Wedding cakes can be feats of architecture and design—towering tiers! Shiny fondant! Delicate frosting! But, with these elegant creations, taste and texture can sometimes take a backseat to sculptural elements. Luckily, and unsurprisingly, the local food scene offers loads of other dessert options for couples who value flavor over tradition. Or maybe they just prefer ice cream to icing. Nothing wrong with that. 


If you’re going cake-free but still want the dramatic visual of a tower of starch, why not try a multitiered cake stand filled with donuts? Or maybe you’ve seen (and coveted) pictures of trendy donut walls, with donuts dangling from pegs. Monuts can help with your donut decor needs. It will assemble displays for a fee, and it’s happy to give assembly instructions for the budget-conscious. 

Speaking of dramatic visuals, Early Bird Donuts owner Sowadi Chea sells a signature giant donut cake. One day in the kitchen, Chea found himself with a glob of extra dough, so he used a big bucket to cut it into a donut shape. He put the resulting mega-donut on display, and, to his surprise, a customer asked to buy it. He now gets regular orders. 

Frozen Treats

Maple View Farms loves love. Catering manager Allison Nichols says the creamery has catered a handful of weddings of couples who had their first date at one of Maple View’s parlors. Whether or not your love story is ice cream-specific, Maple View is a great full-service choice for a wedding. The ice cream is local, and the catering services range from single-scoop bowls to a topping-laden banana split bar. 

Locopops also offers a dizzying range of choices. It sells Mexican-style popsicles in about a million flavors, and it can work with you to create something custom. Buy and serve the pops yourself, or have Locopops cater out of either a vintage New York-style street cart or a converted VW bus.

Pelican’s SnoBalls is another fun choice. The New-Orleans style sno-ball has finer and fluffier ice than the crunchy sno-cones you may be used to. And Pelican’s, as a chain, is no stranger to catering. It even sells a wedding cake–flavored sno-ball. 

Note: you’re welcome to special order ice cream by the gallon from The Parlour, but the Durham fave is currently taking a break from catering.


Cake’s homey, earnest cousin has some major champions in the Triangle. East Durham Bake Shop is seasonal produce–conscious and owned by couple Ali Rudel and Ben Filippo. Even during intense pie-making seasons like Thanksgiving, they’ve never made a crust in a food processor. Their pastry is strictly hand-cut, which pays off in tenderness. Rudel and Filippo even made all the pies for their own wedding (peach-bourbon and a savory corn-tomato pie). Rudel does not recommend the DIY approach, however—in hindsight, too stressful. Let her do the work instead. 

Local ingredients and married owners are a theme here: Through their small-time, literally homemade company Strong Arm Baking, Julia and Thomas Blaine do make wedding cakes, but they’re also pie experts. Like Rudel and Filippo, they only work with seasonal produce, but even with a winter wedding, you’ll be in luck—they make silky chocolate tarts year-round. Julia Blaine says she dreams that someday a wedding client will order her banana pudding—a recipe she’s really proud of.


For a vision of variety and bounty, try ordering a pastry platter from Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets, complete with dainty cookies, macarons, cream puffs, and tarts. (The gingersnap-miso ice cream cookie sandwiches are also legendary.) Rose’s three pastry chefs can only make so many apple-candied ginger mochi cakes by hand, though, so they only take two weddings per weekend. Book fast. 

And if you don’t have a sweet tooth but still want a gorgeous post-dinner display, you could just get a wedding cake made of cheese. Not a cheesecake, but, quite literally, a collection of large cheese wheels stacked in the shape of a wedding cake. 

“We call it a cheese tower cake,” says Dani Copeland of Boxcarr Handmade Cheese. “The word ‘tower’ helps.” 

Boxcarr will assemble, decorate (with flowers or fruit), and serve the tower or sell you the fixings to stack one yourself. Keep in mind that with massive cheese wheels, guests may have trouble serving themselves, Copeland says. It’s best to get someone to break down the display into manageable pieces. This also helps keep the remainder of the cheese looking as beautiful as it tastes. 

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