How to Make a Tiered Cake

Well, it's confession time.

Once upon a time I decided to make a two-tiered cake.

My ill-informed brain: ‘Well, how hard can it be? Put the smaller one on top of the bigger one!’

Lessons were learned! My top tier SANK probably a good centimeter into my base tier – and it tipped quite a bit in the process!

It was a tester cake, just one I made for fun, and my coworkers didn’t care how lopsided it looked the day I brought it into work. The fact that I decked it out in Cadbury Easter eggs may have had something to do with that.

But – the thing that I took away from that experience? Fails are part of the process, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE EVERY MISTAKE YOURSELF!  One small cardboard cake circle and a couple of drinking straws would have prevented the entire disaster! Seriously; let people who have learned the hard way teach you the better way!

So – to help you avoid a cake-tastrophe similar to mine – below is instruction on how to dowel and stack a tiered cake!

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, a video has to be worth exponentially more than that, right? See below for a quick video overview of doweling and stacking a 3-tier (10-inch / 8-inch / 6-inch) cake! This is another video tutorial that I found helpful.

Okay, the basics first!

Tiered or stacked cake styles – often made for weddings or celebrations– are made by stacking progressively small cake tiers on top of each other. Tiered cakes allow for multiple flavors in one cake, and enough cake to feed a large number of people!

Some cake artists even use accessories like columns to separate the tiers for a more dramatic look – tiered cakes are beautiful, but without a strong foundation they can partially collapse like mine, causing an uneven cake, or even collapse completely and ruin the cake entirely!

One point of term clarification – because this confused me for a while – layers and tiers are not the same! See image below.

Stabilizing your tiered cake: 
The most frequently used method of stabilizing the tiers in your cake is to use a cake board on the bottom – and dowels in the middle – of each tier. The dowels give structure to the cake tier, and the board gives support to the base.

(The ONLY time I’ve gotten away with not doweling a base tier was when my bottom tier was a very dense vanilla cake – almost like a pound cake. You may be able to get away without using support tiers if your base layers are very dense – but I still recommend support dowels just to be safe!)

Using cake circles: 
On the bottom of each tier of your cake, you need a cake circle – these are most common cardboard, but can be made of plastic as well. It just needs to be sturdy enough to not bend easily! Buy pre-cut or cut your own circle to fit each tier so they don’t show on the outside of the cake.

Since you’ll very seldom be assembling the cake where it will be served, I recommend using a circle for your base tier that’s an inch or two larger than your cake (e.g. for a 10” cake layer, use a 12” cake circle, etc.) This makes it easier to pick the cake up to move it to its final serving location!

For your middle/top tiers, I use cake circles that are the same size or just a tiny bit bigger than my cake tier. One trick I often use is to use my cake circle as an icing guide! I trim my layers so they’re just slightly smaller than my circle, and use the circle as a guide for my bench scraper so the frosting goes on smoothly and the cake tier stays perfectly round!

Some sources say not to stack more than two cake layers on one board/cake circle. I’ve had no problems stacking three layers, but if your tier will be more than 6” tall you should use another cake circle in the middle!

Using support dowels: 
For most of my cakes, I use bubble tea or coffee straws as support dowels! They’re lighter, cheaper, and MUCH easier to cut than wood dowels.
(Almost the only time I use a wood one is when I need a large central dowel for a tiered cake taller than my straws! I actually bought a long straight wood marshmallow roasting stick, and used and a small saw to cut it to the right length. I also recommend sharpening one end to a point – this helps the tiers slide more easily when you’re stacking them! You can sharpen the dowel with a pencil sharpener or a small paring knife – just make sure to do this away from the cake.)

One rule of thumb is to use one dowel for every 2-3 inches of cake. (E.g. 10-inch cake would need 4 or 5 support dowels). I do recommend sticking with an even number so they’re easy to space evenly around the cake layer.

One note on cake design – TheSpruceEats.com recommends at least a 2- to 4-inch difference in the diameter of each tier for the best look, regardless of how many tiers you’re stacking.

Frequently used / needed supplies:
- (Obviously, cake layers / frostings of your choice)
- Cake leveler, cake turntable, large offset spatula, and bench scraper - not all 100% necessary but incredibly helpful! 
- Large plastic straws or plastic cake dowels
- Cardboard cake circles – one for the base of each tier and a slightly larger one for the base. Links to my favorite 6-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch circles are here! They’re pre-center-punched to make stacking easier!
- Long central dowel (I recommend having a central dowel long enough to go from your base tier into your top tier to help prevent shifting. However, you can just use a central dowel every 2 tiers.)
- Ruler to help center and space your dowels
- Small level – you can buy this for about $5, and it helps to make sure your tiers are level AND that your central dowel is straight!

Okay! Quick step-by-step guide/checklist for assembling a tiered cake!
1. Make sure to use a bit of frosting underneath your base tier to hold the cake to the cake board! Apply your crumb coat, and then spread the cake tier with frosting and smooth.
2. Mark the center of your layer, and use your next cake circle to outline where the next tier will go – this will help you make sure you place your support dowels where they won’t be visible!
3. Cut your dowels to the height of your tier. Mark where your support dowels will go, making sure to place them at least ¼” inside your marked circle. Evenly space and then insert the dowels into your base tier, making sure to push them straight down.
4. Use a ruler to center your center dowel – and your level to make sure it’s straight! Center your next tier on top of your dowel and slide it straight down, making sure to center it on your base tier.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 with all your remaining tiers except for the top one, making sure to center them as you add them!
6. Almost there! Evenly frost your top tier, center it on your dowel, and slide it onto the top of your cake. 

Decorating: 
This part is completely up to you! If you're looking for a simple cake style that's been trending lately, texturing your buttercream with an offset spatula works beautifully! 

If you're looking for cake or frosting recipes, you can find all of my favorite recipes here

Make your first tiered cake, or find something on this page helpful? Let me know  how it went - or find me on Pinterest or on Instagram and tag @IntensiveCakeUnit in your photo!

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