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Groom's cakes no longer just simple or Southern

Baseball stadiums, poker chips and racks of saucy ribs don't usually come to mind when you think "wedding." But these manly pursuits have found their way to the dessert table through a new breed of groom's cake that is more elaborate and personal than ever.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Baseball stadiums, poker chips and racks of saucy ribs don't usually come to mind when you think "wedding." But these manly pursuits have found their way to the dessert table through a new breed of groom's cake that is more elaborate and personal than ever.

Traditionally a gift from the bride to her new husband, the groom's cake was usually a simple affair, made with fruit and liquor, and perhaps chocolate. It is believed to have originated in Victorian England and arrived in the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became popular mostly in the South.

Take today's trend of highly personalized weddings, add the fact that more grooms are involved in wedding planning, and throw in the popularity of extreme baking shows such as TLC network's "Cake Boss," and you'll find that humble groom's cakes have evolved into works of edible art.

While traditionalists still honor the groom with a plain, round cake, many couples are ordering cakes in the groom's favorite flavor and in the shape of golf clubs, fishing gear, football helmets, smart phones, and guys-night foods like burgers, pizza and hot dogs.

"It's really about the groom's interests and his hobbies and something that's reflective of the groom," said Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings. "A wedding is about the two of them. That's one detail that can be all about the groom."

After last spring's royal wedding, at which Britain's Prince William requested a groom's cake made of biscuits, the popularity of the cakes among U.S. couples is likely to get another boost, Miller said.

"All eyes were on that wedding," she said. "I think (William's) groom's cake will definitely help inspire the growing trend here."

Groom's cakes originally were served at weddings. Today, they also appear at rehearsal dinners or day-after brunches. Wedding planner Tara Guerard, who owns Soiree in Charleston, S.C., urges her couples to enjoy the groom's cake at the rehearsal dinner to give the groom a night in the spotlight, so his cake doesn't get overshadowed by the big white one.

"A lot of our grooms want this groom's cake," she said. "It's really important to them."

Women sometimes keep their grooms in the dark about the cake; other men help select it with their fiancees while choosing a wedding cake.

John Keenan wasn't interested in having a groom's cake for his August wedding in Baton Rouge, La., but his fiancee persisted. "We have to have something that puts you in the picture, too," his wife, Ashley, 26, recalled telling him.

Pushed to choose, Keenan, 31, asked their baker if she could create the only design he could imagine for himself: Yankee Stadium.

"I almost fell down," Keenan said, upon seeing the highly detailed cake. "It was more than I could have asked for."

Being a native New Yorker in Louisiana is "such an odd thing," Keenan said, in the drawl of a true Southerner. "The fact that I was able to put a New York twist (on the wedding) ... it was really nice."

Like Keenan's confection celebrating the Yankees, these cakes often highlight something that reminds a guy of home.

Patrick Delaney wanted a groom's cake when he got married last year but was resigned to missing out when his fiancee told him they couldn't afford one. Instead, she surprised him at their rehearsal dinner in Alexandria, Va., with a cake touting his Kansas City roots.

It was shaped as a grill, with a sizzling rack of ribs and a bottle of barbecue sauce from his favorite childhood rib joint, Gates Bar-B-Q.

"I was amazed," said Delaney, 30. "It had even more weight because most of my groomsmen and the family members I had at the rehearsal dinner were from Kansas City."

Bob Hazlet, originally from Ohio, also was surprised at his wedding last year in Memphis, Tenn., with a groom's cake that looked like his iPhone 4. His bride had the apps personalized: the Cincinnati Bengals, Ohio State, bowling and Chuck Taylors (he wore a pair at the wedding).

"That got more compliments and comments after we posted the photos than anything else," said Hazlet, 32. "I hang around in those geek circles, and even folks there were pretty excited."

With so much information about weddings available in magazines, online and on TV, more couples are aware of the groom's cake tradition, and the cakes are now being sliced and served in many parts of the country, not just the South, Miller said.

Rachael Myers, owner and baker at Sweet Tooth Confections, a small, custom-order bakery in Alviso, Calif., says the number of groom's cakes she made nearly doubled from summer 2010 to summer 2011, with about 60 percent of couples now ordering them. Her couples mostly learned about groom's cakes through cake-baking shows or real weddings posted online, she said. They order cakes shaped into guitars, baseball hats and gloves, and vintage cars.

"Here in California, it's not about the cake itself, it's about what can we create out of cake that the groom is just going to fall over on," Myers said.

"People are starting to realize it's really more of an art form than anything else," she said.

Even in the South, Kyleen Kiger-Smith, who owns Fairy Dust Cakes in Denham Springs, La., and baked Keenan's Yankee Stadium cake, says just one in 10 groom's cakes she makes is the old-fashioned kind.

Because of the elaborate work, her groom's cakes, though smaller than most wedding cakes, usually cost $10 to $12 a serving, compared to $5.50 per slice of wedding cake. But price is not holding her couples back, Kiger-Smith said.

Many, she said, "realize how much time these cakes take and they're willing to pay for them, and they're willing to outdo the wedding they just went to."