From white-on-white to the look of lace, cakes are skewing traditional this season. But there's still room for fun.

Not one to be shy, Emily Beuerlein was straightforward-and pretty adamant-about what she wanted in a wedding cake. There would be no cupcakes, no dessert table, no bite-sized sweets. She wanted the whole shebang-a big, multi-tiered, oh-so-traditional, picture-perfect wedding cake. "I wanted my cake. My big, classic wedding cake," Beuerlein says.

Beuerlein, who married husband Jacob in July 2012 at St. Brigid of Kildare, even found the precise design-the cake blueprint, so to speak-for the towering confection she so desired. "I found the design I wanted but it was in the wrong colors," Beuerlein says. "So I Photoshopped [the image] so the fondant bow was the exact color of blue that I wanted. I gave it to my cake baker and said, 'Here, this is what I want.' "

Her baker, The Cake Studio in Powell, worked with Beuerlein to make her dream cake a reality-a three-tiered cake enveloped in white fondant that was detailed to look quilted and all wrapped up with a big blue fondant bow, punctuated with a sparkling antique brooch.

"My guests absolutely loved it," Beuerlein says. "Everyone thought it was so pretty."

Breaking Tradition (And Keeping It, Too)

Although Beuerlein's classic white confection was a hit, for today's weddings, anything goes. From traditional takes on the show-stopping centerpiece to trendy and outside-of-the-box cakes, it's really up to each couple's personal taste.

Says Amanda Field, owner of Sugar is Sweet Cakes in Dublin, "I can do dessert displays or really big cakes. Every bride is different." Field grew up in Youngstown, where cookie displays and bite-sized desserts are all the rage, but she notes that in Columbus, brides tend to prefer the tall, lean look of a multi-tiered cake. "That's what's in right now-a big cake with neutral colors," Field says. Also trending? The vintage look, with textural designs that mimic pearls, lace and bows.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mollie Fankhauser-who, along with Kelly Fankhauser, co-owns the new Kittie's Cakes in German Village-is busy livening up wedding receptions with her mini-cupcakes. "We've done hundreds of them for weddings," Fankhauser says. "Couples like them because [the cakes] are so small they can offer a number of different flavors and get a really nice variety. Often people do a small, two-tiered cutting cake surrounded by the little cupcakes."

According to Gary Baisden of Capital City Cakes, located in Grove City, there aren't hard and fast rules for today's cake design. "One bride will love a simple white-on-white cake with an understated border. The next one will come in wanting a cake with all the spills and thrills and sparkly jewelry," Baisden says.

In general, though, cakes today seem to sport a sleek, simple look with various textures incorporated into the icing.

Says Christina Pisanelli Jones of Bella Luna Cakes & Confections, "The simplistic look is in. People seem to want more handwork on the cake, a more organic feel." For Pisanelli Jones this means lots of scrolling handwork, lacework and drawing on the cake.

Michelle Sauer of Sauer Cakes in Gahanna says brides often personalize their cakes with design elements from the rest of their wedding. "We definitely use something from the dress or the invitation as a good jumping-off point for building an idea for their cake," Sauer says.

Adorning cakes with jewelry-or "cake bling"-is still popular. "I'm still using a lot of bling, a lot of shiny, sparkly stuff on the cakes," Sauer says. "Maybe we'll do a rhinestone band around a tier, or a cake stand decorated with rhinestones all the way around-things that bring in a little sparkle and shine."

Beuerlein, for example, spent hours scouring antique stores to find the perfect silver brooch to provide some pop to her fondant bow.

Bakers have other tricks of the trade to give cakes an added shimmer and shine. Sauer, for example, sometimes sprinkles her cakes with a product called disco dust or pearl dust. "It makes the whole cake sparkle when the lights are dim," she says.

Sue Baisden of Capital City Cakes says she's seeing a lot of sequins and brooches used to achieve a nostalgic look. "We can also do edible jewels made of fondant with pearl dust," she says.

A Tall Order

A few years ago, cake shapes ran the gamut. In fact, many cakes were made of tiers of different shapes, like a square tier topped by a hexagon tier topped by a round tier. Today, cake shapes are looking to the past.

"For the most part, girls want a streamlined, clean look, so they're going for the same shape for all of their tiers," Sauer says. "The majority of them want round tiers, and the trend is to steer clear of other shapes. That makes the cakes very sophisticated."

A key consideration of cake design and size is of course the size of the reception room. "The venue makes a difference," Field says. "If the reception is in a big ballroom I don't recommend a small, bite-size cake. The cake has to fit the venue."

Sauer's recent requests have included a number of tall four-tiered cakes, due in part to the big ballrooms being used for receptions. She's even creating a five-tiered confection to fill up a reception at the Ohio Statehouse.

Taste Test

No matter how gorgeous the cake looks, it's the taste that really wows wedding guests. Beuerlein says that her guests were absolutely blown away when they tasted her wedding cake-each tier included French vanilla and milk chocolate layers separated by chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries and covered in a delectable buttercream icing.

As for what's been selling well, flavors with a nod to the traditional white wedding cake are popular. Sugar is Sweet Cakes offers a vanilla bean cake with vanilla icing and a pink champagne cake with a white-chocolate icing. Bella Luna Cakes' most popular is an almond-amaretto confection. And Sauer Cakes' brides love the white almond cake.

But flavors take off-big time-from there.

Sugar is Sweet Cakes offers 50 different flavors for couples to sample-from cappuccino cake with mocha icing to enticing flavors like salted caramel, carrot ginger, dark fudge, red velvet, banana nut and even rainbow cake. Fillings range from fresh-fruit to strawberry cream, chocolate ganache, marshmallow and a classic American favorite-apple pie.

One of Capital City Cakes' brides requested a cake filled completely with fruit. "We hollowed out the cake tier and filled it with all kinds of fresh fruit, like strawberries, blueberries, kiwi and pineapple," Sue Baisden says.

The flavors at Kittie's Cakes are some of the most unique. Fankhauser's mouthwatering creations include fluffernutter (white cake with a peanut-butter center topped with fluffy icing and crushed peanuts), banana cream (banana cake filled with vanilla pudding topped with fluffy icing and crushed vanilla wafers), hot chocolate (chocolate cake with a spicy milk-chocolate ganache center topped with milk-chocolate icing and crushed Redhots), stout mocha (chocolate stout cake topped with espresso buttercream and garnished with a chocolate-covered espresso bean) and white lavender (white cake made with Ohio lavender topped with vanilla buttercream and garnished with a lavender bud).

With so many decisions-flavor, number of tiers, overall aesthetic-it's important to start with a serious brainstorming session that includes your baker. After all, they possess the design know-how you need.

And according to Capital City Cakes' Gary Baisden, the sky's the limit. "If you can dream it up we can make a cake out if it."

Planning Makes Perfect

With stunning, individualized designs and delectable flavors, contemporary wedding cakes are more than a sweet treat-they're modern works of art. Wedding cakes typically take several days to painstakingly bake and decorate in order to create a one-of-a-kind, edible masterpiece. Because of that personal attention, most bakers limit the number of cakes they bake each weekend. So it's wise to book early, especially if you're planning to wed during a busy season.

If your nuptials will take place in the summer, Sauer suggests booking a baker nine months out.

As for budget, most buttercream cakes at Central Ohio bakeshops start around $3 to $5 per serving, with prices going up from there depending on the extensiveness of the design, the ingredients and, of course, the baker.

For a large reception it's common-and economical-to showcase a three-tiered decorated cake and have double-layer sheet cakes hidden away in the kitchen to supplement the number of servings needed. These stacked sheet cakes, once cut and placed on a plate, look just like a piece of the decorated wedding cake-but they help keep the dessert within budget.

For Tradition's Sake

Once you've fed each other a ceremonial bite of cake and wedding guests have devoured your delectable dessert, one question remains. Should you follow the age-old tradition and save the top tier of the cake to enjoy on your one-year anniversary? Or will the cake get stale after staying in the deep freeze for 12 months?

According to bakers, about half of today's brides opt to save the top layer to enjoy later, while others serve the entire cake at the reception or even take the top tier with them to savor on the honeymoon. Some bakers will even offer to make a small one-year anniversary cake for the couple to enjoy exactly one year later.

Always fond of sentimental customs, the Beuerleins have their cake's top tier nestled safely in the freezer awaiting their first anniversary. "It might not taste great, but I just love the tradition," she says.

Gettingto know you

How do you choose a cake baker? Begin by checking out local cake bakers' websites and perusing galleries to get a feel for the designs they've created and the style for which they're known. If taste is important, request a tasting to sample a few of the bakers' favorite flavors. Sitting down and brainstorming with a baker is another good way to see if you click. Beyond that, Michelle Sauer of Sauer Cakes says that it's important to ask the right questions. Here are her suggestions for what to ask on your first bakery visit.

Price is important-find out if the baker is within your budget, or can work with you to meet your budget.

When will the cake be baked? Does the baker bake your cake ahead of time and freeze it? Or is it made fresh a couple hours or days before the wedding?

When will your cake be delivered? Is there an extra charge for delivery? Will the baker set up the cake table so everything is ready for the reception guests?

Likewise, bakers like to find out a few things about the bride and groom before embarking on a cake-creating adventure. Sauer likes to see a photo of the bride's gown, color swatches, photos from magazines, a sample of their invitation, and a picture of the bridesmaid dresses so she can get a feel for the style of the entire day.

Sue Baisden of Capital City Cakes likes to get a glimpse of the bride's personality, too. "Is she traditional or fun and funky?" she asks. "Her unique personality can be reflected in their cake."