Beyond The Cake: Wedding desserts trend toward fun, variety

While the big, traditional wedding cake shows no signs of going away, many couples are also including an array of sweet little bites at their receptions.

It's an opportunity for newlyweds to show who they are, says Jennifer Cress, digital director at Martha Stewart Weddings.

"We're seeing many couples include sweets that say something about their relationship, like a family cookie recipe, or their go-to ice cream flavor," she says. "Every couple wants to personalize their wedding day as much as possible, and dessert is an easy way to do that."

Los Angeles couple Lauren Aust and Sonny Yuen did just that for their Kansas City, Missouri, wedding this summer.

"We used food as a vehicle to help tell our story," Aust says. "Dinner stations were themed after some of our favorite New York food adventures.

"I saw the same opportunity with dessert. When our caterer mentioned they used doughnut holes from Lamar's (a Kansas City shop) to do a flambee station, if seemed a nice way to give guests a taste of my hometown and create a moment that was experiential."

Desserts allow for culinary creativity — things like cake lollies, mini milkshakes, churros and alcoholic ice pops. And they give guests the chance to sample quick treats before getting back to the center of the party.

Meghan Leese, who plans and runs weddings in Chicago and New Jersey, says, "The cake is only important for about half of the weddings we do. It's more about the dessert bar, with the cake as one of the options."

WeddingWire's creative director Jeffra Trumpower agrees. "Couples want to make things less pretentious and more fun," she says.

Among her favorite trends for the wedding sweet table is one she calls "breakfast for dessert" — mini waffles, pancakes or crepe stacks decked out with fresh fruit, whipped cream and other accompaniments.

"It's the perfect 'wake-up call' for a surge of energy," she says. "You can easily pop these treats in your mouth and head back to the dance floor."

Trumpower says comfort and nostalgia are in. There are make-your-own s'mores stations, self-serve hot chocolate, and top-your-own mini pies with seasonal fruits.

New Yorker Amanda Scott went to a wedding on Long Island recently where nobody wanted to sit and eat. "Servers came around the dance floor with apple pie shooters and little macaroons. People loved it!"

Margaret Foster of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, attended a September wedding in which the couple did without the cake entirely, to save money, concentrating their budget on venue, photographer and DJ. "There was a table with plates of mini desserts like cannolis, doughnuts, cheesecake and brownie bites. I loved how unique and intimate it all was — more about the bride, groom and their loved ones than wedding traditions," she says. "They also provided little pastry bags for guests to take desserts home."

Cress says the dessert-as-wedding-favor is another trend.

As are food stations. "They're entertaining, and make the day feel a little more bespoke," Cress says. "Other than make-your-own options, one-bite desserts seem to be growing in popularity. I think with couples offering so many different food choices, guests want to be able to sample it all."

And don't overlook the social-media value of a decked-out dessert table: "Desserts tend to be one of the most Instagrammable moments of the night," says Cress.