How to Stack a Cake (step-by-step instructions for tiered cakes)

Step-by-step instructions for stacking a cake using dowels and making a gorgeous tiered cake as a novice.

This cake decorating guide is jam-packed with ideas on stacking cake tiers, from which dowels to use to which cake boards to use and even how to level cakes.

Almost everyone who makes cakes has a preferred way for stacking cakes. Today I’d like to share with you a way for making a tiered cake. Hopefully, my strategy will serve as a decent fundamental guide for you to build on.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the whole process of making stacked cakes, from start to finish, so you’ll be able to stack almost any cake. Yes, we’re stacking round cakes in this example, but the procedure is almost same with square or other cakes.

With these fundamentals, you’ll be able to stack a two-tiered cake, a three-tiered cake, and so on.

You’ll be stacking cakes like a pro after you’ve mastered the fundamentals of doweling a cake plus a few more secrets and tips.

This approach is a mash-up of many ways I’ve seen other people use and read about, and I simply feel more secure doing things this way. Feel free to modify this procedure to suit your needs.

If you want to learn how to build a giant gumpaste rose like the one on this cake, I also have a lesson and video for you. That may be found here: Making a Large Gumpaste Rose

Lets get started.

Just keep in mind that these are the same techniques I use to stack buttercream cakes. The only difference is that you must be extra cautious with buttercream cakes and, if possible, cool them before stacking.

Second note:

I’m going to show you how I prefer to do it. I’m not suggesting this is the only way to do it or that you HAVE to do it this way. Because we are all unique and operate in various ways, feel free to experiment with my approach and others to determine what works best for you.

Supplies needed for stacking cakes:

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  • Baked and prepared cake layers were assembled into tiers. (I prefer to use three layers of cake for each tier, and I used an 8-tier cake for the bottom and a 6-tier cake for the top.) Remember that tiers are constructed of layers, therefore each tier will consist of many cake layers with filling between them. (Check out this page for additional information and specifics: Anatomy of a Decorated Cake.
  • Cake foundation (I prefer foam core board over normal cake drums since it is much more sturdy.)
  • These go right beneath each layer (I prefer to use foam core for these as well, but if the cake tier isn’t substantial, you could use cardboard cake rounds)
  • Dowels (I prefer to use both tiny and big plastic dowels that can be cut with scissors) There are other possibilities that I’ll discuss below, but for lighter cakes, you could also use bubble tea straws.)
  • Cake leveler (or large knife)
  • Cake turn table
  • Icing spatula
  • Icing smoother or an extra tall icing smoother
  • Candy melts
  • Edible marker
  • Scissors or wire cutters (for severing straws or dowels)
  • Small level

Let’s go through things in greater depth below so you know what you’re up against.

Cake bases:

The cake foundation is the biggest cake board on which the whole cake will be supported. The real foundation board, not the cake boards, goes underneath each layer.

If you’re confused about the differences between cake boards, bases, cake layers, and tiers, I have a great article that will clarify everything. That may be found here: The Structure of a Decorated Cake

The cake foundation should be at least two inches bigger than the biggest cake layer that will sit on it. I normally have mine a little bigger.

The most significant aspect of the cake foundation is as follows: You want a cake foundation that is strong enough to support your cake!

You can glue multiple cardboard cake circles together (although I do not recommend using this approach for a stacked cake since it will not provide enough support for a hefty cake to sit atop without sagging.)

Personally, I like foam core cake boards.

These are often available in a variety of thicknesses, and I like to use inch thick foam core boards for the bases.

It’s quite strong, and I’ve used it for multi-tiered fondant cakes.

If you have a really hefty cake, you may want to consider utilizing MDF board (which is similar to wood composite board).

Just be certain that whatever you use is strong enough. If it is not strong enough, it may cause your cake to collapse. Do not use readymade cake drums or thin cake bases available at hobby shops. They aren’t powerful enough.

You may now cover your cake bases with Wilton fanci foil, fondant, scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, and other materials. I have a whole article dedicated to cake board tips that you may be interested in reading. I’ll also include a video showing how to cover a cake board with almost anything and yet keep it grease resistant.

Cake boards:

A cake board will be placed underneath each cake tier (not layer). (Keep in mind that tiers are formed of cake layers.) The cake board that goes under each layer should be the same size as the cake tier on top.

You may use cardboard cake rounds, but for larger fondant-covered cakes, I prefer the thinner () foam core cake boards.


There are several sorts of dowels that may be used to stack cakes. I like plastic dowels, often known as poly dowels. (Not the hefty plastic columns seen in hobby shops.) Check out the links to them in the supplies section above.

There are two sizes available. There are little ones, such as those seen below.

And larger thicker ones as well.

These are really sturdy, and I enjoy that they are hollow on the interior and do not displace much cake when inserted. To chop the huge ones, you’ll need some heavier cutters, however I’ve found that garden cutters (obvious ones designed just for caking) work just well.

Wooden dowels might also be used. I avoid using them because I believe they shift more easily than other dowels and are difficult to cut.

Bubble tea straws are another possibility. These straws are broader and heavier than regular bendy straws found at grocery stores. Regular scissors may be used to cut them. These are linked in the supplier list above.

If your cake isn’t going to be very heavy or tall, these bubble straws can suffice. (Although normal straws are not strong enough for ANY layered cake, use them if you must.)

Other techniques include plastic cake stacking systems and the Wilton stacking system. Some swear by them, claiming that they make the cake incredibly stable. I’ve never used them, but I’d recommend experimenting with a few different alternatives to see which one you like.

Again, I’m simply illustrating what I prefer to use and how I generally stack cakes, but it doesn’t mean other solutions aren’t as effective.

Cake leveler or knife:

Before you may build your cakes, you must first get each cake tier level. This is quite significant. If your cakes have a dome, you’ll need to cut it off with a knife or a cake leveler to make each layer absolutely flat.

Turn Table:

This particular item isn’t specialized for stacking cakes, but it will aid you in filling and frosting your cakes. It’s difficult to make smooth buttercream without one.

If you want to see all of the materials you’ll need to get started with cake decorating, check out this post: What You’ll Need to Begin Decorating Cakes

Icing spatulas & smoothers:

Again, they aren’t designed for stacking cakes, but they will help you get a nice finish on your cakes when you add filling and frosting.

Candy melts, hot glue and edible markers:

These may seem unusual, but I assure you that there is a purpose for employing them.

I prefer to use candy melts (or hot glue) to adhere the cake board (from the bottom layer) to the cake foundation. This prevents the bottom layer from moving on the cake foundation.

I use the edible marker to indicate where I cut my dowels. In the supply list at the beginning of this article, you’ll find a link to the edible markers I prefer to use. (They’re not costly, and mine last a long time.)

Many people just insert their dowels, pull them up a little, and cut them, but I use a different way to ensure that each dowel is the same height, which I’ll demonstrate in a moment.

Scissors, large cutters & a small level:

If you’re going to utilize the bubble tea straws, you’ll need scissors. If you plan on utilizing big poly dowels, utilize the larger cutters.

The little level is required. I use it when stacking and filling the cake layers, before I top the cake with buttercream, and even after I’ve put my dowels. (I demonstrate how I accomplish this in the video and below.)

Basically, you must continually check to ensure that everything is as level as possible during the whole procedure.

Stacking & filling the cake layers:

To begin making our cake, we must stack and fill the cake layers. For each tier, I prefer to use three layers of cake and two layers of filling.

Of course, you may torte the cake layers (split them), but I usually don’t do so with stacked cakes since I like greater stability.

Simply use a turntable with a bigger working surface on top to collect any crumbs or buttercream and to assist move things around. It’s essentially a catch-all board.

Next, place a cake board (for the bottom cake layer) on the working board and pour a little quantity of melted candy melts on it. This cake board you place must be the same size as the cake you will place on top of it.

The melted candy melts are used to keep the bottom cake layer from sliding around as you frost that cake tier. You could also use buttercream, but it won’t prevent things from sliding about as well.

Place the three layers of cake and two layers of filling on top. Don’t go overboard with the filling, however. If you do, the weight of the cake will compress it out, causing a ridge around the cake or a buttercream explosion.

After that, just apply a thin crumb coat around the whole cake.

This is a bit out of the ordinary, but it’s what I usually do and has saved me a lot of cake decorating pain.

Wrap the cake loosely in plastic wrap and leave it aside to settle. That just involves leaving it aside overnight or for many hours to let the layers to settle and squeeze out any excess buttercream.

You want everything to settle before assembling the cake layers. If it settles after that, you’ll get drooping fondant, buttercream blowouts, or ridges.

Now, I don’t cool my cakes during this procedure since it hardens the cake and frosting and doesn’t enable it to settle properly. If you have a perishable filling, you should refrigerate it.

I won’t go into too much depth about my process here, but if you’re interested, you can read my post: Should I Refrigerate My Cake Before Decorating?

Okay, fill your second cake layer, crumb coat it, and leave both cake tiers away to settle overnight or for a couple of hours. (I used an 8-tier cake for the bottom and a 6-tier cake for the top.)

Once everything is in place, you may cover it with anything you like. You might use buttercream, fondant buttercream, ganache, ganache with fondant, or swiss meringue buttercream.There are several options.

I covered my cake with white chocolate ganache

I waited for the ganache to set before covering it with fondant.

Stacking the cake tiers:

One thing I like to do to the cake foundation is something that may seem strange at first, but it makes sense when you think about it.

After I’ve covered the cake board with fanci foil or whatever I’ve covered it in, I like to take an exacto knife and carve out a circle in the centerNot of the cake foundation, but just out of the wrapping that’s over it.

Then I tape around the area I cut.

I do this because I want the bottom board on the bottom cake layer to be adhered to the real cake foundation rather than the wrapping that covers the cake base. I first heard this in a Craftsy class and it made perfect sense to me, so I’ve been doing it ever since.

Now, just add some melted candy melts to the center of the cake foundation. You can also use hot glue, but I like melting candy melts since it allows me more time to move things around.

Slide the icing spatula under the lowest layer and lift it up. (If it’s a buttercream cake, refrigerate it ahead of time to make it stiff and simpler to stack.)

Simply pull up the bottom layer with one hand beneath it if the cake is buttercream, or one on the back if it is fondant. Don’t use your icing spatula to lift the full weight of the cake.

Lift it up and place it on top of the cake foundation. Don’t take out the spatula quite yet.

Once the bottom layer is on the cake foundation, use the spatula to move it about to center it, then slide the spatula out.

So, for this video, I’ll only show you how I stack cakes using plastic (or poly) dowels. You may also use bubble tea straws, but for fondant cakes, I prefer poly dowels since they are more robust.

I’m also going to use both sizes of the poly dowels, as I usually do with bigger cakes. Because this tiered cake is just an 8 and 6 sized cake, the number of dowels I’m using is a little excessive, but I wanted to demonstrate how I prefer to utilize both sizes of dowels.

Set a cake board the same size as the layer that will go on top of the cake tier you are working on on top of your bottom tier first. To make a guide for attaching the dowels, gently sketch around it with a toothpick.

Insert the first dowel and press it all the way down.

Mark the dowel where it meets the top of the cake with the edible marker.

Twist the dowel while dragging it up and fully out of the cake while twisting. Yes, remove it completely. We won’t chop it while it’s still in the cake. We want to use it as a template to cut the other dowels.

Why? Because all of the dowels will be the same height this way. Even if the cake isn’t completely level, the dowels will be, which is exactly what you want.

There will be some cake within the dowel when you take it out. Just leave it at that.

Once the dowel is out of the cake, just cut it straight through at the line you drew with the clippers.

Set that dowel next to another dowel and draw a mark with the edible marker where you’ll need to cut.

Now just cut that dowel as well.

Next, place the original dowel you cut next the smaller dowel and label it.

Cut a few of the little dowels once you’ve done this.

Yes, I am aware that my clippers are old and worn. I really need to acquire a new pair.

Also, I’m using many more dowels than required to support a 6 cake, but I wanted to teach you how to utilize both sizes so you’ll know how to build bigger, heavier tiers.

Take the first dowel you inserted to the cake and insert it back into the cake in the same position.

Push it all the way to the bottom. Then, on the other side, insert another of the huge dowels. Keep an eye on the line you created with the toothpick earlier so you don’t place your dowels outside of it.

Now add in the smaller dowels.

If you’re going to add a center dowel that will go through the whole cake (all layers), leave that middle spot empty so that when you hammer your center dowel through the entire cake, it doesn’t get trapped on another dowel you put in the middle.

If you’re not going to use a center dowel, you may go ahead and add one now.

I normally place a dowel in the center since the only time I use a lengthy center dowel is if one of the layers is really tall.

If you want to learn how to bake a tall cake, check out this tutorial: Creating a Tall Cake

Now that all of the dowels are in place, it’s time for the big reveal. Place a cake board on top and use the level to determine whether it is level. You may as well do it now and confront the reality before adding the next layer on top.

If it isn’t level, you’ll need to modify the height of the dowels. One of them may have been made taller than the rest. If one is too short, don’t cut the others any shorter; instead, make a new, longer dowel for that position.

If you cut the dowels too short, the layer on top of it will put too much pressure on that cake tier, squishing it and causing all sorts of issues and ugliness.

Now that you’ve confirmed its level, it’s time to add the following layer.

One thing I failed to explain in the video that is really crucial is that if you have more than two levels, add the dowels to all of them (excluding the top one) before stacking them.

Don’t build a layer, then add dowels to it before stacking the next one. Add the dowels to each layer while they are still resting straight on the table and not stacked. I hope that was clear.

Now, I like to stack my cakes with the dowels all the way into the cake, but I wanted to show you another method that some people prefer.

They raise the dowels slightly, then place the cake on top of them, and the weight of the cake pulls the dowels down the rest of the way.

That may sometimes make things simpler since you can get your hands beneath the cake and are less likely to screw up your buttercream.

I don’t employ that procedure because, if your cake is cold, the weight of the top layer may not be sufficient to drive those dowels all the way down within the chilled cake. But give it a go and see if you like it. For the time being, I’ll demonstrate what I do.

Next, add a little amount of melted candy melts on the top. This is something I do with fondant cakes because it helps the top layer adhere to the bottom tier. If you’re using buttercream, just pipe a dab of it instead.

Slide the icing spatula under the next layer and raise it up. Remember, if you’re making a buttercream cake, make sure it’s cooled first.

If you’re stacking a buttercream cake, you’ll need to move it with one hand beneath it.

If the cake is fondant, just lay your palm on the opposite side of the cake to assist it into position.

Use the icing spatula to slide it about and center it.

If you have a fondant cake, you may simply alter the cake tiers with your hands, depending on the design.

After you’ve piled your cake, you may add a border to each stage if you wish.


  • Make a strong cake foundation. Check that the cake foundation is strong enough to support your cake. That is really crucial. When in doubt, go for a more substantial foundation.
  • Chill the buttercream cake before stacking it. I don’t chill my cakes while they’re being decorated, but I will chill a buttercream cake for approximately twenty minutes before stacking it since it really helps.
  • Before stacking your cakes, make sure they are level. Check the level again once you’ve added the dowels.
  • Try out a few different approaches and discover which one you like!


What’s the difference between cake layers and cake tiers?

Cake layers are used to make cake tiers. For each stage, I prefer to utilize three cake layers. Cake layers appear more professional to me when they’re a little higher.

Do I need cake boards between cake layers?

In general, no. Keep in mind that cake layers are just single layers of cake. A cake tier is formed by stacking layers with filling in between them.Cake layers, in general, do not need boards between them since they are single cake layers. Cake tiers with several cake layers need cake boards underneath them.

Visit this site for additional information and useful visuals about this: The Structure of a Decorated Cake

Do I need cake boards between cake tiers?

Yes, a cake board should always be placed between each layer. Remember that tiers are built of cake layers and need boards to be placed underneath them.

What are the best cake recipes for stacking cakes?

Many other varieties of cakes may be used provided you have the proper assistance. You want a strong cake, but no special recipe is required. Many cake recipes that aren’t particularly light or chiffon-like may be utilized for stacking cakes.

The major reason why the cake recipe isn’t critical is that you won’t be relying on the cake’s firmness to keep things together. You are dependent on the cake support structure (the doweling).

Here are a few ideas to get you started:Chocolate Butter Cake with Vanilla Beans

How do you frost a tiered cake?

Generally, you should ice the cake layers before stacking them. Some decorations may freeze after they are piled. Personally, I found this to be inconvenient, but it’s worth trying with to see what works best for you.

How do you stack a three-tier, four-tier or five-tier cake?

You’ll layer them similarly to the two-tiered cake we discussed. It’s the same procedure. Just make sure you put the dowels to each layer (except the top one) before lifting and stacking it.

How do you stack a cake without breaking it?

First, ensure that the cake layer is supported by a cake board. If you haven’t already, go over this page since it will explain how and where to add cake boards.A cake board must be placed underneath the layer or it may collapse on you.

Second, it’s occasionally beneficial to cool the cake layer before lifting it up. Chilling it may help stiffen it up and keep it together when moving it.

Third, elevate the layer using a big metal hamburger flipper or a long icing spatula. Don’t put all of your weight on the spatula; instead, let it assist you. Another hand may be placed beneath the cake if it is buttercream, or on the back of the cake if it is fondant. (Be sure to watch the video for further information on this.)

Can you stack a cake without dowels?

When stacking cakes, you must have some form of support framework otherwise the cake may collapse in on itself or topple over.

This may be accomplished using a variety of methods. I like the plastic dowels that can be sliced, although wooden dowels and even bubble tea straws are available. I’d only use the bubble tea straws if the tier on top of it isn’t too hefty.

Regular straws, on the other hand, are insufficient for stacking any form of cake.

Make sure to watch the video below where I discuss the various alternatives.

Video on how to stack a cake (step-by-step):

I really hope this was useful to you, and if you have any questions or think I missed anything, please let me know and I’ll be delighted to assist!

  • Do I Have to Crumb Coat a Cake?
  • How to Store a Cake
  • How to Start Selling Cakes from Home
  • Tips for Covering a Cake in Fondant


How do you stack a tiered cake?

Tall Tier Stacking
On a cake board, level, fill, stack, and ice two cake layers. Dowel rods should be cut to the height of the stacked layers.
Repeat with additional cake layers, stacking no more than two layers (6 in. or less) on each cake board.
Place the second set of same-size stacked layers on top of the first.

How do you make a successful layer cake?

5 Layer Cake Decorating Tips
Tip #1: Use a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients.
Tip #2: Make use of parchment paper.
Tip #3: Keep an eye on the temperature at all times.
Tip #4: Smooth out the domed layers.
Tip #5: Don’t forget about the crumb coating.

Do you put cake boards between tiers?

In a nutshell, sure. Yes, you should utilize cake boards in between levels if you intend on stacking any hefty cake or anything more than 6″ in diameter. Even for smaller cakes, we suggest utilizing cake boards since you don’t want your cake to sink or be crooked.

How far in advance can you stack a tiered cake?

Tiers should be built while the frosting is still fresh to prevent breaking. Alternatively, you may stack the levels after at least 2 days of icing. If the lowest stages are a hard fruit cake or carrot cake, complete dowelling is not required for a stacked structure.

How many cakes do I need for a 2 tier cake?

A two-tiered cake necessitates the use of two cakes (made of layers) of varying proportions. The traditional size is a 6′′ cake piled on top of an 8′′ cake, and it serves 40-50 people depending on how large the pieces are cut.

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