Monday, May 3, 2010

Stacking a Tiered Cake

A tiered cake is a perfect way to celebrate a special occassion.  There is something grand about the classic design.  Achieving this look is not difficult.  Once stacking is mastered, the design possibilities are endless.  There are tall stacks, short stacks, wide stacks, and thin stacks.  Any cake can go as far as your imagination can take it. 

If you have smoothly frosted each tier on its own cake board, you are ready to begin.  In the following example, I am stacking a 5" round tier onto an 8" round tier.  I use the cake pan for the smaller tier to mark the lower, larger tier.

Carefully place the 5" pan on the top of your frosted 8" tier.  Center the pan so that it is evenly spaced from all sides.  Gently press down on the pan.

When the pan is removed, a perfectly round impression is left to show you exactly where your tier is going to sit.

Take a small dowel rod and stick it into the cake about 1"  in from the pan marking.  Push it down until it touches the cake board.  Mark the dowel at the top of the cake and remove. 

Cut the dowel at that mark.  I use big kitchen scissors to cut mine, you know, the kind that cut chicken bones.  Now cut 4 more dowels to the same length.

Push the dowels into the cake, evenly spaced, 1" in from the pan marking.  Leave about an inch sticking out above the cake.

Now you are ready for your top tier.  Very carefully pick up the tier by the cake board.  Use a spatula to lift the tier until you can get your hands under it.  If you accidentally knick or dent the frosting, don't fret.   These can be re-smoothed after stacking is complete.

Line up the small tier with the pan indentation on the large tier.

Carefully drop the tier the remaining inch.  The dowels should slow the drop just enough to get your fingers out of the way.  At this point, you can smooth the frosting if necessary.

Of course if you have more tiers in your cake, you will have to repeat these steps for each tier.  Larger tiers will require more support dowels.  Evenly spaced, they should be about 2-3" apart.

Some decorators use bubble tea straws as supports instead of the dowel rods. I would like to try these some day. I'll be sure to let you know how it works when I do. In the mean time, this system has not failed me yet.

Once you have stacked all your tiers, it is time to secure them for travel.  Take a long dowel rod or skewer that is cut to be about 1" shorter than the height of your entire cake.  Sharpen one end with a pencil sharpener.  Carefully push the dowel rod, sharpened end first, down through the middle of the cake.  When you come to a cake board, gently hammar the rod through until it hits the bottom cake board.  Since the rod is slightly shorter than the cake, you will need to use another short piece of dowel to push it all the way down to the bottom board.  When you are done, you can patch the small hole in the frosting or cover with a decoration.  The center dowel prevents the tiers from sliding side to side.  I wouldn't transport a tiered cake without it.

Check the Poetry Corner for more entertaining poems!

Happy Caking!


P.S.  Becky, if your out there, this post is for you.  Good luck on your upcoming cake project.  Email me pictures, I'd love to see how it turns out!


  1. Thanks for the instructions. The problem I run into is getting the dowel through the cakeboard. The one and only time I tried this on a two tiered cake I nearly ruined the bottom tier. The cake board was the standard thickness cardboard cakeboard.

  2. If the center dowel is sharpened well it should pierce the cardboard cake board and go right through. The only time I have had problems with this was once when I had a very small cake board(2") on a farm silo I made. Larger cake boards should not be a problem.

  3. Thanks for the insight. I'll give it another go.

  4. Curious how many layers that bottom cake was. Looks tall in the pictures. Nice job.

    1. There were three layers of cake in the bottom tier.

  5. Hi Frostine, I have a question... how do you make the corners of the cake to stay so sharp? everytime I cover my cake with fondant-the corners come out rounded. Please tell me what I'm doing wrong? (first, I buttercream the cake and make sharp corners, but when the fondant goes on top, the corners round. I roll fondant very thin, about 1/8 of an inch. I also smooth out the fondant (already on the cake) with that fondant spatula/smoother thing, and that doesnt help with corners. Should I freeze the cake with buttercream before covering it with fondant,? is that going to do the trick? Hope to hear from you (or anyone who can help me out)
    Thank you, :)

    1. Hi Inna,
      I do know some tricks to get the fondant sharp at the corners. Perhaps I could make a post on that. These cakes in particular, however, are not covered with fondant. Here's the link on how I smooth the buttercream.

      To get the edges sharp on a fondant you have to work the fondant with two fondant smoothers at the same time. Place one smoother on the side of the cake and the other on the top of the cake. Gently push the top fondant closer to the corner while applying pressure on the side. I'm sure that sounds confusing. I'll try to make a post on it soon.

      Whatever you do, don't freeze the cake before covering it with fondant! If you live in a humid area, you could end up with a very sticky mess! You would also have increased likelihood of bubbles forming under the fondant.

      Hope that helps.

  6. You make it look so easy! I'm making a 2 tiered cake for my twins' first birthday party. Do I have to use dowels if I'm only transporting it from my kitchen to the dining room? Also, I'm using the same color frosting for the top and bottom. Is it necessary to frost the top tier before stacking (other than crumb coating it)? Thank you!

    1. Sandra,
      You can probably get away without using the center dowel, but you shouldn't skip the support dowels. If you don't want to mess with purchasing the dowels, you could use straws like I did in this post. They are inexpensive and easy to find.

      It seams like it would be easier to frost after stacking just because you wouldn't risk sticking a finger in the frosting, but trust me on this one, you want to frost it before stacking. It's amazing how much pressure is put on the cake while frosting it. Especially without the center dowel, frosting application would undermine your support dowels for sure. Good luck, it's going to look fantastic!

  7. Hello,
    Does your top tier have a cake board underneath it? Just wondering how dowels that are inserted into the bottom tier go into the top tier easily if there is a cake board in the way!
    Thank you,

  8. Yes, the top tier has a cake board. The dowels are the exact height of the lower tier. I do not push them down for the last inch because it helps to catch the top tier and get your fingers out of the way. The weight of the top tier will then press the dowels all the way down. The dowels do not poke into the top tier. Sorry for the confusion.

  9. Hello.
    What thickness cake boards do you use to be able to get the centre dowel through?

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Just a single layer of cardboard.

  12. I bet an unwaxed cake board would work best between the tiers. Excited (and nervous) to try this method!

  13. thank you for posting this. Never thought of leaving a inch of dowel on the bottom tier. I am always having issue with stacking buttercream cakes.

  14. Hi!
    I know its a while ago since you posted this, but its the only thing similar to what I was looking for online so would really appreciate some help :)
    I am making a 9 inch chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and would like to make it two tiered.. originally with a 7 inch, however it seems easier to find the cake pan for a 6 inch so I might have to go with that
    How tall is the 5 inch cake in this photo if I may ask?
    Do you think it would be a good idea if I made a 6 inch tall cake rather than a 7 inch cake which is as tall as the 9 inch?

    1. Also have you ever covered a cake with chocolate ganache in fondant? if so do you make it thicker than a normal cake because the chocolate might show through?

  15. How do you get the tiers separated without all the frosting from the bottom tier getting ruined?

  16. Doesn't the buttercream icing come of onto the cake board from the cake it is being stacked on. In other words, if I place a second tier on to top of the base cake, doesn't the icing come off when you remove the cardboard to cut the next tier?