How to Stack a Cake

Wedding Cake
Pollyana FMS Getty Inages

Stacked cakes and cakes with columns or tiers can be very dramatic and beautiful but certainly, require a firm foundation and the correct accessories for success.

What Is a Stacked Cake?

Stacked cakes are created when different-sized cakes are placed directly on top of one another.

No matter how many cakes you are stacking, from two up to even eight tiers, it is best to have at least a two-inch to a four-inch difference in the size of each tier to create a better look.

Each Tier Must Be Stabilized

Stacked cakes, especially very tall ones, must be stabilized using individual cake boards and dowels in each tier. Stacked cakes are often transported as individual tiers and assembled at the venue location to avoid unsightly accidents.

The only time full dowelling is not necessary for a stacked construction is if the lower tiers are a firm fruit cake or carrot cake and not a light sponge cake or mousse-filled creation. The top tiers would simply sink into the lower ones and the cake will topple over.

To avoid cracking the icing, tiers should be stacked while the icing is freshly done. Alternatively, wait for at least two days after icing the tiers before stacking.

The Skinny on Dowels

Creating a stable foundation out of dowels for the cake is not difficult. You can use either wood or plastic dowels depending on what is available or your preference.

A general rule for deciding the number of dowels needed is that you need more dowels for bigger, taller cakes.

Plastic dowels tend to be wider than wood ones so you can use less plastic ones in your construction. For example, a 16-inch or 18-inch cake will require at least eight dowels and a 10-inch cake will need at least six dowels. 

Basic Method to Assemble a Stacked Cake

  1. Ice each tier separately with the cake firmly "glued" with icing onto a cake board or separator plate that is exactly the same size as the cake. The bottom tier is usually on a thicker cake board or even a plywood base that is either the same diameter as the cake or at least 2 inches bigger depending on the design.
  2. Make sure each tier is completely level using a level from the hardware store set on the top.
  3. Insert dowels into all the tiers except the top one.
  4. Place a cake board the same size as the tier above the bottom one centered on top of the bottom tier and press it gently to imprint the outline on the icing or fondant. Remove the cake board and use this guideline to insert the appropriate number of dowels into the tier within the circle.
  5. Insert one of the dowels into the tier taking care to go straight and right down to the cake board. Use a knife to mark the exact height at the top of the cake and then pull dowel back out.
  6. Cut the dowel the correct length and then cut the remaining dowels for that tier using the first as a measurement.
  1. Insert the dowels into the cake tier, spacing them evenly about 1 inch in from the cake board outline. Push the dowels straight down until each one touches the bottom cake board.
  2. Stack the second tier onto the first, centering it exactly using a palette knife to move it without ruining the icing.
  3. Repeat this process for each stacked tier on the cake design except the top one.
  4. After the cake is stacked completely you can stabilize it further by running a long wooden dowel with a sharpened end through all the cake tiers from the top. The sharpened end should embed into the base cake board. This will prevent any shifting. You can sharpen the dowel with a pencil sharpener or even a sharp paring knife. If your dowels are not long enough to go through the height of the tiers it is advisable to stabilize the first two tiers on the bottom using this method and then repeat it with the top two or three tiers.