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This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of cake presentation, looking at quick and easy ways to make your bakes stand out from the crowd, ways in which you can create grand centrepieces, and the difference between cake boards and cake drums!
A quick search for multi-tiered cakes will bring up stories of Victorian royalty and a world of privilege. As it turns out, our medieval ancestors gave multi-tiered cakes a good go a long while before the Victorians.
Granted, these 'cakes' weren't quite the lavish, status symbol they grew to be during the 19th century. Rather, they were made entirely of spiced buns that would be stacked as high as possible after matrimonial celebrations. If the newly-weds could sneak a smooch over this tower of buns, it would (supposedly) herald a lifetime of prosperity.
The now sacrosanct image of a bride and groom atop a multi-tiered cake is, quite possibly, a relic of this tradition. These days, we've ditched the buns, and we certainly don't need as much of an excuse to create a multi-tiered masterpiece. In fact, we can even turn our hand to multi-tiered cakes under the guise that we're 'preparing' for someone's big day. So, with that excuse, let's take a look at how you do it...
Exact quantities and sizes will depend on the cake sizes being used, and also how many tiers you intend on 'stacking.' We'll run through this as we go, but broadly speaking, this is what you'll need:
2+ Cakes Tiers
Centre Dowel (at least the height of cake)
Cake Drum (0.5" thickness recommended – circumference at least 2" larger than bottom tier cake)**
Cake Boards (Tip: these should be the same size as the layers being stacked – e.g. 8" cake board for an 8" tier, 6" board for a 6" tier)
Royal Icing/Buttercream Icing
Cake Top Marking Templates (optional)
Contact Paper (optional)
*Tip: A good way to figure out how many you'll need is to work on the principle that for every two inches of cake tier size you have, you will need 1 support dowel. So for example, a 4" cake will require 2 support dowels, a 6" cake will require three, an 8" cake will require 4, and so on.
**For an explanation of the differences between cake drums and boards, take a quick look at this page.
For the sake of this guide, we are going to assume that you have already baked and iced your cakes. If you haven't added your icing yet, check out our Cake Decorating Guide for the best methods.
We'd also recommend that you ice your cake tiers at least 24 hours before stacking them. This way, you'll have an even and settled finish that will help avoid any lop-sidedness once you've started stacking.
I know, sometimes you don't have a choice in the matter; you have to do it today! If this is the case, invest in some crusting buttercream icing; this will dry quicker. Be careful though because you will have to take extra special care when smoothing and levelling.
This isn't to say extra-special care shouldn't be taken anyway. You want to ensure that every tier has been completely smoothed over, using your leveller to maintain as much accuracy to as possible. This way, you're maximising the chances of your tiers sitting comfortably and stably.
Before you get to the stacking, you want to ensure that your cake boards have a centre hole punched into them. This will be the same circumference as the dowel you're using as a central support for your cake. Make sure that this is a snug fit and is absolutely bang-centre of the board.
Also, it's a good idea to ice the top and underside of each cake board a day in advance (we tend to use buttercream icing). Whilst this will help the stability of the cake when icing your tiers together (we'll get to this later), it will also enhance the professionalism of your finished piece. How? Two reasons.
Firstly, if you have dried icing on your boards, you needn't worry about leaving embarrassing finger prints that may start setting. And secondly, despite all your efforts, chances are you're going to want to cut into your masterpiece sooner or later. When you do, would you prefer your guests to get a touch more buttercream flavour in their mouth, or a piece of foam/cardboard? Exactly.
Another idea, although not completely necessary, would be to invest in some clear contact paper and wrap your boards in it before stacking. This will reduce the likelihood of the board becoming soggy with the icing. (There are 'inked' contact boards available on the market – these can be unsafe and we recommend avoiding them).
Or as an alternative, cheaper method, you could also try freezing your boards before icing, and then refrigerating them once you have. Check out our cake board page to find out about the types of cake board on the market. Right, let's get the materials out...
Multi-tiered cakes are, more than likely, going to be fairly heavy. To ensure you've got the sturdiest base possible, we recommend investing in a cake drum that is as at least two inches wider than the bottom tier cake you're using. This way potential damage when transporting the cake is minimised.
Now's the first time you're going to need to call on one of your pre-iced cake boards. Whilst perforated cardboard cake boards will do, if you're willing to spend that little bit extra, then a coated, foam cake board might be your best bet.
As well as offering more stability, these boards provide more of a defence against potential sinking, as well as offering a grease resistant quality. This means your icing is less likely to absorb into the board itself.
What's the benefit of this? Well, if you want to remove one of the layers at a later date, there's less of a chance that the board will take some of your cake's icing with it. And of course, when you do eventually cut into your masterpiece, you don't want half of someone's slice staying on the board (as mentioned above, to make double sure of this, you'll want to ice your boards a day before stacking).
I know, there's a lot to think about before the fun bit starts. But we're presuming that you, like us, are after Eifel Tower, not Leaning Tower. So, with that all sorted...