What It’s Like to Be a Pastry Chef During Wedding Season

NYC-based pastry chef and instructor Daniel Colonel specializes in bespoke cakes and luxury cookies, so you can imagine how busy wedding season is for him. Since graduating from The Culinary Institute of America in 2014, Colonel has worked for various cake designers in the city while working on his own creations as a “side hustle.” Then, months ago, he left his 9-to-5 job to devote full attention to his eponymous brand and has since hosted more than 25 tastings. Whether they’ve included wedding planners and clients, friends as test subjects, or drop-offs (where he delivers his signature flavors arranged in a personalized box), they’ve allowed him to network and commit to wedding gigs this coming fall and well into 2025.

One of Colonel’s most sentimental cake flavors through the years has been his London Fog, an Earl Grey sponge cake with lemon curd and lavender buttercream that is both distinctive and divine. “Besides New York, London is my favorite city,” he tells PS. “Whenever I have ‘high tea,’ I feel like the most posh person, and it really got me into tea (especially Earl Grey). I tend to gravitate to floral and savory flavors when it comes to desserts . . . I think the flavors are a tasty surprise — not overly sweet, and refreshing.” It is this sort of authentic inspiration that makes Colonel’s cakes so unique, and thereby perfect for any couple about to tie the knot.

Ahead, he walks PS through his typical wedding season agenda and describes what it’s like to be a pastry chef during such a busy time.

PS: What does a typical wedding cake tasting look like for you?
Daniel Colonel: I always like to begin with a call or Zoom to get a sense of the couple’s love story and flavor preferences. I ask them their favorite travel stories, memories, desserts they enjoy — anything really. The cake is a story of the couple, and I am here to help tell it. I also stray couples away from choosing “vanilla-vanilla” because they feel like they have to.

Then, during the actual tasting, the couple will typically taste four flavors. This is the fun part. I get to know the couple more and they get to enjoy cake. We talk about their love story, design, and they hopefully decide on a flavor.

Courtesy of Daniel Colonel

Daniel’s wedding tasting cake sample.

PS: Are you noticing any wedding cake trends for 2024 that feel particularly brand-new or exciting?
DC: That’s a tough question. Similar to fashion, cakes go through trends as well. Something that came back a couple years ago is the “lambeth/vintage piped” cake, which I really enjoy doing. I feel like I am seeing a lot of different buttercream textured cakes, and couples are more adventurous with flavors.

PS: What are some of the most memorable wedding cakes you’ve created and why are they favorites?
DC: If I had to pick three: 1). The green cake with copper and sugar flowers because I just loved the color palette. Not every wedding cake has to be white, and this cake was perfect for an autumn wedding. The jewel tones, different types of sugar flowers, copper accent, and the flavor. The cake was a brown butter spice cake with salted caramel buttercream and spiced apple compote.

2). The exposed brick cake. When you work for others, it’s hard to differentiate and set yourself apart, but this cake felt very “me.” The exposed brick texture and sugar flower arrangement felt very whimsical, and the couple was overjoyed (as was I).

3). The square cake. I usually rely on sugar flowers to make fanciful cakes. I never want to copy another style, and since the couple didn’t want flowers, textured fondant, or buttercream, this cake was a challenge for me. The wedding was at The Plaza, which is a very special venue for me. When I was an intern back in 2011 at RBI Cakes, the cake delivery I assisted on was at The Plaza, and I hoped that someday I would be back with a wedding cake that I created. This architectural cake of different lines, bold colors, and gold accents really fit the “Gay Gatsby” theme of the wedding. To top it all off, and to my surprise, this cake was also published in the Financial Times!

Courtesy of Daniel Colonel

Daniel’s “Gay Gatsby” square cake for a wedding at The Plaza Hotel.

PS: What makes your wedding cakes stand out from others in the business?
DC: The cake is one of the first things I notice when I walk into a wedding. It’s also the last thing people enjoy before they leave, so it should be memorable and amazing. The cake should tell a story about the couple. Dessert has this magical ability to unlock memories and create new experiences. I want to make sure the wedding cake encapsulates the essence of the couple. I do have a menu of interesting flavors, but can also make custom flavors — all of which are familiar, yet elevated.

“Dessert has this magical ability to unlock memories and create new experiences. I want to make sure the wedding cake encapsulates the essence of the couple.”

Everything I make is from scratch and incorporates high quality ingredients. When it comes to design, I like to collaborate with the couple. Of course, every cake is going to have my personal style on it, but I think every couple is going to have a very personal experience from the first email to the last bite. Every cake I make, my entire heart and soul goes into it.

PS: You’re also a pastry chef. Have you created any pastries, alternative to a cake, for a wedding that stray off the beaten path?
DC: During June, I love making Pride-themed desserts. I made these “Pride Cones,” and there was a couple that wanted them for a wedding as favors. I displayed them all in a row to create a rainbow on the table, which was really fun. I also love making my luxury cookies. Testing different flavors and seeing the joy it brings people when they bite into them brings me so much joy. I have taken a break from them, but will return with new flavors soon.

Courtesy of Daniel Colonel

Daniel’s exposed brick cake and green cake with copper.

PS: Come wedding season, how do you balance your time as a pastry chef when you have orders you need to fill on top of tastings and cakes to make?
DC: When you have a business, you wear a lot of hats. As a creative person, sometimes it is hard to keep myself organized. I am constantly thinking about different flavor profiles, things to bake, ways to market . . . and I also teach baking and pastry part time as an adjunct instructor. I will say, I couldn’t do what I do without the support from my family and friends. My sister helps me with my calendar and communications and my brother helps with my quickbooks and taxes. I am used to planning for the current week, but now that I am keeping busy, I need to plan further out and discipline myself to stay on track.

PS: What has been your biggest learning since starting the wedding cake portion of your business?
DC: Patience, but that is with any business. Some months can be busier than others. After you are busy with projects, it’s important to take some time to relax. Being efficient with your time while it’s slow is also just as important. Using that time to bring in more business and pushing through is a challenge, but rewarding.

PS: What would someone be most surprised to discover about the wedding cake industry?
DC: I certainly think it’s the amount of time and money that go into making a cake. Before I begin baking, there is a lot of time spent emailing, talking on the phone, sketching, and tasting. All of the planning is so important though. I want to make sure every couple are happy with their cake and receive a very personal and special experience throughout the process.

Sarah Wasilak is the associate director of commerce at PS. With plenty of experience in the shopping market, a keen interest in SEO, and 10 years as an editor at the brand, she enjoys writing across the lifestyle and health-and-fitness categories. She has bylines at PS, InStyle, Elle, Refinery29, Who What Wear, Elite Daily, Byrdie, and The Quality Edit and aims to amplify minority voices in all her work.

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