Ording a wedding cake or a cake for any special event can be overwhelming simply because we in the cake industry have a lot of industry terms we throw around and you, the customer, have no idea what we're talking about. Am I right?
Let's try to make a list to help you along as you go thru the ordering process.
Layer: A single cake baked in one pan. A sheet cake is a single layer of cake. One of those little round pans your mama uses when she bakes a cake is a layer. A single layer of cake is usually 2" tall.
Tier: A tier is usually a 2-layer cake (4" tall). Multiple tiers are assembled to create a wedding cake. A 3-tier cake is usually made up of 6 layers total.
Torted: A single layer of cake that is sliced in half to look like 2 layers. Many times a 2-layer cake is torted resulting in 4 thin layers of cake and 3 layers of filling. A bakery may charge extra for torted because of the extra labor involved. Be sure to ask.
Careful: I've seen grocery store bakeries set out a torted cake and call it a 2-layer cake. It's not. Really. It's not.
Icing (or Frosting): A sugary confection that covers the outside of the cake. Usually made with a fat (butter or shortening) and powdered sugar.
Fondant: A marshmellow based confection that covers the outside of the cake. Fondant covered cakes almost always have a buttercream layer of icing under the fondant, also. Fondant is rolled out (like pie dough), placed on the cake and rubbed smooth into place. It's like working with playdoh, only it's very edible. Many have been told fondant tastes terrible, but that totally depends on the fondant being used. (There is one commercial fondant that tastes like toxic waste and I refuse to use it, but all other fondants I've tried have been delicious!). Fondant is very versatile and allows a decorator to do lots of really great decorating.
Here is a fondant covered cake that looks like a wedding gown: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3301547841/in/photostream/
Here is a standard fondant covered cake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3106193090/
Filling: The stuff that is put between two layers of cake. This can be icing, fruit filling, pudding, mousse, etc.
NOTE: buttercream icing can be used as a filling. If we put icing on the outside of the cake, it's called "icing". If we put the same icing on the inside of a cake, it's called "filling".
Serving: The unit of measure used to let you know how many people you can feed with your cake. The number of servings is usually what the price is based on (i.e. $3 per serving). Be aware that the price is based on the number of servings the cake is designed to serve, NOT the number of servings that you plan to cut from it. So if you expect 100 guests and order cake that is DESIGNED to serve 125, you're going to pay for 125 servings.
Stacked: Tiers are "stacked" on top of each other, cakes touching, no pillars in between. This is a stacked cake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3557916241/
Pillared: Tiers have pillars or separators between the tiers. There is space between the tiers of cake to place flowers or just leave open space. This is a pillared cake with space: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3208396176/ This is a pillared cake will flowers filling the space: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3354399511/
Cake Fountains: Very popular in the late 70's/early 80's (I know because I was making cakes that long ago and can personally attest to it!), water fountains added height and grandeur to a wedding cake. They are still being used in cakes today. Here's a fountain cake I made just last week: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/3732781175/ and one I made last year: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/1810914285/
Carved or 3D cakes: These are cakes that are very artistic and take lots of time and skill. A lot of folks are starting to refer to these as "Duff Cakes", so named after Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes that can be seen on the show "Ace of Cakes". These cakes are expensive, not only because of the time and talent needed to create them, but also because of all the extra cake that we need to bake, so we can carve it away to create the shape/design the client is looking for. (Don't expect to get a carved or 3D cake for fifty bucks. It ain't gonna happen.)
Square cakes set "Slightly Askew": When the square cakes are placed in a slightly rotating pattern, much like a winding staircase. Here's an example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/2336841966/
Square cakes set Square-Diamond-Square: When the square cakes are turned so the bottom is a "square", the middle one is a "diamond" and the top one is a "square". Here's an example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55969028@N00/515526863/
Note of caution: The size of cakes can be an issue on the square-diamond-square pattern. While a 12" square cake can be placed in a normal straight position on top of a 14" cake, it won't work with the S-D-S pattern. See a 12" cake is 12" from side to side .... but it's 16" from corner to corner. Placing a 16" span on top of a 14" cake will cause the upper tier to hangover the edge. Not an attractive look. If you really like the S-D-S pattern, you may have to purchase more cake than you need to get the cake dimensions needed to make this work.
Topsy Turvy Cake: Sometimes called Whimsical Cakes or Mad-Hatter cakes, these cakes are designed to look like they are about to topple over. (Just so you know, it's an optical illusion. These are actually pretty stable.)
These should help you get through your bakery sampling appointment o.k. If you've heard other terms that you find confusing, let me know and we'll clarify them for you!
Debi Brim can be reached at email@example.com