Shiftingtiers Disaster!!!

Decorating By mahutch Updated 13 Jan 2010 , 2:20pm by Loucinda

mahutch Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 2:13am
post #1 of 31

Help!!! I had a three-tier wedding cake today and all was going well until.....

I stacked the top and middle onto the bottom tier. I got a little slipping of the middle tier, nothing bad though. The problem came when I backed out of the driveway to deliver the cake. I was going SLOW!!!! When I got to the church (less than 1/2 mile away) and opened the car, the entire "top" of the bottom tier had shifted. I had to try to push it back together and then fix as much of the decorations as I could. Then, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, as we were standing there watching, the cake continued to shift and shift backwards. We had to prop the back up with two small butter dishes since a good inch and a half of the bottom tier was hanging off the back.

Thankfully the bride and groom were planning on cutting and serving the cake, but I feel so horrible. They were very gracious. We kind of joked that every wedding has a horror story and this was it, but still I feel really really bad.

I am completely confused how a cake can shift when it has been doweled. The bottom and middle tiers each had 8 dowels rods. The cake was WASC and frosting was regular butter cream. Raspberry filling on all tiers.

I will be going back to the reception shortly and talk to the groom's mother who ordered the cake. Finally, I had a piano recital that I was a few minutes late for since I was on cake CPR. But at least the recital went great!!

Any help would be appreciated.

30 replies
aundrea Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 2:33am
post #2 of 31

im so sorry to hear about your 'disater'. i know people on here recommend SPS. it sounds from what you said there was enough support. had the cakes settled prior to stacking? and once stacked did they get time to settle?
i saw your pic of the wedding cake entry-it is unbelievably awesome! you definately have talent. no wonder it took first place.
hopefully others here will have better advice for you.
atleast the bride and groom were gracious enough to make light of the situation.

Spuddysmom Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 2:42am
post #3 of 31

I just checked out your wedding cake, photo, too - stunningly beautiful/complex, so obviously you must be experienced in stacking tiers. Did the tier slip across or kind of tip over? If the dowels aren't exactly the same height, of course, that can happen. On many cake shows they drive a long dowel through the entire cake after it is assembled so it doesn't slide. SPS sounds great. Sorry this happened.

_Jamie_ Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 2:57am
post #4 of 31

Yes, SPS. Why on earth anyone balances their works of art on glorified pencils is beyond me. At least try bubble straws for smaller tiered cakes. icon_smile.gif

_Jamie_ Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 2:58am
post #5 of 31

Oh....8 dowel rods. How large were these tiers? 8 dowels sounds a bit like overkill to me. That's a lot of cake being displaced and a lot of room for error by not having them all the same length.

spring Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 9:05pm
post #6 of 31

I have to ask. What did you use for dowels?


Watch us on Food Network Challenge [email protected]:00pm "Beauty Pageant Cakes"

kakeladi Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 9:27pm
post #7 of 31

If those 8 dowels were not all the same exact length &/or not put in straight they would allow the cake to fall. another poster said, it sounds like overkill unless the tiers were like 18; 14; 10; & 6 or something near those #s.

2SchnauzerLady Posted 20 Dec 2009 , 9:59pm
post #8 of 31

Did you have a dowel going through all the tiers?

Loucinda Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 1:05am
post #9 of 31

Was there a dowel going through the base board of the bottom cake? This is another reason why I like using the bubble tea straws - they do not "displace" cake like a regular dowel does.

indydebi Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 1:49am
post #10 of 31

As I understand this, you had a 2-layer bottom tier and the top layer of this 2-layer tier moved .... slid over 1.5" (plus or minus).

I had this EXACT same happen to me. My first slider ever. During the cake autopsy, I determined I had too much raspberry filling. (the guy who slammed on his brakes in front of me didn't help, but the cake DID have too much filling!)

Now, I use raspberry filling all the time, but this one was WAY thicker than I normally use. I turned the 4 tier cake into a 3 tier cake, we cut and served the messed up bottom tier from the kitchen. Bride and family were a-ok with this.

I had the cake center-doweled and the dowel went down thru the cake board. however, when the cake slid, the cake slid right thru the dowel. This dowel will hold the CARDBOARDS in place, but cake is cake and a dowel will cut thru cake like soft butter.

leahs has said it a number of times and I totally agree with her. A center dowel will make you FEEL more secure, but it's no guarantee.

How big were your cakes? 8 dowels is overkill to me, too. (I use 4 with all cakes .... I'll use 5 in the bottom tier if it's 5 tiers or more.) I would also ask about the heights .... did you cut one dowel, then measure each dowel against that one ... or do you insert/measure/cut each dowel separately?

leah_s Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 3:35am
post #11 of 31

All it takes is for one dowel to go slightly off exactly 90 degrees vertical for disaster to happen.

Seriously, switch to SPS.

mahutch Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 3:51am
post #12 of 31

Thanks for the input everyone. As far as the dowels, I used wooden dowels and measured each one separately. Also, I didn't know there was such a thing as too much doweling. I just figured more support was better icon_smile.gif The tiers were 12-10-8. I put the dowels in a circle with one in the middle. I did not put one long dowel through from very top to bottom. I wondered if that would have made a difference.

I also was wondering if there was too much filling. I saw (I think on a Food Network Challenge) that the filling was supposed to be 1/2 thickness of the tier. Is that right?

Talked with the mother last night and she continued to be very gracious and said she would be a repeat customer, that the guests didn't notice anything (which I don't believe for a second) and everyone loved the flavor. In the end it all turned out alright, but UGH!!

spring Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 4:07am
post #13 of 31

Wooden dowels. I knew it.... Seems whenever a cake disaster occurs involving sifting, moving, falling cake, wooden dowels are usually involved...I see a pattern evolving.

Just saying....


indydebi Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 4:10am
post #14 of 31
Originally Posted by mahutch

I also was wondering if there was too much filling. I saw (I think on a Food Network Challenge) that the filling was supposed to be 1/2 thickness of the tier. Is that right?

I would respectfully disagree with this. That means if you have a 2-layer cake that is 4" tall, then you would have 2 INCHES of raspberry filling????? icon_eek.gif Seriously .... that just won't work. Even if she said half the height of the LAYER, that's still 1 full inch of raspberry filling. I ask you just to think about having a 2-layer cake with one full inch of slippery, slidery (no it's not a word but I like the poetic sound of it! icon_biggrin.gif ) fruit filling.

Too much doweling can damage the structural integrity of the cake. It turns it into swiss cheese .... lots of holes. This is why I strongly encourage all cakers to stay and cut at least 3 of their wedding cakes a year. You need to see first hand how your construction affects the cutting/serving of the cake.

I've cut a cake with dowel-overload. It was made by someone else and the bride had arranged ahead of time for me to cut it. Holy moly what a freakin' mess! The cake was swiss cheese .... so full of holes that I couldn't get a decent looking slice from it that wasn't all crumbly and nasty looking. I was really ticked that I was put in a position to have to serve this bad looking cake to my bride's guests.

Cut some of your own cakes ... it will really help you grow in your craft .

indydebi Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 4:20am
post #15 of 31
Originally Posted by mahutch

Thanks for the input everyone. As far as the dowels, I used wooden dowels and measured each one separately.

No, you insert ONE dowel, measure that one, then cut the rest of the dowels that length.

Unless you know for 1000% certainty that your cake is perfectly level and flat and the icing you applied is perfectly level and flat, you're going to have some high and low spots on the cake.

Here's a thread where I posted some pics:

Notice the front left dowel compared to the back right dowel. There's at least 1/8" to 1/4" height difference. Had I measured and cut each one individually, the cake would have been crooked, sloping and possibly fallen. Even tho' it LOOKS like the dowels are uneven, they are the very same height, insuring the cake is nice and level.

I've used wooden dowels for most of my cake life. I can't recall any issues or problems due to a dowel. I think it's a skill like any other ... some can whip out BC roses from the git-go ..... some needs months or years of practice. Some can use dowels with zero problems .... some take much longer to master it.

mahutch Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 4:50am
post #16 of 31

Thanks indydebi. When I heard that about the filling I thought OH MY GOODNESS!!! That would be TONS of filling. Your tier would be 5-6" tall. Yikes. I like the sound of the filling being slidery. You're right. Very poetic!

I'll also take your advice and cut into my own cakes. Thanks for the tips.

I knew I'd get sound advice here. Thanks everyone.

Loucinda Posted 21 Dec 2009 , 2:48pm
post #17 of 31

And if you are not using the SPS sytem, you need a center dowel to go through ALL the layers and into the base board.

Krystina418 Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 8:21am
post #18 of 31

I just have to say thanks for posting this question and for all the answers. I have learned a alot!

This happened to me today with my Christmas snowman cake...he developed into a melting snowman and then eventually a big pile of cake...oops! We decided he was a victum of global warming.

Thanks everyone!

julia77 Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 8:35am
post #19 of 31

When you say "bubble-straw" to be used as dowels.....what do you mean? Regular drinking straws?

Spuddysmom Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 3:13pm
post #20 of 31
Originally Posted by julia77

When you say "bubble-straw" to be used as dowels.....what do you mean? Regular drinking straws?

No, they are straws designed for use with bubble tea - a very wide straw, very cheap to buy at an Asian market.

Loucinda Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 6:30pm
post #21 of 31

Bubble tea straws are thicker, bigger, and much stronger than a regular straw. Google it and you can find tons of places to order them online. (or if you have an asian grocery store close by you can get them there)

superstar Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 7:35pm
post #22 of 31

I love bubble straws but always use a center dowel right through into the board. This has been an interesting thread. Thanks to all of you & Minette, I will be watching the 'challenge'.

julia77 Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 9:22pm
post #23 of 31

Ahh right! Thanks icon_smile.gif

kakeladi Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 10:27pm
post #24 of 31 need a center dowel to go through ALL the layers and into the base board.....
......"bubble-straw" used as dowels.....what do you mean? Regular drinking straws...

Using a center dowel can give false 'good feelings'. I have delivered 100s of tiered cakes w/o one and didn't have a problem. I have delivered a couple *with* one and still had problems w/shifting.

I have used regular drinking straws for years w/o problems. Make sure you find ones that are thick/fat icon_smile.gif .......McD and a few other fast food restaurants have them. Since I don't decorate much any more I will ask the mgr if I can buy/have a handful. Just be *SURE* you don't use the 'bendable' ones from the grocery store! icon_smile.gif

millermom Posted 26 Dec 2009 , 10:49pm
post #25 of 31

As far as filling thickness, I always do a dam with only my coupler on the end of the bag, and then spread the filling about 1/8"-3/16" lower than the piped dam. I've never had a problem with the filling being the culprit. (now my own stupidity being the culprit... that's another story! icon_lol.gif )

Maybe I should knock on wood now??

KitchenKat Posted 27 Dec 2009 , 2:56am
post #26 of 31
Originally Posted by Loucinda

And if you are not using the SPS sytem, you need a center dowel to go through ALL the layers and into the base board.

I respectfully beg to disagree. As has been said, a center dowel will keep the cakeboards stable but won't stop the actual cake from sliding. It gives a false sense of security.

I used to use a center dowel but since I realized this, I've stopped using it and there has been no difference in the cakes' stability.

Bottomline for me is to use dowels that are the exact same height and push them in perpendicular to the cake.

costumeczar Posted 7 Jan 2010 , 5:58pm
post #27 of 31

I agree with not needing a center dowel. I never use one at all.

cakemaker61 Posted 8 Jan 2010 , 8:16pm
post #28 of 31

I'm surprised someone didn't comment on not transporting a stacked cake but instead taking the tiers separately and then assembling them at the venue. At least that's what I do. Unless it's absolutely necessary to pre-stack a cake, I always take them separate. Sure relieves alot of stress doing it that way. I use bubble tea straws also, and for larger lower tiers, I also put a smaller Mcdonald-size straw inside of them as well. I think if you pre-stack and don't run that center dowel down through all the tiers, you're asking for trouble. It's important too, to make sure your frosting dam is piped on with really really stiff frosting to hold the filling in.

notjustcakes Posted 13 Jan 2010 , 12:21am
post #29 of 31

OMG!! Indydeb..Back in August I had a wedding cake that shifted and kinda sagged (20, 16, 12 inch square tiers). I posted pictures and got lots of advice and until I saw how you explained about cutting the dowels ALL measured against one (the first dowel) I just didn't understand!!! I feel like I've been given the holy grail!! Back in August, I cut each individual dowel after inserting in the position where it was going to be placed. Well, it makes sense that if the cake is not PERFECTLY leveled, then the weight of the next cake will push down to meet the level of the dowel!!!! So, if they aren't all the same length, then wherever they are slightly shorter (even 1/8 inch), the cake will sag....ARG!!!

I can see how as the cake comes to room temp, then those shifts can become more dramatic with the weight....I so understand now....Thanks....

leah_s Posted 13 Jan 2010 , 12:38am
post #30 of 31

This is one of the biggest reasons to use SPS. They come premeasured - no cutting, no way they can not be the same height.

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