Cake Layer or Tier? - Wedding Cake Designer in New Jersey

January 9, 2018

Icing? Frosting? Filling? Layer? Tier? Who knew there were so many terms for cake!

Often during a cake tasting, couples will ask to know the difference between a layer and a tier. Are they the same? It made me think, 'you know, cake terms truly can be confusing, so let's write a blog post to help.'

Here are just a few terms that you'll find in the cake baking and decorating process. This is not meant to be a technical or complete list, but rather just the common terms to familiarize yourself enough to help you in your research and/or at your cake tasting appointment:

American Buttercream: This is the type of buttercream that is most familiar to people. Traditionally, it is made with butter, confectioner's sugar, a small amount of milk or cream, a dash of vanilla and salt. After it is beaten, it can be flavored any way, with fruit, coffee, melted chocolate and so on. It is not a light style of buttercream and the confectioner's sugar makes it very sweet. Many bakeries will substitute some or all of the butter for a shortening-type product, which results in a greasy flavor.

Border: A border is a decorative element added at the bottom of a cake tier to help add a finished look. A decorative border can be a straight ribbon, piped swirls, sugar lace,beads, or some other element. Sometimes, depending on the cake design on the sides of the cake, a border is not needed. Before a decorative border is applied, a cake designer will pipe royal icing or buttercream at the bottom of the cake tier as a seal and smooth it so it looks seamless on top of the tier underneath it.

Cake Board: The bottom board that holds the cake. Various materials can be used as cake boards, depending on the weight of a cake. For most tiered cakes, either masonite or wood works the best. Single tier or two-tier cakes may be able to have foamcore as the cake board.

Cake Layer: A cake layer is the layer of cake that comes out of the pan. Sometimes the cake layer can be sliced to create thinner cake layers. Between each of the cake layers is the filling. For wedding cakes, usually 3 or 4 cake layers are used.

Cake Stand: A cake stand is an optional, decorative base that the cake sits on for display.

Cake Table: The cake table is a table provided by your venue where your cake will sit. The cake table location is usually near the bride and groom, but it can be placed in another location. You'll want your cake to be prominently displayed so be sure to work with your venue and wedding planner for the best possible location. A cake table can be beautifully decorated, too. Stay tuned for a blog post on cake table decorations!

Cake Tier: A cake tier is made of several cake and filling layers. For wedding cakes, you will find either 3 layers of cake with 2 layers of filling, or 4 thinner layers of cake with 3 layers of filling. They are sometimes referred to as "levels."

Filling: Filling is the soft, yummy goodness that goes between the cake layers. This can be buttercream, ganache, mousee, curd, fruit preserves, whipped cream, custard, and so on. For tiered cakes, a sturdy filling such as buttercream or ganache is best for stability.

Fondant: Fondant is a rolled icing.  Fondant is made up of sugar, corn syrup, vegetable gums, glycerine, and colors. The best way to use fondant is for it to be rolled thin and applied to an iced cake. The decorating options are endless, which is not the case with buttercream. Fondant also keeps the cake at its freshest and allows it to be displayed longer in less than desirable conditions.

French Meringue Buttercream: A light, but full-bodied buttercream made with egg yolks, sugar and butter. It can be flavored with fruit, coffee, extracts, melted/cooled chocolate, liquors, and other flavors.

Frosting: Frosting is typically referred to as a fluffy icing (buttercream) that is applied to the outside of a cake. Frosting can be decorative or just smooth, though we sometimes are reminded of those large sweet swirls on the side of a cake.

Ganache: Ganache is a luscious combination of chocolate and heavy cream. The ratios between chocolate and heavy cream depends on what you're using it for, the type of chocolate and the percentage of cacao. Ganache is used for fillings, truffles, and as an icing either under fondant or on its own.

Icing: Icing coats the outside of the cake tier. A thin coat of icing is used first to seal a layered cake so the crumbs don't show through (also known as "crumb coat"). The decorating surface of a cake is either a thicker coat of icing or a thin layer of fondant over the crumb coat. Popular icings are buttercream, ganache or fondant.

Italian Meringue Buttercream: A very stable buttercream made by pouring hot sugar syrup over whipping egg whites and beating in butter. It can be flavored in the same manor as French Meringue Buttercream.

Royal Icing: Royal icing is a mixture of egg whites (either fresh, pasteurized, or dried, known as meringue powder) and confectioner's sugar. Water is added as the liquid if made with meringue powder. The mixture is beaten to the desired consistency. It dries very firm, but can be made soft with the addition of glycerin. Color and flavor extracts can be added. Royal icing has its heritage in Europe, specifically England where it was used to ice and decorate cakes. Popular uses for royal icing are piping and as an adhesive for decorations, etc.

Stack, Stacked or Stacking: Refers to the action or appearance of cake tiers placed on top of each other. Internal supports must be used when placing cake tiers on top of each other so that the cakes don't compress.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream: A very light but stable buttercream made with egg whites, sugar and butter that's beaten to a fluffy consistency. It can be flavored the same way as French Meringue Butttercream.

Tiered Cake(s): A tiered cake is your beautiful and delicious wedding cake made up of two or more cake tiers.

Tort or Torting: The act of slicing a cake layer in half is called torting. This makes for thinner cake layers and a lesser amount of filling.