March 6, 2011

Topsy Turvy Cake--Step By Step

In January I made my first Topsy Turvy Cake. A TTC is an optical illusion where each tier looks like it is precariously balanced on the next one and could, at any second, topple over. However, with the right construction that will not happen! You can make a TTC with any size/shape tiers you would like, but for beginners, round cakes are the easiest. No matter what shape you choose, the steps are all the same.

Take care when choosing your cake type and flavor. A sturdy cake is better suited for this design because anything light and airy will buckle under the weight of the upper tiers (and this cake can get heavy!). Try to use a dense cake, such as a pound cake, for the bottom tier. Nearly any cake can be turned into a pound cake with the addition of cream cheese. You can find instructions with a quick Google search. In addition, fillings should also be chosen carefully because there is an added risk of slippage. Filling that may slip (fresh fruit, jam, jelly, etc) may be used inbetween the bottom two layers of each tier, as long as you pipe a very stiff dam inbetween. Stick with buttercream, fudge, or another type of thick frosting inbetween carved layers.

Let's get started!

You will need:

1 Cake--3- 2" high layers per tier
2 Frosting--buttercream works well, but you can use whatever you would like (as long as it is not from a can). Make more than you think you will need!
3 Cake boards--cut to fit the size of your tiers
4 Sturdy cake base (I used a piece of plywood covered in tissue paper and food-safe plastic.
5 Decorating bags
6 Icing tips
7 Cake leveler
8 Turntable
9 Spatulas
10 Long serrated knife

Bake and cool your cake layers, then level each one to approximately the same height. Fill and stack the three layers, remember to only use a slippery filling between the bottom two layers with an appropriate dam. Once all your tiers are filled and stacked, it is time to carve! It is easier to do this if the cake is slightly frozen, so you may choose to slip the cake into the freezer for about an hour before you begin carving. Once your cake is frozen (or if you decide not to freeze) you are ready to begin! You will want to use a long serrated knife. Begin by cutting on a diagonal from one side to the opposite side. This should make a slope all the way across your cake. Be careful when carving, only cut a little at a time so you don't end up taking too much off. Take the piece you cut off and adhere it to the higher side of the cake with icing. This will make the slope more dramatic.

You will want to keep "carving and gluing" until the slope of the tier is smooth. Once you have done this to each tier it is time to crumb coat! Spread a very thin layer of icing on your tiers; this helps lock in all those pesky crumbs! Let each tier settle for about 20 to 25 minutes to give the icing time to "crust".

Once your tiers have crusted, it is time to start carving again! You are going to be making a well in the middle of each tier that will be the size of the tier going on top of it (You will not make a well in the top tier; it will stay slanted). The well will be flush with the top of the cake and will cut into the higher side like a cave. Again, you will want to use a long serrated knife. Begin by marking the size of the tier (you can even make the well slightly bigger) that will go on top. Next, beginning on the higher side cut straight down into the cake, parallel with the high side. Don't cut too far down. Cut all the way around the perimeter of the outline until you get to the flat side of the cake. Lay your knife parallel to this side and cut inward with a gentle sawing motion until you loosen the outline you have made. (I know this sounds confusing, but once you begin, you will understand what to do). Remove the cake you have cut out and continue to carve and shape until you have a well that looks like it is cutting into the higher slope of the cake. Do this to all tiers EXCEPT your top tier.
Once you are done with all tiers, you can crumb coat again, making sure you cover the inside of the well. Once the crumb coat has crusted, you can begin final icing your cake. If you are going to cover the cake in fondant, only apply a thin layer of icing, making sure it is smooth. Then you can cover it in fondant. If you are using icing, apply a generous layer of icing all over the cake, except inside the wells (you don't want to change the size of the wells. Also use this time to insert your dowels. Cut dowels (wooden or plastic) so that they stick just slightly out of the icing. Place these in your well just inside the perimeter and in the center. These will support the upper layers. Do this for all tiers except the top.

Once the tiers are iced and doweled you can decorate your cake. Do not stack until you have reached the party venue, otherwise you will have a big cakey mess in your car. If you are delivering the cake to another venue make sure you bring a "rescue kit" with you--icing in decorating bags for finishing the decorating and stacking (or should you need to fix a boo-boo), small spatulas, any last-minute decorations (bows, monograms, etc), and anything else that might help you finish the cake. Once you are ready to start stacking, start with your bottom tier facing the direction that you would like it to end up in (this cake will be so heavy at the end that you won't want to move it!) Stack each tier so that the slanted sides are facing each other. It should look like each tier is sliding off the other. Once you have stacked each tier, add your borders along the base perimeter of each tier to blend them together. Add any final decorations, and voila! You have completed your first TTC! Not so scary, right?? As you get more comfortable it will be easier and easier and not such a long process. Good luck!

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