Wedding Cake Design Tips From an Industry Insider

How do you choose the perfect wedding cake? Talk to a pro. Here, the secrets to designing the cake of your dreams.

Photo by Maggie Austin

A well-designed cake not only tastes good, but is elegant enough to double as reception décor. Cake designer Maggie Austin LaBaugh gives us the inside scoop on choosing the perfect wedding cake.

What are your thoughts on fondant versus buttercream?
I cover all of my cakes in fondant. For me, it’s a canvas—I can mold it, attach fondant ruffles to it, and paint it with a brush. Buttercream is delicious, but it doesn’t have the structure to support these techniques. Fondant gets a bad rap because some kinds have a lousy, chemical after-taste. Also, people tend to roll it too thick. I use a brand called Satin Ice, which has a very mild, vanilla flavor, and I roll it 1/8-inch thick. I put buttercream between the layers of my cakes, so the fondant really doesn’t factor into the taste at all. It’s important to choose a baker who has experience working with fondant, or you may not be happy with the result. Another nice thing about fondant is it acts as an insulator, helping to keep the interior of the cake cool and fresh. You can’t leave true buttercream, which doesn’t contain any shortening or preservatives, out on a warm day for more than an hour or so, or it will melt. A fondant cake can usually be displayed for the duration of the reception, but in high humidity it can soften and sweat. For this reason, we always ask that our cakes be kept in an air-conditioned room until the last possible minute.

What about sugar flowers versus fresh?
I love the art of creating sugar flowers—it’s one of the things that drew me to wedding cakes in the first place. I work with the floral designer to identify the specific flowers that will be used in the wedding, and I study them to ensure my versions are botanically correct. Then I’ll often add elements of fantasy you can’t get in a fresh arrangement. I’ve done a gold branch of shimmery silver orchids, hydrangeas with pearl centers that mimicked the beading on the bride’s gown, and poppies that protrude from stems painted on a cake. Fresh flowers are less expensive, but they have to be organically grown, which limits your choices. If cost is a concern, I’d go for a simple cake punctuated with one oversize sugar flower that makes a statement, as opposed to lots of small blooms, which are labor intensive and pricey. Sugar flowers won’t wilt and they are a nice memento of the wedding day: They are made on wire stems so you can display them in an opaque vase.