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Wedding Cakes and Elasticity



“Say it’s for a wedding and the price doubles.” You’ve probably heard people say that. It refers to many different aspects of the event: the venue, the band, the food, and (of course) the cake.


Why is this? There are many factors at play: the popularity of the dates, the fact that it is typically on a Saturday night in optimal seasons, the cost of making a four layer cake, etc. The focus of this lesson is on another reason: the sensitivity of the bride to prices. People getting married (and stereotypically the brides), are particular about the wedding day. They want everything PERFECT. What this translates to is a decreased sensitivity to price, or lower elasticity.



Imagine you find the bakery with your favorite cake. If it’s for your 24th birthday party and they quote you $500, you might laugh at them. Do you really need a $500 birthday cake? Probably not. But, if it’s for your wedding, sure! Remember, you want it to be PERFECT.


What else could affect this price sensitivity? Well, weddings are expensive. Everyone knows that. You likely have a budget for your wedding. The Knot estimates that the average wedding cost $40,000 and the cake cost $500 in 2018. That budget will be greater than your 24th birthday party. Let's imagine you want a really nice 24th birthday party, and you’ve budgeted $1,000. That $500 cake is half of your total budget! A pretty sizable fraction. Now for your wedding, let's imagine you’ve budgeted $20,000. The $500 cake is only 2.5% of your budget. A much smaller fraction.


Both of these factors cause the elasticity (or responsiveness to prices) to be lower for weddings: preferences and share of budget. A smaller share of a budget, the less sensitive you are to prices.


I’m not saying that people are completely price insensitive. If a bakery charges $500, or even $2,000, not everyone will buy it. Some couples will decide to ask a friend (me!) to make it for them, or have an ice cream bar instead (my favorite thing at a wedding). But, there will be people willing to pay that much. Even more than people that would be willing to pay for a 24th birthday.


This responsiveness also relates to the revenue a firm makes when they increase the price. Revenue for the bakery is the price of the cake times the number of cakes. When the bakery decides to increase the price of a cake, it has to consider that fewer people will buy from them. If a bakery is faced with customers that do not respond to increases in prices very much, they can increase their revenue by raising the price. Meanwhile, they are producing fewer cakes because some people decided not to buy from them, so their costs will go down! Win – win! Profits will go up.


Now, just to be clear, prices can’t just continue to rise forever – there will be a point where as price goes up, revenue starts to go down. The increase in price doesn’t cover the decrease in quantity. A consumer would be called elastic at this point.


Overall, my takeaway for you. Next time you hear how much a wedding cake costs, don’t think “that’s outrageous!” Think … “that’s economics!”


________________________


Homemade Wedding Cake


I’ve been lucky enough to make a few wedding cakes. Just to be clear, mine don’t look like the fancy ones you see in glamourous hotel weddings. Mine are much more real. I’m not going to lie, it is pretty stressful. But, ultimately, it’s pretty amazing to be a small part of someone’s PERFECT day.


For the three weddings I’ve helped with, at least one of the cakes has been a white cake infused with lemon flavor, strawberries in the middle, white chocolate filling, and a cream cheese icing.


You could easily cover the whole thing in the white chocolate icing filing, but the first time I was making this for a wedding the icing wasn’t coming together, and I had fears of it just melting down the side. I rushed to the store to buy more ingredients for cream cheese icing and went with it.


This is a great special occasion cake. Try it out!


Cake (adapted from "Bake Me Blush")


2 1/2 cups cake flour 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 1/2 cup vegetable shortening 1 3/4 cups white sugar 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 1 large egg 1 1/2 cups ice cold water 3 large egg whites, room temperature 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottoms of three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Spray with non-stick spray.


In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.


In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and shortening. You want it to get light and creamy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat again. Don't worry about beating too long -- you want it to go for a few minutes.


Add egg and then beat again. Slowly add 1/3 flour mixture. Then half of the ice water. Next, add 1/3 flour mixture. Then the second half of the water. Finally, add the final 1/3 of flour (you want to end with flour mixture).


Add this point, I pour the mixture into another bowl and clean off my beater and mixing blowl. With the whisk beater, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar. You want soft peaks to form.


Gently fold the egg whites into the original batter.


Divide batter into each of the three cake pans. Bake in pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. Be sure and check a few minutes before and let it go a little bit longer if it isn't done. You'll know it is done when a toothpick inserted into the cake is clean.


Allow cakes to cool for about 20 minutes. Remove cakes from pans -- they should come out cleanly with the parchment paper!


Now... let's make the first icing!


White Chocolate Icing

(if you want to do the whole thing in this icing, just triple it!)

1/2 cups white sugar 2 Tbsp. cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cups milk 2 Tbsp. heavy cream 1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into Tbsps.

2 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


In a small saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour. Add the milk and cream and put on the stove over medium heat. Whisk over the heat until the mixture thickens and boils slightly.


Pour the mixture into a stand mixer and beat until the mixture cools. Add the softened butter and continue to beat.


Meanwhile, put the white chocolate in a microwavable bowl. Heat for 20 seconds, then stir. Repeat two more times. Chocolate will likely be melted by now, but if it is not, continue at 10 second increments.


Add the white chocolate to the stand mixer. Also add the vanilla extra.


Continue to beat until comes together.


Cream Cheese Icing (from SmittenKitchen)


8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 1/2 cup (1 stick), butter room temperature 3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Beat the cream cheese and butter until completely mixed. Add the sugar and vanilla extra. Start the mixer on low first so the sugar doesn't fly everywhere. Continue to beat until done.


Assembly


Slice up about 10 strawberries into a bowl. Add two tablespoons of sugar and the juice from one lemon.


Put down one layer of cake. Layer slices of strawberries on top. Pour half of lemon/sugar juice on top. Add 1/2 of white chocolate icing on top of strawberries.


Place second cake layer on top of icing. Layer on the rest of the strawberry slices and pour over the lemon/sugar juice. Add the rest of the white chocolate icing.


Place the third cake layer on top. Cover the whole thing in a thin layer of cream cheese icing (about 1/3 to 1/2 of the icing). Place in the refrigerator for 1/2 an hour. Then, using a offset spatula, cover the rest of the cake in icing.


Keep the cake in the refrigerator until about 4 hours until before you will serve. ** Note, I made this cake for a friend about a month ago. I made it on Tuesday evening, kept it refrigerated as much as possible, and she served it at her family wedding on Friday. It was still good!

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