There’s plenty to think about when selecting your wedding cake, including the size and shape, design, and, of course, flavor. (No matter what, it should all be fun—we’re talking about cake!) One of the most crucial elements to keep in mind when deciding on your cake is the wedding cake frosting since it not only impacts the visuals but also the flavor.
If you have already selected a wedding cake designer, they will advise you on what frosting would be best based on the types they work with, their design style, and your wedding aesthetic. Alternatively, if you are still trying to decide what bakery or cake style you want, it’s useful to know what types of frosting you like the look and taste of going into the process.
Meet the Expert
- Jamaica Crist is the owner and pastry chef at Top Tier Treats in Los Angeles. She opened her shop in 2005.
- Melissa Redell is the co-owner of The Solvang Bakery, a family bakery in Solvang, California.
- Megan Clark is the owner and pastry chef at Megan Joy Cakes in Eagle, Colorado. She specializes in unique flavor pairings.
“There are a ton of various frosting options for cakes...assorted buttercreams, ganaches, and fondant options,” says cake artist Jamaica Crist from Top Tier Treats in Los Angeles. “Within each category, there are also a ton of different recipes available, and cake artists tend to have favorite recipes and types that work best for them and the cakes they offer.”
We spoke with several cake designers about some of the most popular wedding cake frostings, from fondant to ganache. Below, the full rundown.
Primarily made out of sugar, fondant is a sweet sugar paste that is rolled out in large pieces to place and shape on the cake for a flawless finish.
“Bakers love it because it’s perfect for intricate designs and details that can not be mastered with buttercream,” says Melissa Redell, co-owner of The Solvang Bakery in Solvang, California. “Plus, the smooth texture prevents any accidental smudging and it is stable for six to ten hours on display for indoor or outdoor venues.” (If you’re having a wedding in a warm-weather climate, for example, would be a great option for you.)
"While some clients love how sweet fondant is, some find fondant to be too thick or sweet,” she says. (Fondant is often crucial to certain cake designs.) Luckily, they are able to balance out the sweetness with a less sweet filling for the cake. The other downside? Fondant is often the most costly of wedding cake frosting options, so if you’re trying to find ways to save, a fondant cake might not be your best bet. Fondant designs from The Solvang Bakery run about $10 per slice.
Remember types of cake frosting can be mixed and matched, just as designs and flavors can be. For instance, at Megan Joy Cakes, all cakes include their Swiss meringue buttercream, while their signature designs feature Swiss meringue buttercream covered in fondant.
There are many different types of buttercream, but a simple buttercream frosting is made up of butter, powdered sugar, and either milk or cream. Buttercream is great because it can be finished in a variety of ways.
American buttercream cakes are a classic, reliably good option. “It’s beautiful for elegant or rustic designs,” says Redell. “It is also great for outdoor or indoor weddings because it can stay stable for six hours on display in most temperatures and settings.” Plus, this type of frosting is typically more affordable than some of the others. (The Solvang Bakery’s buttercream cakes are around $6 per slice.)
“Some clients find buttercream to be too sweet (like fondant), but we can usually do a filling of whipped cream and fresh fruit to balance this,” she adds.
Italian or Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Italian and Swiss buttercream, both two popular buttercream options for cakes, are both made with meringue.
People are drawn to both Italian and Swiss meringue buttercream because they are decidedly less sweet when compared to a classic American buttercream. Plus, the fluffy texture is perfection. “Besides the taste, we primarily use Swiss meringue buttercream because it is stable and sturdy for the structural demands of building a wedding cake,” says Megan Clark of Megan Joy Cakes in Colorado. “It also yields a smooth exterior finish, which is exactly what we need to cover cakes with rolled fondant. Our signature designs are all cakes made with swiss meringue buttercream and covered in fondant.”
Swiss meringue buttercream is the perfect choice for couples who want their wedding cake to have great flavor without being cloyingly sweet and heavy. It also creates cakes with a smooth finish, adds Clark.
This type of frosting won’t hold up well for long periods of time or in really hot weather, so if you’re having an outdoor summer wedding, you might want to avoid Italian/Swiss meringue buttercream.
Megan Joy Cakes signature cake designs featuring Swiss meringue buttercream start at $18 per slice.
Cream Cheese Buttercream Blend
Add cream cheese to your buttercream and you have a cream cheese buttercream blend.
The bonus of cream cheese-buttercream? The insanely tasty flavor. (If you’re a couple that loves a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, for example, this option is a no-brainer.) “People love it for its delicious taste that complements red velvet, carrot or lemon cake really nicely,” says Redell of The Solvang Bakery.
The downside is that it can have a yellow-ish tint, due to the nature of cream cheese, but blended with the buttercream it creates a nice, soft white hue, she adds.
Solvang Bakery’s cream cheese buttercream cakes are around $6 per slice.
Whipped cream frosting is made up of whipped cream and powdered sugar.
Like both whipped cream and powdered sugar, this simple mixture is both delicious and light.
The downside? It can only be used for a smooth frosting finish. “We rarely use this type on the outside of cakes, due to the limited time it can be out of a cooler and on display, but it is preferred by clients that desire a less sweet tasting frosting,” says Redell.
The Solvang Bakery’s whipped cream cakes are around $6 per slice.
Calling all chocolate lovers—this one's for you. Ganache is typically a mixture of equal parts chocolate and cream and if you like chocolate, this will likely be your favorite frosting of all.
“We use a darker—64 percent—chocolate, a little corn syrup, and heated heavy cream—it is a fudgier consistency that is a great outside icing,” says Crist from Top Tier Treats. “We also use white ganache when we need to do colorful drips on a cake.”
Ganache cakes can handle high temperatures, but be careful to avoid changes in the temperature it’s being kept in to avoid any issues. (If your cake has to be transported long distances and the temperature won’t be controlled, for example, perhaps re-think going with a ganache cake.)
The cost of ganache cakes greatly depends on the quality of the chocolate the baker is working with.
Have more cake questions? Check out our guide to all things cakes below.