How to Make a 3 Tiered Cake

Simplicity

So you have been asked to make a tiered cake.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!  A monumental task that is almost equivalent to asking you to build the Eiffel Tower if you have never done it before!

But the warrior in you could not refuse!

You may be having nightmares about it since you agreed to do it, and that is all normal.  Will it fall over?  Will it collapse under the weight? Will my recipes even work in a tiered cake?  Do I refrigerate it? How far in advance can I make it?

The questions are probably running through your head like mad, making you second guess your very existence in the cake world!

Ok, maybe not so dramatic but perhaps you do have some questions about the whole process, so I have made this fast (well 17 minutes fast) video on how to stack a cake from start to finish and I think I addressed every detail throughout the way and will reinforce all of it here.

When I made my first stacked cake 26 years ago I was a 16 year old wreck!

CLICK HERE FOR UPDATED WEDDING CAKE VIDEO AND BLOG POST

myfirst paid order
My 1st order for a 2 tiered anniversary cake circa 1989

I remember working into the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the house was fast asleep; working on the intricate details.

I learned how to stack a cake in my high school Home Economics class! Can you believe that!  That would never happen in today’s time!

But how lucky I was to learn this in a public school, thus sparking my passion for pastry that is burning just as strong today!

Ok enough about me and memory lane, lets get to the details of How to Make a 3 Tiered Cake!

 

First of all you will need some special equipment: (all the links below are clickable!)

Heavy Duty Masonite Board or Cake Drum for building the cake and supporting the weight of the structure.  I will choose a size that is about 4 -6 inches larger in diameter than my bottom base tier.  So for example if my bottom cake is 12″ I will pick a board that is 16″ or 18″ in diameter.  *Be sure to check that the board will clear the opening to the refrigerator BEFORE you build the cake on it!  yes, I have built an entire wedding cake on a board that would not fit into my refrigerator and trust me you DO NOT want to deal with that horror story!

Most standard masonite boards are ¼” thick but you can find ones that are ½” thick and could be a better option depending on the weight of the cakes.  I will opt for the thicker version, or simply glue 2 or 3 together for added strength. Masonite boards must be covered with foil wrap or doilies, or ruffle edging.

Cake Drums are heavy duty corrugated cardboard that are sturdy enough to accomadate heavier cakes for transporting and displaying. All boards are wraped in either silver, gold or white decorative foils. Boards measure 1/2″ thick and presents a perfect edge for trimming with ribbons and pearl beading. They are available in rounds and squares. They are grease resistant.

Choose a board that is suitable to your specific cake considering the height of the tiers and the weight of the entire finished cake.  It is always best to go heavier duty than flimsy.

Cardboard Circles in the same size as each tier as well as another one for each tier in a couple inches larger than the size of the cake.  I explain in detail in the video tutorial below why I feel it is necessary as a transport of each tier in and out of the refrigerator as we are working on the construct.

Dowel Rods  Dowel rods are essential to support the weight of each additional tier as you build up. There are several options and it basically comes down to personal preference.

Wooden Dowels / Plastic Dowels / Drinking Straws.

I have used all 3 and I have always gravitated back to the wooden.  Straws are my second choice and I do not prefer the plastic ones whatsoever.

I use bamboo dowels and 1 pack of 12 is sufficient for the smaller 3 tiered cake as shown in the video.  I use a small paring knife to cut them to the desired size and they break by hand quite easily once you have made the initial groove.  Some people say, “WOOD!? in my cake?”  These are food grade and made specifically for tiered cake assembly. I have never had a problem with splintering, but for those who may be wary, you can always insert the wood dowel into a plastic drinking straw for added insurance.

The drinking straws are a great cheap alternative to wood dowels, but I would recommend the thicker “bubble tea” straws also found at Starbucks, they are just larger and sturdier than the regular drinking straws you may be familiar with. I do not recommend drinking straws for cakes that are stacked over 3 tiers.  All it would take is for 1 straw to have a defect or hairline fracture that could bend under the weight and well…you can predict that disaster.  Straws are great for shorter cakes that are not required to support so much weight.

The plastic dowel rods are hollow, almost like giant heavy duty plastic drinking straws, but I find them cumbersome to cut and they are the most expensive too.  In my opinion they take too much cake with them when they are pulled out before cutting. (The entire hollow center gets filled with cake that ends up being wasted)

Parchment Paper Circles can be cut from larger parchment sheets.  They are useful as the buffer between each tier.  I have forgotten to place the parchment circles in the past and when the kitchen staff removed the top tier from the next one  the entire buttercream layer from the cake underneath went with it.  The parchment circles will act as a buffer to keep the buttercream icing where it is supposed to be at all times. Simply peel away the parchment circle and your cake will be unscathed for beautiful serving slices.

Next we need some recipes!

What recipes are the best for making tiered cake?

Well, I get this questions often, and my answer is always the same, as long as you are building the cake correctly you can use any recipes you like! (with the exception of the traditional Tres LEches since we don’t want dripping cake layers!)

But other than that, anything goes!

I’m not sure why so many people worry that the Vanilla Sponge Cake recipe is not going to hold up to stacking. Again- if you build it properly you can use any cake really! Angel Food, Chiffon Cake like honestly anything!

Another most asked question is “Can I ice the cake with Whipped Cream?”

Well, yes you can….and many people do.

I do not,  but that’s just my preference to avoid disasters whenever possible.  Whipped Cream requires refrigeration pretty much at all times.

Ok, maybe an hour or two out on display won’t be the end of the world but I just don’t like to take chances like that.

I often try to explain to my clients that whipped cream as a filling will be Great!

“But how about we compromise and use the buttercream as a light icing, and here is why…..” Then I proceed to explain what I just wrote above.

Most clients just don’t realize that certain recipes can’t hold up under the circumstances that a wedding reception requires and are relieved to know that they averted a major disaster simply by opting for the buttercream instead! (I repeat some people will do whipped cream wedding cakes and have no troubles or worries, I personally do not.)

4.8 from 11 reviews
How to Make a 3 Tiered Cake
 
Building a 3 tiered cake is the epitome of Building on Recipes theory so be sure to have all your base recipes prepares in advance
The combinations are endless so I will list exactly what I used in the video below
Cake serving sizes can be estimated with this chart
I made a 10" + 8" + 6" cake to serve approximately 60 people
Author:
Serves: 60 servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Follow along in the video tutorial below
Notes
Tiered cakes are built to withstand hours on display at the event. Of course your recipes for fillings and icings will determine this more than anything, but for the most part if you build the cake properly as shown in the video tutorial you will not have any trouble with the durability of the cake structure itself.


It is optional to use the simple syrup on the yellow cake layers. It is really a nice touch to add some flavor infused syrup as a light brushing to the layers in sponge cake recipes
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How to Make Browned Butter

What’s  the deal about Browned Butter?

Also known as Beurre Noisette.

Because Butter (beurre) has been clarified (melted) and then browned to the color of hazelnuts (noisettes).

But why go to the extra trouble though? I mean can’t we just melt butter and add it to the recipe?

Well sure you can do anything you want to do really.

But what will happen if we do that? I wrote a blog post called What is cake to address specifically that. Check it out and then come back here!

But let’s understand that butter contains fat, proteins, moisture and milk solids.

When you melt butter, those fats are changed from a solid form to a liquid form and when it gets cold again it re-solidifies. It doesn’t re-solidify nicely though, if any of you have ever melted butter then stuck it in the refrigerator? Ummm, weird hockey puck like waxy thing on top of a bunch of milky liquid in the bottom of the dish.  This experiment actually showcases the properties of butter in the best light though.  You can clearly see the fat (that hockey puck waxy thing) the milk solids (that milky looking stuff) and then the separated oil and moisture slushing around.

Let’s take oil now, and do the same thing.  Oil remains liquid whether it is refrigerated or not.

The major difference to remember between butter and oil  in cake making is their properties at room temperature (or cold).  If you now re-introduce this ingredient to the recipe (cake); when that cake gets to room temperature, cooled or even cold what will happen to those properties inside the cake?  The same thing that happens to them when they are NOT inside the cake!

So you see that although you can often times make substitutions to recipes with ingredients that seem to be so similar, the results will not be so similar.

Ok, now back to the topic at hand.

Browned Butter.

Browned butter is luscious.  It brings a depth of flavor to recipes that is unmatched.  But technically it is no longer “butter” once we remove that moisture and those milk solids through the cooking process.

So its now easy to remember that any recipe calling for oil can definitely be substituted with Browned Butter.

Just remember that you will start with a bit more butter that you will end up with after it is done browning and the solids are removed.

For every 8 tablespoons or 1 stick you start out with, you will get about 6 tablespoons after the browning and solids are removed.

So if you need 1 cup oil for a recipe, start with 3 sticks of butter!

It is more expensive of course, but it is really worth it!

If you watch the quick video below you will see how easy it is to convert butter to Beurre Noisette for any of your recipes calling for oil!

So choose your recipes that will really benefit from this addition like my Tropical Carrot Cake recipe 

and the Hazelnut Genoise Cake too!

 

Carrot-Cake-Recipe   Hazelnut-Cake-Recipe

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How to Cut a Mango

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So of course there are several different methods on How to Cut a Mango so my intention here is to show you how to get the most out of your mango for the purposes of making a Puree not necessarily for the prettiest looking mango.

If you google “How to Cut a Mango” you will see so many creative ways to get the flesh out of the mango, one really interesting one that using a drinking glass!

Here I mostly wanted to really stress how to cut around that nuisance of a pit (or rather seed) that runs the entire length and a pretty good portion of the fruit itself.

There is also the method that many of you may be familiar with to get perfect cubes out of the mango and of course this is a fabulous method, but again my intention is to just show where that pit it, and how to get the most out of your money for the purposes of making the Mango Mousse recipe

mango cutting

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Chocolate 101

Chocolate2

I considered writing my own explanation about chocolate, but I happened upon a really great company called Chocoley.
They have a the best explanation I have seen regarding demystifying chocolate for baking and covering vs. regular chocolate we buy for eating like Hershey’s candy bars or Hershey’s Kisses!

Also my friend Wendy over at Cinnamon Sweet Shoppe shows us the difference in this video here!

Chocolate 101
Chocolate is divided into two distinct categories:
real chocolate and compound chocolate.

Both real chocolate and compound chocolate are chocolate – the difference is the type of lipid (fat) or oil used in the production of the product.

Real chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is extracted from the cocoa or cacao bean. Cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient which has some unusual characteristics or quirks. Because of the nature of cocoa butter, real chocolate requires going through a special procedure during the melting process called tempering, which re-establishes the cocoa butter crystals, giving the cooled and finished chocolate the proper sheen, snap and taste. Additionally, and of vital importance, tempering prevents bloom, where the cocoa butter separates from the cocoa solids and comes to the surface, turning the chocolate whitish or grayish in color. If you are making candy or dipping items that won’t be consumed within a day or so, tempering is absolutely mandatory for all real chocolate.

  • Real chocolate is subdivided into three categories based on the quality of the product (quality of the cocoa beans) and most importantly, the cocoa butter content: regular chocolate, couverture chocolate, and ultra couverture chocolate.
  • Regular Chocolate – typically in chocolate chip form, regular chocolate is sweetened with sugar, is generally made from moderate quality cocoa beans, and has a very low cocoa butter content and a high viscosity (thickness when in a melted state). Generally used in baking (i.e. chocolate chip cookies), regular chocolate holds its shape and is not the best choice when molding, dipping or enrobing.  Another form of regular chocolate is unsweetened blocks or bars of baking chocolate (also called plain chocolate), which generally has a relatively low cocoa butter content and doesn’t require tempering when used in normal baking applications.
  • Couverture Chocolate – the term couverture translates to “covering” and refers to the finest professional quality chocolate. It is produced with a high percentage of cocoa butter and uses premium cacao beans. It melts smoothly, making it ideal for specialty candy making and molding. When tempered and cooled, it forms an elegant glossy finish.
  • Ultra Couverture Chocolate – is equal in quality to couverture chocolate, but with an even higher cocoa butter content. Due to the higher cocoa butter content and very low viscosity, it is the perfect chocolate for dipping and enrobing. Few manufacturers are able to successfully produce this type of chocolate because of the difficulty in balancing the higher cocoa butter content while retaining superb taste and texture. When tempered and cooled, it forms a thin and elegant glossy shell.
  • Compound Chocolate – contains vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter and tempering is not required. Home hobbyists and professionals alike have utilized compound chocolate due to its ease of use and lower price.

You MUST temper the couverture ONLY if you are using it for dipping and enrobing truffles, making chocolate decorations or when you need an attractive, shiny coating for candies that will sit at room temperature, NOT if you are using it in a recipe.

I will add this though, as a sort of Summary:
When you see “% cacao” printed on a label, it refers to the total percentage of ingredients by weight that come from the chocolate liquor and the cocoa butter.
For example Unsweetened Bitter Chocolate has about 50% chocolate liquor and 50% cocoa butter. Nothing else! No sugar added or anything else. (note:the percentages vary from brand to brand)
But for the other chocolates like Semi Sweet Chocolate or when I say things like be sure to use “good baking chocolate” (couverture) the lower the percentage, the lower the amount of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter present.

US standards require that Semi Sweet chocolates be minimum of 35% chocolate liquor.

In general, a higher “% cacao” lends a more intense chocolate flavor.
A higher “% cacao” means less added sugar

 

TYPES OF CHOCOLATES USED IN BAKING RECIPES

  • Unsweetened Baking Chocolate or BITTER BAKING CHOCOLATE
    Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100 percent cacao with no added sugar, and it is very bitter.
  • Bittersweet Chocolate
    Chocolate in this category contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. The higher the percentage, the darker and more bitter the chocolate.
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate
    This general category usually contains 15% to 35% chocolate liquor. The US requires that all Semi Sweet Labeled chocolates have a minimum of 35%
  • Milk Chocolate
    Milk and/or milk solids replace some of the chocolate liquor, generally less than 15%, making for chocolate that is smooth, creamy, sweet and mild.
  • White Chocolate
    White chocolate contains no chocolate liquor and therefore isn’t really chocolate at all.
    It is simply a blend of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and vanilla which resembles chocolate and works like all other chocolates in recipes. I suppose since it utilizes the precious cocoa butter which is derived from the cacao bean, it is considered chocolate, but it just is NOT. Poor white chocolate, tries so hard!!

CHOCOLATE MANUFACTURING:
Cacao pods are harvested by hand from the trees when they are about six months old. The beans (or seeds) and pulp are fermented, this enhances the deep natural flavors of the cacao bean and it will also soften the naturally occurring bitterness. The beans are then dried and roasted.

Cacao nibs are separated and finely ground to make chocolate liquor, which contrary to its name is actually a thick, non-alcoholic liquid of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
Sugar, vanilla and additional cocoa butter are added to the liquor during a process called conching.

See a Conche Machine HERE and from there all the wonderful types of chocolate are produced.
To make cocoa powder, the cocoa solids are removed from chocolate liquor, pressed into a cake, then pulverized into a powder.
Dutch-process cocoa is treated with alkali to neutralize the acidity.

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market Website~ A lovely guide for

How to Melt Chocolate

Ever wonder why chocolate “melts in your mouth?” The melting point of cocoa butter is just below 98.6°F, the body’s average temperature.

In order to melt chocolate properly, outside of your mouth that is, use gentle heat (115°F or less) to avoid scorching it. Here are two simples way to get the job done:

  • Double Boiler Method: Put chopped chocolate into a double boiler or heatproof mixing bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water and stir gently until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. (Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water or the chocolate may burn.)
  • Microwave Method: Heat chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl at half power, stopping to stir it gently every 30 seconds, until completely melted and smooth.

Chocolate tip: As you melt chocolate, watch for signs that it may be “seizing” or turning grainy. This happens when moisture — say a splash of water or a bit of steam — gets into the chocolate after it’s already begun to melt. (Note that some recipes call for melting chocolate along with liquid. This is OK, as long as the liquid is added at the beginning.)

TO INTERCHANGE CHOCOLATE & COCOA POWDER IN A RECIPE:
Sometimes you have one, but not the other and your recipe may call for the one you DON’T HAVE! Never fear, click this link—–> CLICK HERE to see how to make the proper conversions!

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Pumpkin Puree

022I love making my own Pumpkin Puree by taking my favorite variety known as the Cheese Pumpkin due to its roasting qualities and ratio of flesh to rind.

You can use other varieties of pumpkin, but I only use the cheese variety (also known as a milk pumpkin).

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