The Structure of a Decorated Cake (for beginners)

If you’re new to cake decorating and have a lot of questions, this page discusses the anatomy of a decorated cake and addresses the question, “How do I really put a decorated cake together?” What kind of assistance do I use?

I had a lot of questions when I initially began cake designing. Those were simply generic inquiries, and I felt like I was asking stupid ones at times.

But take note: there are no stupid questions. If you don’t know, you don’t know, and that’s OK! This article will go through the fundamentals of assembling a decorated cake.

These are some of my inquiries:

Now, I’ll address all of those questions in this piece, and I hope it clears up a few things for you.

Oh, and there is a video at the conclusion of this page if you like to learn via films rather than written posts.

Let’s get started.

There are affiliate links in this post. I earn money as an Amazon Associate by making qualifying purchases.

Cake Layers vs Cake Tiers:

So, this seems to be perplexing to some. I always hear individuals mention that they want a three-layer cake or that their birthday cake has four layers and is quite tall.

They meant that they had a three-tiered cake, or that their cake had four tiers and was quite tall.

What exactly are cake layers and tiers? Layers are genuine cake layers with filling in between. A cake tier is made up of layers of cake.

This cake, for example, has three levels, each of which is made up of several cake layers.

Typically, I use three layers of cake each cake tier. I believe it simply looks better since it makes that layer seem taller. Some people simply use two pieces of cake with a layer of filling in between, but I like the taller appearance.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some individuals divide their cake layers even further, resulting in many, thinner layers per tier. Torting your cake is what it’s called. This is entirely up to you, but you should always ensure that your cake is sturdy.

If you’re building a particularly tall cake with more than three complete layers of cake, you’ll need to add additional support, such as another cake board and some doweling.

Creating an extremely tall cake is a another story, and if you want to learn how, I have a video instruction here: Creating a Tall Cake

Let us now look at the many varieties of adorned cakes.

The Single Tier Cake:

This is clearly the most fundamental, but after you’ve mastered it, the rest will be second nature.

The anatomy of a single layer cake is shown here.

I prefer to make three layers of cake with filling in the middle. As I previously noted in this article, it just looks nicer and more professional.

You’ll need a larger cake base, at least two inches larger than your cake, for the very bottom. Finally, place a cardboard cake round just under your real cake tier (not each layer) and place it on top of the cake base. The cake board itself should be the same size as your cake tiers.

I’ll sometimes add melted candy melts in the centre of the cake foundation to assist connect the bottom cake board. I’ll just dab a tiny bit of melted candy melts exactly in the center of the bigger cake foundation to adhere the bottom cake board. Some folks use buttercream, but it’s hot in Texas and that simply won’t do.

(If what I stated appears confused, please refer to the figure above.)

Finally, for the very bottom cake foundation (the one that is bigger than your cake), you may use a foam core board, many cardboard cake boards joined together, or purchase a prefabricated base.

Just make sure the foundation is robust enough to support the cake and will not bend. Here is where I see a lot of folks go wrong. A thin cake board cannot be used as the actual cake foundation.

If you want some ideas for cake bases, including what to use and how to design and cover them, check out my advice here: Cake Board Suggestions

The Two Tier Cake:

The two-layer cake is similar to the one-tier cake, except that doweling will be added to the bottom tier to support the upper tier.

The anatomy of a two-tiered cake is as follows:

IMPORTANT: A cake board must be placed between the layers; otherwise, the dowels in the bottom tier would pierce straight through the top tier of cake, causing the whole structure to collapse.

Some individuals use traditional wooden dowels, while others use plastic straws. Nevertheless, we’re not talking about bendy grocery shop or McDonald’s straws here. That’s not going to cut it.

You need something more durable, like bubble tea straws. I like the thicker plastic dowels that can be cut. (I’ve included links below.)

There are affiliate links in this post. I earn money as an Amazon Associate by making qualifying purchases.

Here are some links to some of my favorite dowels:

  • Floating Tea Straws
  • Dowels made of plastic that can be cut

The number of dowels required will be determined entirely by the size of your cake and the weight of its layers. Larger (or more) dowels should be used for ganache and fondant coated cakes, or in the bottom tiers of a three or higher tiered cake.

If you want to see a video on how to stack cakes (including how I cut the dowels and level everything), check out this post: How to Make a Cake Stack

Likewise, when building a two-tiered cake, a central dowel isn’t strictly essential, although you may use one if you want extra support. To see how to make tall cakes, check out my page on the subject.

The Three Tier Cake:

You’re almost there after you’ve perfected the two-tier cakewell.

The anatomy of a three-tiered cake is as follows:

I didn’t go into great depth on this image since it’s basically the same as the two-tier cake. Except for the top layer, everything receives dowels.

or fondant, which is heavier. Don’t scrimp on the help! Remember to use larger dowels (or just more dowels) for the bottom layers, especially if your cake tiers are ganache-covered.

IMPORTANT: Make certain that your cake foundation is really robust. For this kind of cake, cardboard cake circles will not suffice. You’ll need something substantial, such as foam core cake board bases or MDF (wood) boards.

Put a cake board underneath each layer as well. This is something I hear all the time: cakes crumbling because nothing is keeping them up.

Dowels are useless if there is no cake board above them to protect them from poking through the cake layer on top.

So those are the fundamentals, but I hope they address many of your concerns.

I’ve also included a handy printable with all of the visuals so you can have them on hand for decorating. Just click the icon below to begin downloading.

Cheat Sheet for Anatomy of a Decorated Cake

Other Helpful Posts:

  • Favorite Cake Recipes: Vanilla Bean Cake, Moist White Cake, and Chocolate Butter Cake.
  • Vanilla Bean Buttercream, Double Chocolate Buttercream, and Brilliant White Heat Stable Buttercream are some of my favorite buttercream recipes.
  • Cake Board Concepts
  • Creating a Tall Cake
  • How to Make Silky Buttercream
  • How to Make Ganache for a Cake


How to decorate cake step by step?

7 Things to Do Before Designing Your Cake
If you prepare your cake properly, cake decorating is simpler and produces better results.
Make sure the cake layers are flat:…
For even layering, take the following measurements:…
Remove crumbs with a brush:…
Prepare your serving dish as follows:…
Apply a crumb coat:…
Choose your look:
Mar 19, 2020

What does a beginner cake decorator need?

The Best Cake Decorating Tools for Novices
Cake Leveler, 10 in. This adjustable cake leveler makes creating uniform cake layers a pleasure.
… Cake Icing Smoother…. 9-Inch Angled Spatula…. Make Even Cake Strips….
Cake Release Pan Coating…. Food Coloring System Color Correct…. Decorating Tip Poster.
Additional details…•October 25, 2019

How to layer a cake for beginners?

Place a cooled cake layer, top side up, on a cardboard circle or straight onto a cake stand or plate. You’ll have a smooth surface to work with this manner.
1 cup for an 8 or 9-inch cake…
Rep with the remaining layers.
Aug 26, 2017
Make the layer cake
To begin assembling, insert a cooled

What are the 9 steps in decorating a cake?

Time for a 10-Step Decorating Lesson!
Step 1: Prepare the Turntable.
Step 2: Place The First Cake Layer…
Step 3: Put The Filler In…
Step 4: Place the second cake layer.
Step 5: Put on the Crumb Coating.
Step 6: Add the Top Coat of Icing.
Step 7: Finish the edges and smooth the sides.
Step 8: Finish the borders.
More to come…
•Mar 15, 2017

What are the three essentials of cake decorating?

3 Decorating Icing Consistency Basics.
Proper bag placement.
Controlling the pressure.

Can I teach myself to decorate cakes?

Although beautiful flowers and gorgeous piping may seem difficult, you can get started with just a few specialised tools and a few fundamental skills. Cake decorating may be as simple or as elaborate as you like!

What is the most important tool in finishing a cake?


They are essential for finishing your cakes after you’ve applied icing to all of the cake layers. When used correctly, they provide a flawless finish to the icing and offer your cakes a gorgeous appearance. Little spatulas may be used for smaller cakes and long spatulas for taller cakes.

What is the proper sequence of assembling a layer cake?

The first step is to trim the cake. A revolving turntable makes cake decorating more simpler and quicker since it eliminates the need to uncomfortably curve your hands and arms around the cake.
Distribute the Filling in Step 2….
Crumb Coat is the third step.
Step 4: Ice the Cake…
Step 5: Apply the Frosting.
Apr 29, 2022

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