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What You Need to Make & Decorate a Wedding Cake

What You Need to Make & Decorate a Wedding Cake

Whether you are a professional caterer, a baker or a do-it-yourself bride- or groom-to-be, as long as you have some experience baking and decorating cakes, you should be able to learn how to make a wedding cake and how to decorate one. Here is a simple, step-by-step guide on what you need to bake, assemble and decorate a cake for a wedding, as well as tips on how to get the most out of your decorating supplies. With a little practice with these tools, you can create a marvelous cake.

In this article you will learn:
  • When to use fondant, gum paste and standard frosting
  • Tools you need to assemble and decorate a tiered cake
  • How to use cake-decorating tools to create cake ornaments
  • Popular design ideas for wedding cakes

Choosing a Frosting or Covering
You have many options when choosing a frosting for your wedding cake. You can use one kind of frosting, or an assortment of frostings and fillings to create your cake. The following are examples of the most common frostings used on wedding cakes:

Piping icing onto a red velvet cakeFondant. The most popular “frosting” for a wedding cake is fondant. Fondant actually comes in two forms: poured fondant, which is used as a coating or filling for cakes, candies and pastries, and rolled fondant, which is a gelatin and glycerin blend used almost exclusively for wedding cakes or other gourmet cakes. Rolled fondant has a dough-like consistency and is structured around the cake rather than “iced” on. Generally, fondant is used as the covering for a cake, and ornamentations are put on top for decoration. The advantage of fondant is that it creates a smooth outside for the cake, and also makes smooth ribbons or skirtings, but most people are not fond of the taste, finding it bland and unpalatable.

Gum paste. Similar to fondant, but harder, gum paste can be rolled very thin and is very pliable. It is made of sugar dough and gums, and it hardens quickly. This makes it perfect for pre-making ornaments – like flowers, butterflies and bows – to put on the finished cake. You can use gum paste to cover a wedding cake, but it is hard and the taste is widely disliked. Gum paste flowers and other ornaments are edible, but can be removed if the taste of gum paste is not desired.

Buttercream. Buttercream is widely considered one of the most versatile and tasty of frostings. It is made by mixing powdered sugar and fat, usually a combination of butter and vegetable shortening. A frosting made with vegetable shortening, as opposed to animal fats, will be more stable at room temperature and will have a whiter color that is ideal for wedding cake. It can be dyed with food coloring. Buttercream can be used as a cake covering or for creating flowers, ruffles, drop strings or other decorations.

Whipped cream. Use powdered sugar and whipped cream for a frosting, and add flavor extracts if desired. The white color and fluffy, light consistency make whipped cream icing a great frosting for wedding cakes. However, it must be refrigerated to be preserved, so transport, storage and presentation of the wedding cake can be tricky. 

Ganache. This frosting is a simple concoction of melted chocolate and heavy cream. You can add liqueurs or extracts for additional flavor. Ganache made with three times as much chocolate as cream serves as a shiny glaze for cakes. You can change the texture by chilling and beating it, to make a fluffier frosting for your cake. 

Royal icing. Royal icing consists of powdered sugar, egg whites and milk or water. This is a popular frosting for creating ornamentation, since it sets and hardens quickly. However, the egg whites make it nearly impossible to store and serve safely at room temperature. You can use a meringue powder instead of egg whites if you are worried about food poisoning. Also, pasteurized eggs can be used instead of raw eggs, but they will still go bad over time.

All of these frostings can be used to produce a beautiful wedding cake. If your priority is appearance, go with a fondant cake with gum paste ornamentation. If, on the other hand, your main priority is taste, you should use other frostings for your wedding cake, or only use fondant and gum paste for ornamentations that can be easily removed before eating. >>Learn more

Building Your Cake
The foundation of any wedding cake tier is a solid cake board. The cake board can be made of wood, heavy-duty cardboard, fiberboard or plastic. It must be sturdy enough to support the entire cake, but lightweight enough not to crush any tiers beneath. You can cover the board in food-safe paper or fondant and decorate the showing parts with flowers, colorful fruit or lace. Make sure to cover the whole board, since it will be unattractive if it peeks through. Follow these steps to assemble your cake:

Step 1: Bake It
You must begin making your cake base the same way you would make any other cake: bake the layers in a round, rectangular or novelty-shape cake pan. Each tier of your cake may use one layer or multiple layers, depending on how tall you want each tier to be. 

A pastry chef creates a smooth surface on a wedding cakeStep 2: Make a Base
Once the cake is baked, take the largest layer and place it on the cake board. You can cover the cake board with lace, fondant or paper, but it is best to place flowers and other loose decorative items on the cake board later. Place the cake board and bottom tier on a rotating cake decorating stand.

Step 3: Flatten It
Cut off the very top skin of the cake so that the top of the layer is completely flat, rotating the stand to help create an even cut all the way around. 

Step 4: Torte It
You can skip this step, but for a torte-style cake, cut your cake horizontally into flat slices about 3/8” to ½” thick. Brush the top of each layer with a simple syrup made from sugar and water. Then stack the layers, using buttercream frosting, mousse or another filling in between as a glue, until you have reached the desired height of the bottom tier.

Step 5: Mask It
Once you have your base constructed, cover it in buttercream or other frosting. It can be a little messy, since this is just the base “mask” for the cake. Refrigerate the cake for several hours, or until the frosting is firm. 

Step 6: Frost It
Frost the cake once again, this time being careful to create a smooth surface. Use an icing spatula to spread frosting smoothly and evenly onto the cake’s surface. You can get a flat one to use on the cake's surface, or a more ergonomic off-set spatula.  Once you are done, you are ready to add more layers.  
A pastry chef puts the third tier on top of a wedding cake

Step 7: Support It
Stick a straw into your bottom tier, and use your finger to measure the point just below the frosting. Cut the straw at that point. Then, cut dowels, plastic straws or paper straws about ¼” thick to the measure of the straw. Stick them all the way down into the bottom tier in an even pattern. The number of dowels you need depends on the size of your cake; nine is a good number for a 14 inch cake. These dowels will support the tier on top, so make sure the dowels are arranged within the diameter of the next tier. Scrape off the top of the frosting so it is smooth and flush with the dowels.

Step 8: Add the Tiers
You are now ready to place the next tier on top. Each tier should first be placed on its own cake board. You can frost the bottom of the cake boards with buttercream to serve as a “glue.” Then gently put it in place on top of the lower tier. The tier should then be frosted just like the bottom tier, with frosting smoothed around the seams between the tiers to seal it and hide the seams. Continue with these steps until you reach the top layer. At that point, if extra stability is desired, you can drive a thin wooden stake, measured to be flush with the top tier’s icing, through the center of the entire cake, being careful to avoid the dowels. Then you can frost the top tier, and you have built your cake.

Decorating Your Cake
Once your tiered cake is built and the outside is covered in smooth frosting or fondant, you can begin to decorate it with flowers, borders, beading, drop strings and other embellishments. To do this, you will need a professional set of cake decorating supplies. Here is a list of the tools you will need and how to use them:
  • Pastry tip organizer and drying rack at a cake shopPastry bags. You will use your pastry bags to hold your frosting for cake decorating. You squeeze the bag to push the icing through the opening. This is known as “piping” the frosting.
  • Pastry tips. Before you put the icing in the bag, put the pastry tip through the large opening and push it down until it protrudes from the small opening of the bag. Pastry tips come in a variety of shapes and styles, and can be used to create beads, lines, ruffles, flowers, ribbons, basket weaves, letters and more. >>Learn more about pastry tips
  • Drying racks. It is best to keep your pastry tips and bags away from the dishwasher, since it could destroy their integrity. Instead, wash them thoroughly by hand and place them on a pastry bag and tip drying rack to air-dry.
  • Pastry brushes. Use a pastry brush to apply pearl dust or luster powder to your cake and cake embellishments. For flowers, ribbons and beads, use the smallest brush you can find, about the size of a paint brush. To dust a large piece of fondant or frosting, use a wider brush.
  • Pastry wheels and cutters. Use your pastry wheel or cutter to cut shapes out of fondant or gum paste for covering cakes or creating ornaments to go on top.
  • Flower nails. Resembling metal screws, flower nails are used as rods that you can turn while you pipe a flower onto the head.

Once you have the tools you need to decorate your cake, you can start creating special ornamentations. You can first create them on parchment paper, them let them dry and transfer them to the cake surface, or put them on small pins or skewers and stick them into the cake. Or you can drop them or pipe them directly onto the cake, always working with the cake at eye level. Here are some common embellishments you can create with your cake decorating tools:

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