How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake

Topsy Turvy Cake Construction Tutorial by Wicked Goodies

The topsy turvy cake, also known as the wonderland cake, mad hatter cake, or falling down cake is a popular cake design technique that involves carving and the physics of counterbalance.

Topsy Turvy Wedding Cake by Wicked Goodies

This tutorial demonstrates how to carve and assemble a topsy turvy cake using a minimum amount of knife work and a very handy upside-down method.

First, the physics of the matter:

Leaning Tower of Pisa Cake by Wicked Goodies

1.  An object is in balance if its center of gravity is above its base of support. Take my Leaning Tower of Pisa cake for instance. Note that its center of gravity, marked with an X, is still well centered over its base, therefore both the actual monument and my cake version do not fall over. The same notion applies to topsy turvy cakes.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

2.  The topsy turvy cake method borrows from the ancient sculpting technique, contrapposto, which in Italian literally means counter pose. That is how a sculpted human form like Michelangelo’s 14-foot statue of David, can stand without keeling over. The key is counterbalance. Note how the structures above both use wedge shapes. As long as each wedge of the body/cake counters its neighboring wedges, the weight distribution remains stable and the statue/cake won’t topple over.

The 4-tier red velvet cake that appears here served 100 and consisted of the following levels, all of which began as cylinders that were 5” in height before carving.

  • 5” diameter round top tier (tapered down to a 4” diameter base)
  • 7” diameter round tier (tapered down to a 6” diameter base)
  • 9” diameter round tier (tapered down to a 8” diameter base)
  • 11” diameter round base tier (tapered down to a 10” diameter base)

► These measurements are for a skinny topsy turvy look. For a more squat, Alice in Wonderland cake shape, opt for wider tiers that are 3” or 4” apart from one another in diameter.

Items needed to carve this 4-tier skinny topsy turvy cake (note: if you don’t own all these sizes of cake circles, use a ruler, compass, and pencil and to trace their outlines and trim them down to size).

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

 1. Taper each tier using my upside down cake tapering method.

2. With a serrated knife, saw across the middle just enough to mark the top of each cake.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

3. Angle the knife 15° and slice a half moon wedge off ½ of the top. Start and end the cut shallowly but arch downwards in the middle to slice ½” – ¾” deep.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

4. Flip the wedge of cake onto the opposite side to complete the angle. Secure it with a thin layer of buttercream frosting.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

5. Return the appropriate-sized cardboard to the top of the cake, press, and flip the cake upside down.

6. Repeat the same process on the bottom of the cake, cutting from the mirroring side and building onto the mirroring side so that the end result is a tilted cake that is wedge-shaped.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

7. Repeat the process on all tiers. Store the tiers wrapped in plastic with the cardboard circles on both top and bottom at all times. The cardboard will help each tier hold its odd shape.

► For a cake that requires a level surface for a topper, refrain from angling the top end of the top tier.

8. When all the tiers are carved, stack them as they are meant to be assembled to test their balance and approve the overall angle of the cake. They should be able to stand alone without any help. Carve adjustments at this stage if needed.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

9. Frost the tiers with smooth buttercream using the same upside-down method from How to Taper Cake Tiers.

10. For topsy turvy infrastructure, I have used both the dowel system and the SPS system successfully many times. There is more measuring involved because the interior supports are at different angles but it follows the same rules as an ordinary stacked cake.

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake by Wicked Goodies

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Comments

How to Make a Topsy Turvy Cake — 37 Comments

    • When working with SPS, don’t angle the tiers too much when carving them. I recommend using a pipe cutter to trim the columns (See photo below). You have to cut on a bias and this tool makes it easier. It’s very important to set the cake up on site and not attempt to assemble it before delivery.

      However SPS is not my recommended method for stacking cakes, especially topsy turvy cakes, since the plastic plates prevent you from being able to insert a center dowel. This can become a problem over the course of a display period if the cake table is a little tilted or the cake is not 100% level. With SPS, all it takes is for one tier to start shifting and the whole cake can go down. SPS also creates a sizeable gap between cake tiers, especially in the case of topsy turvy cake because the columns are different lengths so the plates might not sit right, and that can be extremely de-stabilizing.

      I once worked in a busy cake bakery that stacked all their cakes using SPS and there were a lot of problems, especially with topsy turvy cakes. The percentage of failure was too high in my estimation.

      You don’t have to worry about the tiers slipping apart if you use my my preferred wood dowel method for stacking cakes.

  1. I am making a topsy turvy cake today using this method for a party tomorrow. My one question after reading all the different methods used, is how to cut the dowels at the top end. Im assuming they will all be different sizes due to the angle at the top of each layer. Do you cut each dowel for each layer individually or measure the angle or eyeball it??? Terrified of a collapsed cake!

    • Marissa, I push lollipop sticks or long thin skewers into the cake where I’m planning to put dowels then mark them to measure the depth then pull them out and use them as guides for cutting the dowels. You do have to measure a lot more lengths due to the angle of each tier. Then you also need longer, sharpened dowels to pass through 2 tiers at once to secure them together. Here is my tutorial on how to use wood dowels as infrastructure: http://www.wickedgoodies.net/2010/08/how-to-use-wood-dowels-in-stacked-cakes/ It’s not specific to topsy turvy cakes but it will still give you some pointers. Good luck! – Kristen

  2. I love this tutorial. I just have a quick question. How do you insert a dowel through the whole cake if the tiers all have cake boards?

    • To insert a dowel through a stacked cake including the cardboard bases of each tier, sharpen its tip using a pencil sharpener and hammer into the cake. Just to be clear, in this case, the cardboard on the top of each tier is discarded after frosting.

  3. Hi, I am doing a Halloween themed topsy turvy cake for my son’s wedding and have to transport it 16 miles. I really want to assemble it before I take it but am really worried about the vibration during the car journey, as I have read lots of reviews regarding transporting these cakes and lots of people have had disasters!

    • You are definitely better off transporting the tiers separately when it comes to a topsy turvy wedding cake. I usually assemble the first two tiers of a stacked cake in the kitchen (with dowels holding them securely together) then complete the cake on location. As long as the cake elements leave your place at refrigerator temperature and you keep your vehicle nice and cool during transport, the tiers should stay intact for an on-site set-up. I’ve found, especially with topsy turvy cakes, that if you insert a sharpened center dowel into the top tier before placing it on the cake, that permits better leverage and makes it easier to get it centered properly (the top tier is always the hardest to place on a topsy turvy cake). Then you push that dowel through the tier below to hold the top tier snugly in place. Good luck! Happy wedding to your son and to you, the MOG (mother of the groom)! :)

  4. I can’t thank you enough for this tutorial!!!!! I had read others which all recommended carving out holes on the top of each tier to inset another tier. The results looked a bit “raggedy” and not what I wanted to achieve.

    Your tutorial was straightforward and the step-by-step photos were a great help. Even though I was slightly frightened by the idea of physics and contrappusto!!!!!

    The end product was an outstanding success (even if I say so myself!)

    So thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! You are wonderful ;)

  5. Did you bake 4 layers for each tier, or is it just two layers cut in half and filled with buttercream, for instance would I bake 2 10 inch cake layers or more per tier??

  6. I love your tutorial. It’s very easy to understand, but I have 1 question- I have done the topsy turvy by cutting into the tier below and making a shelf to hold the tier above it, is that still necessary if I follow your method or could I do it in conjunction with your method?

  7. Im new to fondant, heck the entire baking a tiered cake really. I wanna make something special for my daughters 16th bday. Hope you can give some advice. so following your advice on how to make a topsy cake how long do you leave it wrapped and where? My fridge wont hold a 2-3 teir cake, lol. Also do you unwrap and take apart to place fondant on each level/decorate, then replace tiers? I’m thinking of using a cookies n cream buttercream frosting or chocolate chip mint one between layers would that be a problem you think? Also colors of fondant will be varied red, white, black, green..
    Any advice would be awesome. Ive made marshmallow fondant once already was challenge but managed a basic two teir round. so hope this time I get just as lucky, lol. Great website thanks..

    • Christina,
      I start topsy turvy cakes 3 days in advance of the event. Here is the way I go about it:
      Day #1 – bake and fill the cakes, wrap them in plastic, and freeze them overnight.
      Day #2 in the A.M. depan the cakes, carve them while they’re still quite cold, crumb coat them, wrap them in plastic, then let them thaw out in the fridge.
      Day #2 in the P.M. once cakes are defrosted, apply finish coats of frosting and insert dowels or preferred method of infrastructure.
      Day #3 – Apply finishing touches on cake, assemble bottom two tiers, transport cake to venue, then assemble final tiers on site.

      – If a cake is wrapped in fondant or modeling chocolate, keep it covered with plastic wrap up until the last minute to prevent condensation from forming on the surfaces.

      – Cookies and cream filling will work as long as layers of filling are thin and filling is thick and resilient, containing butter or egg yolks or gelatin. I would not recommend using just a whipped cream filling, especially an un-stabilized whipped cream filling. Perhaps with a generous amount of whipped cream stabilizer (i.e. powdered egg whites), it could work, but I have not tried it myself.

      – White, red, black, and green are very bold colors. Be careful of using such bold colors on a white canvas as they are more prone to bleeding.

      – Cakes take up lots of space in the fridge. If you want to make a tiered cake, you’ll have to throw out all the old food in your fridge, jam your still-good food into the drawers and door shelves, and tell everyone in your household to stay outa the fridge! Because there’s a topsy turvy cake in progress.

      – Good luck! I hope this helps.

  8. brilliant tutorial..plain and simple instructions so easy to follow will definitely be giving this a go ..thank you so much

  9. Quick question – what kind of cake do you typically use for this? No matter what I do I cant get this to work right. I always end up with one side cracking and sagging when I construct. Wondering if I’m not using a dense enough cake

    • I’ve used this method at bakeries that had all different kinds of cakes – from airy genoise with soaking syrup to dense pound cake with fudge filling. The trick is to carve cakes while they are semi-frozen/very cold. That way, they don’t crumble apart.

  10. Great instructions, love it!

    Just one question, do you leave the card board circles on either sides of the cake even after decorating with butter cream / fondant? In other words, the person cutting the cake will have to know to remove the card board circles before serving?

    Sorry for the silly question, just curious :)

    • Not silly question at all! The boards on the bottom of each tier remain as part of the cake’s infrastructure. The boards on the top of each tier are removed just before crumb coating. Normally I would not bother with boards on top of any tier but in this case, they are necessary for the upside down carving and frosting method.

  11. Thank you! This is the best explanation I have come across about the topsy turvy cake construction. Everyone one says do this and then do that but they miss on the very important question as to WHY?
    You satisfied the engineer within me by answering it all.
    Thanks and keep up the good work.

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