Week three in my ten part series and we are talking about modern and artistic: shapes.
Modern and artistic cake design, in my opinion, is a careful balance between: creative, aspirational, and inspiring ideas, pushing the boundaries, taking a nod from the current whilst still respecting the past, and focusing on the overall vision and style without forgetting the deeper meaning. It's not about 'trends' – it has a slightly more timeless appeal – but it is about authentically aiming to create unique and 'new' concepts, with personality.
Using shapes within cake decorating has, in itself, become a slight 'trend' of recent years. Whether that be geometric 'themes' or bold and striking three-dimensional creations (often including lots of colour, shards of chocolate, drip effects, and confectionery decorations like biscuits). These styles can work incredibly well if they suit your personality – and there are some very talented cake designers out there who specialise in such designs...but I want to talk about a slightly different take on using shapes, that doesn't tip into a trend but instead remains modern and artistic.
SOME OF MY FAVOURITE EXAMPLES
THREE-DIMENSIONAL. There are ways to use three-dimensional shapes, within a wedding or celebration cake design, that keep the focus firmly in the modern and artistic realms. More often than not, the key is finding a balance with other techniques, to really grasp the feel you are after.
Three-dimensional cubes or pyramids could take an otherwise very romantic, and pretty cake (with royal icing textures and lots of flowers), to another level – adding that modern touch that feels more 'you'. Alternatively, though technically two-dimensional, 'shards' can be used to create three-dimensional effects...and they don't have to be banished to the trendy bin entirely! If used carefully they can add that slight edge and personality to a design without overpowering or becoming too striking.
There is, however, a very fine line when using sharper shapes such as cubes or shards. It's very easy to add too many hard elements within a design which takes it away from modern and artistic and too far into trendy or overpowering – that's why I always like to turn to nature for inspiration. Nature is a wonderful balancer within design and can often help if the overall image is becoming too 'trendy'.
My favourite way to use three-dimensional shapes within cake decorating is definitely spheres. They still add that creative and modern touch, but don't look out of place with more romantic and artistic elements. For example, spheres creating a suggestion of water or air bubbles, mixed with a hand-painted nature-inspired design, can look artistic and style focused without becoming too harsh.
TWO-DIMENSIONAL. Instead of coming out from the cake, adding height, or physical depth – two-dimensional shapes stay on the surface of the cake – as close to flat as possible. Whether hand-painted, piped, or cut from icing, they can add a lot of interest and personality. They can be used as a base or background for lots of hand-crafted flowers – combining romance and nature with creativity and style. My favourite way to incorporate two-dimensional shapes into a modern and artistic wedding or celebration cake, however, is with a touch of pattern. Many cultures include patterns based on basic shapes, so incorporating a hint within a cake design can bring so much meaning.
WHERE TO START?
Shapes are an incredibly easy decorative technique to start using, what is more difficult is getting the right balance so as not to turn your design into a gimmicky, novelty, or 'trendy' cake. Always look for ways to add that artistic, perhaps even romantic, touch to your design – and if in doubt, go nature-inspired.
Experiment with hand-painted or piped patterns and sparingly start using them with other techniques to add personality. Try to also keep an element of movement within your overall design.
Three-dimensional shapes are best made from modelling icing, flower paste, or pastillage – depending on the required finish – and they can be supported structurally using cocktail sticks or wooden skewers. Two-dimensional cut-out shapes (if being stuck entirely to the surface icing of the cake) are best made from normal sugar-paste...as they will likely be too difficult to remove from the cake before serving and you don't want guests to break their teeth on harder setting icings!