Even basic stacked cakes require interior supports to prevent tiers from shifting or getting squashed. I recommend using dowels and cardboard for cake infrastructure because it is a reliable and economical method. I am not a big fan of the SPS (single plate separator) system because it’s expensive, the plastic plate is unnecessary (except for cakes with elevated tiers), and the chunky columns displace an awful lot of cake. Bubble tea straws, which can be used in smaller cakes (2, maybe 3 tiers) are inexpensive and easy to cut to size. Personally, I prefer to use wooden dowels because they are trusty.
- Long wood skewer/s
- Pen or marker
- Cardboard base for each cake
- White electrical tape (optional)
- Dowels (12″ Wilton Dowel Rods or 1/2″ wood dowels)
- Saw (for smaller dowels, large pet nail clippers work great)
- Pencil sharpener (or knife for whittling)
- Sand paper
- Apple corer (for use with thick dowels only)
► Every tier of every cake should have a cardboard base beneath it that is the shape/size of the intended result (so a 7” round cake needs a 7” round cardboard). The cardboard should stay with the cake from the first moment the cake is frosted to the point when it gets served; the cake and cardboard naturally fuse together and remain as one.
► Once a cake tier is fully frosted, measure its interior height in order to determine the length of interior support dowels needed. Do this on a cold but not frozen cake by inserting a long skewer dull-side-down and all the way through the cake vertically until it hits the cardboard base. With a pen, mark the skewer at the point where it meets the cake’s surface. Then pull out the skewer and use it to measure the dowels for cutting.
► Use the skewer’s mark minus 1/8” (3 mm) to determine what length to cut dowels. The reason for shaving some length off of the dowels is that cake invariably gets compressed under dowels, which raises them up a hair. Also, it’s better for interior supports to sit just below a cake’s surface. If one or more dowels protruded above the cake’s surface, the next tier won’t sit level, then the entire cake’s structural integrity can get compromised.
► When trimming dowels for small, lightweight cakes that don’t require the heft of power tools, I recommend large pet nail clippers. Pet nail clippers…I know it sounds weird. But they work great, especially on the 12″ Wilton Dowel Rods. I have a pair in my tool kit that I use often and exclusively for dowels (never for paws). They are sharp and accurate, their only limitation being their size: they can’t fit wide diameter dowels.
► Once the wooden support dowels are all in, it helps to add a piece of parchment paper between cake tiers that is the same size as the tier above. This helps guide the placement of the next tier. It also helps prevent the frosting from the lower tier from getting stuck to the cardboard above. This way, each tier’s frosting remains better intact.
► For stacked tiers that get moved or transported, it’s important to push one or two narrow sharpened dowels through multiple tiers. These Wilton Dowel Rods work great for this purpose. The purpose of these longer dowels is to prevent the tiers from sliding or shifting side to side.
► The best tool for sharpening this type of support dowel is a pencil sharpener. Don’t sharpen the dowels to a point though. Make sure they are slightly rounded at the tip (sand them a little if you have to) because you don’t want a sharp tip of wood breaking off inside the cake.
► When inserting long pointed dowels through tiers, press slowly but firmly with two thumbs. Once you hit the cardboard, tap the tip of the dowel lightly with a hammer to help it pass through the cardboard cake base. It helps to insert dowel infrastructure into a cake when it’s not too cold (right after frosting is a good time) because a cold cake is more prone to cracking.
Push the long sharpened dowels (marked by the arrows above) down to the same level as the support dowels. It’s better to leave them visible for the person whose job it is to find and remove them later on.
► To remove dowels from within a cake because they are the wrong length or because it’s time to serve the cake, use needle nose pliers to grab and pull them out.
► When dropping off stacked cakes at weddings or catered events, try to find the person who is supposed to cut the cake so you can describe to them how it’s built, where the dowels are located, how many people it is meant to serve, etc.
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