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Buttercream or sugarpaste?

Updated: Feb 1

What is the difference? And what makes a cake semi-naked?


There are three main types of cake coverings, or icings - sugarpaste (or fondant), buttercream, and semi-naked, which also uses buttercream.


Sugarpaste is the icing which cake designers roll out and smooth over the top of a cake. You might also call it fondant, or ready to roll icing. It creates a smooth, pure white covering on the cake which is perfect for the more formal style of weddings in historic, grand venues.


Many guests don't actually eat the sugarpaste, so this often creates more waste than a buttercream or semi-naked cake. It can also cost more than the other styles of icing as it takes longer to make and uses more expensive ingredients.


Buttercream is soft and spreadable. A cake fully covered is a buttercream wedding cake. If a cake is partially covered in buttercream but you can see the cake through the icing, it’s a semi-naked wedding cake.


Cake designers generally use either American buttercream (butter and icing sugar) or Swiss meringue buttercream (meringue and butter which is slightly less sweet and a bit more like whipped cream).


Buttercream cakes have a very subtly textured appearance close up but from slightly further away, they can look like they have the same smooth finish as a sugarpaste cake. Buttercream can easily be smoothed into different textures and styles like ruffles and stripes.


With semi-naked cakes, the buttercream is scraped back until the cake is peeking through, teasing what’s inside and cutting down on the potential waste of icing. Both styles look beautiful decorated with different techniques, fresh fruit or flowers.


What do I need to know about a buttercream cake?

Buttercream wedding cakes tend to have a more modern feel. If the idea of a traditional, white, fondant wedding cake isn't your bag, buttercream is ideal.


Peach two tier buttercream cake with gold leaf and pink and orange roses. Photo by Molly Higgins Photography
Photo by Molly Higgins Photography

You can use colour and different techniques to achieve some really modern looking wedding cakes, or go the complete opposite end of the spectrum and go for the vintage piping trend that is really in at the moment - that's a buttercream style too. They can look really elegant and striking with decorations like gold leaf, and they offer a solid background for techniques like chocolate sails, wafer paper decorations and heavy textures.


Buttercream wedding cakes are a really great middle ground when it comes to budget and sustainability. They can be a good mid-priced option, that can look really elegant, without all of the waste associated with a fondant wedding cake, however be aware that if you are keen on intricate piping details or new techniques, you might be looking at the top end of your budget.


If you are having a summer wedding, most cake designers who make buttercream cakes would recommend white chocolate ganache instead - this withstands the heat much better, and so your cake won't melt or collapse if you have a beautiful warm day! Buttercream is predominantly made with butter, so can be slightly fickle in warmer temperatures, so think about where you're positioning your cake - it needs to be away from radiators and windows where the sun might beat in.


So what about a semi-naked cake?

For me, semi-naked cakes are the perfect informal summer wedding cake, because they aren’t covered in lots of buttercream that might melt and they're lovely and light, they tend to withstand higher temperatures better. The light coating of icing works perfectly with seasonal British fruits or flowers.


A two tier semi naked cake decorated with fresh flowers, with cupcakes around the bottom. Photo by Terri Pashley Photography
Photo by Terri Pashley Photography

In winter, you could go semi-naked in a different style with figs and blackberries, and chocolates and caramel flavours in the cake. If the cake is set up in a cooler room during winter, it will also be more enjoyable to eat as there won’t be large amounts of firm buttercream or ganache on the outside.


Semi-naked cakes are quite modern and informal. Your decoration style can be more limited with semi-naked cakes - most couples will go for one or a combination of fresh fruit, fresh flowers, gold/silver leaf, macarons, coloured buttercream or stencilling.



The decoration can be more simple with semi-naked cakes, and so they may well be cheaper than buttercream or fondant cakes, however, if your cake designer is also making the decorative elements, e.g. macarons, this might not be the case.


Feel free to get in touch to chat more about wedding cake options - and keep an eye out for my next blog in a couple of weeks!


Happy wedding planning!

Miss Helen x

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