Different Types of Wedding Cake Icing (and how to choose the right type for your wedding)

This week we’re talking about different types of cake frostings. I get questions about this all the time, so I thought I would write a post and try and explain all the different types, pros and cons.

Wedding cakes have come a long way since Royal Iced fruitcakes, and we now have the privilege of picking the style and taste to beautifully suit our wedding plans and overall ambience.

I will be first to admit, all the below-listed types of icing are equally great for a beautiful looking wedding cake. They have all been studied, altered, doctored and taste tested, until I found recipes I am very happy with, which I exclusively use for my cakes.

Let’s delve deeper into the subject and explore what difference in taste (and style) it makes…

Iced wedding cake or naked wedding cake? Cake by Erzulie Cakes, Photography by Becky Harley Photography

1. Fondant Icing

Fondant is basically a dough made mainly of icing sugar, and sometimes marshmallows. The dough is then rolled out and used to cover a cake.

Fondant is a very popular choice for some, but misunderstood by many others. Let me explain, fondant (or sugar paste) is almost the default choice for wedding cakes, it’s very popular in terms of design ideas and all the possibilities it opens up. It looks the neatest out of all choices and it’s the base of most designs out there.

Fondant allows for pretty stencilling, as stencilled designs (like lace or lattice) go on a lot neater if applied onto fondant. A fondant base is also perfect for that satin-like shimmer finish.Fondant is also used to make beautiful fabric-like ruffles, plaits, wooden planks, you name it! Yes, there are so many ways to create a similar effect with other types of icing, but it looks so much better when it’s handcrafted out of fondant. I would say if you have a specific idea that you like, it’s worth discussing the best medium to use with your wedding cake designer.

A variety of Texture. Wedding Cakes by Erzulie. Photography by Camilla J Hards

Why would fondant be unpopular then? Many people seem to believe that it tastes awful, but that is a myth that was firmly busted in this blog post: 5 Wedding Cake Myths Busted.

Historically, fondant covered cakes had a layer of marzipan underneath (which a lot of people dislike), but nowadays we use buttercream or chocolate ganache underneath fondant for a better taste and a firmer finish, so don’t let that idea put you off fondant. Another thing to note is that fondant used to be rolled very thick until the last decade (some people still do), making it not very pleasant to eat.

Lattice stencil on shimmery fondant. Cake set up at North Mymms Park, Photo by Esme Robinson Photography

Fondant Wedding Cakes:

Pros: It looks very neat, and it keeps the cake fresh for longer. It’s the most suitable option for a summer wedding as it won’t melt on a warm wedding day. Design wise, It ticks all the right boxes for an opulent wedding cake.

Cons:  Some people might not like the taste of it. Personally, I use a brand that actually tastes very nice, but I also generally roll it out very thinly, because to be honest if someone hates fondant that much they can then easily peel it off.

Textured buttercream wedding cake by Erzulie Cakes. Photography by Victoria Mitchell

2. Buttercream Icing

Lusciously smooth, eat-it-with-a-spoon kind of icing. The most common type of buttercream is the Continental or American Buttercream, made of a mix of icing sugar and softened butter.

The buttercream I almost exclusively make is Swiss Meringue Buttercream or SMBC for short. SMBC has none of that gritty feel or overly sweet taste, which explains why many couples are tempted to go for it over fondant. It melts in your mouth and has a very light yet indulgent texture.

If you’re having a hot summer wedding (we’ve had some REALLY hot weekends here in Cambridgeshire last year), then I wouldn’t recommend a buttercream wedding cake unless the venue is air-conditioned or the cake is set to be delivered as close as possible to cutting time.

Buttercream allows for some play with textures. Having some lines or ridges in the buttercream is very trendy at the moment (sort of like pottery!).  It is also perfect for a more relaxed wedding, offering simple designs dressed with flowers or foliage.

Buttercream Wedding Cakes:

Pros: Tastes delicious, looks beautiful, works well with flowers and foliage.

Cons: Not the best choice for a hot summer wedding (not impossible, but not ideal), doesn’t allow for some of the options that fondant makes possible, doesn’t keep for as long as fondant-covered cakes (needs refrigerating).

3. Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate ganache is the smooth indulgent filling of a chocolate truffle. There are so many different possibilities with this one: you can go for a sharp and smooth finish, a textured finish, a drip style cake finish, cover it in sweets, sky’s the limit!

White chocolate ganache can be tinted in different colours, you can even have a nice ombre colour effect, or a watercolour blended look? There are so many beautiful ways to play with ganache on a wedding cake. Even plain milk chocolate ganache in its natural colour looks beautiful when paired with fruits and gold touches.

I can’t stress this enough but if you want to have a chocolate ganache wedding cake, make sure you choose a cake designer who has worked with ganache before, chocolate can be very temperamental in inexperienced hands.

This cake was fully iced in white chocolate ganache for a wedding at Bassmead Manor Barns. You couldn’t tell it wasn’t fondant! Cake by Erzulie

Ganache Wedding Cakes:

Pros: Hello? Chocolate! tastes great, looks modern and neat, many styling options.

Cons:  Withstands heat a bit better than buttercream, but it is made of chocolate after all, so it still needs to be kept in a cool room. Pure white chocolate ganache is similar in colour to white chocolate, it has a yellow tinge to it. It can be coloured white or any other colour using food colouring but it’s extra work.

4. No Icing!! Naked/Semi-naked Cakes

The naked cake trend has started a few years back and it’s still going. A naked cake is basically a cake with no icing on the outside at all, where you can see the layers of cake and filling. It’s the perfect fit for a rustic, informal wedding.

Semi-naked cakes are coated with a very thin, scraped off layer of buttercream to seal in the moisture and keep the cake from fully drying out.

Beautiful semi naked cake in different flavours for a stunning UK countryside wedding. Photography by Becky Harley Photography
Beautiful semi naked wedding cake design, dressed with macarons and sugar roses. By Erzulie Cakes. Photography by Sung Blue Photo. Bassmead Manor Barns

Naked/Semi-Naked Wedding Cakes:

Pros: Budget-friendly, what you see is what you get, great for an understated wedding.

Cons:  There are many ways of styling it and making it your own, but it still looks very similar to what many other couples will have. Isn’t suitable for displaying all day as it could dry out or melt on a warm day. Doesn’t keep long after the wedding.

Nina x