How much does a birthday cake cost?

As a bespoke cake maker, I get asked this question a lot and it’s a lot more than many would think.
But that’s not a particularly useful answer so I’m here to elaborate.
Multi-splash ready to order cake @mooreish.cakes

I have been making cakes for over 10 years and know how difficult and abstract the price of a bespoke cake can be. It is so easy, when faced with supermarket’s churning out novelty cakes, chain-patisseries creating beautiful fruit-adorned cakes and yummy market cakes to understand or predict what a personalised celebration cake is going to cost and assume it can’t be more than £30 or 40. Maybe £50 for a really nice one?
I myself, struggled with understanding how to price my own cakes for a while and fought particularly hard to overcome not valuing my worth. Surely, all I’ll be met with is shock, a slammed door in my face or rotten tomatoes hurled at my head if I quote that price?!
But this guide is here to break down exactly what goes into the cost of a cake, so that the next time you are enquiring with your local cake maker, you have a realistic idea of what to expect and there will be no nasty surprises!

So, what goes into the cost of a birthday cake?

4 basic ingredients and an evening’s work, right?!I wish!
When you order a bespoke celebration cake, there is much that goes into calculating the final price and not all of it is tangible, but every single element is essential. This is not a straight off the production line, one of many replicas, churned-out-by-a-supermarket £20 cake.

The ingredients of a birthday cake

Flavours: Salted Caramel cake, choclate cake, white chocolate and raspberry, Madagascan Vanilla, Lemon cake, Carrot cake with cinnamon buttercream frosting.
Flavour menu: Triple Salted Caramel, Fudgy Chocolate, White Chocolate & Raspberry, Vanilla, Lemon, Carrot Cake w. Cinnamon Frosting @mooreish.cakes

A good quality cake maker comes with good quality ingredients. These obviously cost more than the preservative-ridden stuff you might get in an ‘off the shelf’ cake.

For example, in my own cakes, I use a high-quality cake flour that provides each cake with a yummy tender crumb you just can’t achieve with own brand plain flour. I use real Madagascan vanilla bean pods to make my own vanilla essence and couture chocolate brand Callebaut in my ganache, chocolate cake and other chocolate decorations.

Beyond the basics, I use fresh lemons to make my lemon curd, fresh raspberries in my coulis filling for my white chocolate and raspberry cake (you must try this!) and the top end brand of fondant – Massa Tacino. This is how I achieve the smooth, flawless finish on my fondant covered cakes and it tastes delicious. More than once, I have had people say they don’t like fondant, only to taste my cake and be surprised at how yummy it is. They were thinking of the usual supermarket intensely sweet stuff you get on a store-bought cake. But this increase in flavour and quality, comes with an increase in price. Sometimes 3-4 times the price per ingredient.

Other ‘ingredients’ that don’t go into the cake itself, but still have to be factored into the baker’s costs: cake board, box, ribbon, the cling film used to wrap each layer, dishwasher tablets and washing up liquid, kitchen roll, electricity, gas, internet to respond to enquiries, insurance to ensure you and they are protected should something go wrong, marketing, business cards, water bill and so on. A percentage of all these has to be factored into every order as every order increases the usage of these elements.

OK, so the ingredients are better quality and cost a bit more, but what else makes up the final price?

Time – How long does a bespoke cake really take to make?

The largest contributor to the price of a bespoke celebration cake is the artist’s time.Every baker needs to be paid for their time – no one wants to work for less than minimum wage and neither should we.
This is often where people are surprised by a quote because it’s so easy to think in terms of price per servings or the size of the cake. But that has very minimal effect compared to the final design and decorating – this is where the time goes.
A three tier semi-naked buttercream cake could cost less than a single 6” cake if the single tier cake is covered in painted fondant, multiple figure toppers, a handmade name plaque and a luxury flavour, because of the time involved to create all the additional elements.
Let me build up from the beginning (this is actually how I start a base quote for my cakes):
Before the decorating even begins, a cake needs to reach its ‘Blank Canvas’ state. That is getting it coated in a smooth buttercream or fondant finish ready for decorating.

Smooth white chocolate ganache finish, ready for fondant - sharp edges.
Ganache to get a smooth coat @mooreish.cakes

For a buttercream cake, to get to this point, I need to do the following:

Design the cake,

Shop for ingredients,

Bake the cake,

Trim the cake,

Wrap the cake to cool,

Fill and stack the layers,

Crumb coat the cake (this means a thin coating of buttercream or ganache so that no pesky crumbs ruin the final look of your cake),

And then the final finish – multiple layers of buttercream to get it smooth and flawless.

Oh, and then all the washing up and cleaning afterwards.

If you have chosen a fondant finish design, it’s everything above but the final finish will involve: multiple layers of ganache until smooth and flawless, colour and roll out the fondant, smooth onto the cake and then work those sharp edges.

All of that gets you a blank cake!!! So before the decorating even begins, you are looking at about 3 hours of work (4 hours for a fondant finish).

I’m sure you can understand now why a bespoke cake maker isn’t selling cakes for £25.

As a mathematician (in addition to cake artist!) I can’t help but resist an opportunity for some sums:Imagine buying £25 for a cake from a bespoke cake designer. This is what they would be working for:

Let’s say it’s £5 for the ingredients

4 hours work for £20 (£25 – £5)

Would pay the cake maker £5 per hour (£20 / 4 hours) ……

And remember this isn’t even the take home pay as from this £20 we need to allocate a % towards the running costs of the business (as mentioned above: stuff like insurance, water rates, electricity, website hosting, WiFi, equipment etc AND tax and NI). So let’s round those additional costs up to about 20% which is £4 (of the £20) leaving a measly £16 for 4 hours work = £4 hourly wage….. Is this suitable for the craftsmanship that goes into making high flavour, bespoke cakes?

(Let’s up the cake to a £50 charge then; by the same calculations that comes out as £9 per hour – that’s still less than the National Living Wage!)

And not forgetting, those 4 hours get you a bare cake, with zero decoration!! Start adding on decorations and you’re looking at a wage of a few quid.

Who would be willing to work for that little?

An additional note, everything above is for one tier. Each tier (pretty much regardless of size, requires the same steps and so takes about the same time). So a BLANK three tier buttercream cake is 3 x 3 hours = 9 hours. You could maybe take 1 hour off as the design and shopping for ingredients will only happen once. But trust me, the washing up happens at least 3 times!

But does the addition of a few decorations really add that much time?
A single sugar rose takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how many I’m making and the size.

Sugar flower rose made from sugar florist paste in dusky pink
Sugarpase rose @mooreish.cakes

A model of an animal or person is easily 1-2 hours for each model.

Buttercream two tier wedding cake with sugar flowers and a cat bride and groom wedding cake topper
Hand-modelled sugarpaste cat bride and groom Wedding Cake @mooreish.cakes

Suddenly, the addition of just a couple of sugar flowers and one topper can double the time a single tier cake takes to make.
The cake below took about 10-12 hours to make from first designing it, to wiping away the last coating of icing sugar and boxing it up.

Fishing theme cake, airbrushed sea, edible seaweed and model replica fishing boat cake.
Sea fishing 6″ 50th birthday cake @mooreish.cakes

It only measured 6” in diameter and only needed to feed 6 people. But was covered in fondant, airbrushed, the model boat (made to look exactly like the recipient’s own boat) was handmade and entirely edible, each fish was individually made and hand painted, each seaweed ‘leaf’ was cut individually, the treasure chest, the ‘50’, the fishing rod – everything you see was made from scratch by my own two hands. I don’t say this for a pat on the back, but to highlight the level of detail and time that goes into a cake. Not to mention the love and tears when it goes right, but also goes wrong. I had never made a model boat before this one and so it took me a little while to decide how to do it and to get it looking right.
Often, a cake maker is doing something for the first time – I don’t mean we’ve never made a cake before, but maybe it’s the first time we’ve ever made a particular type of sugar flower, or we’ve not had to use a stencil before, or the weather is refusing to cool down and the buttercream is melting before our eyes so needs redoing, or we know how to make fondant models, but this customer wants an apuchan monkey which is a first.

Life size cat cake - entirely edible, even the whiskers!
Carved Cat Cake – Pet cakes @mooreish.cakes

I specialise in sculpted cakes and believe me there is a lot of trial and error that goes into much of cake making because as with all artistic areas, trends come and go and we have to keep up with the times. This does not mean I’m necessarily going to charge you an extra hour because I might have to redo a model or because you want your cake on a hot day – but this is still our time. And if a cake maker has already been pressured into lowering their price, these trials and errors will only eat into their minimal hourly wage further.

Experience, Skill and Profit

Something very hard to account for, not really included in a quote directly, but must still be considered is the experience and skill a cake maker is bringing to your cake.

Cake maker’s will vary in price for a similar design, and this will largely be down to their experience, skill and confidence in their worth.When I make a cake, I am bringing over 10 years of experience with me. Over the years I have practiced and developed and improved my skills, I have invested in myself and my business to better improve the cakes I produce and the service I provide. This means that when you order a cake from me, you are getting an exceptional cake and therefore I charge accordingly. This has not yet happened to me, but a common situation discussed amongst fellow cake makers goes something like:

Customer: “Another cake maker quoted a lower price for that design”
Cake Maker: “Then, can I recommend you go with that cake maker instead”
Customer: “But I prefer the look and taste of your cakes”

As the common saying goes, you get what you pay for. This is true for cakes as it is for much else. If you want a good quality cake, with high quality ingredients, well-made realistic decorations, stunning appearance, and a marvellous centrepiece for your event – then you will pay more.

Finally, if you want to buy a bespoke, completely personalised birthday cake in the future, cake businesses need to survive so that we can continue to provide you with marvellous creations, which leads me to the final ingredient of a cake’s price: profit. Every business needs to add on a profit percentage if they are to exist. This cannot come from our wage but must be a separate additional cost. Usually added as a percentage to the cost of the cake, this allows a cake maker to reinvest, grow their business, improve their skills, offer more and better services and generally improve the customer experience. Without profit, this can’t happen, the business will remain stagnant at best and disappear at worst. Profit is often thought of as a bit of a dirty word, “those multibillionaire companies not caring about anything but their profit margins”. But profit is necessary for every business’s survival.

When a cake designer quotes you a price – I am confident that we are not being greedy, we are not trying to swindle you. We know the quality of our ingredients, the quality of our work and artistry and know the value of our time and skill that contribute to the service we provide for you.

Giant pumpkin cake, balanced on it's vine, with fondant leaves
Gravity-defying pumpkin cake @mooreish.cakes

Every time a cake maker lowers their prices, a fondant fairy loses its wings.

Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all my clients, past and future, who value the work, dedication and service I provide.

Want to know more?

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You can check out some of my bespoke cakes here

And a guide to my starting prices here

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