Tiered Cake Leveling.

Business By swoozie Updated 4 Jun 2008 , 12:09am by leah_s

swoozie Posted 1 May 2008 , 11:49pm
post #1 of 27

Hello all. I am rather new to this site so let me intro my self.
I am self taught decorator. I have been working at the local grocery store for a year making cup cakes, b day, retirement, grad etc cakes.
recently they decided to start doing wedding cakes.
No problem I think they just stack right???
WELL... the cakes made with seperator plates are looking great. how ever the tiered cakes that sit right on top of each other tend to have a layer lean.. or look lop sided in the end.
Any help with HOW to remedy this would be great!
Do I stack then ice? i have been icing seperate on a cake board and using dowl rods between layers. Still I get a lopper.
TIA
Swoozie

26 replies
vdrsolo Posted 2 May 2008 , 3:13am
post #2 of 27

It could be a number of things, here's just a few off the top of my head:

1. The dowel rods are not cut at exactly the same length or may have been cut at an angle. Cut one dowel, and make the others that same length.

2. The dowel rods may have been inserted into the cake at a slight angle (so if they were cut even, a slight angle would actually make it shorter).

3. The cake itself (and/or the icing) is not completely level.

4. The cardboard under the cake is not thick & sturdy enough so may be bending some when sitting on the dowels.

Yes, you need to ice then stack (otherwise, how on earth are you going to ice the tops if they are already stacked icon_smile.gif )

Have your bakery look at the Bakery Craft SPS (Single Plate Separator System), they would be able to buy it in bulk wholesale, and would actually save them money by you not spending the time measuring and cutting dowels. They probably already have a Bakery Craft catalog.

swoozie Posted 2 May 2008 , 12:05pm
post #3 of 27

Thanks for these ideas.
Normally I ask that people give me two weeks notice. BUT this person gave me only 5 days.
i said "sure I can do it" icon_mad.gif
I used a pair of wire cutters to snip off the dowel rods.
It seems to me now that I think of it... that one of the tiers was probably not level.
I have to cut my tiers from half sheet cakes. Pain that it is!
I happened to have 8 inch in rounds so I used them to save time and waste... I bet that is where the problem is!
even tho they are supposedly the same thickness. sometimes when I stack two rounds they can be lopsided. I need to pay attention to the level ness of frosting.

I used the roller method to smooth the BC frosting. WOW that is a huge help! thumbs_up.gif

all I know is I don't have to work on pick up day so my boss will have to hear any complaints. icon_lol.gif
Terese

beccakelly Posted 2 May 2008 , 12:26pm
post #4 of 27

i also take a level to the top of my cakes after icing and before stacking. i lay down parchment paper and then move all over the top of the cake to check for uneven places. especially with squares, where its easy to let the corners "sag" a bit. that has been a huge help. i always use the precut 4" SPS dowels because then I know they are all the same height instead of worrying over whether or not i cut straight.

good luck!

swoozie Posted 2 May 2008 , 6:46pm
post #5 of 27

Well my boss called me bright and early and asked me to come in and fix the cake. icon_redface.gif
When I got to work it really looked like the leaning tower of Pisa! icon_cry.gif
So I took it apart..
pulled out the dowels. and started again. Using the same cake, I pulled off the icing and re iced them all.
then using a level and a little saw I re cut dowels all the exact same size. and used the level alot!
I put 6 dowels in the 12 inch and 4 in the rest of the sizes.
I can see how the larger hollow plastic tubes would be much sturdier and easier for a greenhorn.
My boss gave me a funny look when I walked into the bakery with a new florecent orange level and a little saw icon_eek.gif . hehe.
anyway the cake looks much much better! thanks so much for the help!
Swoozie

beccakelly Posted 2 May 2008 , 7:59pm
post #6 of 27

i'm so glad it turned out!! post a pic so we can see icon_wink.gif

i use the level a lot too! which is good, because DH was never using it for anything around the house, so we may as well use it for something! lol.

SweetConfectionsChef Posted 2 May 2008 , 11:36pm
post #7 of 27

I think I see your problem.....if you are stacking say a 10" on top of a 12" cake you need to use 8 dowels in the 12" cake to hold up the 10" one... and something that heavy I will add 2 more towards the center just for extra support.

I might be in the minority here but I always crumb coat and completely ice my 12", then stack a crumb coated 10" and ice it while it is setting on the larger one, then I would stack the crumb coated 8" and ice it and so on. Then I can add more icing if the cake is lopsided or not cooperating. Once the entire cake is iced I smooth with Viva and start decorating.

beccakelly Posted 3 May 2008 , 1:32am
post #8 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetConfectionsChef

I think I see your problem.....if you are stacking say a 10" on top of a 12" cake you need to use 8 dowels in the 12" cake to hold up the 10" one... and something that heavy I will add 2 more towards the center just for extra support.




actually the extra dowels really aren't necessary. i only use four dowels (the SPS pre cut dowels) in every tier no matter what size. they're quite stable

littlecake Posted 3 May 2008 , 4:21am
post #9 of 27

i guess i suq...i still use straws...but i don't do fondant, so it's not as heavy.

i ice everything first too..then stack it up.

SweetConfectionsChef Posted 3 May 2008 , 12:33pm
post #10 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by beccakelly

Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetConfectionsChef

I think I see your problem.....if you are stacking say a 10" on top of a 12" cake you need to use 8 dowels in the 12" cake to hold up the 10" one... and something that heavy I will add 2 more towards the center just for extra support.



actually the extra dowels really aren't necessary. i only use four dowels (the SPS pre cut dowels) in every tier no matter what size. they're quite stable




They are very necessary in the cakes that I do. I use plastic dowels and transport my cakes completely assembled. Also, if someone is having a problem with their teirs leaning.....doweling is usually the culprit.

beccakelly Posted 3 May 2008 , 12:40pm
post #11 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetConfectionsChef



They are very necessary in the cakes that I do. I use plastic dowels and transport my cakes completely assembled. Also, if someone is having a problem with their teirs leaning.....doweling is usually the culprit.




i use plastic dowels and transport all of my cakes completely assembled too. even topsy turvy's. take a look at my pics, all of them have just 4 dowels in each tier, and were transported fully assembled. the only time i've had leaning tiers was when i was cutting my own dowels and they were uneven. thats why i now use the pre cut 4" dowels, so i know they're all the exact same height.

SweetConfectionsChef Posted 3 May 2008 , 12:49pm
post #12 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by beccakelly

Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetConfectionsChef



They are very necessary in the cakes that I do. I use plastic dowels and transport my cakes completely assembled. Also, if someone is having a problem with their teirs leaning.....doweling is usually the culprit.



i use plastic dowels and transport all of my cakes completely assembled too. even topsy turvy's. take a look at my pics, all of them have just 4 dowels in each tier, and were transported fully assembled. the only time i've had leaning tiers was when i was cutting my own dowels and they were uneven. thats why i now use the pre cut 4" dowels, so i know they're all the exact same height.




Quit trying to start an argument with me. I was trying to help one of our members figure out why her cakes are leaning....I'm entitled to my opinion and suggestions on how to fix it. There is no need to come into a thread and contradict me (or anyone else)...TWICE...you can explain your thoughts without referring to my posts if you don't agree with them! icon_eek.gificon_evil.gif

FromScratch Posted 3 May 2008 , 12:51pm
post #13 of 27

Over doweling can cause your cake to crack too. (not that 8 dowels is over doing it for a 12" cake, but just saying) The SPS is a complete system and you can only use 4 dowels. It's rigid plastic plates and 4 dowels so you can't put in extra and you really don't have to as it's very sturdy. icon_smile.gif

SweetConfectionsChef Posted 3 May 2008 , 12:53pm
post #14 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by jkalman

Over doweling can cause your cake to crack too. (not that 8 dowels is over doing it for a 12" cake, but just saying) The SPS is a complete system and you can only use 4 dowels. It's rigid plastic plates and 4 dowels so you can't put in extra and you really don't have to as it's very sturdy. icon_smile.gif




Thanks for clearing up the "directions" for the SPS system! 4 dowels is amazing! I don't use that product so I have to use more doweling but it's always nice to know that there are products coming out to make our lives easier! And thanks for explaining it in a non-insulting manner! thumbs_up.gif

swoozie Posted 3 May 2008 , 6:15pm
post #15 of 27

Well Morning has come and gone... I had to redo the cake yet again!!!! icon_cry.gif
This time i had my manager cut dowels. (That way I can blame her right?)
The wedding planner was NOT happy. The cake had again started to lean. SOO we dissassembled. re enforced with extra dowels.
14 in the 12" layer.
8 in the 10" layer and 4 in the 8" . Hope they have fun cutting it!
I put an extra board on the cakes I had the correct size boards for.
Oh the planner also said to add more icing as she could see the marble cake through the original icing job. GRRR
OK make the customer happy. I did everything I was asked to do. Smoothing the icing with a roller per the instruction here on cake central. as they wanted a very smooth fondant fininsh with butter cream.
I thought it look very very nice! ( forgot my camera)
Very level! the top tier was not super flat on top as there was so much butter cream on it. But that is what she asked for.

I finished it and asked the manager if she wanted me to stay until the customer picked up the cake and she said no.

i called back and asked how it went and they told me she ended up getting the $200.00 cake for FREE! icon_mad.gif

Apparently she had a fit saying it wasnt smooth enough, it was still lopsided, we souldnt be doing wedding cakes , we arent even worthy of being called cake decorators etc etc...

Now I will admit that I am self taught. I learn with every cake I make!
When this lady ordered the cake I told her I would do my best but that I did not have the proper equipment ( sps stuff) to do a great job and didnt have time ti order it. Next time she will have to give me 2 weeks notice or I will tell her i can't do it.

Plus she is simply one of those people that no matter what you do she will complain to try and get something for nothing. sigh....

So all I can do now is learn for making this cake 3 times...
Send off for the plastic dowels in bulk!
as well as several more sizes of boards.
Learn to say NO CAN DO
and pray that she slams on her breaks and has something slide into the cake and ruin it. ( shame on me!)

just had to vent a little on this one. icon_lol.gif
Thank you so much for all your help! I know I will be here agiain and again.
Terese

springlakecake Posted 3 May 2008 , 6:58pm
post #16 of 27

Sorry you had such a bad experience! It sort of sounds like you didn't have all of the proper equipment (LIKE PANS!) Man, that would be a pain to have to cut them out! I sort of agree that maybe you store shouldnt offer wedding cakes/tiered cakes until your store is willing to buy some stuff to work with.

There are many ways to properly dowel a cake. I havent tried the SPS, but I know that many people rave about it. You can still do a nice job with wooden dowels. But doing it properly is what is important. Your cake needs to be level and the dowels need to the the same height. I usually put in about 2 less than the tier above it (wooden)

Janette Posted 3 May 2008 , 7:16pm
post #17 of 27

That happens. I had to refund a $300 cake before.

I found out wooden dowels isn't my thing. I know use the plates with the locking dowls that can't slip.

I have also suggested to a customer that she may want to keep looking at other places. I could tell she was going to be a royal pain.

vdrsolo Posted 4 May 2008 , 7:47pm
post #18 of 27

I'm sorry this happened to you.

SPS does rock, but I did it for 10 years with dowels and didn't have a problem, it was just that I hated cutting dowels because you really need to make sure they are COMPLETELY level and all are the same height. I don't have to worry about that with the 4" SPS rods.

As for the cake boards, did you double up the cake boards? If you use just one cake board, it can become very flimsy. Especially when sitting on those little dowels. Make sure the cake boards are crisscrossed when you tape them together. The corrogated portions should be running perpendicular to one another. Another good option is to use foamboard (you can find it in the craft section, normally neither the posterboard). But make sure it is completely covered with a food safe covering.

Also, the cake board should be completely covered (top and bottom) with a food safe covering (alum foil, cake board foil wrap, etc), or else the cardboard will come in contact with the icing below, making it moist, and causing the board to warp.

Were the layers themselves even before you started putting them together to ice each cake? They need to be COMPLETELY level as well.

Janette Posted 4 May 2008 , 7:58pm
post #19 of 27

The best we figured out is that the two bottom layers were assembled. We hit a pot hole, we live in MI. When we got to the hall and placed the top two they just collapsed. The pot hole may have caused the pillars in the bottom two tiers to shift and we didn't notice.

You may be thinking why didn't we avoid the pot hole. In the early spring there are so many of them sometimes you just can't avoid them.

And, I told DH to take I94 instead of the surface streets to be safe.

I think I would have given up right there and then if it hadn't been for reading other stories here on CC. Sometimes things just happen.

sweetcakes Posted 4 May 2008 , 10:36pm
post #20 of 27

you poor thing, but im sure it didn;t help that all the cakes bar the 8" one had been cut from sheet cakes. the baked edges of cakes really help give it some support so having those soft cut-cake edges probably weakened the whole thing. i bet if you did it again with the right side cakes you wouldnt have any trouble.

swoozie Posted 5 May 2008 , 3:23pm
post #21 of 27

Well After talking to my manager.This is what happened the day of pick up.
Lady comes in still not happy as the cake is now being picked up at noon in stead of 9 am.
She looks quickly at the cake and mutters about not being happy, but picks up the box and starts to carry the 4 teir cake out in her arms. icon_eek.gif
So the manager says wait! I will go get a shopping cart. ( dumb on her part I might add. She should have used a flat top cart.)

While the manager was gone this lady went OFF on my co worker. Screaming about how the cake looks awful, it was leaning again, the dots werent even, on and on... we souldnt sell wedding cakes... and my favorite ..."Swoozie shouldnt even call herself a cake decorator if she cant make such a simple cake"... blah blah blah..

Needless to say the store manager gave her the cake for FREE icon_surprised.gif

I knew that there was going to be no pleasing this woman so I am not affected by this ( not much anyhow)
She will be back in to order another cake I am sure. This time she will play by rules!
icon_cool.gif

Thanks for all your support!
I still have way more happy customers than crappy ones so I am way ahead in the game.
Swoozie

swoozie Posted 31 May 2008 , 9:17pm
post #22 of 27

Yesterday I took n order from the "complainer". I told the store director that she would be back and here she is.
he stayed with me as she ordered the cake and told me how easy it was going to be.
I just had to make the 12 and 10 tiered. then 3 seperate 8 inch cakes. She would put ribbon and flowers on it and put it on any cake plates.
( like that is going to reduce the cost)
I said fine I can do that.
My bakery boss asks me if I have what I needed to do this cake. She doesnt even want me to do this cake.
I will be nice and give the complainer one more chance. She didnt even stick around long enough to find out how much the cake would be.
My bakery boss is sure that she will pull something and try to get out of paying for the cake. If that is the case, it will be the last time I do a cake for her.
In the mean time I have been having a ball making grad cakes.
swoozie

indydebi Posted 1 Jun 2008 , 6:08pm
post #23 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by beccakelly

Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetConfectionsChef

I think I see your problem.....if you are stacking say a 10" on top of a 12" cake you need to use 8 dowels in the 12" cake to hold up the 10" one... and something that heavy I will add 2 more towards the center just for extra support.



actually the extra dowels really aren't necessary. i only use four dowels (the SPS pre cut dowels) in every tier no matter what size. they're quite stable




Quote:
Originally Posted by jkalman

Over doweling can cause your cake to crack too. (not that 8 dowels is over doing it for a 12" cake, but just saying)




If you've ever cut a tiered cake that had too many dowels, you'd see that Becca is correct. I've cut a number of "other people's" cakes and too many dowels turns the cake into swiss cheese .... it damages the structural integrity of the cake.

This is why I STRONGLY encourage every cake decorator, if they are strictly a drop-n-run cake supplier, to volunteer to stay and cut 2 or 3 of their wedding cakes. You should see in person how the way you structure your cakes affects the cutting of the cake.

I use 4 wooden dowels no matter what size the cake. WHen placed near the four outer "corners" of the next tier, it supports the upper tier just fine. I've done 5 tier cakes, stacked, from a 16" base to an 8" top tier with just 4 dowels and there is no problem.

SweetConfectionsChef Posted 1 Jun 2008 , 6:53pm
post #24 of 27

icon_surprised.gif Thanks for the advice Debi, but I've cut plenty of my cakes and never had a problem! I also deliver them completely finished and I wouldn't change what works for me just because something else works for someone else. I try to lay out to other members what works for me and if they want to take my advice fine...if not...then that's okay also, but I don't think I would say someone is correct or incorrect since people can do things differently and it work for them. Anyway, that's my view...you can take it for what's its worth.

leah_s Posted 1 Jun 2008 , 9:49pm
post #25 of 27

Stop using dowels - they are a prescription for leaning and other disasters. Switch to SPS and you will have straight cakes! Easy to use and cheap also.

jessfmaldonado Posted 3 Jun 2008 , 10:51pm
post #26 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by leahs

Stop using dowels - they are a prescription for leaning and other disasters. Switch to SPS and you will have straight cakes! Easy to use and cheap also.





Leahs, I was wondering what is the SPS system??? I have seen your posts about this and always meant to ask. I really would like to know so maybe I can try this out. Thanks!

leah_s Posted 4 Jun 2008 , 12:09am
post #27 of 27

PM me with your email (don't forget the email address) and I'll send you the instructions.

It's an internal plate and pillar system that is very secure, easy to use and cheap!

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