At Pittsburgh Weddings, the Cookie Is King, but the Cake Has Its Place

Small cakes are all the rage, but small doesn’t have to mean simple.
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Stephanie Hnat says she and her husband Bill Van Cleef “are not cake people.” When it came time for their wedding, she didn’t think they’d even have a cake.

“Whenever I go to a wedding, I’m more focused on the cookie table, and I knew we were going to have a ton of cookies [at the wedding],” she says.

But to keep with tradition, she decided to order a cake for her wedding set for Nov. 7, 2020. She scheduled a tasting at Bethel Bakery for the same spring weekend in 2020 that the coronavirus pandemic shut down day-to-day life.

“That obviously got canceled, and I just thought, ‘OK, I guess we’re not doing a cake.’”

But as the pandemic lingered, her sister, Jessie, started baking cakes for family birthdays. Stephanie asked her if she’d be willing to make a small cake for their wedding.

The simple cake fit in with the vintage, rustic vibe Stephanie and Bill were aiming for with their day at Shady Elms Farm. It also ticked off other boxes: a small, personal cake for the bride and groom meant Stephanie and Bill got to choose a flavor that matched their preference — vanilla almond — and it meant guests could enjoy the other desserts without COVID concerns.

Vancleefwedding110720print 1174“Our cookie table was beyond elaborate,” Stephanie says. “Nobody went hungry, that’s for sure.”

She says looking back at the pictures, she’s glad they decided to go ahead with a cake, and it felt personal that her sister was the one to make it. It was important to the rest of her family too; her mom was thrown off by the thought of a cake-less wedding.

“I think it’s a generational thing,” Stephanie says. “My oldest sister, when she got married 10 years ago, it was a full, elaborate four-tier cake. My other sister got married about four years ago — they did away with the cake completely and they did a gelato bar instead.”

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To make the small cake pop and add a personal touch, Stephanie and Bill found a figurine of a dog that looked a little like their pup, Logan, to sit on top.




When Brianna Albert married Cole Puchi on Aug. 21, 2021, she enlisted longtime family friend and baker Joelle Sykes to craft something special.

Sykes, who has an art background but started baking more at home during the pandemic, was chronicling her burgeoning business, JoBakes, on Instagram.

“I’ve just been constantly impressed with what she makes and how she makes it,” Brianna says.

Sykes had been experimenting with rustic styles and kept coming across pressed edible flower cakes on Pinterest; she thought it would be perfect for Brianna and Cole’s outdoor reception held at Brianna’s parents’ house in Elizabeth. Brianna had a simple, woodsy decor theme in mind with lots of summer flowers.

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Sykes wanted to grow the flowers for the cake herself on her family’s urban farm, but it would have taken too long for them to bloom. Instead, she sourced them from a flower farm in Squirrel Hill run by the artist Moonhawkmakes and from Cutting Root Farm in Mercer County. Once she brought the edible flowers home, she pressed some in books and others she microwaved with wet paper towels on top to flatten them.

The result wowed Brianna.

“My mom and I share similar tastes, and she showed Joelle some of the flowers we were looking at, and I felt like [the cake] fit my personality,” Brianna says. “It couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Sykes, who offers cake-decorating classes, says the smaller, more rustic look is growing in popularity.

“I think there’s beauty in the simplicity,” she says. “I like it because it gives the bride and groom something so intimate on a day that is so shared and this is something just for them.”

Categories: Weddings