How to Decorate Wedding Cakes


Tiers and Trends

Forget traditional! Today's wedding cakes are just the beginning of raising wedding cakes to a whole new level.

"Writing" such as calligraphy became a huge trend a while back and it seems like it's here to stay. Black calligraphy on a stark white or antique cream colored fondant icing is a hip and trendy look. This look requires a skilled professional; however, couples can choose what they want written on the cake. It may be a favorite poem, a parable, or even part of the wedding vows themselves.

Another appealing trend in wedding cakes is to use letters in various sizes. Mixing and matching initials of the bride and groom, or covering the entire cake with the newly shared last name. Black fondant cakes, white lettering, or colored lace and flowers are two popular, whimsical choices.

If black and white is not your choice for a wedding cake, another popular trend is to add a pop of color rather than the usual pastel or white. The cake below was for a reception for 100 people and was matched to the colors of the room where the reception was being held.

Many couples are passing on the round wedding cake and thinking square, octagonal or mixed shapes. Topsy-turvy cakes, once the rage are fading away.

More and more couples want cakes that express their personalities in color, shape, or design and are willing to have fun with their wedding cakes. The hottest color selections are blush pink, burnt orange, chocolate brown and shades of ivory; the inevitable black, and even red cakes are in fashion.

Brides are less concerned with working the colors of the bridesmaid dresses into the cake theme, and are instead relying on the decorator and wedding planner's knowledge as to what will look good in the reception room. Cakes may run from monochromatic with texture, or silky smooth with vibrant color; couples tend to choose ivory over white. Certain cake decorators pearlize the fondant, giving it a satiny appearance. In fact, some brides ask to coordinate the cake design with their wedding invitations.

Typically couples prefer fondant or buttercream. Although fondant doesn't taste as good as buttercream, when a bride requests a clean-lined cake, fondant is the winner in the elegant department.

Another new trend in wedding cake design is decorating each tier with a different design and alternating white and chocolate tiers. Cakes decorated in only one pattern are becoming rare. People want non-traditional.
Exercise: Rose is making a wedding cake that is one layer of carrot and one layer of white. Her concern is frosting a cake with two different recipes (colors). What would you suggest?

(answer is below)

Building a Tiered Cake


  • When building a cake it can get heavy very quickly. To overcome the weight, plastic straws are used as supports between the tiers to give the cake structure. Each tier has its own cake board, the upper tiers rest on the straws or dowels underneath. This supports the tiers and keeps the cake from collapsing.
  • The base the bottom tier rests on must be strong enough to support the weight of all the tiers. A suggestion is to use a half-inch thick pre-made foil-covered foam core base, because it's strong and lightweight.
  • Fondant must be completely set before tiers are stacked.

Tools of the Trade

Bench scraper, fondant-covered tiers with the bottom tier resting on its base, straws, food-color marker, scissors, royal icing, and metal spatula.

  1. Use a bench scraper to clear off all residue from the work space.
  2. Place a straw (or dowel that can be purchased in reusable plastic) in the center of the tier to measure its height. Mark the place where you want to cut the tier with a food-color marker. Remove the straw and cut it to size. Use this as a guide for the four straws you will add to the tier and cut them to the same size.
  3. Return the straw into the center of the tier. Place four more straws in a ring around the center straw, each halfway between the edge and the center. For larger tiers, cut and place six straws (dowels). Each straw must be placed upright into the cake. If you place them into the cake crooked, that will compromise the structure of the cake. Repeat steps two and three for all tiers, except the top tier of the cake.
  4. Begin assembling your tiers. Dot each bottom tier with royal icing to serve as the glue. Center the next tier on top of the tier/icing. When placing a tier, place your hand underneath for support and use the metal spatula as a guide for placement. Once the tier is placed, slowly slide out your hand, followed by the spatula.
  5. After the tier is in place, gently use your hands to make sure the tier is centered and level.

Congratulations! You have just mastered the bones of a tiered cake.

Answer to Exercise:

If Rose is using buttercream, she should do a crumb coat and apply it a little thicker to cover the differences in cake color. The heaviest layer (most likely the carrot cake) should be the bottom layer.

Transporting a Tiered Cake

Placement - The boxes holding the cake layers should be placed on a flat surface lined with a layer of non-skid material such as foam or non-skid mat to prevent shifting. This will go on the floor of (hopefully) an air-conditioned van or SUV. Keep the boxes flat. Never place the boxes on car seats.

NASCAR Drivers Need Not Apply - Because your cake has no seat belt, there can be real issues when driving too fast. Keep your speed slower than normal. Tailgating is a potential cake tragedy waiting. This is where you pat yourself on the back because you considered all the steps involved in a cake-moving process, and planned your time accordingly:

  • Haste makes waste. Allow enough driving time and then some.
  • Verify the cake table is set up and ready for the cake. Check to make sure before bringing in the cake.
  • Remember, you have to tote in all the layers of the cake, plus accessories, so park as close as possible to the entrance.
  • Allow time to set up the cake, your cake topper and any final touches and touch-ups, if needed.
  • It's always an attention-getter when you place greenery or flowers around the base of the cake.
  • By all means, take a few photos of the cake before the guests arrive.

Synchronize Your Set-up - You want to finish strong, not weepy and wiped out. Should you have to move the cake, request a cart on wheels. Ask for help with doors and the unexpected in your path. Remove the tiers by cutting the sides of the boxes and sliding them out. Don't forget to bring your cake decorating first-aid kit for repairs.

Nothing gives you more practical hands-on training that stepping up to new cake decorating challenges and feeling the thrill of success.
Decorative Children's Cakes
Now that you've armed yourself with new icings and decorating ideas, it's time to put it all together in an entire cake. We'll first begin with creating decorative children's cakes, for two reasons:
  1. Creating cool kid's cake designs is a lot of fun, and
  2. Children are a bit easier to please! This is your "first" cake; a child is less likely to notice if the cake's a little uneven or your butter cream is a little bit runny.
In this section, we'll explore some of the options you have available as you set out to design, create, and bake a kid's cake to remember!

Through the Eyes of a Child
There are any number of places you can turn to for inspiration for your kid's cake designs, but none will prove as creative as learning to see the world through the eyes of a child. Part of the reason many people choose to bake their own cakes is to add their own personal care and touch. And while working on wedding cakes may seem a higher honor, there's an unmatchable joy that you'll experience when your (or a friend or family member's) child's eyes light up with excitement.
We've delved into the bells and whistles of cake decorating - fondant, marzipan, butter cream icing - but the most effective tool you can bring to the table for a kids' cake is your creativity and imagination.
To a child, any adult with the power to transform flour, eggs, butter, and sugar into their favorite comic book character, or a mystical dragon, seems endowed with magical super human powers. You've just got to learn to see the world through their eyes, searching for design ideas that will fascinate and captivate them.
If you have the option, spend a little "alone time" with the guest(s) of honor to see what books they read, what shows they watch, and what games they like to play. If you'll be working with a classroom full of kids, ask their teacher what curriculum they're studying, or what units they're in.
The information you glean may prove invaluable to your up-and-coming cake designs.
By doing a little homework and research beforehand, you'll save yourself a ton of stress and anxiety when you actually begin constructing your cake.
Kid's Cake Design Ideas
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Cake Decorating.
In this section, we'll briefly explore some individual themes and design ideas you can work with to create your masterpiece.
But first, you may want to answer a few questions about your intended audience.
  • Is this a gender-oriented affair? A little girl's party, or a little boy's? Or, will the guests be a mix of both boys and girls?
  • How old are the children you're baking for? A cake for pre-schoolers will be much different than for a 16-year-old's d├ębutante party.
  • Is it an indoor or an outdoor event? If it's an outdoor party in the middle of July, you may want to consider altering your butter cream icing recipe, consistency -- or delete it altogether.
  • How many people will the cake need to feed?
Comic and Cartoon Characters: This category offers an infinite number of possibilities - Spongebob, Spiderman, Superman, X-men, Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie, Fairly Odd Parents, Disney characters -- the list goes on.
And within each of these characters, you'll find still more ideas. You can restrict yourself to their face, their body, or you can recreate an entire scene.
Between fondant, gum paste, butter cream, and royal icing, you can get as abstract, or as intricate as you like.
Castle Cakes:
Thanks to the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, castle cakes are great. They also can easily be tailored for boys, girls, or an even mix of both. You really can go all out on this one - towers, walls, draw bridges, flags flying - the whole nine yards.
You can use marzipan to create miniatures - people, carts, weapons, trees, stones, etc.
Bug Cakes:
There are some things that kids are fascinated with, and for the most part, bugs make it on that list. Whether they love them or hate them, bugs can get a reaction. Here are just a few of the bugs you can turn to for help.
  • Caterpillars
  • Spiders
  • Ants
  • Butterflies
  • Ladybugs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Bumblebees
Bugs are great cakes for classrooms and spring- or summer-themed parties. You can shape and mold your cake batter, or take a decorated square or round cake and add in detailed miniature insect accents and touches.
Ships, Planes, Trains and Automobiles:
Whether it's race cars, jet planes, helicopters, or Thomas the Train, kids love things that go, "Vroom!" Again, with piped icing, sugar paste, gum paste, and a few cake molds and loaf pans, feel free to get as detailed as you can!
Animals are another great source of inspiration! And because of a nearly universal appeal, animal cake designs are great for mixed-gender audiences.
You can create a cake constructed around a specific animal - a cat, dog, horse, tiger, elephant, or you can create your own little zoo or ecosystem.
These are just a few themed cake ideas, but they should be more than enough to get your creative juices flowing.
Transferring Design Outlines
If your freehand artwork is less than perfect, there's no need to worry. Thanks to tools like carbon copies and overhead projectors, you can simplify things a great deal.
First you need to find a great design outline to use for you pattern. Coloring book pages work well.
Then, either transfer the cake design using carbon copy paper, or an overhead projector and a transparency template. Carbon copies will work best on smooth surfaces like fondant or marzipan. Simply lay a piece of carbon paper down (centered) and then situate your template on top. Using a pencil or other lightly pointed object, trace the design outline onto the surface of the cake with a light touch. When you've finished tracing the design, remove the template and carbon paper to reveal a light outline you can pipe, outline and then fill in.
With an overhead projector, you'll place the transparency on the screen and focus the projection onto the surface of your cake. Then, using your icing and decorations, fill in the "imaginary" lines. Follow the tips and theme suggestions we've provided in this section, and you'll be well on your way to delightful, creative and beautiful cakes that children everywhere will be clamoring for!