Wedding Cake Designs; How to Choose

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Fondant or Buttercream Icing as the Base

How do you describe your dream cake to your decorator when you don’t know the lingo? Read on for an overview of commonly used wedding cake decorating techniques and embellishments. Knowing what’s out there can help you to choose your ideal design when you sit down with your wedding cake decorator.

Do you ever wonder how professionally-done cakes get that flawlessly smooth layer of frosting on top?

Most wedding cakes are coated with fondant or buttercream icing that is rolled out with a rolling pin and draped over the cake to provide a smooth working surface. Rolled fondant or buttercream comes in a variety of colors and can be rolled out to a variety of thicknesses.

Decorating with Icing

Wedding Cake, photo by Carly Daniel photography,
Photo Courtesy of Carly Daniel Photography

Once you have the smooth “base” of your cake – usually fondant or buttercream – it’s ready to be decorated with piped icing. (“Piping” is the term bakers use to describe icing that is squeezed through a cake decorating bag to create shapes and patterns.)

Look through your baker’s portfolio to identify piping techniques you like to help you get started. You can choose whether you want the piping to be the same color or a different color as the base of the cake.

Wedding Cake Piping Techniques

Wedding cake piping techniques range from simple to complex. Simple patterns such as dots, lines, shells, and zigzags add depth and detail to the cake.

More complicated piping techniques include basket-weave (looks like the interwoven reeds of a wicker basket,) cornelli (intricate wavy lines that look sort of like lace,) or dotted swiss (tiny dots arranged in patterns, usually clusters of three, on the cake’s surface.)

Elaborate decorations like 3-D edible icing flowers or icing “sashes” that appear to drape down the length of the cake are time-consuming for the decorator and expensive for the bride and groom, but the visual effect can be breathtaking.

Textured Wedding Cakes

Cake Design for LDS Wedding receptions
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Textured wedding cakes are less common than smooth wedding cakes covered in fondant, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look just as lovely. To create a texturized wedding cake, the baker frosts the cake and then uses a spatula or the back of a spoon to create designs in it before the frosting sets.

Swirled designs are created by swiping the frosted cake with the back of a spoon in circular motions. Spiked patterns are made by tapping a spatula on the cake and then lifting off, making “peaks” or spikes on the cake that later harden and set.

Borders on Your Wedding Cake Tiers

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A border going along the bottom of each tier gives a finished appearance to your wedding cake. Almost every wedding cake has borders. The three most popular borders in the world of wedding cake decorating are icing pearls and ribbons.

Icing Pearl

The most classic and popular wedding cake border is the “icing pearl.” It’s likely that you’ve seen icing pearls at weddings before even if you’re not familiar with the name. A line of balls (i.e.: “pearls”) about the size of marbles go around the bottom of each tier.


Ribbon borders are an alternative to borders made from icing, and often reflect light and add shine to a wedding cake. Clean-lined and versatile ribbon borders are quickly becoming almost as popular as the icing pearl border. To make one, the decorator wraps a ribbon of any color, width, or material around the bottom of each tier. The ribbons are either pinned at the backside of the cake or affixed with a display bow in the front.

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Embellishing with Flowers or Fruit

Traditionally, wedding cakes are adorned with fresh (or silk) flowers. Experiment with different sizes and types of blooms to see how each affects the cake’s finished appearance. A bunch of tiny hydrangeas, for example, looks markedly different from a few strategically placed oversized day lilies.

Stacked cakes may feature a length of flowers trailing down the tiers diagonally like a sash; stacked cakes with columns may have flowers filling the gaps between tiers. Tiers on separate pedestals may be topped with matching flower arrangements. Flowers for the cake are generally provided by your florist (along with petals to scatter across the cake table, if desired.)

Fresh fruit is sometimes used with or instead of flowers. Most commonly, bright red strawberries are perched atop a chocolate ganache wedding cake. But blueberries, blackberries, cherries, sliced kiwis, and brunches of grapes can also be incorporated into your design, no matter what the color of your cake.

♥ Jenny Evans
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