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How to make a tiered cake for beginners: everything you need to know

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

If you’re clicking on a blog post called ‘How to make a tiered cake for beginners’, then I’m going to hazard a guess that you’ve been tasked with making a cake for a celebration, wedding or special occasion – so firstly, congratulations!

And secondly – deep breaths. You got this! It is absolutely possible to create a stunning cake as a non-professional baker. In fact, I started my journey as a professional cakemaker by being completely self-taught, which is exactly why I’ve put together both this blog on how to make a tiered cake for beginners. It’s also why I created the Essential Cake Foundations course it is based on. Basically, I went through a lot of trial and error when I started my cake journey, and I don’t want you to have to do the same!

So, whether you’ve been tasked with making your niece’s wedding cake but are scared in case it collapses…

…or are planning to DIY your own, but don’t want it to end up looking like something off of Nailed It!...

(If you're a fan of Nailed It, I can highly recommend a blog that has been around for years, it is the OG of hilarious cake fails - Cake Wrecks)

…or perhaps you love to bake, and want to level up your skills so you can stack delicious cake layers high and your hard-earned cash higher…

then this blog post on how to make a tiered cake for beginners is here to help!

The good news is, you’ve already completed the first very important steps – giving yourself a high five for taking on the exciting project, and knowing you need a hand from a pro – so here’s what to do next.

How to make a tiered cake for beginners

Gather your equipment and ingredients

I know, it doesn’t sound very fun – but prep is such an important step of baking (there’s a reason why they often say it’s more science than art – until you get to the decoration stage, at least!) Having the right gear and good quality ingredients is key to a delicious bake at the end of it, so don’t skip this step, no matter how tempting.

Bake your cake(s)

It’s hard to learn how to make a tiered cake for beginners if you don’t have a cake to start with! In Essential Cake Foundations we start with a simple vanilla sponge cake initially, so that you can really nail the basics before moving on to different flavours. (Deciding on your flavours is another thing we cover in the course, a bit later on, so that you can create all kinds of unique and exciting flavours as well as perfectly balanced classics.)

Make your buttercream, ganache and fillings

As well as the cakes themselves, the other fundamental elements of a tiered cake are the buttercream and/or ganache, and the fillings.

As they go in between the tiers, the ganache and buttercream need to be the right consistency, as they keep the cake in shape and stop the tiers sliding all over the place. They also need to be delicious (of course), as well as good-looking, whether you’re going for a naked cake, a semi-naked cake, or a full buttercream or fondant finish.

Decide on and perfect your covering

One of the main questions I get asked in terms of how to make a multi tiered cake for beginners is how to make the surface look perfect. This is especially true if the cake is for a big occasion, such as a wedding or celebration – you want to make sure it looks as good as it tastes!

There are loads of options for how to decorate your cakes – you could spend the rest of your life on Pinterest and instagram looking up more inspiration. Here’s just a few ideas that I include in the Essential Cake Foundations course:

A semi-naked cake

When budding cake makers enquire how to make a tiered cake, they’re often dreaming of creating a semi-naked cake effect. For the unititiated, semi-naked is the term used for a cake finish that where the outside of the cake is ‘half-dressed’ but not fully covered in buttercream. This means you can see some of the cake layers peeking through the side, and gives a chic, rustic look to the cake. It can initially seem easy to do but its a little more tricky on your first attempts. The key for me, is to achieve the semi naked effect without simply smearing the surface with crumbs.

I think it's really important to master the semi-naked, it's a great finish for all sorts of different cakes – and that’s why I dedicate a whole course module to showing my failsafe method for crisp, clean, semi-naked cakes. It’s a crumb-free zone!

A buttercream cake

Where a semi-naked cake is ‘half-dressed’, the buttercream cake is ‘fully-dressed’: completely covered in delicious buttercream on the outside. There are loads of different finishes you can do with buttercream, including a watercolour effect and loads of delicious textures.

A fondant cake

Buttercream is a delicious covering and allows you to achieve a whole array of textures and finishes, but many folks worry about having a fully buttercreamed cake especially in the heat of a summer wedding.

Or temperature considerations aside, they may really love the appearance of a fully iced, fondant covered cake. The super smooth option for a really sharp, finish. A layer of sugarpaste (fondant) goes on top of a layer of firm chocolate ganache for the ultimate crisp look. And as you've guessed, I cover the whole process in the Essential Cake Foundations Course.

Dowel and stack your tiers

So you have your beautifully covered cake tiers but now you need to stack them and pray they don't topple!

OK no praying or finger crossing necessary here, it's not about hoping for the best, or propping up with a cartoon broom, it's all about the internal structure. For this we use dowels, little rods that are embedded within the cake tiers which support the tiers above.

In the course I show various options and stacking systems including whether you need to use a central dowel.

Structural integrity is the name of the game in making tiered wedding cakes

Additional decorations

All of the previously mentioned icing styles look amazing as they are, but if you fancy levelling up even more, there’s loads of ways you can do that:

  • Elegant cake lace

  • A decadent drip

  • Fresh and dried flowers (which need to be prepared so they’re foodsafe)

  • Macarons, berries, the opportunities are endless!

Not forgetting the all-important cake topper, too!

Have your cake, and eat it too

There you have it: some of my top tips for how to make a tiered cake for beginners. Ta-dah!

Remember: all of these steps – and more – are covered in depth in my course Essential Cake Foundations, which is my flagship online offering for cakemakers looking to level up their skills and learn from a pro in the comfort of their own home. The 11 accessible, self-paced modules are there to help you confidently create cake masterpieces in your kitchen, and wow your friends and family with your honed baking prowess. You can check it out here, or get in touch with any questions here.

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