There's a reason they call it "the icing on the cake." Your menu's grand finale will certainly be delicious, but the way your wedding cake looks is what will elevate it beyond mere dessert. What you may not know is that it doesn't always have to be icing on the cake. Take a look at the stenciled chocolate cakes here, in which powdered cocoa forms a monogram on each glazed surface. While classic techniques still have their place, contributing editor Wendy Kromer, who made some of the confections shown here, says, "It's not just about a piping bag and tips anymore." Cake decorating is an art, with a plethora of tools both new and repurposed -- and materials of many types. Other options include fondant cutouts made with tiny cookie cutters, medallions shaped with springerle molds, and sheets of fondant embossed with ribs using a tool found in an unlikely place -- the hobby shop. That source isn't as surprising as it sounds. There's something playful as well as beautiful about the results of all this ingenuity. You might say it has taken the tiered wedding treat to a whole new level.


Stenciled Monograms

Sometimes the simplest techniques produce the most striking effects, as is the case with these single tiers topped by cocoa-powder initials (his, hers, and theirs). Using a fairly dense cake, such as a pound cake or vegetable-oil-based cake, works best to provide an even surface to stencil, as does turning the flat bottom of the cake top-side. We glazed our

Chocolate-Cherry-Stout Cake with a cornstarch-based chocolate glaze. Once the glaze hardened, the stencils (available from Designer Stencils) were applied, and cocoa powder dusted on.


Cutout Flags

The paper picado flags typically found at Mexican celebrations serve as inspiration for this whimsical cake. Here they're fashioned from fondant, which was tinted in a variety of hues, then cut using eyelet and petit-four cutters. The flags were placed over baker's twine and attached with stiff royal icing. Some were propped away from the cake with paper towels while drying so they'd look as though they're fluttering joyfully in the breeze.


Molded Medallions

Highly detailed wooden springerle molds are traditionally used in cookie making; here a selection of botanically themed ones were pressed into white fondant, which was then cut to the right size with cookie cutters. The resulting plaques were attached to the fondant bands on the tiers with royal icing. The bands themselves were attached to the cake with gum glue; royal icing created a picot edge. As a final flourish, delicate vines, leaves, and berries were piped onto the tiers in royal icing.


Embossed Fondant

A classic pastry, the charlotte, sparked this design, but a rather unusual tool made it possible. Kromer molded the fondant coating with a sheet of ribbed plastic used by model makers. She trimmed the top edge with a scalloped cutter to resemble the lady fingers that would encircle a charlotte. A ribbon around each tier completes the theme, and sanding sugar glitters atop pink fondant. The plaque, also made from fondant, was embossed with a custom rubber stamp and attached with royal icing.


Piped Buttercream

Perhaps the most classic of cake finishes, buttercream always looks (and tastes) luscious. Kromer covered each tier of the cake in Swiss meringue buttercream, then created a repeated flourish with a petal tip. Half-circles traced on each tier provided a guide within which to pipe the fan shapes, done in plain and pink-tinted buttercream. This design relies on a single pastry tip, but because bakers have a large assortment from which to choose, piping can achieve a wide range of effects.

Cakes by Wendy Kromer and Avery Wittkamp


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