Fondant or buttercream?
Happy New Year! And congratulations to couples who became engaged over Christmas. Choosing a wedding cake may be relegated to a back burner while you sort your venue, bridesmaids, honeymoon and DRESS, but many cake designers will be booked up well in advance so it's worth having a think about it in the early days of planning.
After deciding if you want to have your cake as a pudding, a centrepiece, both, huge, showy, rustic, made of cheese (please no) or whatever, sooner or later you most probably need to declare an allegiance. Do you want a fondant or buttercream cake?
A well-made fondant (also known as sugarpaste) wedding cake will be perfectly smooth. The detail will be accurately placed. Any sugar flowers will appear to be absolutely real, they may even have spots of dew on the petals. Look at this one by famous London cake maker Peggy Porschen.
It's perfect. No bumps or tears in the finish. Elegant and beautiful; the flower detail is balanced and the whole design is light but very grown up.
One thing to bear in mind with fondant is the taste. I have cooked at many weddings and the fondant left on plates after service can fill a black sack. One of the reasons couples opt for a buttercream cake is that they don't like the thin oversweet taste or synthetic mouthfeel of fondant. And there's loads of it in every forkful.
Another consideration is fashion. The real images on any wedding blog will reveal that a huge change in taste has taken place in wedding style over the last decade. Couples and their families are investing more in the fun and personal elements that they can bring to their day, over the stiff formality and etiquette that would traditionally structure proceedings. Not in a bodgy Heath Robinson sort of way, but with character and charm. Guests are no longer commanded to line up in endless group arrangements for formal photos; photographers prefer to mingle and capture natural moments that tell a story of the day. Flowers are hand-tied, in-season and in jars; no longer stiffly arranged in cubes of oasis; and the seating plan may be scribbled on a blackboard. There's fairy lights and neon, candles and copper pipes and pallets and all sorts to look at and enjoy. And I just don't feel that an immaculately-iced indifferently-tasting cake fits in to this new aesthetic at all.
For this reason, and over the last few years, naked cakes have become popular. They suit rustic, spare or romantic spaces. They're inexpensive and can be decorated with fresh flowers, fruit and sparklers.
What's not to like? Well they're a bit old hat now. Also, they're only really that effective if red fruits are in season. They dry out really quickly unless someone sprays syrup all over the exposed sponge every hour. And fresh flowers have to be wired properly and inserted into the cake with food-safe picks. They can't just be poked in. Even then, most fresh flowers will wilt within a couple of hours, unless they are robust, like roses and baby's breath.
Which brings us to buttercream. Crusting buttercream is more versatile than you would imagine. It can be piped to recreate elaborate floral bouquets, tapestries, lace, stained glass, baskets and even wood. The most fashionable bakers in the world - Cakes by Cliff and Katharine Sabbath in Sydney for example, are all using buttercream to create showstopping drip cakes dressed with meringues, macarons, glossy rainbow popcorn and piped flowers that are full of character and fun, beautiful to look at and completely delicious.
Contemporary ombre and rustic effects suit every venue and be dressed up or down, with ganache drips, gold leaf, piped or fresh flowers and quirky toppers, often for a lot less than you'd expect to pay for a fondant cake of the same size.
Buttercream is also perfect for elegant and traditional designs, which can be worked up from the tiniest fragment of an inspiration. Because the detail is piped rather than moulded, the end result has a spirited and dynamic style that is full of character and drama. And tastes delicious. No icing on plates.