Cake Decorating Terminology (and what they mean)

If you’re just getting started with cake decorating, here’s a useful list of popular cake decorating terminology and what they signify. It’s like a cake decorating vocabulary list! It’s really convenient to have all of these cake decorating methods and equipment terminology in one spot.

So this is a lengthy article, but I wanted to compile a useful list of all the typical cake decorating terminology that a newbie may hear and may not understand.

They are listed alphabetically rather than in order of relevance, and maybe they will clear up any misunderstanding you may have.

(I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but I’ll come returning to update this article on a regular basis.)

Let’s get started.

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American buttercream is just buttercream prepared with powdered sugar and butter. There are additional components in it, but it is mostly a fat (butter or vegetable shortening), powdered sugar, and a little amount of liquid and flavour.

This buttercream is quite sweet, so add a bit of salt or use half unsalted and half salted butter while creating it.

Strictly, using vegetable shortening instead of butter does not make buttercream, although it is still referred to as such, and most grocery store cakes use a shortening-based frosting. It does have its uses, though, since it does not melt as quickly as all-butter buttercream and makes piping much simpler.

My recipe for (all butter) American buttercream may be found here.


Ball tools are entertaining since they may be used for a variety of purposes. They may be used to produce fondant figures, impart movement to fondant ruffles, and thin and ruffle gumpaste flower petals.

But, there is a secret to employing them to thin and ruffle petals. Make sure the ball is halfway on and halfway off the gumpaste petal. You’ll also need to place a hard shaping foam pad below it, which we’ll cover later in the piece.


A cake foundation is distinct from a cake board, while a cake board may be used to make a cake base. So, if that didn’t further perplex you, I’ll try again.

A cake foundation is the bottom base on which the whole cake will sit. It is occasionally embellished with plain white fanci foil or even coated with fondant. It’s basically the display board for the whole cake.

The cake foundation should not be confused with the cake board, which we will discuss later.

If you’re looking for advice and ideas on how to cover cake boards, check out this page.


Cake boards are the cake circles (or squares if the cake is square) that go beneath each stage. They are the same size as the top layer of the cake. You’ll need a cake board beneath each cake layer, particularly if you’re stacking them.

Cake boards may be built using cardboard cake rounds or from foamcore board. For the larger fondant-covered cakes, I prefer to use foamcore board.


A cake border is just what it sounds like: a border that goes around the cake, either on top or bottom. It may be fashioned with fondant or piped with icing.

This tutorial will provide you some suggestions on how create pipe borders.


Individual cooked cakes are referred to as cake layers. Filling a cake pan equals one layer. (Cake tiers vary, and we’ll get to that later.)

While assembling a cake, two to three layers of cake with filling in between are typical.


Cake layers are used to make cake tiers. A tier usually consists of three cake layers. Wedding cakes are often tiered. More on tiered cakes may be found in my blogs on stacking cakes and the anatomy of a decorated cake.


The cake turn table is one of the most important equipment in cake design. This gadget can save you a lot of trouble.

This will be used to create a smooth buttercream finish on your cake. It is far more difficult to adorn cakes without it. You may get a low-cost Wilton turn table or a more costly metal one. You should read this page to learn how to use it to obtain a smooth finish on your cake.


A cascade is a sort of floral arrangement that may be placed on your cake. From top to bottom, the flowers actually pour down the cake. You may use real flowers, silk flowers or gumpaste flowers.

This tutorial will teach you how to correctly attach and insert gumpaste flowers on cakes.


A center dowel is just a long wooden dowel that has one end sharpened and is put (or hammered) through the whole cake and the bottom cake foundation.

It adds structure to the cake and is particularly useful on towering cakes. Some people employ cake constructions with pipes going up from the bottom cake base and sliding the cake down them, but if you don’t have that type of setup, a central dowel may aid.

See this article on building tall cakes for more information on how and why to use a central dowel.


A crumb coat is just an extremely thin coating of buttercream applied to your cake after it has been filled to seal in the crumbs. You’ll start with a crumb coat, then let it rest before adding the final layer of buttercream.

It is not always necessary to apply a crumb coat. Chocolate cakes, in my experience, are more crumbly, thus a crumb coat is beneficial.

For a cake, I usually start with an extremely thin crumb coat layer and then let it settle before applying the second, thicker, and final coat of buttercream. If you want to learn more about my settling procedure and why I do it, see my article on why I don’t chill my cakes before decorating them.


Crusting buttercream is similar to American buttercream but contains shortening.

When a crusting buttercream-covered cake is exposed to air, the buttercream forms a very thin shell around it. This is great for piping buttercream flowers as well as smoothing buttercream using a paper towel.

My recipe for a heat stable, crusting buttercream may be found here.


A double barrel cake is simply a two-tiered cake with the same size layers. This is just a method of producing a really tall cake.

The cake will be divided into two tiers (at least two cake layers each tier) with a cake board in between, but frosted as one. This procedure is detailed in my article on how to build a tall cake.


Dowels are used to provide support to stacked cakes. Dowels may be made of wood, plastic, columns, bubble tea straws, and other materials. You just want them to be strong.

In my piece on stacking cakes, I go into great depth about dowels and how to utilize them.


Elephant skin is a strange wrinkled texture created by fondant when it is stretched too thinly or just dries off. You’ll recognize it as soon as you see it. It will never be smooth.

That seems to happen more when I use a specific sort of fondant. Liz Mareks’ fondant recipe is one of my favorites.

When I combine that recipe with an acetate smoother, my fondant becomes really smooth. Here’s how to build your own inexpensive acetate fondant smoother and how to cover a cake with fondant.


Cake filling is exactly what it sounds like. You’re just putting filler between the cake layers.

Add one cake layer to your cake foundation and put on filling, then repeat with another cake layer. You may fill your cakes with a variety of ingredients such as buttercream, pastry cream, fruit filling, ganache, and so on.


While dealing with gumpaste or fondant, firm shaping foam is employed. It’s often used to thin the margins of gumpaste flowers or leaves or to produce ruffles.


Buttercream flowers are made using a flower nail. It’s useful because you can twist the flower nail in your palm while you pipe on the petals.


Fondant is a stretchable and sweet cake coating. It is kneaded and thinly rolled out before being placed on a cake.

To give the fondant something to adhere to, the cake is frequently coated first with ganache or a thin coating of buttercream. When you use fondant on a cake, you may get a wonderfully smooth surface and have additional decorative possibilities.

Further information on how to cover a cake with fondant may be found here.


You will use fondant rollers to roll out your fondant or gumpaste. It is beneficial to have both tiny and big rollers.

The little fondant roller is useful for rolling out fondant embellishments or gumpaste flower petals, among other things. The huge fondant roller is used for rolling out large amounts of fondant to cover a cake.


Ganache is a chocolate and cream mixture. It’s incredibly simple to create, and there are many kinds, including flowing (or drippy) ganache, whipped ganache, and hard ganache (which is great under fondant).

You may find instructions for making ganache here.


A glaze may be whatever taste you like. It is just a thinner version of buttercream and is often drizzled or poured over a cake.


Gumpaste is a sugar paste similar to fondant but more stretchy. It also dries harder than fondant. It is used to manufacture sugar flowers and any other kind of decoration that has to be exceptionally rigid when dried.

There are several brands available, including Wilton, Satin Ice, and Fat Daddios, as well as the option to manufacture your own.


Gumpaste flowers are manufactured from, you guessed it, gum paste. Gumpaste is much superior than fondant for producing sugar flowers because it is more elastic and dries faster.

You can see my tutorial for making a gumpaste rose here.


Heat stable buttercream is often created in the United States using vegetable shortening rather than butter. Shortening is used instead of butter because it holds up better to heat.

Of course, no buttercream can tolerate sitting in the hot sun for long, but one made with shortening can. My recipe may be found here.


I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but icing a cake simply means coating it with icing, such as buttercream or a glaze.


The icing coupler is a handy little device. They are fantastic, and every cake designer should have a collection of them. As you add them to your piping bags, you can change up your piping tips!

They are amazing and save you so much time and trouble.


An icing dam is a line of icing piped just around the interior of each cake layer, then filled with buttercream, fruit filling, or another form of filling. The dam is piped to prevent filling between layers from squishing out and forming ridges around your cake.

Unless I’m using a filling other than buttercream, I seldom use a dam. They don’t work as well when you use the same buttercream to fill the cake, in my opinion.

Allowing the cake to settle works best for me. You may learn more about that procedure by reading this page.


Icing spatulas are simply long, smooth spatulas used to apply icing on cakes. You may use either offset spatulas (angled spatulas) or flat spatulas. But lately, I’ve been drawn to the flat ones.


Kneading fondant is similar to kneading bread. Just knead the fondant a little more to make it elastic and to incorporate any colors. Even if you aren’t adding food coloring, you should knead your fondant before using it.


You must have level cake layers if you do not want your cake to lean on you or have gaps that pose problems when you are decorating it.

They may bake with a dome on top, which you should remove with a cake leveler. You must have flat tops on your layers or you will have a difficult time decorating your cake.

You should read this article on baking and achieving even cake layers.


There are many different varieties of fondant, but my favorite is marshmallow fondant. There are several recipes for it on the internet as well. This fondant seems to be softer than some of the other fondant products, but the flavor is much superior.

Personally, I use Liz Marek’s recipe, which is half marshmallow fondant and part ready-made fondant, and it is excellent and has worked extremely well for me. That recipe may be found here.


Meringue powder is a kind of egg white replacement. It may be used to produce royal icing or added to buttercream to stabilize it.


Modeling chocolate is a chocolate that can be molded. It can be moulded and molded into patterns and even rolled out to wrap around cakes in the same way as fondant can, although it is not as flexible.


These are cakes that are just partially coated with buttercream. A naked cake contains just filling between the layers, but a semi-naked cake has a thin covering of buttercream on the exterior of the cake that is scraped away in portions.


Piping is just squeezing icing from a piping bag onto a cake or a flower nail. Words, flowers, and other designs may be piped.

Check out my post on simple buttercream borders here.


In order to pipe icing (buttercream) onto cakes, icing (buttercream) is put to a piping bag along with a piping tip (or other things).


Piping gel is similar to edible goo (for lack of a better term). It may be used in a variety of ways. You may use it to create a water effect, combine it with edible colored dust and use it for stenciling, attach fondant décor to your cakes, attach sprinkles to fondant, and so on.


Piping tips are available in a range of shapes and sizes and are used to pipe different icing patterns and shapes. My favorite piping tips and how to utilize them may be found here.


Royal icing is often created with egg whites or meringue powder and dries very hard. It is mostly used to embellish cookies, but it may also be piped onto cakes, fondant, or used to glue fondant or gumpaste ornamentation to cakes.


After you fill your cake layers, cover them with plastic wrap and set them aside for at least several hours, you are settling.

This settling enables the cake layers and filling to perform any necessary moving before applying the exterior covering of buttercream. Settling helps prevent icing ridges and buttercream blowouts on your cake.


For producing gumpaste flowers, soft molding foam is often utilized. You’ll normally use your ball tools to give some curvature to your gumpaste or fondant flowers.


Sprinkles are the little multicolored edible décor that you may sprinkle on cakes and cupcakes. Dragees are often tougher and, in some cases, metallic in color.


Stacking a cake is simply placing one layer of cake on top of another tier of cake. To give it stability, you will undoubtedly need to employ a support system such as dowels and cake boards. You should read this post on stacking cakes.


Swiss meringue buttercream is a less sweet, lighter variant of buttercream. It’s largely comprised of egg whites and butter, and it’s beaten to a light, airy texture.


Torting is the process of cutting each cake layer in half (or if its thicker layers you can slice them into more than just two cake layers.)

It effectively creates thinner cake layers, which are subsequently filled in between.


Tylose powder may be used into fondant to make it harder. If you’re making fondant décor that has to harden and don’t have or want to use gumpaste, knead a dab of tylose into your fondant to firm it up.


Wafer paper is a kind of edible paper. It is often produced from rice or potato flour and may be used to create flowers, bows, and other patterns for use on cakes. I constructed the flowers above out of wafer paper and colored them with petal dust.

That’s all for now, my buddy! I’ll make sure to return and update this list as needed.

And if you spot something missing, please let me know in the comments and I will add it!

Related Cake Decorating Posts You Might Like:

  • You Just Need a Few Dollars to Begin Designing Cakes
  • Cake Making and Decorating Books We Love
  • The Structure of a Decorated Cake
  • 12 Quick and Easy Buttercream Borders

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