My Rustic Tree Bark (Birch Bark) Wedding Cake - All edible bark! (With product links and photos!)

The wedding is over!  It was this past weekend, and in order to not only control costs, but also because we didn't want to give control over to others and be disappointed, we did all our own... well, everything.  The venue provided chairs and tables but literally everything else was done by us.  The decorations, the flowers, the centerpieces, planters, the... cake.  Yes the cake.  Although that was not originally in the plans!

I'm not a cake maker.  Oh, a birthday cake here or there for my family members but anything more than that? Nope. But our daughter is a very 'nature' type girl and her life is surrounded with plants, flowers and nature.  She was engaged while on a kayaking and hiking trip to the mountains.  She goes hiking and camping with me - primitive tent camping.  Her job is at a green house and nursery.  She loves plants, trees and flowers... gardening.  If it's green and grows, she loves it.

So that was the theme of the wedding and she decided she wanted a rustic cake as well.  One that looked like tree stumps.  She didn't care about details so much as the overall feel of a realistic looking tree bark cake.  And while searching online for bakers and cake decorators in our area that had photos in their galleries showing they could possibly pull off a creative edible bark cake... our daughter was disappointed.

She asked if I could make her cake.
Uh... No!?  Your WEDDING CAKE?  No stress there, right?

Two weeks went by.  Conversations with a local cake decorator (who was the best one we could find to tackle this style cake) were dragging as our daughter absolutely felt she didn't want anyone but me to make it.

She asked again.
I said no, not something that important.

But I thought about it for two days.  And I looked online at cakes others had made and thought to myself; "Oh I would be disappointed if our daughter's cake ended up looking like that..."  Or, "Why, I am sure I could do better than that one!"

There were a lot of cakes online with the rustic tree 'bark' theme that I admit, we would be sad if that is what the bakery or cake decorator came up with.  So in the end, I told my daughter... I would do it.

I didn't know HOW to do it... but I'd make it happen.

Not having a plan, I went to Michaels and Walmart and I bought anything and everything I thought I might use to make a tree stump cake with edible bark.

I had three ideas.  I'd make the bark either with;
  • Printed bark designed sugar or wafer paper
  • Buttercreme frosting
  • Fondant and wafer paper
First, I went online and ordered printed sugar paper/icing paper bark from THREE DIFFERENT COMPANIES.  I didn't trust any one company - and I knew inks and printers could make the colors turn purple or green, or the pixels or images might be blurry.  NEVER one to put all their eggs in one basket, I ordered 'bark' and random tree rings from THREE (3) companies.

And all three failed miserably.

The photo below shows the different shades and colors that came from the EXACT SAME IMAGE printed by the different companies.  And in the picture below, the photo on the left looks like it might work - but IN PERSON you can see it's not.  It's very blurry and pixelated... a picture of a picture is ok but in real life, no.  And you can see another company sent birch bark that was PURPLE.  Another was bright turquoise!  I contacted that one and they reprinted it... but the new ones they sent were still turquoise - just a lighter shade.


That left TWO CHOICES:  Fondant or buttercream.

I hated the look of the buttercream bark photos I found online so I opted for fondant.  Luckily I came across three different photos/videos that used wafer or rice paper to make 'bark' so I armed myself with all my random items I had bought at the store and just... did it.

  • I didn't know what I was doing.
  • I wasn't watching video's or looking at photos others did.
  • I did my own thing and just kept at it until I was content with how it was turning out.

And that is how I made our daughter's cake.

REMEMBER the printed birch bark I talked about above?  Well, the tree rings I ordered at the time were also vastly different in color and quality.

When I ordered, I had NO IDEA what I was going to do or how I would make it so I ordered a few different sizes based on the cake pans I had.

The yellow bark below was so thin it wouldn't even peel off the paper without popping into the freezer first, and it ripped just with a human finger touching it.  It was THIN and bad quality.  I ended up on salvaging one from that company.  Another company did terrible birch bark, but I was happy with their tree rings.  Thick and quality.  Easy to peel off and work with.

I only needed the tree rings to show on the TOP LAYER and the edge of any layers that would be showing as it was stacked.  I ended up just using fondant, wafer paper and brown pearl dust to make the top of the largest layer, as the tree rings I had ordered in that size was the terrible quality version and it disintegrated on contact with the cake.  (All the companies use the same image - it's just the different quality edible paper and inks that make one work and one not.)

How I made my edible bark

I used Oasis wafer paper, Wilton fondant, a random paintbrush I bought new at Walmart, and some water.  (PRODUCT LINKS ADDED BELOW THIS POST.) 

I did a crumb coat on most of them, but realized with this particular way of decorating, it really didn't matter.
USE FROZEN CAKES while putting on the fondant as it just makes it easier if they aren't soft and pliable.

IF YOUR CAKE IS TALL (like mine - 4 or 5 layers) then consider using a styrofoam piece for the bottom.  Cut exactly like a round cake, continue to cover it and decorate it as if it were a cake.  This gives a nice base that can withstand the weight of the layers of real cake on top.  Secure all layers using either jumbo smoothie straws or wood dowels.  Each layer of cake will be on a cake board, cut smaller than the edge of your cake - although I put one of my layers directly on the cake as one edge of the board kept showing! 


My first try, I used a pure brown Wilton fondant in chocolate. The under color should be either black, gray or brown. On the rest of the cakes I used a mixture of them.  All ended up a different color but it doesn't matter, as long as it's not pure white.
I kneaded it like play-doh until I could roll it out.
I did pieces about 6-9 inches long to make them manageable.
Roll the fondant out pretty thin - but not quite as thin as you want the finished product to be.
Fondant is HEAVY though and so it has to be thin enough to adhere to the cake.

My first round was 4 inches tall.  I measured to get about that size but you don't have to be precise because the fondant is going to get bigger when it roll it thinner, and as you work with it.  Plus, the bark comes up over the edge so you don't need a straight edge and it doesn't have to be exactly the right size.

So I ripped the wafer paper - do not cut it.  Having a 100 pack of wafer paper made it easy to rip them because I knew I had more than enough if I 'messed up' anything.  Although I quickly found you can't really mess this up.  Nature is very forgiving on things looking like they do... even on rustic cakes.

I laid the wafer paper on the fondant and rubbed it a bit.  The fondant is sticky (I used NO powder sugar or anything but plain fondant) so the paper starts to adhere to it.

Dip a 1" wide new, clean brush, into plain water.  Don't overload your brush!  Just moisten it.
Start to brush all over the paper.
Go very light in some areas and more wet in others.
Don't saturate the paper though!  It WILL rip and disintegrate.  You want it to be moist enough that as you press and roll on it, it will crackle and rip to look like real wood.

Lightly moisten the wafer (rice) paper.

Roll a rolling pin over the paper to pull it gently as you press - ripping and crackling the wafer paper.
Do as much or as little as you like, judging as you go.

You can trim the excess fondant off with a sharp knife.
See how the darker areas are where the paper was more wet and pulled apart.
The barely moist is where it was showing through, but leaving the wafer paper intact.

Now you take a smaller DRY brush and dip it into some of the edible black and brown pearl dust to 'paint' your bark.
Dry brush over the crackled areas, the black and/or brown you choose goes into the cracks and starts to make them look more like bark.

Birch has streaks of black with tiny indented black pock style marks so you can fake those with a brush later too.

LEAVE SOME WAFER PAPER HANGING OFF THE ENDS.  This, you curl around your paint brush and hold a minute to give it the curled bark look.  Having it on the ends also helps to hide the seams when you apply it to the cake and butt two pieces of fondant/wafer paper bark up against each other.

You will be finishing the brown and black painted/dusted on details later so once you have a good start, use clear piping gel as GLUE to adhere the fondant bark to your cake.

Using a new brush, lightly brush the back of the fondant all over with the sticky piping gel.

I draped it over my hand and wrist to hold it while I painted the back.

You also apply the tree rings this way IF you are using printed rings.  Some layers I put the rings on first, then the bark.  But this first one, I did the bark first, then the ring.  I think it's easier if you do the rings FIRST, then the bark. 

I had just finished putting all the 3 side pieces on, as well as the top tree rings.

Now it was time to keep embellishing the top rings and the sides with more dry pearl dust put on in the cracks, but also, I found using a wet brush, mashing it in a small circle into the wafer paper and then applying dry edible brown/black dust made some great 'knots' in the wood!

Here you can see it starting to come together as I 'painted' on more dust to the bark.
Don't forget to barely moisten the edges of the wafer paper and roll them around your paint brush to give them that peeling bark look.  And brush the edges of the bark rolls.

I used a brush with either water and/or a little piping gel around the top edge, covered with dry brown/black edible dust to go around the top, trying to hide the seam between the tree rings and the fondant/wafer paper bark.

I used the dull edge of a butter knife to push into the top of the tree rings and give it some depth.  I also used the brown and black edible powder dust in various spots on the top rings to make them look more dimensional.  My thumb ruined a spot where it ripped through the sugar paper due to it being wet from the piping gel 'glue' so I made it into a knot by adding dry black pearl dust!

These ends sticking out are where you barely moisten it with water and roll it around your paint brush for a few seconds to curl it.

BEFORE I started to dab and dot and 'paint' the bark with dry pearl dust in brown and black....

Random photos while working on the dry dusting part....  where the paper below was brighter white, it's because it's a piece I added when the bottom layer was too mushy.  I barely moistened the new top layer, brushed with dry pearl dust and it blended right in for the finished product.

CONTINUE with all the layers YOU wish to use.
I made 5 layers (including my first trial 6" X 4" layer) but because of the weight of the cake, and the fact that I had two layers the same size, I put one off to the side more as decor.  ALSO - when I cut the 2nd layer to make it more round, it ended up being basically the same size as the first layer.

But I didn't really care and neither did my daughter.  We just stacked them with wooden dowels for support between the layers on cake boards, and 'went with it'.  That's how we did the whole wedding... LESS STRESS when you shrug off mistakes or things that don't turn out and you just keep going!

You might be interested in these items - all related to this post.  I ordered some things online (wafer paper in the 100 piece pack size) as well as buying some at my local Michaels (which was VERY expensive and I wouldn't suggest that - I could have gotten it much cheaper online but at the time I didn't know WHAT I was going to do or how I'd make it so I was just buying anything I THOUGHT MIGHT WORK or I MIGHT USE.  Lastly, picked up the gel and some more fondant at Walmart while buying groceries.)

Wilton Pure White Rolled Fondant

Wilton Decorator Preferred Chocolate Fondant

Wilton Easy Glide Fondant Smoother

100 Count Edible Rectangle Wafer Paper

Clear Piping Gel

Pearl Dust Coloring for Food, Black 

Pearl Color Dust, Brown

4-Piece Round Cake Pan Set - Includes 6", 8", 10" and 12" Aluminum Pans - 3" Deep




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