Stacked Cakes and cakes with columns or tiers can be very dramatic and beautiful but certainly require a firm foundation and the correct accessories for success.
Stacked cakes are created when different sized cakes are placed directly on top of one another. No matter how many cakes you are stacking from two up to even eight cakes it is best to have at least a two to four inch difference in size. This will create a better look. Stacked cakes, especially very tall ones, must be stabilized using individual cake boards and dowels in each cake. Stacked cakes are often transported as individual cakes and assembled at the venue location to avoid unsightly accidents. The only time full dowelling is not necessary for a stacked construction is if the lower cakes are a firm fruitcake or carrot cake and not a light sponge cake or mousse filled creation. The top cakes would simply sink into the lower ones and the cake will topple over. You should also try and stack cakes while the icing is freshly done or wait for at least 2 days after icing the cakes before stacking or the icing might crack.
Creating a stable foundation out of dowels for the cake is not difficult. You can use either wood or plastic dowels depending on what is available or your preference. A general rule for deciding the number of dowels needed is that you need more dowels for bigger, taller cakes. Plastic dowels tend to be wider than wood ones so you can use less plastic ones in your construction. For example, a 16 inch or 18 inch cake will require at least eight dowels and a ten inch cake will need at least six dowels. You can gently press a cake board the same size as the upper tier on the top of the lower tier to mark where to place the dowels. Obviously they need to be placed within the circle marking the diameter of the top cake.
A basic method to assemble a stacked cake is as follows:
- Ice each tier separately with the cake firmly "glued" with icing onto a cake board or separator plate that is exactly the same size as the cake. The bottom tier is usually on a thicker cake board or even a plywood base that is either the same diameter as the cake or at least two inches bigger depending on the design. Make sure each tier is completely level using a level from the hardware store set on the top.
- Insert dowels into all the tiers except the top one.
- Place a cake board the same size as the tier above the bottom one centered on top of the bottom tier and press it gently to imprint the outline on the icing or fondant. Use this guideline to insert the appropriate number of dowels into the cake within the line.
- Insert one of the dowels into cake taking care to go straight and right down to the cake board. Use a knife to mark the exact height at the top of the cake and then pull dowel back out.
- Cut the dowel the correct length and then cut the remaining dowels for that tier using the first as a measurement.
- Insert the rods into cake tier, spacing them evenly about one inch in from the cake board outline. Push the dowels straight down until each one touches the bottom cake board.
- Stack the second tier on to the first centering it exactly using a palette knife to move it without ruining the icing.
- Repeat this process for each stacked tier on the cake design except the top one.
- After the cake is stacked completely you can stabilize it further by running a long wooden dowel with a sharpened end through all the cake tiers from the top. The sharpened end should embed into the base cake board. This will prevent any shifting. You can sharpen the dowel with a pencil sharpener or even a sharp paring knife. If your dowels are not long enough to go through the height of the tiers it is advisable to stabilize the first two tiers on the bottom using this method and then repeat it with the top two or three tiers.