Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Stack Cakes

This week I took the Wilton "Tall Cakes" project class at Michael's. It was a lot of fun, but there sure was a lot of prep work! For one thing, the class was encouraged to bring pre-made decorations from home, so I went a bit overboard (and of course I only used a fraction of all these royal icing pieces! Incidentally, that's the royal icing heart chain in the upper left corner; it's grown since I wrote about it, and it's held together perfectly!):
The other major bit of prep work, of course, was to bake a couple of cakes. This is a 6" cake on a 6" uncovered cake circle, and a 10" cake on a 14" foil-covered circle (not aluminum; it needs to be foil for cake decorating). It took 3 boxes of cake mix (chocolate fudge, BTW) to make these two 4-layer cakes, plus I had enough left over to fill another 6" pan (incidentally, owning three 6" pans is a good idea if you like the concept of having a very tall, cylindrical cake; one box of cake mix will fill three 6" pans perfectly). 
I'm ashamed to admit, I drive more carefully with a carload of cakes than a carload of family members. You can't exactly strap a cake in with a seatbelt! But you can keep them more or less in place with a generous amount of no-skid shelf liner, that rubbery material you can buy by the roll. This cake caddy (shown without the locking dome) fits the non-slip circle that came with my turntable, so I line it with that. I've never had a cake budge in this caddy. For good measure, I also usually tuck a jacket or blanket or something around the caddy in the car. 
The other cake wasn't unrealistically huge, but the 14" cake circle it was on made finding the right box challenging. It wound up traveling in our DVR box, again on a sheet of shelf liner (and with an additional sheet under the box in the car). 
I felt weird about taking photos in the classroom; like I was some spy sent in by Ateco to see what's going on. Plus, I figured there's probably a million tutorials online, each as good as the last, so I didn't take my customarily high number of photos. I snuck in a few, though. The first step in figuring out the support system (which EVERY tiered cake needs) is to determine the placement of the dowels. For relatively small cakes, bamboo dowels (or even drinking straws) will work. For upwards of three tiers, it's a good idea to upgrade to plastic dowels for the lower tiers. The teacher did a great job of walking me through this. We started by putting my 6" cake on a piece of parchment paper and tracing it. We cut out that circle and laid it on top of the 10" cake, as centered as possible. Then we took the tips of the scissors, and gently dented the icing through the parchment to make the four marks into which the bamboo dowels will be inserted (an inch or so inside of the outer edge of the parchment circle). 
We inserted a bamboo dowel into one of the marks and pushed it in until it touched the cake circle below. We made a mark on the dowel at the level of the cake, removed the dowel, and cut it with a pair of pruning shears. There were pieces of dowel flying EVERYWHERE; I wouldn't attempt this again without protective eye covering. We cut three more pieces of dowel the same length as the first one and inserted them into all the points we'd marked:
The one thing I wish I would have done before putting the 6" cake on its cardboard circle was to drive a dowel-sized hole through the center of the circle. I managed to do it with an awl and the tip of the scissors with the cake on it, though; no problem. A center dowel is measured that goes through the bottom tier (or tiers) and a little more than halfway into the top tier; a measuring tape came in handy. Before driving the center dowel into the bottom cake, I put a small smear of buttercream in the center of the cake to help stabilize the incoming tier. I was ready to use a bit of powdered sugar to separate the tiers, but the teacher recommended against it, since I had a windy road in my near future. Powdered sugar (or even shredded coconut) will help to keep the tiers from sticking to each other, but it doesn't have much of a glue-like property. 
Then I set the top tier down, after I wiggled it around to line up the hole in the cardboard circle with the center dowel. 
 At this point there's not much more to do than decorate the heck out of it! Especially around the base of the top tier; no evidence of the internal structure should be visible. I really gave Ateco Tip #96 a workout!
To make the top mound of roses, I put a few tablespoons of buttercream in the center and just stuck the roses into it. The recipe for the buttercream came from the book "Baking With the Cake Boss"; it's really yummy! This was all the decorating I felt like doing in class; I didn't want to stick a whole bunch of pieces on it that might fall over or off…
…I waited until I was home to do that:
In case you're curious, a cake of this size is supposed to serve 40 people. Thankfully, I knew a group of about that size meeting the next night: The Coastside Chorale. I really didn't want to have that much cake in the house! I'm glad they were able to give it a good home. 


  1. Fantastic cake!!
    Love the chain hearts, amazing!!

  2. Thank you so much! I _still_ don't know what I'm going to do with that chain. I definitely want to try that trick with other shapes; maybe shamrocks?