Judging Guidelines and Definition of English Styles of Cake Decorating

The following information I compiled from different cake shows I have judged and added a few of my own personal preferences and guidelines,  as a Master Cake Design Artist and Instructor in Royal Icing and Foreign Techniques divisions.  I will be updating and adding more information periodically.  Again, this is my personal opinion added along with a few other show guidelines.  These are not general show rules set for the US.  Each individual show will have their own rules and regulations;  make sure you are well informed and read the individual rules carefully and thoroughly before entering any show or competition.  When in doubt, ask the show directors any questions you may have in regards to the individual competition or show.  

Definition of English Styles- (Guideline)

English Method- similar to Nirvana, but modified. These cakes usually have a collar and display that are equal in size. Sides are decorated with simple piping. They may or may not have side panels. Usually the top is a run sugar 3D scene.

Lambeth Method- usually has a bottom bevel/cone shape approx. 1 ½” – 2” high tapered 4” larger than cake. It is an English method, very ornate with fine overpiping and ornate gumpaste work. Covering is marzipan coated with royal icing or rolled fondant. The base of all borders should be precision and accurate: usually a # 16 or # 14 zigzag overpiped with a # 16 or 14 straight line, followed straight lines of # 5, # 4, # 3, # 2 and # 1, one on top of the other; at least 5 layers present somewhere on the cake.The overpiping should be accurate and uniform. Soft pastel colors are preferred with monotone decorating. A stucco finish may be used when icing is in color.

Flowers are used in abundance, are piped in royal or can be in marzipan. Petals should be well formed. Pastillage and gumpaste articles should be finely constructed. Lattice cushion work is delicate and neat. There is always more overpiping on a Lambeth cake than any other style.

Nirvana Method – named after an English cake decorator whose pen name was “Nirvana”. The cake is totally encased in run sugar (color flow, flood work) and is usually geometric in design. The flood pieces consist of splays, collars, side panels and risers. Collars and splays differ in size from one another by ¼ inch. It is built in a ‘pyramid’ fashion being larger on the bottom and graduating to a smaller top.
Nirvana means perfection, the ultimate. Run sugar pieces should fit accurately and should not have wide spaces or heavy borders to cover up where pieces do not fit.

South African – Combination of English and Australian Methods – Coverings range from buttercream, royal, marzipan and fondant. Within the South African method are two distinct styles: beautifully ornate and elaborate filigree work frequently with large wings, lace pieces and architectural work done with very fine piping tips. There are also the English overpiped scrolls called ‘hollow line work’.

Gumpaste flower molding has become extremely popular and has in some instances replaced the filigree work. The South African excels in molded flowers, sprays and bouquets, delicately, realistically and perfectly executed. Novelty cakes are covered on buttercream or fondant. Architectural work is also done in pastillage.


Contest & Judging Rules (Compiled from different shows and my individual recommendations)

  • Neatness, on the cake board, cake covering, in the piping, and/or hand work in molding is very important.
  • The cake board should be in proportion usually, 3 -4 inches larger than the cake (8 inch cake should have an 11-12 inch board). The shape of the cake board should correspond to the cake. The board should be covered with fondant or other techniques to flow with the design of the cake Silver, glass, mirrors, plastic trays may be used. Thickness of the base should be in keeping with the weight of the cake. Boards may also be covered with fondant for fondant covered cakes. This of the board should be considered as part of your design.
  • The cake should be level on top with good straight sides. It should also be a good logical size. A tiered cake should be in proportion graduating sizes or proportion to the design you are achieving.
  • The cake covering should be smooth and as flawless as possible, no cake or dummy showing through.
  • Precision in dividing your cake accurately is a must. Preliminary markings should never show.
  • All piping tip work should be uniform and free of air bubbles. Stars should be equal and uniform in size and have no points on the star centers. All flowers should show definite petals.
  • Hand work should be smooth and free of small drying cracks. The petals should be thin and delicate.
  • Color should be appetizing with the exception being some holiday cakes, children’ss cakes, etc.
  • Color in icing the cake should remain the same throughout, unless marbling or gradual fading is in the design.  New techniques welcome.
  • Originality ideas copied exactly from books will lose points over original ideas. Build on an idea seen in books. Change it and add your own ideas. No copyright work allowed.
  • Choose a well-balanced design. Larger borders on bottom should graduate up to smaller borders on top. Floral display on top should not overpower the whole cake, unless used well and compliments the design you want to achieve.
  • Extend yourself to the fullest, but do not go beyond what you have mastered. Do not use every technique you learned on one cake. It is better to do a technique well than to overextend yourself to do it badly.
  • Has contestant kept to the assigned theme in his/her division? If category calls for ‘Song Title’, by all means make sure design depicts a song that is recognizable.
  • Keep true to form in the foreign techniques as we know them from books and classes, unless the rules specify mixing of techniques.
  • All cakes must be made specifically for the show you are entering and not used or entered in any other previous shows.
  • The entry must be the work of only the person listed on the Registration Form and not be shown prior to contest on social media.
  • All cake entries maybe Styrofoam cake dummies; if dummy is used, it must be a design that could be duplicated with real cake. Entries in the Sculpted Cake style must be made with made with 75% real cake. .All Designs should be able to be replicated in real cake.   Pictures of construction should be included if doing a sculpture with work in progress pictures required.
  • Detail description of design, mediums and techniques used in in completing your design is highly recommended.  Judges love descriptions of the process and take all techniques very seriously.  Judges love to hear about new techniques developed and used on contestant entries.
  • Judges will be qualified and highly regarded in the field of Cake Decorating and piping techniques.
  • All entries must be completely edible except for items such as columns, cake toppers, supports, wires and stamens. Ribbons, tulle, etc. may be used to carry out a design. Don’t use non-edible items in place of sugar mediums; for example, plastic pearls instead of fondant pearls. Cold Porcelain is not allowed. “Edible Images” are allowed and will be judged in context with the entire entry. Use of other substances may cause the entry to be disqualified.
  • Each entry must have your name, address, phone number, division and style on the underside of the display board. No personal or business identifying marks, advertisements, special backdrops, photos (other than for the sculpted cake category), etc, will be allowed to be displayed along with the entry.
  • Entries should fit in a 30” x 30” space. Contact us for approval if your entry is larger. Electricity is not available.
  • Table dressing such as decorative fabrics or mirrors are allowed, but not required. To conserve room for all entries, table dressings should not extend more than 8″ beyond the base of the entry and should not exceed the 30″ space allocated. Entries may be put under Plexiglas or other such cover, but judges must be able to view the entries without interference. The covering must be able to be easily removed.

Divisional Judging

Most Divisional entries will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Precision of techniques used
  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • Skill
  • Color
  • Design
  • Difficulty
  • Number of techniques used
  • Overall eye appeal

The judges and Show Committee shall enforce policy and procedures. Any entry deemed in poor taste will be disqualified and removed. Judges and/or Show Committee have the right to re classify an entry if necessary.