So I'm still fairly new to cake decorating and wanted to share probably the most horrible gut-wrenching experience I've ever had since I started.
I had my most expensive cake to deliver yesterday. It was a beautiful 3 tiers christening cake. I was so happy with how it turned out and even more thrilled that I finished in plenty of time to take pictures the next morning before delivery.
I woke up to my husband yelling from the dining room. The cake had collapsed and was in a huge heap on my table. I felt so sick to my stomach. I had 6 hours before I had to deliver this cake. I was on the verge of breaking down until my husband gave me a mental shove to get to work. I've never baked, torted, filled, iced, covered in fondant, and decorated a cake so fast in my life. Again, the cake was gorgeous and I dare say a little better than the first one.
I called my client to let her know I was running about 45 minutes behind schedule, but I was on my way. I took pictures, boxed the cake, and got the car cool (it was so hot). I felt sick the whole ride to the clients house. We drove so carefully. Didn't realize there would be such steep hills or sharp turns, but we drove at a snails pace.
Finally made it and the party planner was still setting up, so we made good time. My husband and I brought the box in and opened it up. It had collapsed...again. My stomach went down to my feet and I wanted to cry. I felt SO horrible. And just then, the client walked in with her little baby, so the cake and the look on her face made me want to hang my head. Only the top tier was sort of in tact. The other bottom two tiers were very squashed. I told her how very sorry I was and that I would be giving her a full refund.
I cried all the way home. And in my head I thought I'd never do this ever again because of the devastation I felt. I got home, cleaned up the massive mess I left behind in my haste, and sat down with a drink and the computer. With some encouragement from my husband (he was SO supportive through the entire ordeal) I researched what could have gone wrong, so this wouldn't ever happen again. It turns out, and I'm sure all of you experienced decorators already know, my support system wasn't sufficient. Why did I use only four skinny dowels? It worked before and I didn't have a problem...
I really feel like I need to do something more for my client. I'd like to offer her a free cake, maybe not for an event, as she probably doesn't trust me. I'm open to any suggestions please. I feel absolutely terrible about the whole thing and I just can't stop thinking about it.
Please, immediately look into the SPS support system. In a decade it has never failed me. A lot of members here swear by it. It's easy, cheap, and strong. Unfortunately the sticky thread that demonstrated how to use SPS has disappeared from CC, along with the other stickys, but just go to You Tube for a tutorial. You can purchase the system from Oasis Supply if you're buying retail or only need a few pieces or Bakery Crafts if you can qualify for a wholesale account.
Sorry for the hard lesson you experienced. It's a heart-breaker.
Yes, that's what I've decided to use moving forward. I asked my husband if he could get the time machine ready to take me back to Saturday...if only. Thank you leah_s.
How did you support the upper tiers? Did you put each tier on its own cake board, and support it with dowels?
Have you read any tutorials on tiered construction?
Yes, geekycakes. I did use cake boards and dowels, as I've done in the past without a problem. However, the dowels were too thin and I didn't use enough of them. I will not be using dowels anymore. I'll use the SPS system for sure. Totally worth the peace of mind.
Did you use the Wilton bamboo dowels? they're super flimsy.
I've never used the SPS system and have never (knock on wood) had a cake collapse. I think the trick is to deliver your cake cold. Don't leave them on the table all night. Keep them in the fridge until just before delivery...and yes, even if you use fondant. That's my 2 cents!
I did use dowels but I'm not sure if they were by Wilton. I purchased a package of them from Michael's.
MKC - what do you use? Dowels? A bunch of them? How thick?
I always use dowels. I usually use 4 per tier, cut to just about the height of the cake, and then set the cake board of the next tier on top of them.
Also, what sort of cake did you use? When doing tiers, I tend to use recipes that are relatively firm. Really soft & fluffy cakes might not be a good choice.
That's exactly what I did. The cakes were soft/fluffy (darn good chocolate cake recipe) and I used strawberry preserves mixed in with ABC. I had them all iced and in the fridge prior to covering them. Then I decorated each tier one at a time. The bottom tier was probably out the longest as I had to place flower petals (10" round with 3 rows)
I read somewhere in here that cake and filling shouldn't really matter as long as you have a good support system. Hmmm. Now I don't know.
Well, to some extent, I think "the cake doesn't matter" is true, but if you're doing something like sticking dowels into the cake, the dowels need to "bite" against something. If the cake is too fluffy, and there's anything causing sideways pressure on the dowels, I guess the dowels could cut through the cake and topple. Is that sort of what happened?
I suppose you could try those plastic hollow dowels, which are less likely to slice through a cake, and which are wide enough to be less wobbly.
Nonetheless, like I said, I always look for a somewhat firm recipe if I'm going to have a tiered cake. I always wondered how necessary that really was, but now maybe I know!
Oh dear, I feel your pain as well through past experience and I just feel so horrible for you. You seem like a very nice and hard working person! I have not yet purchased the SPS but it's on my wish list. Until then I've been using Boba Tea Straws- and I have to say that I love them very very much!! Easy to cut, sturdy, they fill up with cake when you push them in and they don't seem to create that hollow area in the cake. Does that make sense? I use a minimum of eight boba tea straws in each tier. However, since my big scare in March, I haven't transported more than two tiers- if it is three tiers I set up at the venue. I just get too nervous now.
I'm so sorry this happened to you. Here is a link to the boba tea straws that I buy from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Rate-Pcs-Clear-Stripe-Straws/dp/B004050ED4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434417948&sr=8-1&keywords=boba+tea+straws&pebp=1434417978715&perid=990637A4E71642929331
Like I said, I just love them. Take heart and don't give up.
Thank you Lisatipperoo. I've heard of those boba straws and may give those a try too.
Geekycakes-I think that's probably a wise thing to do as well. I will look into making my cakes a bit more dense.
I really appreciate all the advise. Thank you so much. Now I just need to get my confidence back. My husband tells me I need to make another huge cake just for testing and transport it over every bump, pothole and steep hill in our area.
"Oh, don't mind me...I'm just taking the cake for a ride." :-)
I use bubble tea straws for a two tier cake and dowels (1/4 inch) for more than 2 tiers.
i also like poly dowels where you use a mix of straw and wooden dowels: http://www.flourconfections.com/poly-dowels-cake-supports-large-p-3355.html
i use a very soft chocolate cake and it's been working well with these support systems.
It's not showing but with the poly dowels you can put 4 wilton's wooden dowels in the middle. Or you can just use them as is...they are much stronger than bubble tea straws.
I like those poly dowels as well- I had never seen those before. I'll be adding those to my wish list as well. I'll never go back to using Wilton dowels. :-) And yes, take the cake for a ride lol. It's great for practice. Then give out free samples to drum up business. ;-)
I use the wooden dowels, but I use quite a few. I also use a long wooden dowel ( sharpened) through the center of the entire cake if it's more than 2 tiers . Never had a cake to fall. I also don't use really soft or slippery fillings and use a dam around my fillings.
I've also used the hollow plastic dowels for larger cakes and I like them but my local stores don't carry them anymore.
The hollow cylinder--a wide bore straw or plastic tube--will always be stronger and more stable than a skinny wooden stick or skinny plastic stick.
Too few sticks or too many sticks and you have a problem. Sticks slide, so too few and one slip--done. Too many and you ruin the integrity of the cake and it "implodes".
Cake density doesn't really matter much. With the proper support system, you should be able to stack jello.
With large bore straws, you use 1 per 2" of stacked cake, so with a 10" bottom and an 8" stacked on top, you use 4.
Better luck next time.
Those poly straws look nice and sturdy! I think I'll look into those as well. I'm going to make the exact same cake again, filling and all, and try different methods as all of you suggested. It might be a waste of cake, but like I said, I don't ever want this to happen again. Just a horrible experience. I wasn't going to post pictures of the cake since it ended up a disaster, but it did come out so pretty. I'll post them here, but maybe not on my FB or website. I'd hate for my client to see them and then write something not very nice.
Maybenot - Thank you for that formula. I'll keep that in mind!
Thanks again for all of your suggestions. The more information, the better.
It really was beautiful... ugh, the agony! Props for being willing to try again... I might have had to take a trip to the psychiatric hospital. Have you spoken with your client since? Your thread started with trying to figure out something to do for her. You should certainly start with a full refund and a heartfelt letter of apology. Maybe bring her some cupcakes with her refund?
OMG...of course! I felt like I was stalking the poor woman, I was so upset and wanted to make amends!
The first thing I said to her was how sorry I was and that I was giving her a full refund. Then I followed up that evening with an email to reiterate that the transaction went through (PayPal) along with the pictures I took of the cake at home. Yesterday I sent another email telling her that I still felt awful and that I'd really like to gain her confidence in me and that I would love to do another cake for her free of charge.
Finally I got a response from her today (and a super cute picture of her baby eating the top tier) and she was so gracious about the whole thing. She said that the cake was absolutely delicious and they were able to make the best of it. At the end of her email she said that maybe we'll have better luck for her baby's first birthday. And she said that she doesn't want me to be upset. Truly a gracious lady indeed. I'm so thankful she doesn't hate me.
Oh, that must have made you feel so much better! I was thinking they could show the top tier and carve up the chaos in the kitchen and serve it. What a horrifying learning experience! I have yet to make a tiered cake for a client because of stories like yours but I know I will have to soon and I will definitely use SPS when I do! I wish you the best of luck with your future cakes and that this is your last disaster!
The thing with SPS is that its all tired together, like a house. In your house the floor joists are physically tied to the floor which is physically tied to the walls of the next level, and the joists for that floor, etc.
SPS works the same way. The legs lock into the plate. You put RI, bc or candy melt on the plate and set the cake on a cardboard on the SPS plate and its physically tied together. And up and up.
With the straws or polydowels that don't lock into the plate above, its still just balancing.
SPS is cheap, and you just charge the customer for it. My standard speech included, There's an equipment charge of (insert $ amount.) This is for the structure inside your cake that holds it up. Without a support structure you cake will collapse." EVERY customer always replied quickly, "Oh yes! We want that!!"
Totally agree with you leah_s!