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, physics and contrapposto.
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:
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.
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 to contrapposto 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).
- 4” diameter round cake cardboard
- 5” diameter round cake cardboard
- 6” diameter round cake cardboard
- 7” diameter round cake cardboard
- 8” diameter round cake cardboard
- 9” diameter round cake cardboard
- 10” diameter round cake cardboard
- 11” diameter round cake cardboard
- Serrated knife
- Plastic wrap
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.
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.
4. Flip the wedge of cake onto the opposite side to complete the angle. Secure it with a thin layer of buttercream frosting.
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.
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.
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.
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