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Cakes - Stack and Support Layers

Copyright © 2000 Sarah Phillips Sarah Phillips, Inc. All rights reserved.
Once you have frosted all your cakes with icing, insert heavy duty bar straws or even better, bubble tea straws or wooden dowels or skewers within the diameter of your cake for support. For instance, if your top cake is a 6 inch cake, you will be placing about 5 straws within a 6 inch diameter. Here is a simple step-by-step:

Make sure all your cakes (except the bottom-most cake, which should be sitting on a heavy duty cake board or drum at least 2-4 inches bigger than that cake itself), are sitting on cardboards that are the same diameter as the cake itself. (ie, the 6 inch cake is on a 6 inch cardboard, the 8 inch cake is on an 8 inch cardboard, etc.) This cardboard, along with the straws, provides the support your cake needs.

1. On your bottom-most and largest cake, lightly place a 6 inch (or whatever size cake you are stacking on top of it) paper or cardboard shape (to match the shape of your cake) on top, and center it.
2. Lightly trace around the circumference of the cardboard or paper with a skewer, toothpick, or knife.
3. Remove the paper or cardboard.
4. In the center of your lightly traced shape, insert a heavy duty straw all the way down into the cake til it
hits the bottom. Right where the top of the straw is flush with the top of your cake, mark with your thumb, and pull the straw out. Cut the straw with scissors, straight across, where your thumb has marked the spot.
Now using your first straw as a guide, cut four to eight more straws the same length. The amount of straws you use depends largely on the size and weight of the cake that is to go on top.
5. Now insert your first straw back in the center, and the other number straws around it, just within the circumference of your traced oval. It will sort of look like a compass shape...your first straw in the center, and your other straws at "north" "south" "east" and "west" and in between those if necessary.
6. a.The best way to secure fondant cakes together is with melted chocolate. I like to use white chocolate because if any squeezes out the bottom when you put the cakes together, it doesn't show much.
Melt your chocolate....you only need a few ounces. Make sure your cakes are well chilled...the chocolate will set up faster that way. Pour a little puddle of it on top of your center straw, then immediately place your chilled 6 inch cake on top. Make sure the cake is centered, then wait a few minutes for the chocolate to set.
b. The best way to secure a buttercream iced cake to the cake below is to squeeze out a couple quick swirls of icing with your piping bag on top of your configuration of straws before you place the next cake on top.
7. Once you have put one tier on top of the other tier, you need to add a little "insurance" to prevent the tiers from possibly sliding apart when being handled and transported. You can do this easily with bamboo skewers. The long kind....I think they are about 10-12" long. You will need a pair of wire cutters or needle nosed pliers (the kind with the cutting part on the inside).

  1. Stick the pointy end of the skewer down through the center of the top cake.
  2. Using the side of your pliers, gently pound the skewer down through the cakes til you feel it hit the bottom board. The cool part is that the skewer will go right through the cardboard of the uppermost cake.
  3. You will have part of your skewer sticking out the top of the cake. Pull up on it a little so that you raise it up about an inch.
  4. Cut the skewer off as close to the top of the cake as possible with the cutting part of your pliers or wire cutters.
  5. Using the part of the skewer that you just cut off, place it directly on top of the skewer that's still sticking out of the cake.
  6. Again, with the side of your pliers, pound the skewer down so that you feel it hit bottom. The skewer will disappear down below the surface of the cake.
  7. Pull out the skewer piece that you used to pound the other part of the skewer down, and you're done.
  8. Now repeat these steps with two more skewers placed within a one inch proximity of the first skewer.

Once you're done "skewering", then you need to put straws in that cake to support the next one above it, if there is a next one.....so repeat the straw process as explained above. Then once that cake is on, do the skewer process again.

Once your uppermost cake is on, and you're done skewering, just pipe a little buttercream into the holes left by the skewers, and smooth over with a spatula. Usually, you don't have to worry about covering the holes since most cakes usually will have a top adornment that covers it anyway. If you're using fondant or another rolled covering, you can make tiny "patches" out of more fondant. If using ganache, just pipe a tiny amount of ganache into the holes if desired. The holes are so tiny though, it almost doesn't matter.

QUESTION: I am looking for a food-safe dowel that I need to use for a 5-tier wedding cake. It'll be a 6",8",10",12" and a 14".
I am not sure if I even need one. I don't normally use a dowel that long. I only use wooden dowels in each cake tier to support the cake that will be placed on top of it. Also, I haven't used plastic straws as dowels. Does it really work? I would have imagined that since it's plastic that it will be too soft. Would regular drinking straws' measurements/diameter work? Or should I get the bubble tea straws? Any advise will be appreciated, thank you.
SARAH SAYS: I will use straws or bubble tea straws or wooden chopsticks or skewers for only the really small stacked cakes of 3 tiers. Like 8, 6 and 5 inch cakes.

The better drinking straws are the larger ones, like the ones you get from McDonalds. They are stronger than the really thin ones but I have used these too in small cakes.

I use wooden dowels most often, the 1/4 inch hardwood ones which incidentally, if they are not treated are food safe. And most are not treated, you will be able to tell if they are because they will be green. I checked this out. But you should always check with your supplier, otherwise use the Wilton ones which are food safe.

For larger cakes that are 4 or more than 4 tiers, I would use the hollow plastic dowels that Wilton makes, on the bottom tier only. They waste a lot of cake. Then I would switch to the wooden dowels. Or use the hollow dowels in the next tier switching to wooden for the higher tiers.

For your cake size I wouldn't go with the straws, skewers, chopsticks.

I would use a centre dowel on this cake, even if it isn't being transported stacked. Just for display even. And mainly because it is going to be high and if someone bumps the table, you could have a problem. You can use a different system. For example a dowel attaching the 5th and 4th level, another dowel through the 3 and 4th, another through the 1st, 2nd and third level. Or one long one through the centre. For this I buy dowels from a building supply. Often it is hard to find them in hardwood, they are usually not. And since they are not, they can absorb moisture from the cake. So you wrap them in plastic wrap or tinfoil. I hear Press'N Seal works well on them. Then you do not need to worry about them being food safe though again, the ones I buy are not treated with any preservatives.

I don't own the stress-free support system that some recommend but this is well-liked for these kinds of cakes.

QUESTION: When do you put the dowel rods in a cake to be covered in fondant? before or after you cover the cakes in the fondant?
SARAH SAYS: After you cover the cake with fondant, you insert dowels rods. By the way, I have successfully used bubble tea straws for 6- and 8-inch cakes.