Knowing how to properly stack your cake is an absolute MUST in the wedding cake industry.
I've personally stacked over 1000 cakes, from 2 tiers to 7 tiers and have nailed down the process to make it quick, easy, and consistent, with the result being completely reliable so I can transport my cakes with peace of mind.
I don't center dowel my cakes!
On the rare occasion that I create something gravity-defying then of course this rule goes out the window.
But for the other 99% of cakes, which are stacked with the largest tier on the bottom, and the smallest on top, you won't see a center dowel inside of any of my cakes.
I regularly transport wedding cakes anywhere from 15-100+ miles away, which sometimes includes multiple deliveries in one trip.
If you feel more comfortable hammering a dowel in the middle of your cake, than by all means! The basics I'm going over in this blog post still apply 100% and you can be confident that your cake will be level, sturdy, and completely supported during deliveries
Choosing the best dowels
I only use one brand of dowels for my cakes, Poly-Dowels® Brand. These are tried and true, and tested to the absolute max for me, and you coundn't pay me enough money to switch to any other brand.
Dowels I've tried before discovering my go-to dowels
I tried wooded dowels for a few months, and I could never get on board with them.
The worst part about the wooden dowels were the splinters, and the second worst thing was having to use sandpaper to file down the edges.The sandpaper made a huge mess, and I couldn't stand the idea of having tiny fibers of wood possibly getting into my cake slices.
I used milkshake straws before I switch to Poly-Dowels®, but I never fully trusted them, and I always had to use a lot, which made way too many holes in my cake. Not to mention there are varying thicknesses of milkshake straws, so it was difficult to find brands that were strong enough to hold a cake, especially a cake that went up to 4 or 5 or even 6 tiers. Milkshake straws also often broke around the edges if cut too hasitily, which compromised the structural integrity even more.
My Favorite Dowels (and the only ones I will use!)
I discovered Poly-Dowels® about 4 years ago when I was just ramping up in the wedding industry, and I haven't used anything else since! They are made with an internal structure with interior ridges to create the strongest, most supportive dowel possible!
Poly-Dowels® are super easy to cut, and you don't have to worry about any wooden fibers, or breakage with these like you would with wooden dowels or milkshake straws.
Each Poly-Dowels® cuts nicely into 2 dowels for standard cakes, but is also great for super tall cakes just in case thats your style!
I mostly use the square blue Poly-Dowels®, but the round white ones are amazing as well and I often use a few of those for my bottom tiers on larger cakes.
In my Step-by-Step process below, I will go over (with pictures) how many Poly-Dowels® I use, what I use to cut them, how to make them level, and my overall stacking process.
Stacking a tiered cake (round)
A Step-by-Step process
Place a disc (pan, parchment, acrylic CAKESAFE® disc, cardboard round) on top of your fully frosted bottom cake tier to measure out the size of the tier you're stacking on top.
For example, if you're stacking a 6" tier over an 8" tier, you will use a 6" circle to measure the size and placement of your next tier.
I like to use a CAKESAFE® acrylic disc because they are washable and come in all sizes.
Using light pressure, use the pointy end of a skewer to make a line around the disc. This is your food-safe marker to indicate where the dowels and your next tier will go. It won't show once the cake is stacked because more than likely your next tier will be slightly larger than the line because of the extra space your buttercream or fondant take up.
Using the flat end of the same skewer, poke all the way down until you hit the board underneath your cake. Make sure you stay within the circle that you made, and about half an inch inside.
Hopefully your cake is level, but if not, then use the highest part of your cake to measure, then you can build up the gap of the shorter part with some buttercream.
Use a pencil or edible marker to mark the spot on your skewer where the top of your cake is.
You can aways double check this line by inserting your skewer into another part of your cake.
Remove the skewer from your cake, and line up the the edge of your skewer with the edge of a Poly-Dowels®.
Using a Milwaukee tubing cutter (Link below), cut your dowel. (PVC cutters do not work!)
Repeat this process until you have all of your dowels.
Don't use the last Poly-Dowel® you cut to measure the next dowel you cut. For height consistency use the original skewer to cut each dowel otherwise each one you cut may be slightly longer.
Use one less Poly-Dowels® than the size of the cake your stacking on.
Example: If you're putting a 6" cake on top of an 8" or even a 9" cake, use 5 Poly-Dowels® inside the 8" or 9" cake. If you're stacking a 4" cake on top of a 6" or a 7" cake, use 3 Poly-Dowels® inside the 6" or 7" cake.
Insert the Poly-Dowels® evenly inside of the line you originally made. They should end up forming a circle pattern.
My rule of thumb is if my bottom tier is 11" or larger I add a Poly-Dowels® in the center of that bottom tier only for extra support.
Add a dollop of buttercream on top of each dowels, plus one in the center to "glue" your cakes together.
It is CRUCIAL that your cake is cold in order to transport safely.
Carefully set your smaller tier right on top of your larger tier, and you shold have a perfectly level, and sturdy base to support your tiered cake!
This all buttercream cake traveled 90 miles (just over 2 hours) in the hot Florida humidity and made it completely safe to it's destination (an outdoor wedding as well)
It held up beautifully the entire time.
Thanks to Poly-Dowels®!!
Photo credit: Emma Christine Creative @emmachristinecreative