A SouthBound Guide to Wedding Cake Terminology

Yay, it’s Friday. And yay, it’s time for the latest in our SouthBound Guides, teaching you all the wedding lingo you need to communicate effectively with your lovely suppliers. Since this is about the time that many of you will be finalising your cake choices, I thought today was a good day to talk about just that – and with it being Nelson Mandela’s birthday, a cake feels kind of appropriate. In fact, it’s been a cake-y kinda week here on SBB, so feel free to indulge yourself in something sugary as you enjoy each of these handy (pinnable!) examples. (Any excuse, right?)

First things first – the layers of a cake are the actual horizontal slices of cake, joined together with filling or icing. A tier is a level of cake. So a tier is usually made up of several layers. In the gorgeous examples above, on the left you’ll see a four-tier cake, and on the right is a two-tier cake, with three layers in the top tier and four layers in the bottom.

Images: Rosalind Miller via Love My Dress (left); Alicia Swedenborg via Pretty Chic (right)

There are two main types of icing used in wedding cakes: fondant and buttercream. Choosing one or the other is very much a matter of taste, as well as texture (and sometimes practicality, since temperature affects them differently). Fondant is smooth and elastic, rolled out and draped over a cake, and hardens into a lovely porcelain finish. It’s very versatile and thus popular with cake designers. Buttercream is made of butter, cream and eggs, and stays soft, giving it a lovely creamy texture. It can also be used as a filling, or piped into rosettes.

Images: Roxanne Floquet/Catherine Mac via The Pretty Blog (left); Kat Willson Photography/Cake-ology via Style Me Pretty (right)

The other main decision in choosing your cake style is between column and stacked cakes. Column cakes were the common choice for many years, with each tier separated by pillars or columns which may be visible or hidden by flowers, or sometimes by perspex boxes. Nowadays, stacked cakes are by far the most popular option, with tiers placed directly on top of one another. Word is that column cakes are becoming more popular again – watch this space!

Images: Nicki’s Cakes/Millie Holloman/Salt Harbor Designs via Snippet & Ink (left); Ashley Goodwin/A Cake Life via Style Me Pretty (right)

Pssst, chocolate lovers! Ganache is another type of icing which might be perfect for you – it’s a rich chocolate filling that tastes like but is denser than mousse. It’s used both between layers as a filling and as a type of surface icing, but like buttercream, is temperature-sensitive.

Images: Jim Smeal/Peter Frank Edwards via Southern Living (left); Little Venice Cake Company (right)

Piping is a popular cake decoration technique, which is done using a pastry bag attached to different metal tips. It can be used to create swiss dots, flowers, basket-weave patters, borders, latticework, or even a lace effect.

Images: Rosalind Miller via Flowerona (left); via Martha Stewart Weddings (right)

This definition is pretty self-explanatory and the results are just pretty! Hand painted cakes are fondant iced cakes that have been painted by hand (either free-hand or stencil), to create a beautiful, unique design, often customised to match your wedding style, motif or even stationery. You can find our full roundup of hand painted cakes here.

Images: Nevie-Pie Cakes/Alexa Loy Photography via Newport Wedding Glam (left); The Butter End/Amy and Stuart Photography/Pryor Events via Style Me Pretty (right)

If you like a more rustic look, then naked cakes could be right up your alley. These beauties are so-called because they are left un-iced along the sides of the cake (although you’ll still find icing, ganache or whipped cream in between the layers, along with berries, blooms, honey, caramel, etc. See our full roundup of naked cakes here.

Images: ALLAN ZEPEDA/Lael Cakes via Style Me Pretty (left); Nikita Lee Photography/The Cupcake Company via Magnolia Rouge (right)

There are three main cake shapes: round, square and hexagon:

Images: Lauren Kim/The Cakeman by Franco on SBB (left); Nastassja Harvey/Nelle Cakes on SBB (right)

Images: Becca Lea Photography/Cakewalk Bake Shop/Lindsey Zamora via 100 Layer Cake (left); Michelle Photography/Weddings by Marius/Plum Tree Cakes on SBB (right)

Images: Baby Cakes (left); Whoa Nelly! Catering/Joielala Photographie via Green Wedding Shoes (right)

And finally, there’s the cherry on top of this wedding cake business, or rather the tiny bride and groom or other decoration. Cake toppers are a fun detail, but I also like them because with many wedding cakes now veering off the traditional path, they can make any creation look wedding-ey.

Images: Jaco le Roux on SBB (left); Lad and Lass on SBB (right)

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