In a recent Instagram Live interview about wedding cake trends, cake artist Christine Bjorn exclaimed, “Can we all agree to do more wafer paper this year?” Her cohort of other decorators nodded enthusiastically in agreement. Because though wafer paper decorations have been around for some time, they have seen a resurgence as the wedding industry recuperates from the pandemic. Not only does wafer paper produce stunning results, but it saves money and time while also being an extremely versatile medium. No wonder it’s getting so popular in cake-decorating circles!
“I am always interested in the latest cake trends, especially when I can acquire a new skill that will not only improve my own cakes, but also can be an additional source of income to sell to other cake artists,” Bjorn, the owner of Not Your Nana’s Bakery, explains. Her main focus was recreating flowers, noting, “It’s so lightweight and doesn’t weigh down cakes that can be very heavy after fondant. They also have an unmatched realistic look that is second to only real florals.”
And indeed, look no further than cake artist (and now popular YouTuber) Anna Astashkina of Florea Cakes to understand just how realistic wafer-paper florals can be. While she began using wafer paper in 2018, during the pandemic, she truly honed her skills and began teaching and posting videos to showcase her realistic flowers. Her not-so-secret sauce is a perfected mixture of glycerin and distilled water with airbrush colors to help shape and color AD-grade 0.27-millimeter wafer paper. The results are truly spectacular.
Not only is wafer paper lighter, less breakable, and better in humidity than gum paste, but it is also faster to work with. Cake designer Emily Michael of Tampa Bay Cake Company notes that for certain applications, it takes about a quarter of the time than it does to make the same item out of gum paste. She first began cutting everything out by hand, but then she found a way to be even more efficient. “Once I discovered my Silhouette cutting machine, it has made it so much easier to cut out any shape I want,” she explains. “From leaves to petals to tiny letters and phrases, it has been a life changer!”
Artists also tout the versatility of wafer paper. Beyond gorgeous flowers, “You can literally cut anything out,” Michael explains. “You can make the tiniest things, like stars, hearts, fine letters, detailed leaves, ruffles, monograms, and so much more.” She notes that you can create an “ultra-modern wafer paper ruffle cascade just by steaming randomly cut pieces of wafer paper” before adhering them to the cake. Wafer paper sales are also extremely popular, with Astashkina noting that “it’s impossible to make those ethereal, light decorations out of gum paste or chocolate because they look too heavy.”
Wafer paper has one additional factor to thank for its popularity: cost. It is significantly cheaper than gum paste at about 25 dollars for 100 sheets. “I teach classes, and even for me, I don’t spend more than 50 dollars a year on supplies,” Astashkina explains. She adds that wafer paper requires minimal commitment in terms of cost and storage, so the barriers to entry are low for beginners or perhaps pastry chefs that only occasionally dabble in cake decorating.
Of course, just because you save money and time doesn’t necessarily mean that translates to lower prices for the clients. While Bjorn notes carefully considers supplies and labor to itemize each order, Astashkina has a different take. “It’s an easy skill to acquire, but not a lot of bakers want to take the time to learn how to work with wafer paper,” she notes, which means you’ll be more sought after by clients looking for unique designs. “For that reason, you can charge more.” And she has a point. Clients will surely notice and approach artists who can offer the latest and greatest techniques. Bjorn adds, “I think it’s best to have a diverse portfolio so that I can find what best fits the client’s needs.”
So as peak wedding cake season approaches, consider adding wafer paper to your list of skills. It is trend-right, relatively easy to learn, and cost-effective with endless versatility. And as Astashkina notes, “All you need is wafer paper, some good scissors, and a brush.” A good place to start learning? Her YouTube channel, of course!
(This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)