This is the first basic design decision you will make and there are many excellent arguments on both sides.
From a purely practical perspective, a square cake serves more people than a round cake of the same size. For example, a 10-inch square cake can be cut into 25 2x2-inch squares. A 10-inch round cake can only be cut into 20 slices, maximum. See the chart on our website for detailed information on the number of servings for round and square cakes.
If you are stacking cake, you can also stack squares of vastly different sizes without making the cake look unbalanced. A single-layer 6-inch square cake on top of a 10-inch square looks fine. More than fine. But a single-layer 6-inch round on top of a 10-inch round looks like a hat with a wide brim (while a two-layer 6-inch round on a two-layer 10-inch round looks great). A small square on top of a large square also gives you lots of ledges for "stuff" such as cookies or fruit or flowers, or other decorations.
From a design perspective, some themes work better better with square cake (such as a package with ribbon and a bow), and others lend themselves to a round canvas. Personal preference also plays a part, as some people like one more than the other.
Then again, sometimes a carved cake in the shape or a hammer or a guitar or a car or a pair or roller skates is the right answer.
Size and number of servings aside, I can only think of three types of cakes that actually REQUIRE a square:
- Packages (except maybe hat boxes)
- Cakes with lots of detailed art work
- Most carved cakes, but only because you have more surface area to work with
OK, there might be a few more...such as a book or a building or a sushi mat.
And please do not confuse "square" with "sheet cake." If you want my thoughts on sheet cakes, please see an earlier blog post on the subject.
Round cakes seem more feminine than square cakes. On the other hand, we do just as many square bride's cakes as round bride's cakes. And while most groom's cakes are square or carved, the "tuxedo" design looks better on a round cake than a square one.
Round cakes take less time to ice, and are much much easier to put fondant on. A square fondant-covered cake takes more skill to "get the wrinkles out," especially around the corners. Vertical stripes are also much easier to do on a round cake.
Then of course you can always mix round and square tiers (remember this one from a few weeks ago?) The square will usually go on the bottom, with rounds stacked on top. That is because a square takes up more room, and requires a much larger round base so the sides do not extend over the edges.
And you probably thought the round-square decision was going to be easy...
Next lecture? Cake Design 202 -- Color.