HOW TO CREATE A CHIC SWEETS SPREAD FOR YOUR WEDDING DAY
Toni Marie Cox, proprietress of Toni Patisserie & Café and Chicago’s O.G. pastry chef, talks sweets table trends and summer cake flavors she loves—and how to keep it classy.
By Elise Hofer Shaw
Toni Marie Cox, the master baker and proprietress behind Chicago’s beloved Toni Patisserie & Café, has been turning out lovely—and oh-so tasty!—sweetscapes and wedding cakes for more than 25 years. She has a keen eye for style and balance, and a seasoned palate for flavor combinations that hit all the right notes. She’s also a natural born perfectionist and a lover of all things Parisian. From farmhouse-chic spreads boasting petit pies to fanciful ballroom fetes featuring couture cakes and classic French pastries, Cox never misses when it comes to making sweet dreams a reality for weddings near and far. For summer 2020, she’s forecasting a trend toward smaller wedding cakes paired with substantial mini sweets—and ample greenery and twinkling votives for on-point polish. Here, Chicago Loft Venues poses some poignant questions for setting a big-day dessert scene that wows…
Why are couples choosing to go with smaller wedding cakes combined with sweets tables?
TMC: I’m seeing a trend toward more casual celebrations. Couples still want the tradition of a wedding cake and the cutting ceremony, but they want to offer their guests choices for desserts, too. Having a sweets table allows for your guests to get up and mingle sooner after dinner. They don’t need to wait around for the dessert to be served to them, and they can decide when they want to eat it while picking and choosing their portions and the types of dessert they want. Best of all, they can get up and start dancing sooner!
When thinking about what to have on your sweets table, what should couples consider?
TMC: Sweets tables should reflect the personality and preferences of the couple. Say the groom loves pie but the bride loves cake… Then you should have both! Or, for example, let’s say the couple met in France and love Parisian pastries. Then I would recommend a colorful macaron tower and maybe some chocolate eclairs because these flavors would be embedded in their love story. Sharing that connection with your guests will make the experience that more special—and memorable.
Photo credit: Natalie Probst
What if the couple doesn’t have a sweets trend or theme in mind… Are there any specific sweets trending for summer 2020 weddings? Or seasonal favorites you can suggest?
TMC: Macarons are always popular. We do seasonal collections and they can be tinted to coordinate with the colors of your wedding. Sweet summer macaron flavors include pink lemonade, peach, strawberry and lavender honey. I really like mixing in some hand-painted floral or fruit macarons, too. And we can carry the trend across the sweets presentation with a hand-painted, ‘watercolor’ wedding cake.
To fill out the table, I recommend fresh summer fruit desserts like fresh fruit tarts, citrus desserts like Key lime tarts, lemon squares, raspberry meringues, mini strawberry shortcakes or strawberry cream puffs, and fresh fruit skewers. Chocolate-dipped strawberries are fun and can be decorated in lots of different ways. For an upcoming rustic farm wedding, we are doing an assortment of pies—three types of fresh berry pies plus cherry almond streusel, Key lime, french silk and coconut cream.
Do you consider the sweets table to be an extension of the overall decor?
TMC: Definitely. The sweet table can and should become a cohesive part of the decor, where the colors and theme of the wedding can be represented. At Toni Patisserie & Cafe, we can style the sweets table for you or work with your florist and planner. We have our own cake stands, trays and other display pieces available for rent. I like to see a variety of heights on a sweet table, with fresh flowers tucked into the displays and votives or string lights for added sparkle. Flowers and votives are a simple addition that add big impact. And since we offer a variety of serving pieces in different styles—minimal, rustic, vintage, etc.—we can run with your theme.
Photo credit: Natalie Probst
What are the important things to keep in mind to make a sweets table visual and work with the overall look of the wedding?
TMC: Start by thinking about the overall style of the wedding. Is your vibe modern and minimal? Rustic? Or do you have a period theme like an art deco roaring ’20s theme? What are your colors? Covering these topics during your sweets consultation is a great place to start. Then we’ll collaborate with you or your planner to fold in a few of your signature decor elements like flowers, signage or even an attention-grabbing backdrop.
Let’s talk about the floor plan… Where in the room do you suggest setting up a sweets table?
TMC: First of all, you want to make sure people don’t miss the sweets table, so position it someplace prominent. Make it enticing and part of your decor rather than hidden in a dark corner. If your table is going to be in a different room from the main reception, make sure the DJ or band announces when it is open. Also, consider the backdrop. Think about placing your sweets table in front of an interesting piece of artwork, or perhaps beneath a window overlooking a garden. If you’re working with a brick wall, consider adding a floral wall piece or a banner with a significant saying. In the end, you want your sweets table to be accessible—and thoughtful of the flow of people coming and going.
Photo credit: Gerber Scarpelli
Should the cake be the centerpiece?
TMC: I like sweets tables where the cake is the centerpiece, and I think having the cake cutting tradition at the sweets table is a nice backdrop for photos. But a lot of couples still want to have the cake in the center of the dance floor for the cake cutting and that’s nice, too. I always advise with smaller cakes that you elevate the cake on a pedestal stand so it stands out in the room and, when they are cutting, it’s visible to people throughout the room.
Any advice for cake flavor combinations? And in terms of a smaller size cake, what size are we talking about? How many slices?
TMC: For summer weddings, I think it’s nice to have a light cake. Our lemon mousse and raspberry preserve cake is a nice combination. One of our more popular cakes is our Belgian white chocolate mousse. By adding fresh strawberries it becomes the perfect summer dessert that appeals to many people.
Just because you are opting for a small cake doesn’t mean it has to be just one tier. A three-tier cake—4 inches, 6 inches and 8 inches—gives you height and allows you to keep the top tier for the anniversary. The rest of the cake is only 28 servings. Some couples will choose to have a slightly larger cake, say enough servings for a third of the guests. The cake slices are added to the sweets table and figured into the number of pieces of sweets per person. We will happily do the math for you.
Photo credit: Gerber Scarpelli
How does it work with different budgets and different size guest counts?
TMC: A sweets table can be for any size budget. Whenever a couple tells me that they are considering a smaller wedding cake and a sweets table, I ask them if they have a budget per person in mind for the sweets. I talk to them about how many pieces per person they should consider. For smaller budgets, there are always ways to keep the cost down, like asking family members to supplement the offerings with homemade desserts, or by providing your own display pieces. And keep in mind, there are no cutting fees when you opt for a sweets table.
Tell us about one of your favorite sweets tables that you’ve done for a summer wedding?
TMC: One of my all-time favorite summer sweets tables was for a photographer friend of mine. She wanted a statement sweets table. One of thematic elements of her wedding was butterflies. We incorporated those into three ‘piece montes’ [centerpieces]. All three were white with gold butterflies—a croquembouche, a meringue tower and a macaron tower. Other elements of the wedding were brought into the additional sweets, such as the French blue petit fours with their monogram pressed into a fondant piece to look like the wax seal that the bride used for the invitations. Also, a floral element was added to their cookies in the form of a confetti of flower petals, dried fruits and nuts. We also layered in some of the couple’s favorite desserts including lemon curd tarts and chocolate shortbread cookies filled with chocolate hazelnut paste. The finishing touch that pulled the whole design together was a hand-calligraphed scroll backdrop with ascending butterflies on the wall next to it. And a beautiful floral piece was positioned on the table just at the base of the rising butterflies. It was perfection!
Photo credit: Natalie Probst
If a couple comes to you requesting a gluten-free cake and sweets, can you accommodate?
TMC: We offer many sweets that are naturally gluten-free—macarons, meringues, chocolate salted caramel cups, chocolate mousse cups, raspberry meringues and our flourless chocolate cake. We also work with a gluten-free bakery that produces gluten-free cupcakes and cakes.
If budget were no option, what would your dream sweetscape look like?
TMC: Many of our clients want the sweets to make a statement. They want it ‘visual.’ My dream sweetscape would have many assorted French elements to it, such as a beautiful French paneled wall with a gorgeous vintage sideboard to display the desserts on. The sideboard would be partially framed with hanging florals and vines coming all the way down one side of the table pooling on the floor. The centerpiece would be an elegant wedding cake with two macaron towers on either side. This trio would be studded with beautiful sugar paste flowers. An array of equally elegant desserts such as small cakes, truffles, tarts and eclairs would be placed in front and to the sides of the taller centerpieces. All of the cakes, sweets and florals would be in white and cream tones with gold, blush and soft green accents, and all displayed on lovely vintage silver, gold and glass serving pieces. Nothing says elegant to me more than Old World style.