Buttercream and Semi-Naked Wedding Cakes: Should we order one?

The alternatives to a fondant wedding cake are buttercream and semi-naked cakes. Although technically they are both buttercream cakes, they actually taste and look quite different so it’s worth considering them as two different options! Both options suit a more relaxed or modern style of wedding, looking perfect in barns, outdoors and most typical wedding venues. On this page, I’ll cover what buttercream/naked wedding cakes are, when they work best and share some design inspiration too…

What are the differences between fondant, buttercream and (semi-) naked wedding cakes?

The 3 main types of wedding cakes or icings that we talk about today are fondant, buttercream and (semi-) naked wedding cakes. When fruit cakes were common, you may also remember a type of icing called royal icing which was spread over the marzipan covered fruit cake and dried rock hard. In fact, it’s still a really popular covering for homemade Christmas cakes, but isn’t used any more for weddings. So let’s focus on the 3 main types of icing you might be considering for your wedding cake.

Fondant (bottom tier of image) is a soft paste which cake designers roll out and smooth over the top of a cake. You might also recognise it as sugar paste, or ready to roll icing. It creates a perfectly smooth, pure white covering on the cake which is perfect for more formal weddings in grand or historic venues. Not many guests actually eat the fondant covering, so this style often creates more waste than a buttercream or semi-naked cake. It also costs more than the other styles as it takes longer to make and uses more expensive ingredients.

Buttercream is a soft, spreadable icing. When a cake is fully covered, it’s a buttercream wedding cake. When a cake is not covered, or is partially covered, it’s a naked or semi-naked wedding cake (top tier of image). Cake designers typically use either a British buttercream (butter and icing sugar) or a Swiss meringue buttercream (meringue and butter which tastes like whipped cream). It doesn’t have the same perfectly smooth appearance as a fondant cake, instead it has a very subtly textured appearance and is easily smoothed into different patterns giving it a perfectly imperfect feel. With semi-naked cakes, the buttercream is scraped back until the cake is showing through, teasing what’s inside and cutting down on the potential waste of icing. Both styles look great decorated with artistic techniques, fruit or flowers.

What should we know before ordering a buttercream wedding cake?

When it comes to buttercream wedding cakes, they have a more modern feel to them. If the idea of a traditional, white, fondant wedding cake doesn’t appeal to you, then buttercream is perfect. You can use colour and artistic techniques to achieve some really modern looking wedding cakes. They aren’t as informal as a semi-naked cakes and can look really elegant with decorations like gold leaf. As cakes are fully covered, they offer a solid background for modern techniques like chocolate sails, wafer paper decorations and heavy textures. Buttercream wedding cakes are also a really great middle ground when it comes to budget and sustainability. They are a good mid-priced option, that can look really elegant, without all of the waste associated with a fondant wedding cake.

Rustic Buttercream Wedding Cake - The Runnymede Hotel, Staines, Surrey - Love from Lila

What should we know before ordering a (semi-) naked wedding cake?

As I mentioned above, there are two types of naked cake. A fully naked cake has no icing on the outside at all. When you look at it, you can see cake layers and icing layers. A semi-naked cake is covered in buttercream all over, but then scraped back so that you can see the cake peeking through underneath.

Like with buttercream cakes, naked cakes are particularly fickle and therefore, I only offer them in certain situations. I want you to enjoy your cake, and I know that naked cakes deteriorate very quickly. So I would usually only offer naked wedding cakes to couples with small numbers to feed, delivered locally and set up about 2 hours before serving. However, they’re great cakes for Summer as they’re light to eat and look beautiful when decorated with fresh berries.

For me, semi-naked cakes are perfect all year round. In Summer, because they aren’t covered in tonnes of (meltable) buttercream and aren’t too weighty, they tend to withstand slightly higher temperatures better. The lightness of the icing also works perfectly with seasonal British fruits or flowers. In Winter, you can completely transform the same semi-naked base to a darker, richer style with dark fruits and caramels. If the cake is being set up in a cooler room during Winter, it’s also going to be more enjoyable to eat as there won’t be large amounts of firmer buttercream/ganache on the outside.

Semi-naked cakes are ‘undressed’ so by their very nature are quite modern and informal. And they’re not very popular with more traditional couples and families. Your design options are more limited with semi-naked cakes, with most couples opting for one or a combination of the following designs: fresh fruit, fresh flowers, gold/silver leaf, patisserie (e.g. macarons, dried fruits), coloured buttercream, and stencilling. As the decoration tends to be more simple, and less time and ingredients are required to make semi-naked wedding cakes, they are cheaper than buttercream or fondant cakes. If you’re curious how much budget to set aside for wedding cakes in general, or want to read about my wedding cake pricing, then please do head over to the pages linked by the text.

I love semi-naked wedding cakes and think they are a great, sustainable option. To start with, it’s likely that most decorations you pick will be compostable/biodegradable because they’re completely edible, with no wires or plastics. You’re also likely to have less waste if you choose edible decorations and serve them alongside slices, and there won’t be any leftover fondant or ganache. If you do have slices left over, they can be eaten or frozen (much easier for naked than fondant cakes).

Gradient Naked Wedding Cake - Barnett Hill Hotel, Guildford, Surrey - Love from Lila
Semi-Naked Hanging Wedding Cake - Millbridge Court, Farnham, Surrey - Love from Lila

What type of weddings/designs are semi-naked wedding cakes suited to?

I want every couple to love their wedding cake, but there are certain styles of cake that suit different seasons or weddings. When you know what works best, or why something doesn’t work, it can help you have a more productive conversation with your cake designer. As I focus more on semi-naked wedding cakes than buttercream cakes, I’ll share my thoughts on when they work best:

  • simple designs
  • nature inspired designs (flowers, fruit, using seasonal ingredients)
  • rustic, textured designs
  • hot Summer days, cooler Winter days and everything in-between
  • modern, fuss free weddings
  • weddings where the emphasis is on good food – flavour and sustainability of ingredients
  • barns, outdoors, simple venues
  • couples who want a natural, biodegradable, plastic free wedding cake
Semi-Naked Wedding Cake with Flowers - Rivervale Barn, Yateley, Hampshire - Love from Lila