Wedding Cake Overview

A wedding cake that tastes as good as it looks will make a sweet final impression. Find out everything you need to know with this handy guide.

Groom's Cakes

No Regrets: Tasty Cakes

• Make sure your cake expectations do not exceed your baker's ability. Your local bakery (or your budget) may not be able to match the decorated extravaganzas you see in magazines; it's probably better to request something simpler that they can handle beautifully than to get too ambitious and be disappointed in the result.

• Keep your wedding-date weather in mind if your reception will be outdoors—a few intense rays from the sun could wreak havoc on delicate buttercream frosting, or on cheesecake.

• Plan in advance where the cake will be displayed during the reception. Make sure it's in a cool, secure spot—not too near the dance floor for safety's sake! And think about how the cake table will be decorated so any special linens or flowers are ordered.

• If you're using fresh flowers to decorate the cake, make sure they're completely pesticide-free. And coordinate between your florist and baker to decide who will do the decorating.

• If the cake flavor matters to you, don't try to save money by approving cut-rate ingredients. Buttercream that is not made with real butter simply will not melt in guests mouths, for example, and it’s not much of a bargain if no one eats more than a bite.

It's increasingly popular—but by no means required—to order a second "groom's cake." Originally this was often chocolate, in contrast to the inevitable white cake of the main dessert. But those rules no longer apply now that anything goes for flavors and fillings. Many couples choose a personal or light-hearted design for the groom's cake, such as decorations reflecting the couple's favorite hobby or even sports team.

It was often the groom's cake which was cut and boxed up, so each guest could take a slice home with them.

Icing on the Cake

Don't know your buttercream from your pastry cream? Get frosting finesse with our definitions:

Buttercream is a smooth and creamy butter-based icing that can be used to frost the entire cake, giving it an old-fashioned look, or just for piping borders and decorations. It has a silky texture and a not-too-sweet taste that can be infused with flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, lemon, espresso, coconut, or hazelnut. A buttercream-iced cake tends to be a good value per slice, though it needs to be kept in a cool place.

Royal Icing is soft when it's piped onto the cake, then it dries to a hard finish. It's traditionally used to create leaves, flowers, and other edible decorations—not to cover the entire cake.

Marzipan is a sweet, smooth paste made of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. With its moist, chewy texture, it can be placed beneath other icings or used as the final icing itself. It can also be colored and molded into flowers or other ornamental shapes, as a flavorful alternative to sugar or gum paste.

Rolled Fondant is an incredibly smooth, matte, elastic icing that gives your cake a flawless, porcelain-like finish which is a fine canvas for intricate decorations. It is rolled out like a pancake, draped over each layer or the cake and smoothed out before the edges are trimmed. Because fondant-iced cakes are labor-intensive to make, they tend to be more expensive.

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache is a sinfully rich dark-chocolate glaze poured over the entire cake.

Vanilla Pastry Cream is similar to what you'd find in the middle of a napoleon or éclair—perfect for layering between each tier.

Modeling Chocolate has a Tootsie Roll-like consistency and is molded into ribbons, bows, flowers, and other decorations.

Run-in Sugar is royal icing thinned to a fluid consistency. It's then used to fill in shapes outlined with regular royal icing.