How to Design a Cake – 10 Step Guide
Designing cakes can sometimes be a daunting task and is very much a kin to creating any kind of art. When an artist has a blank piece of paper or a blank canvas in front of them trying to come up with a masterpiece, they often ask themselves the question… “What should I create?” or in this case, “How will this cake look?”. The answer to this question will depend on many, many factors and I am going to go through some of them in this article. The guides and steps in this article will mostly be focused on a cake business scenario.
It’s important to mention that designing a cake is usually also the process of planning a cake, which is why it’s a very important step to take and should be given a lot of consideration. The more time you spend designing and planning your cake, the easier it will be to make the cake. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
Every cake design often starts with a pre-determined theme. If you’re lucky enough to be in a situation where the customer allows you to have 100% freedom with how you want to design the cake, then that’s great! You’ve basically got unlimited possibilities.
In most cases however, when we make a cake, we have a specific theme or guidelines that have been set by the receiver of the cake, whether it be the client, the people getting married or the birthday boy/girl, you’ve most likely been given a theme to design the cake around.
Once we know the main theme of the cake design, we usually need some points of reference. Whether it is a photo that the client has provided, or a range of photos that we find through searches on the internet. A good place to start is to see what kind of cakes others have created with that particular theme/idea. A simple Google search for similar cake design ideas will give you plenty of inspiration. For example, if we are going to make a Barbie cake or a Unicorn Cake, we would search for cakes with these themes and come across hundreds of ideas to brainstorm with. It’s also very common for a client to bring you a photograph of another cake, but that’s not what this article is about. If you’ve been given a photo of a cake and the client says “make me this cake exactly as it is”, then there is not much designing going on. Often times though, they do want some things changed, either to fit their budget or the number of servings required.
Whatever the idea or theme for the cake is, before we do anything with baking tins and mixers, we first need to plan the cake. Regardless of whether the theme of the cake is determined by your client or completely up to you, usually there are some important questions that first need to be answered…
How many servings are required and how tall does the cake need to be?
Number of portions plays a massive role in how a cake should be designed because it usually determines how big the cake needs to be or how many tiers there needs to be to be able to serve all the guests at the event. Having said that, often times there are ways we can make a cake bigger in size without actually adding more cake. This can be done by adding dummy cakes (Styrofoam), making some parts of the cake from alternative edible materials (like rice crispy treats) or by increasing the height of the cake with pillars. Ultimately, number of portions and portion sizes are very important things to consider when designing your cake.
How fussy or particular do I need to be?
When designing a cake, it’s also important to consider how particular a customer is. We can often understand how particular a customer is when we sit down for the consultation. If a customer is very particular, we need to spend a little more energy on making sure everything is perfect, not only when designing the cake but also when making it. This is something that will vary from client to client but its good practice to always give it your best and be particular yourself. Of course it is also important to manage your resources in terms of time spent for value provided.
Sketch your design
Obviously before the cake becomes a reality, it needs to visualized in order to be accepted by a potential customer. This can be done with a photo of a previously created cake but in most cases, the customer will likely want to change things. This is where you will need to draw/sketch your design to show the customer what they will be getting. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy cake customer. Providing an accurate depiction of how the cake will look, before you make the cake, will prevent potential issues at the end of the day. The more accurate the drawing is, the less the customer will have to complain about because they knew what they were getting right from the beginning, and it was agreed upon. Another way to improve accuracy is to do a life-size sketch. This way the customer also gets an understanding of size. It’s always good to be as professional as possible so a well designed and detailed sketch also shows the customer how serious you are and assures them that you are willing to pay attention to detail for them.
What is the clients budget?
Another major variable in a cake design is how much the customer is willing to spend on the cake. A customer needs to understand why you are charging the amount that you are charging for their cake, and there’s no better way to do this than itemization. Break everything down into specific elements, each with its own price. This is also why creating a detailed sketch is important. It displays all the items, decorations and work that is involved in the cake and how much each of those things cost for the customer. It also helps with meeting the customers budget because it allows them to modify the design and decide what’s important to them. Read more about how to price cakes with itemization in our How to Price Cakes article.
10 Step Guide on How to Design a Cake
1. Obtain notes of prerequisites and reference pictures if available.
2. Do some research to get additional information.
3. Have the answers of following questions before starting the sketch.
- How many portions of cake will be needed at the event?
- How tall does the cake need to be?
- Are dummy cakes accepted if the height is important?
- Are pillars accepted if the height is important?
- Does the customer wish to keep part of the cake?
- Is there any customer indication of a particular concept/theme and colours?
- Is there any customer indication of number of tiers or shape (ie. round, square etc.)?
- Are there any preferred types of flowers?
- Is the cake being picked up or delivered, and if being delivered, how far does the cake need to travel?
- What flavours are required (Consider allergy issues)?
- What is the customers budget? This question is only asked if is necessary and should be reserved to maybe asking only after the initial price is not agreed upon.
4. Obtain suitable stationary.
- A4 pages.
- Pencil and eraser.
- Transparent ruler and measuring tape.
- Marker pen set.
- Large paper to achieve a life size drawing.
- Semi transparent sheet for construction drawing (opaque cellophane or silicon paper). This allow you to sketch and show any internal construction over the life size drawing.
- Colouring needs if necessary (colouring pencils, crayons etc.).
5. Make a quick basic sketch on A4 size paper if necessary. Multiple versions are preferred.
- Use pencil with soft lines and gradually darken it.
- Choose to draw a side view and a top view to be correct with measurements.
- Do not fear to make mistake and allow your self to draw over lapping multiple lines.
- Start from the base and follow with cake shapes only.
- Add other decorations in a symbolic way rather than in detail just to see the flow and proportion.
- Make sure all prerequisites are considered.
- Add your own ideas to the design by staying within the concept.
6. Create a life size drawing with multiple dim pencil lines.
- Draw two little indication marks showing lowest and highest point of actual size of the cake on a large paper.
- Find the scale ratio, dividing actual height to sketch height with maximum one decimal point (example 60cm / 22cm = 2.7).
- Draw all components one after another on a large paper referring to ratio to stay in correct proportion. You may still use over lapping lines but all with a light pencil to be able to clean with rubber eventually.
- Pay more attention to detail.
7. Make changes to finalize the design.
- Take a break and came back to drawing to see the requirements a little better.
- You may add or remove components while you’re still working with pencil, considering conceptual correctness.
- Consider making changes to improve integrity of construction.
8. Draw clear lines lines with a marker pen.
- Draw components at the front first, and work your way to components at the back.
- Use single lines in different thicknesses to create contrast and depth.
- Use close and parallel thin lines (cross-hatching) to create shadow by filling some areas.
- Erase pencil lines.
9. Think about the construction.
- Place semi transparent paper on top to be able to draw non-edible construction parts on a separate sheet.
- Write descriptions of materials that will be used and their measurements.
- Consider food safety and include barriers where non edible items touch edible items.
10. Think about adding colours to your design to make things clearer.
- Option 1: Crayons.
- Option 2: Colouring pencils.
- Option 3: Liquid water colours applied with a brush ( diluted edible gel colours can be used ).
- Option 4: Keep it black and white.
So there you have it! Some important questions and a 10 step guide on how to design a cake.