An Ode to Gold: 3 Ways to Lift a Cake Design with Edible Gold

When in doubt, add a touch of gold. 

I always say this half jokingly, but it’s true. Even a tiny touch of gold can dramatically lift the overall mood of a cake design from ‘nice’ to ‘dazzling’ (see what I did there). When in doubt, add a touch of gold. 

As a signifier of wealth and indulgence, gold has been used to decorate food and drinks for centuries. At face value, it’s a metal, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s not food. But, gold (and silver) can be edible. 

Gold is biologically inert which means it passes through the digestive system without being absorbed into the body. You might expect a metallic taste but gold is actually tasteless as it won’t absorb in your mouth. 

When looking for gold to use on your cakes, make sure you’re selecting products that are marked ‘edible’.  

Let’s take a look at how to use edible gold in cake decorating to enhance your cake designs.

1.

Edible Gold Leaf

When buying gold leaf for cake decorating, make sure that the product is labelled ‘edible’ and is at least 22 carats. Most edible gold leaf will be anywhere between 22-24 carats. Anything under 22 carats means it has been mixed with other metals and has other impurities, making it unsafe to eat. These same rules also apply to edible silver. (Unfortunately, rose gold and copper do not have food-grade or edible leaf forms.)

Edible gold leaf comes in three main varieties for decorating: transfer sheets, loose leaf, and flakes. 

For cake decorating, I mostly use edible transfer sheets. 

Edible gold transfer sheets are best used when you want to achieve a smooth, shiny finish. Both edible gold and silver transfer sheets have a wax paper backing that the thin sheet of metal sits on. Before you apply it to your cake, make sure your cake is cold and free of moisture or condensation. After applying it to the surface of the cake, smooth the backing with your fingers and peel off the transfer sheet, leaving the gold stuck on the cake’s surface. This is a great technique when you want to cover a large area such as a whole cake or panels. 

Loose leaf and flakes are commonly used as ‘garnishes’, which are more effective on desserts.

Full Gold Coverage

Creating a fully gold cake or even just one fully gold tier on a multi-tiered cake is a glamourous way to really make your cake stand out. However, as you can probably imagine, this is a bit of an expensive technique. It can require tens of edible gold transfer sheets to cover the entire surface. Because of the expense, I would suggest using this technique for a cake that is 6” in diameter or smaller. Anything larger and you’ll be racking up quite the expense in decorations alone. 

Wedding cake with gold focal tier by Don't Tell Charles.

This dazzling wedding cake has three ivory tiers and one single gold tier near the top as a focal layer.  The topmost tier has lace and stucco designs on the buttercream to create a beautiful texture. Clear pulled isomalt flows down the bottom tier like a waterfall and bunches of stunning white orchids add an elegant final touch.

Single tier gold engagement cake by Don't Tell Charles.

For this simple, single-tiered engagement cake, covering the entire cake in gold really brings a level of opulence to the design. The white chocolate sail on the top also has some edible gold leaf accents to tie in with the cake’s overall glamorous feel. A tall black cake topper and white fresh flowers complete this striking design.

Edible Gold Panels

This is by far my favourite technique to incorporate gold into a cake design. This technique also uses edible gold transfer sheets, however, you don’t need as many. The panel effect is achieved by pressing only a corner of the transfer sheet onto a chilled buttercream cake, then pulling it off in a ‘ripping’ motion. This creates the ‘ripped’ edges on the panels, and makes the whole gold application appear more organic and fluid. 

As mentioned, this technique is much less expensive than the full coverage, but is very effective, especially when used in combination with fresh floral decorations. 

DTC concrete cake with watercolour designs and gold leaf panelling accents.
DTC concrete cake with watercolour designs and gold leaf panelling accents and fresh orchids.

Here is an example of edible gold leaf panelling on a DTC concrete buttercream cake. You can see in the first picture that the gold panels create a central area for the orchids to sit in. The golden movements behind the orchids really make the rich colour of the blooms pop. The red and blue watercolour buttercream element at the bottom of the cake incorporates the event’s colour scheme.

Gold leaf panels on a white wedding cake by Don't Tell Charles.
Gold leaf panels and fresh florals on a white wedding cake by Don't Tell Charles.

Here, edible gold leaf panels are used to contrast and lift an otherwise monochromatic cake.  The majority of the cake is ivory buttercream with some abstract painting textures on the bottommost tier. The addition of white florals with a few bits of greenery adds a layer of elegance; however, it is up to the gold here to draw attention to these subtle details and make them shine. 

2.

Edible Gold Paint

Another option to add gold to your cake is to use edible gold paint. Edible gold paint is a less expensive option compared to edible gold leaf. However, it gives you a completely different finish depending on what surface you apply it to. 

Gold paint comes premade, or you can make your own using gold lustre dust mixed with alcohol or rose spirit. Rose spirit is also known as cake decorator’s alcohol. Although you can use vodka or other clear alcohols to mix the paint, rose spirit uses a 99.9% concentration of alcohol that evaporates quickly and dries faster compared to other lower percentage alcohols. 

A Fully Painted Tier

As DTC buttercream and other meringue based buttercream has a glossy finish, it’s not the most suitable for painting. Due to the super smooth surface, the paint doesn’t absorb well. So, when it comes to painting on a cake, especially when a metallic or dark finish is required, my go to is dark chocolate ganache. The surface of a ganache covered cake is porous, which means it absorbs edible paint really well.. Moreover, dark chocolate provides for a better background to paint gold (or black) on as opposed to a white background, which requires multiple layers of paint.

Two tiered cake with a full gold painted tier, gold chocolate sail, and small gold chocolate spheres by Don't Tell Charles.

The brief of this two tiered cake is gold. Can you tell? This cake features a gold painted bottom tier (ganache) and an ivory top tier (DTC buttercream) with edible gold leaf panels. It’s topped with a gold chocolate sail and small chocolate spheres that are also painted gold. Fresh flowers with a few leaves brushed with gold edible paint are attached in the centre of the two tiers to complete this golden look.

DTC cake trio featuring a full gold tier, a tier with a gold chocolate sail, and a tier with gold leaf panels.

In this DTC signature trio of cakes, each tier is decorated with gold in a different way. The foremost tier is covered in dark chocolate ganache and painted with edible black paint. Gold leaf panels are a striking contrast against the black background. The middle tier is completely painted with edible gold paint, including visible brush strokes for texture. Finally, the tallest tier is a classic DTC two-toned concrete cake topped with a chocolate bowl sail. The underside of the sail is completely painted gold while the inner bowl has a painted black finish. 

A Simple Outline

Outlining the edges of your cake is a very subtle way to incorporate gold into your cake design. It’s a very simple technique but makes a beautiful cake just a hint more glamorous. All it takes is a small amount of edible gold paint, a steady hand, and a very small paintbrush. 

Rough textured aqua cake with simple gold lined accent by Don't Tell Charles.
Rough textured aqua cake with simple gold lined accent by Don't Tell Charles.

This cake exudes an ocean or wave-like quality with its beautiful aqua buttercream and rough textures. The rough hewn edges are lightly painted with a small hint of edible gold paint.

Rough textured white cake with simple gold lined accent and pink and white marbled disk by Don't Tell Charles.
Rough textured white cake with simple gold lined accent and pink and white marbled disk by Don't Tell Charles.

This cake also has a rough textured finish but uses lovely ivory DTC buttercream. The edible gold paint brings definition to the edges and prevents them from fading into the rest of the cake. A pink and white marbled chocolate disk with flecks of edible gold leaf sits at the centre of the cake for a small but effective dose of subtle colour. 

Dappled Gold

This technique uses a small, clean sponge to apply layers of edible paints onto a gachach covered cake. As mentioned earlier, a dark chocolate ganache covered cake makes for a much more effective background when it comes to painting metallic and dark colours. 

Painting with a sponge creates a totally different finish and textures as opposed to painting with a brush. In this cake, it also prevents the different coloured paints from ‘merging’ together, as only a small amount of paint is applied to the sponge first, then onto the cake. 

Emerald cake dappled in black and gold paint by Don't Tell Charles.
Emerald cake dappled in black and gold paint with a gold chocolate sail by Don't Tell Charles.

Covered in dark chocolate ganache, this cake is then painted with emerald green, black and gold edible paint using a sponge. The green here is quite vibrant and shiny, a result of using premade-edible paint. The black cake board and gold painted chocolate sail completes the look.

Emerald cake dappled in black and gold paint with a black chocolate sail by Don't Tell Charles.
Emerald cake dappled in black and gold paint with a black chocolate sail by Don't Tell Charles.

This cake uses the same emerald green, black and gold colour scheme although the green here is more matte and muted. This is a result of using edible paint that is a mixture of alcohol and petal dust. Petal dust has a matte finish, and when the alcohol evaporates, all that’s left on the cake is the petal dust. Instead of a golden chocolate bowl sail, this cake was adorned with a black painted chocolate bowl sail, complete with gold painted edges. 

The result is a dramatic and mysteriously handsome cake. 

3.

Gold Cake Decorations

When incorporating gold into your cake designs, you aren’t limited to just decorating the tiers themselves in gold. Think gold chocolate sail, gold shapes, or a gold cake topper.  When it comes to golden chocolate decorations I prefer to use dark chocolate as it really helps the gold pop.

Gold Chocolate Sails

Curvy, fluid chocolate sails on a cake are always a good idea. Paint those chocolate sails gold and you have a show stopper.

SIngle ivory buttercream cake tier with gold chocolate sails by Don't Tell Charles.

This cake is a masterpiece of gold chocolate sails. It is a single ivory tier with edible gold leaf panels. It’s topped with a large chocolate sail coated in edible gold paint. Gold chocolate pieces cascade down the front of the cake with shards of clear pulled isomalt to add a hint of sparkle and fluidity between the sails.

Wedding cake with two tiers of concrete buttercream and two ivory tiers with gold leaf panels topped with gold sails by Don't Tell Charles.

The bottom two tiers of this gorgeous wedding cake are covered in concrete buttercream while the top two are ivory buttercream with edible gold leaf panels. The gold chocolate sails here adds an element of texture as well as warmth, to offset the coolness of the two concrete bottom tiers and tie them together with the top two tiers. 

Trendy cake with chocolate skyline design and gold chocolate sail by Don't Tell Charles.

This trendy cake has a bottom tier that was covered in ganache and painted with edible black paint.  The cutouts of buildings surrounding the bottom tier are made from white chocolate. The top tier is a lovely shade of pink buttercream with pink and green florals tying the two tiers together. Finally, at the top is a chocolate bowl sail painted in edible gold. 

Powder blue buttercream cake with multicoloured chocolate sails and isomalt shards by Don't Tell Charles.

This cake uses several different coloured chocolate sails as well as shards of isomalt to create a flowing motion from the top all the way down to the bottom of the cake. The base cake is simply a tier of powder blue buttercream. 

Gold Shapes

If you don’t want something as large as a gold chocolate sail to be the focal point of your cake design, you can also use geometric gold shapes to achieve a more subtle but still eye-catching result. You can create shapes out of any type of tempered chocolate and paint them gold. 

Monochromatic cake with gold decorative accents by Don't Tell Charles.
Architecture inspired cake with gold decorative accents by Don't Tell Charles.
Concrete cake with abstract designs and gold decorative accents by Don't Tell Charles.

Gold Cake Toppers

Another effective way to enhance any cake design is to use a custom gold cake topper. Cake toppers are a great way to personalise your cake. Although they can be made out of anything – including chocolate! – modern cake toppers are typically acrylic and reusable, making them the perfect little keepsake from your event.

Wedding cake with pale pink buttercream and florals with an acrylic topper by Don't Tell Charles.
Pale pink buttercream cake with pink chocolate sails and gold acrylic topper by Don't Tell Charles.
Two tiered cake with gold panel accents and gold acrylic topper by Don't Tell Charles.
Pale blue baby shower cake with white chocolate sail and gold acrylic topper by Don't Tell Charles.

Acrylic cake toppers are very easily sourced these days. You can get them customer made from a local maker with a laser cutting machine, or you can buy them premade from many cake decorating supply stores.

There are so many options and different ways to incorporate gold into your cake designs. It can be a single bold statement like a fully gold tier, or it can simply be a small accent to add a touch of glamour. You can stick with one option or use them all. There’s never too much gold I’d say!. When in doubt, add a touch of gold 😉. 

You can purchase any of the gold cake decorating supplies mentioned in this blog via these suppliers:

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