While many wedding cakes today do not have obvious pillaring, even simple stacked cakes will usually have some supports inside to ensure that the structure remains stable. This is doubly important if the cake is iced with buttercream as this form of icing is much more likely to ‘slide’ in heat than icings which harden over time.
Stacked cakes can be Buttercream Iced but pillared cakes usually can’t as the icing is too unstable. You can sometimes pillar the top layer of a buttercream iced cake, using separator plates and wide pillars such as champagne glasses, but even so, keeping the cake cool is essential to ensure that the icing doesn’t start to move under the weight of the top tier – pillaring allows hot air to circulate more easily, making a cake warm up more quickly than would be the case if it was just stacked.
Tools Needed For a Tiered Cake
- Dowel rods – obtainable from specialist shops and online, these are very long and thin, hygienically prepared rods that do not splinter: they are specially designed for cake work.
- Cake boards – depending on the cake you need different boards. A Tiered Cake without pillars needs a base cake board larger than the lowest tier and then a board for each subsequent tier that is the same size as the tier itself. For a pillared cake you usually use a base cake board similar to that for a tiered cake but then use separator plates between the tiers. These plates are about 3-5 cm larger than the cake tier they support and usually have dimples or knobs into which the pillars locate for extra stability. The extra width is used to pipe or lay an Icing Border at the bottom of each tier which ties the board into the cake.
- Pillars – there are many pillar types available or you can use your ingenuity and create or obtain pillars that have a special meaning for the happy couple. As examples one bride and groom asked for toy cricket bats and another couple who were keen travellers asked for suitcases! Such pillars can either be toys that are glued onto plain pillars or structures that have been iced onto basic forms that are then iced onto pillars. Usually each tier of a cake requires four pillars so a triple-tiered cake needs two sets of four.
Timings For Buttercream or Stacked Cakes
Ice the tiers at least 24 hours before assembly to give them time to firm up. If the cake is buttercream, 24 hours is best, but for other forms of icing, anything up to a week ahead may be preferable.
Begin with the base tier – place a cake pan or base board one size smaller than the base tier on the top of the cake and gently mark the outline. Take away the pan or board and measure the right length of dowel rod by sharpening the end of a complete dowel and pressing it gently down at one point on the marked circle, rotating slightly as you go, so as to penetrate the icing without causing cracking or crazing. Mark the depth of the cake on the rod and remove it.
Cut four dowels the same length as the first, using shears, and sharpen the bottoms before lightly sanding the top edges so that they fall slightly below the level of the icing. This ensures that if the cake is slightly lower at any point, the dowels don’t show. Slide them into the cake at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock points on the tier, just inside the marked circle and then set the cake board for the next tier on top of them.
Repeat the process for the second tier, using the smaller cake pan size to mark the top of the tier, measuring the dowels, sharpening and sanding them and sliding them into the tier at the 2, 4, 8 and 10 o’clock points before putting that tier on top of the cake board on the base tier. Offset the dowels to give maximum stability to the structure.
Assemble the tiers and make good any damage to icing and leave in a cool place overnight
Timings for Pillared Cakes
Between 6 days and one day before the ceremony, ice the cake and 24 hours later, make up the separator plates on the pillars, ensuring that the pillars on each tier line up with pillars on the tier below. Double check that each pillar is securely located into the plate above it.
Starting with the base tier, measure about 4 cm from the cake edge and make a small mark – this is the 12 o’clock position. Repeat the process at the 6 o’clock point and then do the same for the middle tier(s). Now place the cakes on their separator plates and lift each plate onto the tier below, ensuring that you use the two marks to centre the tiers over each other. Ice borders once the cake is transported.