almost 6 inches. In the cake world, height is very beautiful: an instant elegance boost. Add extra height to maximise the presence of even the smallest of wedding cakes. 

#2: Dummy tiers, for make-believe size

We chose not to do so here, but you can also add in whole extra dummy tiers. So a one-tier wedding cake suddenly becomes a two-, three-, four- or even five-tier wedding cake. The sky really is the limit here, alongside budget considerations. Different cake designers have different ways of charging for dummy tiers. Some charge a percentage of real cake, some charge for each of the elements. E.g. I charge for the polystyrene block, plus my usual prices for the icing and decoration. Since polystyrene blocks cost a fraction of real cake, this can be a very cost-effective way of upping your wedding cake's impact. 

#3: Additional icing finishes, for extra visual interest


It's relatively easy for big wedding cakes to be WOW! You walk in the room and can't miss their towering splendour. But how do you give diminutive wedding cakes the WOW! factor? How do you prevent them from getting lost in the room? Something else I rely on is to use additional covering finishes on the icing. Beautiful embellishments, either applied directly to or on top of the initial layer of icing. There are a whole host of techniques to choose from, too many to list, but each cake designer usually works with a few personal favourites. Mine are: 1) ruffles, 2) bas-relief (a slightly raised pattern which gives a subtle sculptural effect) and 3) textured finishes.

These extra details - sometimes incredibly intricate – add extra visual interest, pulling people over for a closer look. For this particular wedding cake, we were going for simple, clean lines with a dash of drama. So I used sharp edges at the top with a subtle woodgrain textured finish all around. Nothing too dramatic - I wanted to reserve that for the sugar flowers - but another point of interest. At a distance, you can spot there's something else going on, but can't quite make it out. Curious, people are drawn in for a closer look; once there, there's lots of detail to marvel over. 

#4: Statement sugar flowers, for drama and impact


Super-delicate sugar flowers have become a bit of a signature for me. I tend to keep things fairly real in terms of botanical correctness, then veer off into fantasy with the colouring. Because we all get enough reality in day-to-day life, right?! And who needs reality on their wedding day. If there's one day in life when you don't need reality, that's surely got to be it!

So here we've got blue and silver cherry blossom branches. NOT as in nature, but half the fun of cake-making is artistic licence! And that flight of fancy allowed me to tie the wedding cake into the couple's wedding theme. Yes, you guessed it: blue and silver.

To get the structure of sugar flowers right, I always work from nature - from real flowers in front of me. For me, that's the only way to get that organic, natural feel and a lifelike sense of movement and growth. So while I was working on these, I had two vases on my kitchen worktable full of cherry blossom branches projecting out at all sorts of crazy, beautiful angles. Let's just say there's a tree close by that has considerably fewer boughs than it did! 

#5: Bold colour, to catch the eye


I adore the soft pinks and pure whites of natural blossoms. I think they’d look stunning on a multi-tier wedding cake. Hell, they’d have looked stunning on this one. But they’re too quiet and gentle to get such a little cake noticed. Small wedding cakes need at least ONE very loud, shouty feature. So that flight of fancy – blue and silver blossoms – served two purposes. Tying into the couple’s wedding theme and petite wedding cake megaphone.

I admit that using bold colour can be a little scary. When I was colouring the blossoms, I had a moment of cold fear when I thought they’d be way too much. But when everything was put together, it was just fine. I think that the strong colour works here a) because there’s only a little of it, and b) because of the simple background. The subtly textured white makes the blue really leap out at you, makes it even more vivid. And by keeping everything else simple, there isn’t too much going on overall. My advice on using bold colour? Go for it, just be judicious!

Photos: stillmotion

If you love this look, please drop me a line for a no-obligation chat about your wedding cake, at

Or have a nosey through my wedding portfolio:

Have a sweet day!
Sonnda xx

Oxtail stew with star anise and cinnamon; celery mash; salt-massaged kale, Brussels sprout and cherry salad

Certain friends have been telling (whoops, I meant asking) me to blog my savoury recipes for a good long while now. I didn’t know how that would sit alongside my cakes, but in the end I decided both could, and in fact should, happily coexist on here. I don’t live on cake. I eat healthily most of the time, with cake as an occasional treat.

So here's my first offering: a savoury triumvirate that will warm your bones. Perfect fodder for a cold snap like this. Or a spot of romantic dining. Happy Valentine's!!!

Oxtail stew with star anise and cinnamon; celery mash; salt-massaged kale, Brussels sprout and cherry salad. Image by Susan Batchelor

Oxtail stew with star anise and cinnamon; celery mash; salt-massaged kale, Brussels sprout and cherry salad. Image by Susan Batchelor

Oxtail stew with star anise and cinnamon (serves 6-10)

Although this stew requires a full day from start to finish, it isn’t time consuming as it needs very little hands-on attention or babysitting throughout the process. Practice patience and you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. It improves with keeping so, if you can, plan ahead and make it a day or two in advance.

I made this and the accompaniments to bring in Hogmanay 2016. It’s perfect winter celebration food. Exceptionally rich (a little goes a long way), flavourful, comforting. With two veg accompaniments as here, I find a ladle per person is enough. From memory, I think it made 11 ladles, so could feed as many as that. 

1kg oxtail (about 1 tail), cut into slices 4–5cm thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil/knob of butter/dripping/lard
3 medium onions, sliced
400ml red wine
3 star anise
2 x 4inch cinnamon sticks
4 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
Thinly pared zest of 1 orange
350-475ml passata

Season the oxtail with salt and pepper. Heat the oil/knob of butter/dripping/lard in a large, heavy based saucepan and fry the meat over a medium-high heat (in batches if necessary, so as not to overcrowd the pan) until browned on all sides. Remove the browned oxtail with a slotted spoon/tongs and set aside.

Reduce the heat to low and gently cook the onions in the pan for 15–20 minutes, until soft and translucent. In the meantime, if you’re using a slow cooker, lightly brush the base with olive oil to prevent sticking, and switch to the auto/medium setting to preheat. If baking in a casserole dish, preheat the oven to 120C/250F/Gas Mark ½.

Once the onions are ready, return the meat to the pan, then pour in the wine, add the star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves, peppercorns, orange zest and enough passata to just cover the meat. Raise the heat and bring everything to a slow simmer.

Transfer everything to the preheated slow cooker at this point, and cook on medium for about 6 hours, stirring occasionally. If you’re finishing it in the oven, transfer everything to a large casserole dish, cover with the lid and place in the preheated oven. If leaving on the stove, lower the heat to cook very gently (a very gentle simmer, just the odd bubble or two), with the lid cocked open just very slightly. In each case, cook for about 6 hours, stirring occasionally. When it is ready, the meat should be falling off the bone.

Remove the meat and set aside. Once it’s cooled sufficiently, take all the flesh off the bones; every last bit of meat and fat that you can. Transfer the meat to a bowl/container and add just enough of the gravy to cover. Allow to cool and refrigerate. In the meantime, to further enrich the gravy, return the bones and any pieces of fat to the slow cooker (or casserole dish in the oven) and cook with the lid on for another 12 hours or so/preferably overnight. (If you cooked on the stove for phase one, and don’t have a slow cooker, do this last stage in the oven.)

The next morning, pass the gravy through a colander set over a wide-based saucepan to catch the liquid (select the widest saucepan you have as that will speed evaporation - see the next paragraph). An important note here: if you have any remnants stuck to the base of your slowcooker/casserole dish, leave them there; don’t add them in as they will add a burnt unpleasant flavour!

Pick the star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and orange zest out of the colander and discard. Also remove the bones - this time they should be as clean as a whistle, all the goodness and flavour transferred to the gravy. Set the strained onions aside.

Bring the gravy to a boil, then turn the heat down to a fast simmer and reduce until it is thick and glossy. (You’re aiming to reduce it to about one third to one half of its original volume.)

Once the gravy has reduced sufficiently, return the reserved meat and onions to the pan. Check the seasoning and heat to serve.


Celery mash (serves 4)

600g peeled potatoes, chopped into large dice
300g celery, chopped into large dice
25g butter (optional)
30g milk (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Add potatoes to boiling salted water. Bring back to the boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 8 minutes. Add celery, bring back to a simmer and continue to cook for another 8 minutes or until the veg are tender all the way through. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of the dice, but the veg must be tender all the way through or the final mash will be lumpy. Drain the vegetables through a colander, reserving water for stock/soup. Return vegetables to the pan and cook on a low heat to dry them out a little, shaking every now and then to prevent sticking. Transfer to blender, add freshly ground black pepper, butter and milk if using. Blend for several minutes until you have a completely smooth pureé. Check seasoning.

When ready to use, return to a pan, fully covered with a lid, and cook on a low heat until hot through, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking.


Salt-massaged kale, Brussels sprout and cherry salad (serves 4)


35g dried sour cherries, chopped roughly (if you don’t have any in, or can’t get hold of them, use sultanas or raisins)
40g cherry vinegar
150g kale, destalked and leaves torn into rough bits (will give about 100g fronds torn from stems and 50g stems – save the stems and steam as a green veg)
90g Brussels sprouts, tough outer skins removed, tailed and shredded finely (will give about 70g trimmed weight)
¼ tsp finely ground sea salt
90g spinach leaves

10g olive oil
20g lemon juice
5g umé plum vinegar
10g Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
15g green pistachio kernels, roasted and slivered*

Green pistachio kernels, roasted and slivered

Green pistachio kernels, roasted and slivered

Soak chopped cherries/sultanas/raisins in the cherry vinegar overnight. 1-2 hours before you need the salad, massage the salt into the torn kale and shredded Brussels until the colour has changed to bright green and it takes on a wet/cooked appearance. Cover with cling film and set aside. (This can be done in advance, up to a day or so.)

Torn kale, pre-massage

Torn kale, pre-massage

The kale and shredded Brussels, after a good rub down

The kale and shredded Brussels, after a good rub down

Meantime, make the dressing. Strain the cherries from the cherry vinegar. Add the cherry vinegar and rest of the salad dressing ingredients to a small bowl and whisk to emulsify (or shake in a jar). Check and adjust the flavour to suit to your personal taste, e.g. add more lemon juice/white wine vinegar for extra acidity, more oil for less, more cherry vinegar for sweetness, more umé plum vinegar for saltiness.

Add the soaked cherries/sultanas/raisins and dressing to the salad at least half an hour prior to serving, to allow the flavours to mingle. Immediately prior to serving, toss in the spinach leaves and scatter with the slivered pistachios. 

*If you can’t find green pistachio kernels locally, they are available online from Ottolenghi.

Alternative serving suggestions:

  • Any vegetable mash and steamed greens or boiled carrots (if using carrots, make the mash with a different veg)

Negroni-infused candied orange, white choc and macadamia enriched bread

Image by Still Motion

Great British Bake Off season is upon us once again! To mark it, those fun folks over at Glasgow Gin Club asked if I'd like to write a guest recipe for them. Gin-themed of course, to tie in with this week's episode. Bread.

Gin bread? I was temporarily flummoxed. Then inspiration hit. An enriched bread (brioche or panettone style) chockful of negroni-infused candied orange peel, white chocolate and macadamia nuts. 

Recipe development went something like this:

Orange and white chocolate are fab together. The bitter orange flavour from the negroni and peels is going to offset the richness coming from the chocolate, dough and nuts. And on those nuts, what nuts do I want to eat with a negroni? In Italy, I'd be served a little bowl of salted almonds alongside, but I want something richer here. Macadamias. So far so good. And it’s got a classy gin cocktail in there. What’s not to like??!!

Taking inspiration from both brioche and panettone, the dough bears a resemblance to each while not quite being either. Unlike any bread I've encountered before, the mixture is so liquid you literally pour it into the cake tin! But that contributes a wonderful moistness.

I want to call it "briottone" or "panettoche". Since it has the same shape and orangey additions as the Italian classic, I've settled on panettoche. 

This is great eaten on its own. But with a bit less chocolate, 50g say, I reckon it would go very well with a top-quality pâté as a posh starter, toasted brioche being a classic French accompaniment to pâté. Duck liver would be my first option; duck and orange being another classic combo, and also because the bitterness from the negroni and peels is going to work so well against the richness.

Let me know how you enjoyed eating it!

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