Please Help Me Understand Why This Wedding Cake Collapsed

Decorating By torysgirl87 Updated 8 Aug 2009 , 2:04pm by twiztidpayasa

torysgirl87 Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 1:51pm
post #1 of 53

(LONG) This was the first time I had a wedding cake collapse. I've been baking all my life and selling cakes for 2 years. I've never had this happen and can't figure out where I went wrong. I'd really appreciate any insight.

The problems:
The bride didn't pay for the cake until Thursday, 2 days before the wedding, leaving me little time to correct any problems that arised.

The icing ran off the cake. I couldn't figure out why. My mom stripped the entire cake down, disassembled it and we started over about 3 hours before the wedding. Turns out the brand of shortening I buy removed the trans fat w/ no label about the change. My daddy and husband ran all over looking for the right kind and we were off again.

The collpase-after I loaded the cake in the car, I could see it swaying terribly as we drove. It didn't make it 10 miles. It fell over on its side and the center dowels ripped all the way out through the cake.

The cake: (Pictured below)
4, 6, 8, and 10 inch square tiers
All buttercream
Yellow cake from a mix, no pudding, extra egg
Each stacked tier doweled, 2 center dowels-tiers 2-4 and 1-3

The fix:
Fortunately no one wanted to kill me. After speaking w/ the coordinator and mother of the bride and offering a full refund I flew to Publix but they had no cake, so I rented a dummy and served the collapsed cake in the box.

Something obviously went terribly wrong, but I don't know what and definitely would like to. With the exception of the shortening problem, I didn't do anything differently than I always do. My only guess is that the trans fat free shortening in the icing in between the cake layers played a part.

Thanks again for any help!

52 replies
mixinvixen Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 2:08pm
post #2 of 53

this picture is after the fix, i believe, right? i would assume that it was swaying because your levels are not even, it looks like. also, i'd say your recipe played a part also...just one egg will help the flavor but not really densen it up...i'm curious as to why you don't extend your mix, which gives you more batter, makes it taste more scratch, and also makes it much more dense for tiered cakes?

very pretty cake, though! i hate that it wasn't able to be showcased. raise your chin up, find a smile, and get back in the kitchen! icon_biggrin.gif

mixinvixen Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 2:10pm
post #3 of 53

double post icon_redface.gif

jibbies Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 2:19pm
post #4 of 53

There are two things I'm not sure about in your post.
The icing between the tiers may have played a part and the 2-4 and the 1-3 after the comment about the center dowel.
I try not to comment until I understand everything completely.


MikeRowesHunny Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 2:21pm
post #5 of 53

I have to agree, it really doesn't look very level, especially on te bottom tier which is the foundation of your cake. I would never take a 4 tier cake fully assembled, it's just asking for trouble IMO. You could have taken it as 2 x 2 tiers and put it together on site and you may have avoided this problem. Such a shame as it was a very pretty cake!

OhMyGanache Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 2:29pm
post #6 of 53

The first thing I noticed too was that the bottom layer wasn't level. I think that's your main problem. I have an Agbay, and love it.

torysgirl87 Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 4:54pm
post #7 of 53

Thanks for all of the replies. The pictured cake is before I put it in the car. I don't extend cake mixes for wedding cakes b/c I personally don't care for the taste. I prefer a lighter cake and have never had a problem. I only do this when a customer requests a heavier cake or I will be doing carving of some sort.

I had a center dowel between tiers 2-4 counting from the top. It was not long enough to go through all 4 tiers so I put another on through tiers 1-3.

I forgot to answer about the shortening. The first time I iced the cake, the shortening kept running off b/c it was trans fat free. When my ma scraped it all off and we started over, this trans fat free icing was still in between the cake layers.

I did level all cakes, and was surprised at how level they seemed to us (my family) as that is always on of my most difficult accomplishments. The dowels were even as well. But perhaps it began its collapse before it made it to the car as I did keep moving it and turning it to do the scroll work. I guess I still didn't think that would make it collapse.

I saw the mention of an Agaby leveler. Any other suggestions on a more level cake?

I also didn't think it was too tall to transport, but now I know for sure!

Thanks again for all of the input!

KHalstead Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:08pm
post #8 of 53

I'm gonna sound like leahs here but......sps .........sps..........sps...........I will NEVER use wooden dowels again after using sps and especially after having a cake, the exact same dimensions as yours only round collapse as well!!!

Karema Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:10pm
post #9 of 53

Just a thought. When you doweled through the first time then put the dowel to the bottom then added another dowel to the top three layers you widened the whole and had two dowels in you middle layers and a smaller hole with one dowel in the bottom layer. When I dowel I put a hole in at the top and hammer it down until I can go any further then I take another dowel and put it right on top of that dowel and hammer down until I reach the bottom then I trim the top dowel, so then I only have one long dowel going through the whole cake instead of two in certan place in the middle. I also put holes in my cake boards before I put the cake on so I can hammer the dowels in easier. I hope that all makes sense. Karema

keyshia Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:12pm
post #10 of 53

I'm so sorry this happened to you! I know the stress alone would have killed me. icon_smile.gif I agree that the cake looks unlevel, mainly to me on the bottom which would have spelled disaster. I know that Leahs will come on and tell you about SPS...which I intend to look into. I've heard one too many dowel stories to make me not want to stack a cake with them! I'm glad to hear that the bride and everyone understood! Sounds like it turned more into a learning experience than a complete disaster. icon_smile.gif


Sugar_Plum_Fairy Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:13pm
post #11 of 53

I'm no expert, but just looking at the photo it seems as if the two bottom tiers aren't perfectly leveled on the right-hand side. Also, the way you mention the dowels having torn through the cake makes me think that one side wasn't level (maybe one dowel was a bit shorter in the bottom tier) or maybe a dowel wasn't placed into the cake perfectly straight and it slanted more and more with the above weight (from the other tiers) and the car ride shifting the center of gravity, just was too much.

Again, I'm far from an expert, but just relaying what I got out of what you wrote and the picture.

torysgirl87 Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:19pm
post #12 of 53

Karema your suggestion is great, thanks.

Anymore on the sps? Can you transport cakes stacked when using this system? Would it have solved my problem here? I don't much about it, i've read a little and seen it on tv.

This has definitely been a learning experience. I am newly married though, and not a spastic person, but I don't know how I would've felt if I'd gotten to my reception and this had happened to me. icon_sad.gif I iwll have an opportunity to apologize personally to the bride today.

CakeWhizz Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:34pm
post #13 of 53

I agree with all the previous comments. The most difficult part of cake making for me is getting my cakes super level and I have Sugarshack's DVDs and Leahs (SPS guru) to thank for showing me how to do this properly. I have the SPS instructions which Leahs kindly sent me and if you PM me with your email address I will email it to you as I don't know how to attach it to a forum response. I really share your pain and it's a pity that this happened to you as it really is a pretty cake.

JodieF Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:45pm
post #14 of 53

I would recommend the SPS instead of dowels too. I also agree that the issue was the cakes not being level, not the shortening. I use the new shortening and have never had an issue with it. You really can't "eyeball" how level a cake is. I use an actual level on my cakes. There have been many times I've thought they were level and they were way off.

I'm so sorry this happened!


leah_s Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 5:56pm
post #15 of 53

Yeah, everybody knows what I'm going to say. icon_smile.gif

1) the tiers simply are not level.
2) the center dowel thru the center of the cake is false security. If your cake starts going sideways, the center dowel will stay embedded in the bottom board and teat right thru the cake.
3) level with an Agbay
4) USE SPS. Seriously, you can transport whatever you can lift.

CakeWhizz Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 6:13pm
post #16 of 53
Originally Posted by leahs

Yeah, everybody knows what I'm going to say. icon_smile.gif

1) the tiers simply are not level.
2) the center dowel thru the center of the cake is false security. If your cake starts going sideways, the center dowel will stay embedded in the bottom board and teat right thru the cake.
3) level with an Agbay
4) USE SPS. Seriously, you can transport whatever you can lift.

Well said!

Niliquely Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 6:24pm
post #17 of 53

I am a newbie so please forgive me, but what is SPS????

Sugar_Plum_Fairy Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 6:29pm
post #18 of 53
Originally Posted by Niliquely

I am a newbie so please forgive me, but what is SPS????

I believe it literally stands for Separator Plates System. It's a plastic plate and pillar system used for cake stacking. You can Google it (cakes SPS) or go to Global Sugar Arts and do a search. HTH

Niliquely Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 6:37pm
post #19 of 53

Oh - that makes sense! Thanks! icon_smile.gif

leah_s Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 8:27pm
post #20 of 53

SPS = Single Plate Separator. More info in my signature line.

Mike1394 Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 8:38pm
post #21 of 53

You said the dowels were cut even. Did you go with the longest one? If you cut your dowels to the highest part of the cake. It doesn't matter if it's level. The picture looks like you cut them to the low side.


Sugar_Plum_Fairy Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 8:42pm
post #22 of 53
Originally Posted by Sugar_Plum_Fairy

Originally Posted by Niliquely

I am a newbie so please forgive me, but what is SPS????

I believe it literally stands for Separator Plates System. It's a plastic plate and pillar system used for cake stacking. You can Google it (cakes SPS) or go to and do a search. HTH

Originally Posted by leahs

SPS = Single Plate Separator. More info in my signature line.

Thanks, leahs! Sorry 'bout that. That's what I get for trusting someone on Yahoo or Google.

Kitagrl Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 9:19pm
post #23 of 53

I use Bubble Tea straws for support, they seem to be easier to cut level and also they won't cut through the cake so easily if there is a slight shift. I do dowel through the center.

Most importantly, I refrigerate everything. When I take my cakes out for transport, they are so firm (especially the icing and any fondant) that they don't even wiggle a BIT if you shake it. This helps stand up against the vibration of the car, which can easily shake loose a room temp cake after a period of time. I also keep the a/c blasting on the cake the entire time during transport. Usually cake deliveries are a good couple hours before serving time which is enough time for it to come to room temp for serving.

Transports were a nightmare before I began refrigerating cakes.

cakedesigner59 Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 9:38pm
post #24 of 53

I agree with Leah. I have transported a 5 tiered cake (already stacked) with SPS and driven 30 miles with it that way, and never had an issue. (I also refrigerate my cakes which makes them sturdier for transport, but some have different opinions on that).

angelicconfections Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 9:51pm
post #25 of 53

sorry to hear about your trouble, I have to agree that the teirs were not level and it would have been better to transport the cake in layers and assemble it on site. I don't like transporting anything larger than a well supported 2 layer. It was a pretty cake, sorry it ended up a mess.

arosstx Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 9:55pm
post #26 of 53

I'm with kitagirl AND leahs. I refrigerate and use SPS - a very solid combination. For a 4 tier or more, I will usually assemble the two bottom cakes, then stack and border the remaining tiers onsite. Though I know they're solid enough to travel, and most of the roads are ok to travel on, I just don't trust the other drivers around me to drive correctly!

sassycleo Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 9:58pm
post #27 of 53

It's very hard to say a cake is completely level if your eye balling it. Shoot your floor could be unlevel and you wouldn't know it most of the time. Even just a little bit off will cause all kinds of problems. I as some of the others have mentioned use an actual level when i level and fill my cakes. I take the level out again when it's time to ice the cake so I know if I need to do an optical illusion with icing to make it look level.

I previously had done two cakes with wooden dowels and both collapsed, what a horrible experience! I swore I wouldn't do stacked cakes until I found a good system to work with. Thanks to leah I found the SPS. I've had to do one cake with dowels since then and I swear if it wasn't a last minute order and small sizes I would have gotten the SPS for that one as well. I had issues with that cake and it just confirms never again will I wooden dowel a cake.

I assemble on site, just because my cakes are so heavy I have a hard time lifting them once assembled. It takes a little bit of stress off of me if I assemble on site. You did good by getting a dummy, I personally would not have served a grocery store cake as substitution if the original cake could be salvaged to serve. That's just me.

Sorry it happened to you, I've been there and know how heart breaking that is and especially with a wedding cake.

Chin up count it as a lesson learned icon_smile.gif

torysgirl87 Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 10:23pm
post #28 of 53

Thanks so very much for all of the help. I will try the SPS system and get a level (my daddy suggested on last night, he's a carpenter) and also search for the Agbay.

Thanks again!

melodyscakes Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 10:23pm
post #29 of 53

I learned the very hard way, I use dowl rods and never never never transport a cake stacked more then 2 tiers.
after next year, I am thinking about going the sps way, but need the money to invest first.

sorry this happened to you!


kakeladi Posted 9 Nov 2008 , 10:32pm
post #30 of 53

Definately agree that the bottom tier does not look level in the pic. That certainly would have thrown off everything above it.
Then the sizes of your tiers made a huge difference. Just think about it. A 10" sq on the bottom just isn't enough of a base for the tallness of the other tiers on it - in other words it was topheavy. Top heavy & unlevel = total disaster!
You didn't have a dowel long enough so you just used it between a couple of helpicon_sad.gif You would have been better w/o any at that point.
Do listen to leahs and invest in SPS; you can't go wrong.

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