Choosing the finish of your wedding cake is a big decision for couples. A simple decision such as whether to opt for a naked or fully iced wedding cake can affect the cost of your cake; the decoration style you can opt for; the texture and freshness of your cake; how and when your designer decorates it; your options for allergen and dietary requirements and much more. But before I head into all of that, lets start with the differences!
There are two styles of naked cake, but both consist of a layered cake with buttercream, ganache and/or preserve sandwiching them together, and fully exposed cake on the outside like a Victoria sandwich. Sometimes they may have buttercream or ganache on top as well but not always, this usually depends on what decoration style is used. The main difference between the two styles of naked cake is the finish. You can opt for a more rustic finish with cream and jam that oozes out slightly, or the more polished finish where this is swept around to give a smoother and more elegant look.
Naked cakes have been hugely popular with couples since they first gained popularity in 2013, and this shows no sign of ebbing. They are a great option for rustic and simple weddings, they look great adorned with fruit and edible flowers, and since many people are not great fans of fondant icing anyway, they showcase what most people really care about, that scrummy cake inside!
The semi-naked cake is really a halfway house between a naked cake and a fully iced cake. When you decorate a cake usually your first step is to add a thin layer of buttercream or ganache which is then mostly scrapped off. In the cake decorating world this is known a crumb coat, as it locks in all the crumbs, preventing them from showing up in your outer layer of buttercream. This usually doesn't have to be that neat, but since with a semi-naked cake this is the only layer that is seen it has to be pristine. We don't want crumbs in this crumb coat, that wouldn't do at all. Semi-naked cakes always show some exposed layers of cakes, but not all of them. Because this thin layer of buttercream or ganache is added to the outside, the finish if done well, is much neater than a simple naked cake, and gives a much more elegant feel, which is why it is such a popular choice for weddings. With a semi-naked finish you can achieve the sharp edges and clean lines that make all the difference.
Fully Iced Cakes
A fully iced cake is one that has had a final thick coat of buttercream or ganache, or one that has been covered in fondant or royal icing. This style of cake has no exposed cake at all, the coating is usually 0.5mm or more. Traditionally royal icing was decoration of choice here in the UK, with fondant being introduced in the 1960s and gaining popularity, to become the the decoration of choice for wedding cakes and celebration cakes. Here at Red Robin Pantry we only decorate our cakes with Italian meringue buttercream or ganache, not fondant as these are our specialties. Until a couple of years ago buttercream didn't get much of a look in outside of naked and semi-naked cakes. In just the past few years new techniques in buttercream decorating have allowed cake designers to experiment with this fantastic medium and create works of art that can rival any fondant cake. Buttercream wedding cakes are becoming more and more popular every year, and why shouldn't they!
So now that you know the difference how do you decide? What are the pros and cons of each style? Lets take a look.
This is probably one of the most important factors, as your choice of base effects how your cake can be decorated. For example, if you want washed colours, geometric shapes or drips down the side of your cake then a naked cake won't be the best choice for you. Naked cakes have limitations when it comes to decoration, you are mostly confined to fruit or edible flower decorations, or other decorations that can be placed on the cake in situ such as meringue kisses and macarons. Drips don't really work even on the smoother finish naked cakes as there are always ridges between the layers and the drips don't fall smoothly.
Now if your dream cake is fully of drips and an Italian meringue cascade that's been lightly toasted then a semi-naked cake might be the option for you. Drips look great on semi-naked cakes. In fact a lot of decorations that you would usually decorated a fully iced cake with can be used to decorate a semi-naked cake, including piping and painted buttercream. One thing to think about when opting for decoration that needs to be added well in advance is freshness, semi-naked cakes are still quite exposed to the elements, and adding painted sections and other more elaborate decoration can mean that your cake has to be iced earlier and is exposed for longer (more on this below). Like naked cakes fruit and edible flowers make great decoration options and these decorations can give you a simple elegance when used to decorate a semi-naked cake.
When it comes to fully iced cakes, the options are endless. Anything you can do with a naked or semi-naked cake can be done with a fully iced cake and so much more. Here at Red Robin Pantry we specialise in buttercream painting, so whether you're looking for a floral vintage inspired cake, something coastal or just abstract and modern there are so many ways to make your wedding cake your own. Take a look through our gallery for inspiration or let yourself loose on Instagram and Pinterest!
This is probably the easiest to determine. Do you want a rustic farmhouse feel to your cake in which case naked and semi-naked cakes are a great option or do you want an elegant statement piece. Knowing the style and feel of your wedding before you come to choosing your cake is a great help.
How and When It's Decorated
When it comes to buttercream cakes, fully iced cakes are usually fully stacked and decorated by your designer at their studio or bakery. To transport them safely they use wooden dowels and central supports to keep the cake ridged during transport. This means larger cakes can become very heavy. The average wedding cake is 15-20kg and needs to be carried with care. I tell you this is the most nerve racking part of my job. If your wedding venue has lots of stairs, for example Lusty Glaze in Newquay, this might be an issue. Some styles can incorporate cake separators, which is particularly helpful for 4-5 tier wedding cakes.
Naked cakes are pretty much always assembled at the venue, which makes them ideal for venues such as this. And all the decoration is added in situ. Semi-naked cakes are often assembled at wedding venues too, but this usually depends on the decoration styles. Minimalist styles that don't have much decoration are usually assembled in the studio, as it's easier to create clean seams between tiers here, though fresh flower and fruit decoration no matter the style are always added in situ, as these can fall off during transport.
Depending on you budget and the number of guests you need to feed this is for a lot of people one of the main contributing factors. Naked cakes are generally the cheapest option, particularly if you keep the decoration minimalist. Semi-naked cakes and fully iced cakes are usually more, with the gap between semi-naked and naked being greater than semi-naked and fully iced. You might think this is strange, since the semi-naked cake only has a thin layer of buttercream. Why would it be priced closer to a fully iced cake. Well in order to get that clean crumb free thin layer of buttercream, you need three things, time, patience and a whole lot of extra buttercream. You might remember I spoke about crumb coats earlier. These are usually a thin and quick coat of buttercream or ganache used to lock in crumbs. When you do these you can use a small amount of buttercream and move it around until the cake is completely coated, adding more if needed. With a semi-naked cake if you try to decorate your cake like this, it won't look very appetising. To get that smooth finish with exposed cake you need to start with a thick and soft coat of buttercream, preferable one that has been piped on. This means that rather than scraping buttercream around, you are scraping excess off. This means that you will use a lot more buttercream than what actually gets used on the cake. The cleaner finish of the style, also takes longer to achieve.
The second factor effecting price is flowers and decoration. You might then that a fully iced cake is always the most expensive option, and it does have the capacity for this. But a naked cake with roses and other large blooms can be just as expensive if not more so than a fully iced cake with a simple abstract painted design. Seasonal blooms and to a larger extent fruit tend to be the cheaper option compared to larger blooms.
One of the biggest issues with naked and semi-naked cakes if freshness. Naked cakes are particularly problematic, because these cakes are exposed to the elements they begin to dry out quickly. Your cake designer will usually choose to ice these as late as possible to reduce this as much as possible. But even with that, it still needs to have time to firm up in the fridge for transport and usually a cake will sit out for 6-8hrs or more before it is cut, especially if you want it ready for your guests arrival. This is a long time. There are tricks that cake designers use to help prevent this from happening, such as adding sugar syrups, though this adds to the sweetness of your cake. Semi-naked cakes still have this problem to a degree, though the thin layer of buttercream that seals in the cake does make quite a bit of difference, they still can't be made and chilled too far in advance, as cold air in the fridge dried out cake more than anything else. Fully iced cakes, on the other hand, lock in moisture. So until your cake is cut there is no risk of your cake beginning to dry out on you.
This might not make much difference with all cake designers. But here at Red Robin Pantry we bake our fully iced cakes at a lower temperature than our naked and semi-naked cakes. The reason for this is that cake bakes better at a lower temperature of 160 degrees celsius. You get a more even rise, a moister sponge and if you bake in layers very little crust on the outside. This makes for a much better sponge. However, these cakes are not great for naked or semi-naked cakes, as there outer crust is too soft and crumbly. Which doesn't look good at all when your cake is exposed. So in order to get the right look and finish you need caramelisation in your crust. Basically, it needs to be golden. This means when you apply your nice thick and soft buttercream that I mentioned earlier when discussing price there are far fewer crumbs to worry about, and you can achieve a nice clean finish. The compromise for this is that you lose some of the moistness, and if you are not careful about how long you bake for or the temperature you bake at you run the risk of a dry cake. To limit this the optimum baking temperature for a semi-naked or naked cake is 170 degrees celsius. Anymore higher than this and you are at risk of cake volcanoes too.
Well of course your cake will be designed with the dietary requirements of your guests in mind. But what if you require different tiers to cater to different guests with different allergies, intolerances or specialist diets. What then? You need to make sure your vegan friends don't end up with real butter buttercream touching their vegan cake, and your celiac and nut free friends don't want any cross-contamination, that won't end well. Allergies and intolerance will affect your final design to some extent. If you need allergen friendly tiers though these will need to be on larger cake boards than those that would usually be used. With naked or semi-naked cakes this often means using decoration to hide this. If the cake of your dreams has just a few roses placed at the base of the cake in a minimalist style you might have to rethink this. Fruit and flowers adorning the tops of each tier are the only real way to disguise this. So you may need to consider slightly more elaborate decoration. With fully Iced cakes this is less of an issue as a larger board can be used and then covered with another layer of buttercream.
Vegan and dairy free cakes result in another issue which is more of a problem with fully iced cakes, as naked and semi-naked cakes can be treated the same way as above. But when you have two buttercream to contend with that can't touch each other we can no longer just hide a larger board with more buttercream. Opting for fruit and flower decoration is an option, but not all fully iced cakes are decorated with these. So how do we keep those cakes apart without drastically changing the style and aesthetic of the cake. One option is separators.
The cake below is from the cake stand and separator designers PropOptions and is a great way to keep cake tiers with different allergens apart, they also are a great way to add extra hight or give the impression of larger three tier cake when perhaps all you need is a two tier.
If all else fails however, there's always cupcakes!!
Why Choose When You Can Have It All!!!
If you've come to the end of this blog post and you still don't know which is the style for you then fear not, because you don't have to choose just one if you don't want to, that's the wonderful thing about tiered cakes. Why not opt for different finishes on different tiers. you could choose a naked chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache on top, with a block dark olive green tier in the middle with simple painted flowers in a cascade running down onto a white semi-naked tier at the bottom with a dark chocolate drip running down the side to tie in with your chocolate tier on top! Or this pink ombre and semi-naked cake with a dried rose cascade works well too!