Published On: Wed, Aug 19th, 2020

How to… create a basic tiered cake

Don’t let a tiered cake intimidate you, give Britt Box’s tips a try and you’ll master them in no time!

basic tiered cake

Knowing how to successfully make a tiered cake is a very useful skill in a baker’s arsenal. They are the basis for most wedding cakes and can really make birthday cakes feel extra special. I really like making smaller tiered cakes such as this one, which feed the same amount of people as a larger single-tiered cake.

There are a few very important elements to creating a stable tiered cake, one of which is the cake itself. You need to choose a strong and reliable recipe. I recommend a Madeira cake as they are slightly denser than their Victoria sponge cousin, plus they stack really well, when put together with the rest of my tips.

For this tiered cake, I used an 18cm (7in) round and a 12.5cm (5in) round Madeira. I made one big mix, then divided it between the tins. Here is the recipe I used;

Ingredients

For the Madeira cakes

  • 350 g self-raising flour
  • 350 g caster sugar
  • 350 g unsalted butter/Stork
  • 90 g plain flour
  • 6 free-range eggs
  •  1½ tsp lemon extract

Instructions

  1. Cream together the Stork/unsalted butter and caster sugar.

  2. Mix in the eggs, then add the self-raising flour and plain flour and mix well.

  3. Add the extract and mix for 2-3 minutes on a high speed, then spoon the mixture into lined 18cm (7in) and 12.5cm (5in) round cake tins, until they are both three-quarters full.

  4. Bake both cakes at 160°C/Gas Mark 2½, 1 hour for the 12.5cm (5in) and 1 hour 30 minutes for the 18cm (7in), or until a skewer comes out clean.

  5. Once baked, turn the cakes out of the tins and leave to cool upside down on greaseproof paper.

  6. When the cakes have cooled, double wrap them in clingfilm and leave them in a cool, dry place (not the fridge) overnight to settle.

  7. The following day, make the filling. I used a vanilla buttercream, but feel free to flavour it any way you like.

For decorated cakes in general, but especially for tiered cakes, I highly recommend wrapping in clingfilm and leaving overnight before working on them. This firms up the sponge and makes life so much easier.

Ingredients

For the vanilla buttercream

  • 500 g unsalted butter
  • 1 kg icing sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla flavouring

Instructions

  1. Cream the butter on its own for a few minutes.

  2. Slowly add the icing sugar and bring the mixture together.

  3. Add the vanilla and mix until soft and smooth.

layering Madeira cakes

Adding buttercream to the cakes

1. Unwrap the cakes, level them using a sharp knife or cake leveller, then turn them over; I get a better result using the base of the cake as the top.

2. Split the cakes using a cake leveller – how many times will depend on how deep the cakes are. Here, I split both cakes twice, creating three layers of cake for each tier.

3. Gently lift the top two layers of cake and set them to one side. Spread a generous layer of buttercream onto the remaining cake using a cranked palette knife, then gently place the next cake layer on top and repeat. Finally, place on the top layer (that was once the bottom of the cake).

4. Stick your cake onto a thin cake card the same size as the cake using a little buttercream – this is very important as you will need the cakes on thin cake cards for stacking later.

buttercreaming Madeira cakes

5. Scrape off any excess buttercream that spilled out of the sides using a palette knife, then chill in the fridge for a few minutes. Repeat with the
other tiers.

6. Next, crumb-coat the whole cake by spreading a thin layer of buttercream onto the top and sides. Scrape off any excess using a side scraper and place in the fridge for a further 10 minutes.

7. Repeat again for the remaining tier. Once this is done, do a second crumb-coat on each cake and chill again for a further 5 minutes. Once that is chilled, do a final, thinner crumb-coat – this ensures that the cake remains fresh and stable, but you will also get a lovely flat surface to decorate!

Icing the cakes with sugarpaste

The way you ice the cakes is very important for tiered cakes. You can tier naked cakes, of course, but icing them gives them a little more stability.

1. Roll out sugarpaste on a surface dusted with cornflour to 5mm (¼in) thick, using icing spacers if you have them. Carefully lift up the edge of the sugarpaste and place your rolling pin underneath. Use this to lift up the icing sheet and place it gently over one of your crumb-coated cakes.

2. Using your hands, smooth down the sugarpaste on top first, then at the sides, gently lifting and smoothing out any creases or folds. When you have gone all the way around, use a sharp knife to trim the excess sugarpaste off. Use cake smoothers to create a nice neat finish.

icing cake tiers with sugarpaste

I like to use plastic smoothers over the cake first to make sure the icing is nicely stuck down, then I go in with acetate smoothers around the top edge to create a nice sharp corner.

3. Repeat for the other tiers and don’t forget to ice your board too. To do this, roll out any excess sugarpaste you have until it is the size of your board (I used a 23cm (9in) round board).

4. Paint piping gel onto your silver board using a silicone brush (or spray with water if you don’t have any piping gel), then gently lift up the sugarpaste and stick down onto the board. Cut away any excess sugarpaste using a sharp knife. Leave your iced cakes and board to set overnight in a cool, dry room (not the fridge).

5. The following day, once the icing is set, it’s time to stack
the cakes.

Leaving the cakes overnight after baking and then again after icing may seem excessive, but this is something I find rather important for a structurally sound tiered cake.

There is no reason why you can’t bake, ice and stack your cakes all on the same day if you wish, but I’ve only ever done that once (when I completely forgot about a cake I said I would make), and I’ll never do it again! When the cake hasn’t settled it’s really soft, meaning it’s really crumby, when you are trying to fill and crumb-coat it. When the icing isn’t set it’s super soft too, so lifting and moving it is going to cause dents, bumps and rips.

Stacking the cake

The way you stack and the equipment you use is so important. When I first started baking, I thought you could literally just put one cake on top of another cake and I watched it slowly collapse in front of me. I don’t want that happening to your beautiful bakes, so here’s how I stack now;

1. On the top of your bottom tier, using a scribe, score around something the same size as the tier that will be going on top of it. Ideally you would use another thin cake card, but I only had one in so I used a roll of tape.

using dowels to stack cake tiers

2. Next, you need to dowel the cake. How many you use will depend on the size of the cake you are stacking on top. As I used a small cake for my top tier, I used three dowels in a triangle pattern. However, for bigger cakes you may need to use four in a square pattern, five in a square pattern with one in the middle, and so on. If you are stuck on how many and what pattern to use, there are plenty of templates available online.

3. Next, stick a dowel into the cake until you reach the bottom. Mark on the dowel using an edible ink pen where the top of the cake comes up to, then carefully remove the dowel. Mark the rest of the dowels you intend to use at the same height, then cut them to size using a serrated knife or a junior hacksaw.

4. Spread a little buttercream or royal icing onto the iced board. If the tiered cake isn’t travelling anywhere, except to maybe the living room, you can use buttercream, but if it is leaving the house, I would recommend using royal icing as it is more secure.

stacking Madeira cake tiers

5. Gently lift up and stick down the bottom tier onto the centre of the board. Spread a little buttercream or royal icing on top of the bottom tier (same buttercream or royal icing rules as above apply), making sure you cover the tops of the dowels. Gently place on your top tier, or if you’re doing more than two tiers, stick on your middle tier and repeat.

Decorating your cake

I decorated my cake with a simple design of pink ribbons and roses, but you can decorate yours however you like. I don’t recommend moving the cake for at least 24 hours once it’s stacked to allow it to settle and for the royal icing to completely dry – you don’t want the cake collapsing or sliding after all your hard work!

basic tiered cake

When you cut into your cakes, remember there are dowels in there! To cut a tiered cake, I recommend gently removing the top tier and cutting it up, then taking out the dowels from the bottom tier before cutting it into slices.

Tiered cakes used to intimidate me, but once you know the little secrets like letting the cake settle, using thin cake boards and dowels and using royal icing to stick it together, it all becomes a lot easier. I hope you enjoy taking your cakes to new heights!

Happy baking!
Britt xxx

As featured in July/August 2020 issue of Baking Heaven Magazine

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