Monday, April 18, 2011

Making Swiss Cheese Out Of A Cake

Yes, that's really all you need.
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Ah, dowels, a topic that brings the blood of cake-builders to a boil for some reason.

I stick with your basic wooden dowels for most wedding cakes, and have never had a problem. That's because I do them the right way.

Whenever anyone online is complaining that their cake collapsed, it generally will come out that they dowelled the cake entirely wrong. And there are plenty of ways to do that.

Wooden dowels aren't the only option, obviously. You can use bubble tea straws (that makes me nervous but I know a lot of people who swear by them.)

You can also buy internal support systems that consist of plates and plastic pillars. For smaller cakes those are overkill, in my opinion. But if you like it, have at it.

I'll stick with the wooden dowels. They're simple, inexpensive, and as long as you use them the right way they work.

Something that I've noticed recently, though, is the tendency of some bakers on tv shows to overdowel their cakes. By the time they're done putting all the dowels into the cake, there's no cake left.

Last night I was watching a show and some guy was putting about fourteen 1/2" wooden dowels into a 10" cake. You've got to be kidding me! I felt bad for the person at the reception site who was supposed to try to find a piece of dowel-free cake when it was time to cut it.

The rule that I've always used was that the number of dowels for a tier should be an odd number (don't know why, might not really make a difference), and that you should take the diameter of the tier that's going to be stacked on top, cut that in half, then use that number for the number of dowels. If the number is even, you can add one dowel (or subtract, depending on your cake's design.)

Of course, you should take the number of tiers that will be stacked on top of the tier into account, but that's a general guideline.

There's no reason to make swiss cheese out of your cakes by inserting too many dowels. Remember that you still want to have something edible left over after the dowelling and stacking process is done.

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and


Kristin said...

I watched that last night too. I was screaming at my husband to look at the amount of dowels he was putting in and said how the heck are they supposed to serve that!

Veronica said...

I totatlly agree. I use the same math method. I had a "helper" at one time ask, "Don't you need more dowls than that?" She just couldn't believe that fewer, well placed dowels would do the job. I have also used the bubble straws and have had no issues with them so I can float either way but generally I use the wooden ones. Nice wording, "swiss cheese".

Alexis said...

Kara, I have never learned so much about cake making until I became a fan of your blog. Who knew dowels were in wedding cakes, bakers and not customers I guess. I think it's fascinating.
Cake architecture.....cake-i-tecture. HA!
Hope to see you Thursday @ the mixer.

Maxine said...

Always a wooden dowell inserter here too - until i found the Wilton candy sticks.
So much easier to cut - :)

Ugggghhh - the swiss cheese effect - not a good look at all.

Ever hear the rumour about...
If the cake is a 10 inch round then one must use 10 dowells - *faint*
I shuddered to think what a 14 inch cake looked like by the time it was *dowelled to death* ............shudder.


Kara said...

Maxine, this show showed a baker making a four-tiered (I think, it may have been 5) topsy turvy cake. He was telling the assistant how many dowels to put in, and he came up with 48 dowels for the cake. They were larger diameter, too, I'd guess 1/2" dowels?? There was hardly any cake left when they had finished putting them in.

I've seen a LOT of tv bakers do that, though. Waaaay too many dowels...

Erin said...

I didn't know about the odd number rule. Thanks for that tip. I switched to Wilton plastic dowels because with the wooden dowels my cakes seemed to "fan out" at the bottom. I think maybe the dowels weren't staying up straight. With the plastic open dowels, the cake doesn't get pushed away it just goes up the center of the dowel hopefully adding more support. I have had much better results with the plastic dowels and they're not hard to cut. Hope this makes sense.

Anonymous said...

OMG, I saw that dude ( I had another word here but I changed it to be nice) putting in all those dowels and I nearly stopped breathing. I think that show must have been desperate to find someone to fill that spot, because that guy obviously knows nothing about cake supports not cakes for that matter. Sorry if this is a nice post, but that guy makes my blood boil.

Grandma Tillie's Bakery said...

I have never used wooden dowels, only bubble tea straws and have never had any kind of support issues. The key thing with any support system is cutting the supports exactly the same and level.

A few things I like about the tea straws--they are wide and extremely strong (and cheap!) plus being hollow the cake goes into the middle of them rather than being displaced like it is with dowels and they are cut with scissors.

I don't have a formula as far as number of supports, I use common sense. My common sense tells me that 10 dowels in a 10" cake is crazy overkill.

I had someone tell me that they tasted musty wood in a wedding cake they ate once and that did me in for ever putting wood inside my cakes.

Kara said...

That show (that I won't name in order to not give it free publicity) is an interesting thing...The newest episode has some people decorating a black fondant cake in the dark because they say that black fondant fades to grey really fast, so you have to decorate it in the dark. ???

I'm afraid that there are new decorators watching this show to get tips who will be decorating their cakes in the dark and using 48 dowels in a four-tiered masterpiece. At least it will keep in business.