Multi-tiered cakes are arranged in different forms but the most popular arrangement is to stack them. You need to know how to stack a cake especially if you are a cake decorator who intends to make a living from making cakes.
On the other hand, you may just be a hobbyist who loves to DIY stuff like your celebration cakes. This article would also come in handy for you. It would teach you not only how to stack a cake but also give you some expert tips and advice.
Disclaimer – This article is by no means the final authority on how to stack a cake. There are many methods that have been successfully used by other cake decorators. But the essence of this article is to share what has worked for us.
The great thing about the culinary arts or even art of any form is that you can pick up different tips and tricks from different sources. And with those you can formulate methods and procedures that work for you.
So sit back and get ready to learn as we proceed…
How To Stack A Cake – The Basics
One of the basics of stacking a cake is having the right materials. So here are the materials and tools you need:-
A cake turn table comes in handy for icing the cake. We wouldn’t want to dwell so much on this because we assume that every cake decorator knows about the importance of a good quality cake turntable. But if you don’t know much about cake turntable, you can click here to read one of our past articles for more information.
Cake Drums or Foam Boards
I used to be confused when I come across the word cake drums. Where I come from we call anything that stays at the base of a cake, a cake board. Well in our own region we all understand what we mean. But for the sake of people in other climes and regions, let me explain…
A cake drum is the base on which a cake is placed for decoration. It is supposed to be heavy enough to support the weight of the cake(s). A cake drum can be made with different materials. These materials include: – wood, cardboard and foam. You can make them yourself or buy readymade ones. Click here to find out how you DIY cake drums or how to choose the right ones for your project.
These are bases too but are usually thinner than the cake drum. In our region we call these stacker boards. This name come from the major function of what is internationally known as cake boards. And that function is to add stability and help distribute the weight of cake tiers when stacking them. So stacker boards are those cake boards used to stack cakes. Don’t sweat this point; you’ll understand it when you watch the accompanying video.
Dowel rods are wooden or plastic rods that are inserted into the middle of cakes to help support the weight of the cake that would be placed on it. These in combination with cake boards (stacker boards) ensure that the cake underneath would not cave in under the weight of the ones above.
You’ll discover that some cake decorators use bubble tea straws in place of dowel rods. We haven’t tried these but have it on good authority that it works well. Some folks started out by using both dowel rods and the straws but have graduated to using only the straws. You can try out both and whatever works best for you is fine.
An icing spatula is a basic cake decorating tool and we believe that anyone who has decorated a cake before knows about it. But if you don’t, we also have you covered. Click here to read our article on cake icing tools.
This is needful for leveling your cake. Not quite clear on this? Kindly refer to our cake icing tools article.
A bench scraper is also known as an icing scraper. It is also a basic cake icing tool and it’s also discussed in the article we asked you to refer to.
A wire cutter is necessary to cut your dowel rods to the desired size. You can also use a strong scissor if you prefer.
Preparing Your Cakes
Another basics of stacking cakes is preparing the cake. Trust me if you mess up this step, every other thing would not go well. It’s just like a house; if you have a faulty foundation, your house is in danger of collapsing. But with the right foundation, you can raise a skyscraper that would withstand any kind of storm.
That said, let’s look at the steps for preparing your cake for decoration and stacking.
Bake the cake and ensure that it is level. You can achieve a level cake by using baking strips. You can buy these baking strips on Amazon or your local baking goods store.
But in a situation where your cake comes out with a dome, you need to level it out. This is where a good cake turn table comes in. place your cake on the turn table and with a serrated knife mark off the spot you want to level the cake from. Then swivel the turntable as you keep your knife steadily sawing back and forth.
Once your cake is leveled, fill as desired and crumb coat. You may decide to do a double, three or four layer tier. Just ensure that all the layers are level before you fill and stack them into one tier.
After crumb coating, leave the cake to sit for a minimum of 2 hours. Some people prefer to refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.
When you are working with three or more tiers of multi layered cakes, you’ll discover that your cakes would have time to set. Let’s explain with an example. Starting out with the bottom tier, (a) you level all the layers, fill them then stack and crumb coat, then put in the fridge (b) repeat the process with the second tier and then the last tier.
By the time you are done with the last tier, the first tier you worked on is ready for the second coating or covering with fondant (depending on the method you prefer). We just fill the cakes, crumb coat, let it set and cover with fondant.
However, many tutorials would show two coatings of icing or icing and ganache before covering with fondant. Like we said, there are no hard and fast rules here.
The most important reason you don’t cover your cake with fondant (or any other icing you choose) immediately after crumb coating is to allow it to set. This would ensure that when you cover your cake with fondant or the final layer of buttercream or whatever medium you choose, there wouldn’t be ugly bulges. You know those rings you see where the cake layers are joined? That would be avoided when you leave the cakes to settle so don’t skip this step.
How To Stack A Cake – Decorating and Stacking
If you need help with covering your cake with fondant, check out this our article. The reason why we are using fondant for this article is because most of the stacked cakes we do is fondant. The principles are generic and works for cakes covered in all decorating mediums.
Some cake decorators like to cover the cake on the cake drum that would be the display board. Others prefer to cover the cake on a different board before moving it to the display board.
We like to do the latter; this gives us the liberty to do some fancy work on the display board. I just can’t resist; I have to share this video with you
So you have covered all your cakes in the final coating of icing or fondant. And maybe you have decided to decorate your cake board (display board) so let’s go with that. Remember that you’ll place all the cakes on stacker boards of the same diameter as the cakes.
Smear a little buttercream or royal icing on the center of the display board and transfer the bottom tier to that board.
Get a stacker board that’s the same dimension as the next tier that would be on the bottom tier. Place that board on top of the bottom tier and measure it off. Remove the stacker board, then measure off the dowel rods or bubble tea straws the height of the cake and cut to size.
Then insert them proportionately in the diameter measured off earlier. Cover the space with buttercream or royal icing as the case may be and place the stacker board on top. Smear a dollop of icing on top of the stacker board and place the second tier on it.
If you are stacking the cake at home, then repeat this process with the second tier cake. But in a situation where you want to stack at the venue then just dowel the second cake on a separate cake board. Carry the stacker boards and icing with you to finish the process at the venue.
We however stack our cakes at home and just do all our decorations too! You may wonder how to transport your stacked cake without incident. We have an article on that too! Click here to read it.
Watch this video to see the basics of stacking a cake:-
How To Stack A Cake – Expert Tips and Advice
Buttercream or Other Icing Issues
(i) If you find that buttercream does not hold your cake firmly to the cake board or stacker board, you can use candy melts. We however choose to use royal icing. But one advantage of using buttercream is that it is easier to lift off the cake from the board if you use buttercream. You might need to lift off the cake after stacking (for some correction or repairs).
(ii) Remember to chill your buttercream covered cakes first before stacking.
(i) A hack applied by some cake decorators to keep the bottom tier stable on the display board is this- cut out a circle in the middle of the display board; not through the board though (in the case of our video tutorial above, that would be to cut out a circle of fondant). If you covered the board with foil or other fancy material, that would be a circle of the material. Then tape around the area cut out before and apply hot glue or candy melts before placing the bottom tier with its stacker board on the display board. This helps to hold the bottom tier firmly to the display board.
(ii) Remember that you use cake drums that are wider in diameter than the cake that would sit on them while the stacker boards would be the same width.
(iii) Constantly check and ensure that your cake is level as this would affect the stability of the cake. In the same vein, make sure that your working surface is level. Never stack your cakes on a turntable because it can wobble. You need a firm, stable and level working surface.
(iv) If you don’t want to be bothered with dowel rods and all, you can use the SPS system to stack your cake. check out the accompanying video :-
Settling Your Cake Layers
(i) Allowing your cake to settle ensures that the filling would not squish out of the cake and cause ugly ridges after you have covered the cake. You can help your cake settle better by covering the cakes with plastic wrap after crumb coating and letting it sit for a couple of hours.
(ii) Do not go overboard with the filling between layers as this can impact negatively on your cake settling well. Some cake decorators don’t even torte their cakes, they just brush the whole cake with glaze before crumb coating. Note this if you choose to glaze your cake. You have to let the cake “dry” off a bit before you coat. Or else your cake would be all slippery and you’ll have a hard time with the icing.
(i) Ensure that there is at least 2 inches clearance between each tier. This means that if I use a 10 inch cake as my bottom tier, then the next tier should be not more than 8 inches. This would give you room for borders and other decorations.
(ii) The display board (that is the cake drum that the cake would be displayed with) should also be bigger than the cake that would sit on it. You’d understand this better if you watched the video on decorating your cake board.
(iii) Ensure that the stacker board is the exact size as the cake that would sit on it. if not, it would distort overall aesthetics of your finished cake.
How To Stack A Cake – Conclusion
Now that you have all these instructions, tips and advice, we believe that you have the basics to go ahead and stack your cakes.
Remember that careful attention to details is key. If you follow all that you have learnt both from the articles or the videos, you’ll be an expert pretty soon.