This step-by-step tutorial will show you how to stack a cake and make a beautiful tiered cake. From what kind of dowels to use to the type of cake boards to use and even how to level cakes, this cake decorating tutorial is packed with tips on stacking cake tiers.
Pretty much everyone who ‘does cakes’ has their own favorite method for stacking cakes. Today I want to share with you, the method that works best for me and hopefully it’ll help you too.
My method is sort of a combination of a lot of methods that I’ve seen other people use and have read about and I just feel more confident doing things this way.
Now, this post is a LONG post, because if I’m going to write a ‘how to’ post, I want to give as many details as I possibly can. That’s just my style.
By the way, if you want to learn how to make a large gumpaste rose like the one on this cake, I have a tutorial and video for that as well. You can find that here: How to Make a Large Gumpaste Rose
I do also have a video in this post where I explain it and show it as well, so look for that toward the bottom of this post. The video is long as well, but again, I like to give you all the tips I can think of.
A few things to note before we get started: For this tutorial, I’m working with a fondant cake. It was just easier for me to use a fondant cake while taking a video of it. I didn’t have to worry about the cake getting too warm, or me taking too long to stack it.
Just know that these tips are the same tips I use to stack buttercream cakes. The only difference is you have to be a little more careful with buttercream cakes and it’s best to chill them before stacking if you can.
The next thing to note: I’m showing you the method that I like to use. I’m NOT saying that this is the only method and that you HAVE to do it this way. All of us are different and we all work differently, so feel free to try out my method and others to see what works best for you.
Ok, let’s get going!
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SUPPLIES NEEDED TO STACK A CAKE:
- Baked and prepared cake tiers. (I like to use three layers of cake for each tier and I used an 8″ cake tier for the bottom and a 6″ cake tier for the top.)
- Cake base (I like to use foam core board)
- Cake boards – these go directly under each tier (I like to use foam core for these as well, but you could also use cardboard cake rounds.)
- Dowels (I like to use 1/4″ and 1/2″ poly-dowels from Global Sugar Art, but there are more options that I’ll explain below.)
- Cake leveler (or large knife)
- Cake turn table
- Icing spatula
- Icing smoother
- Candy melts
- Edible marker
- Scissors or wire cutters
- Small level
Let’s go through these in a little more detail below, so you know what your options are.
The cake base is the largest cake board that the entire cake will sit on. It’s not the cake boards that go under each tier, but the actual ‘base’ board.
If you need help with the difference between cake boards and bases and cake layers and tiers, I have a really helpful post that will explain all that. You can find that here: Anatomy of a Decorated Cake
Essentially your cake base needs to be at least two inches larger than the largest cake tier that will be sitting on it. I usually have mine even larger than that.
Here is the most important part about the cake base: You want to use a cake base that is sturdy enough to actually hold your cake!
You can glue together several cardboard cake rounds (but I do not suggest using this method for a stacked cake…it’s just too heavy.)
I prefer to use 1/2″ foam core cake boards.
These usually come in different thicknesses and I like to use the 1/2 inch thick foam core boards for the bases.
It’s surprisingly sturdy and I’ve used it for really heavy multi-tiered fondant cakes.
Now, if you’ve got a super heavy cake, you may want to think about using MDF board (which is like a wood composite board.)
Just make real sure that whatever you use, it’s sturdy enough. If it isn’t sturdy enough, it can actually cause your cake to collapse.
You can also cover your cake bases in fancy foil, fondant, scrapbook paper, wrapping paper etc. I have a whole post on tips for cake boards that you might want to check out. I’ll also have a video posted to it very soon on how I like to cover a cake board in practically anything and still make it grease proof.
TIPS FOR CAKE BASES:
A cake board will go under each cake tier (not layer). The cake board will be the same size as the cake tier that’s on top of it.
You can use cardboard cake rounds, but I really like to use the thinner (1/4″) foam core cake boards especially for heavier fondant covered cakes.
There are many different types of dowels that you could use to stack cakes. I prefer to use poly dowels. You can get them on Amazon, but I like to get mine through Global Sugar Art.
There are two different sizes. They have 1/4 inch thick ones below.
And the 1/2 inch thick poly dowels as well.
These are really heavy duty and I like that they’re hollow inside and that they don’t displace any cake when you insert them. You do have to use some heavier cutters to cut these, but I find that garden cutters will work fine.
You could also use wooden dowels. I don’t like to use them because I feel like they shift easier than other dowels and they’re a real pain to cut.
Another option is bubble tea straws. These are wider, heavier straws than your normal bendy straws you can buy at the grocery store. These can be cut with regular scissors.
These are fine to use if your cake isn’t going to be massively heavy or massively tall. (Do NOT ever use regular straws though…they are not sturdy enough for ANY stacked cake.)
There are other stacking systems like the SPS stacking system or the wilton stacking system. Some people swear by these and say they make the cake very stable. I have never gotten into using these, but I’d suggest trying out a few options and see what you like best.
Again, I’m just showing what I like to use and how I normally stack my cakes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options that are just as good.
CAKE LEVELER OR KNIFE:
You’ll need to get each cake layer level before you ever stack your cakes. If you have any type of dome on your cakes, you’ll need to use a knife or a cake leveler to slice it off and make each layer perfectly flat.
This particular supply isn’t specifically for stacking cakes, but it will help you as you are filling your cakes and adding the icing.
ICING SPATULAS & SMOOTHERS:
Again, these aren’t specifically for stacking cakes, but they will allow you to get a smooth finish on your cakes when you add your filling and your icing.
CANDY MELTS, HOT GLUE & EDIBLE MARKERS:
These might seem a little out of the ordinary, but I promise there is a method behind using them.
I like to use candy melts (or you could also use hot glue) to stick your cake board (from the bottom tier) to your cake base. This helps keep that bottom tier from shifting around on the cake base.
For the edible marker, I use those to mark where I cut my dowels. You can find a link to the edible markers I like to use in the supply list at the beginning of this post. (They aren’t expensive and mine have lasted a very long time.)
Now, many people will just pop in their dowels, pull them up a bit and cut them, but I use a different method to insure that each dowel is the same height, which I’ll show in a bit.
SCISSORS, LARGE CUTTERS & SMALL LEVEL:
The scissors are used if you’ll be using the bubble tea straws. The larger cutters are used if you’ll be using the poly dowels.
The small level is a must. I use it while I’m stacking and filling the cake layers, before I coat the cake in buttercream, after I cover the cake and even after I’ve added my dowels. (I show how I do that below and in the video.)
Basically I’m constantly checking to make sure everything is as level as it can be all throughout the entire process.
STACKING & FILLING THE CAKE LAYERS:
Ok, to start ‘building’ our cake, we have to stack and fill the cake layers. I like to use three layers of cake and two layers of filling.
You can of course, torte your cake layers (that just means splitting them), but I don’t normally do that with stacked cakes, because I like having more stability.
I’m just using my turn table and I’ve added a larger ‘working board’ down on top of it just to catch any crumbs or buttercream and to help me move things around. It’s basically just a catch-all board.
Next I’m going to set my actual cake board (that the bottom cake tier will be sitting on) onto my working board and add just a small amount of melted candy melts to it.
I’m just doing this so that the bottom cake layer will stick to the board and not slide around on me while I ice that cake tier. You could also use buttercream, but buttercream still seems to slide around on me.
Now just add the three layers of cake and two layers of filling. Don’t go crazy adding a ton of filling though. If you do, the weight of the cake will squish it out and it’ll make a ridge around your cake, or cause a buttercream blow out.
Next just do a thin crumb coat around the entire cake.
Now, this next part is a little out of the norm, but it’s what I always do and has saved me tons of cake decorating heartache.
Wrap it loosely with plastic wrap and set the cake aside to let it ‘settle’. That just means setting it to the side either over night or at least for several hours to let the layers calm down and let it squish out any extra buttercream.
You want everything settling now…before you go stacking the cake tiers. If it settles afterwards, you get problems with sagging fondant, or buttercream blowouts or ridges.
Now, I don’t chill my cakes during this process because chilling them hardens up the cake and the icing and won’t really allow it to settle. You do actually want to chill it though if you have a perishable filling.
I won’t go into too much more detail on my method here, but if you’d like to know more details about that, you can check out my post: Should I Refrigerate My Cake Before Decorating?
Alright, so go ahead and fill your other cake tier, crumb coat it and set both your cake tiers aside to settle over night or for a couple hours. (I used an 8″ cake tier for the bottom and a 6″ cake tier for the top.)
Now, once everything’s settled, you can then cover it in whatever you choose. You could go with buttercream, buttercream with fondant, ganache, ganache and fondant, swiss meringue buttercream…the choices are many.
I covered my cake with white chocolate ganache…
and then with fondant.
STACKING THE CAKE:
One thing I like to do to the cake base is something that may seem a little weird at first, but when you think about it, it kind of makes sense.
Once the cake board is covered with fanci foil, or whatever I’ve covered it with, I like to take an exacto knife and cut out a circle in the middle…Not of the cake base, but of the wrapping that’s over it.
Then I tape around the area I cut.
The reason I do this is because I want that bottom board on the bottom cake tier to be stuck to the actual cake base, not the wrapping that’s over the cake base. I heard this once on a Craftsy class and it made total sense to me, so I’ve just done it ever since.
Alright, now just add some melted candy melts to the middle of your cake base. You can use hot glue as well, but I like to use melted candy melts, because it gives me a little more time to move things around.
Now slide your icing spatula under your bottom tier and pick it up. (Now if it’s a buttercream cake, you’ll need to chill it beforehand to make it firm and easier to stack.)
Just lift up your tier…use one hand under it if it’s a buttercream cake, or one on the back of it if it’s a fondant cake. Don’t place the entire weight of the cake on your icing spatula.
Lift it up and then set it onto your cake base. Don’t pull the spatula out yet.
Once you’ve got the bottom tier onto the cake base, use your spatula to move it around to get it centered, then slide out the spatula.
So, for this tutorial, I’m just going to show you how I stack my cakes using the poly dowels. You could use the bubble tea straws as well, but if it’s for fondant cakes, I like to use the poly dowels, because they’re very sturdy.
I’m also going to be adding in both sizes of the poly dowels, which is what I like to do for larger cakes. This tiered cake is only an 8″ and 6″ sized cake, so the amount of dowels I’m using is a bit overkill, but I wanted to show you how I like to use both sizes of dowels.
First take a cake board, the same size of the tier that will go on top of the cake tier you’re working on and set it on top of your bottom tier. Use a toothpick to trace around it lightly to give yourself a guide for adding in the dowels.
Now add in your first dowel and push it all the way down.
Take your edible marker and mark the dowel where it meets the top of the cake.
Now, just twist the dowel while pulling up on it and pull it completely out of the cake. Yes, pull it all the way out. We’re not going to cut it while it’s in the cake. We want to use it as a template to cut the other dowels.
When you pull it out, there will be a bit of cake inside it. Just leave that there.
Once the dowel is out of the cake, just use your clippers to cut it straight across at the line you marked.
Now take that dowel and set it right beside another dowel and make a mark with your edible marker where you’ll need to cut.
Now just cut that dowel as well.
Next use your original dowel you first cut and set that beside the smaller poly dowel and mark it.
Do this for a couple of the small poly dowels and cut them.
Yes, I know my clippers are old and used. I need to get a new pair.
Also, I’m using way more dowels than necessary to hold up a 6″ cake, but again, I wanted to show you how to use both sizes, so you’ll know how to do it when you have to stack larger tiers.
Now take that first dowel that you had originally added to the cake and push it back into the cake in the same spot.
Push it all the way down. Next add in another of the large dowels on the other side. Pay attention the line you drew with the toothpick earlier so you don’t go outside of that line when inserting your dowels.
Now add in the smaller dowels.
If you’ll be adding in a center dowel that will run throughout the entire cake, then leave that middle space without a dowel, so when you hammer your center dowel through the whole cake, it won’t get stuck on another dowel that you placed in the middle.
If you won’t be using a center dowel, then you can go ahead and add a dowel there now.
I usually go ahead and put a dowel in the middle because the only time I really use a long center dowel is if one of the tiers is really tall.
If you want to know how to make a tall cake, you can see that tutorial here: How to Make a Tall Cake
Ok, once all the dowels are in, here is the moment of truth. Take a cake board and set it on top and then use your level to see if it’s level. You might as well do that now and face the truth before you add the other tier on top.
If it’s not level, then you’ll have to adjust the height of the dowels. One might have been cut taller than the others. If one is too short though, don’t cut the others shorter, just cut a new, longer dowel for that spot.
If you cut your dowels too short, there will be too much pressure on that cake tier from the tier on top of it and it’ll squish the cake and cause all kinds of problems and ugliness.
Ok, once you’ve checked that it’s level, now it’s time to add your next tier.
One thing I forgot to mention in the video that is really important is that if you have more than two tiers, go ahead and add the dowels to all the tiers (not the top one of course) before you stack them.
I mean don’t stack a tier, then add dowels to that one and then stack the next one. Add the dowels into each tier while each is sitting directly on the table and not already stacked. I hope that makes sense.
Now, I like to stack my cakes with the dowels pushed all the way into the cake, but I wanted to show you an alternate way that some people like to use.
They lift the dowels up a bit and then they can just set the cake onto the dowels and the weight of the cake pushes down the dowels the rest of the way.
Sometimes that makes it easier because you can get your hands under the cake and you might be less likely to mess up your buttercream.
I don’t use that method because sometimes if your cake is chilled, then the weight of that top cake, may not be enough to push those dowels all the way down inside that chilled cake. But try it out and see if you like that method. For now, I’ll show you what I do.
Moving on. Next you’ll need to add a bit of melted candy melts to the top. I do this for fondant cakes because it helps the top tier stick to the bottom tier. If you’re using buttercream, you can just pipe a bit of buttercream instead.
Now slide your icing spatula under the next tier and lift it up. Remember if it’s a buttercream cake, make sure it’s chilled because that will help you a ton.
If it’s a buttercream cake, you’ll have to hold one hand under it as you move it to stack it.
If it’s a fondant cake, you can just place your hand on the other side of the cake to guide it into place.
Now use your icing spatula to move it around and get it centered.
If it’s a fondant cake, you can just adjust the cake tier with your hands, depending on the design of course.
Now that you’ve got your cake stacked, you can add a border to each tier if you want!
Make sure that the cake base is sturdy enough for your cake. That is super important. When in doubt…get a sturdier base.
If it’s a buttercream cake, chill it before stacking it. Now, I don’t chill my cakes while decorating them, but I will chill a buttercream cake for about twenty minutes or so before I stack it because that really helps.
Make sure your cakes are level BEFORE you stack them. Once you add the dowels, check to make sure it’s level again.
Practice several different methods and see which one you like the best!
VIDEO ON HOW TO STACK A CAKE:
I really hope this was helpful for you and if you have any questions, or I forgot to cover something, please let me know and I’m happy to help!
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