How to Taper Cake Tiers

How to Taper Cake Tiers

This tutorial demonstrates how to carve and frost tapered, angled or slanted cake tiers using the Upside-Down Method. This style of cake has a playful aesthetic. Here, 1” (25 mm) is carved off the diameter of the base of each tier in a 6” – 8” – 10” (15 – 20 – 25 cm) birthday cake.

How to Taper Cake Tiers

The Upside Down Method

The trick to this method is to work upside-down for better leverage when carving and frosting.  In the following example, the 8” diameter round tier is tapered down to a 7” diameter base.

Items Needed

Upside Down Carving

How to Taper Cake Tiers

Place the 8” cardboard under the 8” (20 cm) cylinder cake and the 7” (18 cm) cardboard on top of the cake in its center. Place the cold cake on a turntable.

How to Taper Cake Tiers Using a serrated knife, carve and taper the cake out from top to bottom; using the cardboard edges as guides. While carving, press on the 7” (18 cm) cardboard firmly with one hand so that it remains in place.

Upside Down Frosting

How to Taper Cake Tiers
1. Transfer the upside-down cake to a clean and flat work surface such as a pizza pan. Do not remove the cardboard from the now top of the cake.

2. Using an offset spatula, apply a rough crumb coat of buttercream frosting to the side of the cake only. Set the cake in the refrigerator until the buttercream is hard.

3. Apply a second and final coat of buttercream to the sides of the cake using a bench scraper blade to frost. Level the top surface since the cake will ultimately be flipped over.

4. Return the cake to the refrigerator until the buttercream is cold.

5. Run an offset spatula under the cake to loosen it from the pizza pan then flip the cake right-side-up. Remove the 8” (20 cm) cardboard from the now top of the cake.

6. Quickly frost the top of the cake. The chilled buttercream sides should hold a strong edge, making the corner easier to achieve.

How to Taper Cake Tiers

TIP: When adding dowels/infrastructure to the tapered tiers of a stacked cake, remember to take into account the narrower width at their base.

How to Taper Cake Tiers

Information on how to create the modeling chocolate bangles and zebra print swag elements of this cake design featured at the beginning of this tutorial are in the book, Cake Decorating with Modeling Chocolate.

How to Taper Cake Tiers

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How to Taper Cake Tiers — 28 Comments

  1. Hi There… Great website and tutorials by the way!
    I need advice pleasssse.
    Ok so im actually doing a tall beach bucket cake (obviously needs to be tapered-this tutorial helps me alot already) but im wondering about the support structure… The cake is going to be 24cm total (10 inches maybe a little more) in height… I was thinking of adding a board in the middle of the cake (each section being 12cm (5inches) in height -3 layers of cake?) and then adding dowels in the bottom section as support ? Do i need to add a centre dowel down through the top and bottom tier? Im just wondering about how the hek do i carve it? Do i do it before or after stacking it? Any advise?? The largest cake size (top) is 11inches and the smallest cake size is 9inches…. is that enough of a taper to get the beach bucket effect?

  2. Hi,
    Your cakes look fantastic. I was just wondering would it be a problem if I was to taper square cakes them ice them with fondant? I have awedding cake to do next week and I am worried with it being square I am going to have an issue icing them with roll out icing as they taper down?

    • It’s more risky for sure but if the fondant drapes over the tier (as opposed to wrapping around it) then it will at least have something to hang on. Don’t roll it too thick as that can contribute to drooping. The crumb coat underneath should be very thin, so that you can easily see the cake through it. In this case, the buttercream (or ganache) acts only as the glue between fondant and cake because you want the fondant clinging to the sturdy cake, not to a thick layer of slippery frosting.

      A tapered square tier is perhaps one of the hardest shapes to cover in fondant so be patient and forgiving with yourself in the process.

      • Fab thanks for your reply . On the corner of each cake does the icing fold over with it being tapered or does it sit ok? Sorry for all the questions

        • If you are comfortable folding it over like a present, that would make the job a bit easier. You can also squeeze and nudge the fondant around to coax it to conform to the cake’s shape. In that case, it helps to be very comfortable with covering square cakes in fondant. The reason being that square cakes are more challenging and the tapered element adds to the level of difficulty.

  3. I was just wondering if this is possible for cakes that have dams in them to keep the filling in?! I have an order where they want a bavarian filling. I am going to be putting a dam in mine but, I’m wondering do I carve my dry cake upside down then flip it right side up and disassemble it, put the dams and filling it, reassemble and then buttercream and wrap with fondant? Do you think that would work for this style of cake? Wonderful tutorial btw! I will def be using it for my other cakes that don’t have any fillings!

    • Jessie,

      I fill the whole cake before carving. Then once it’s frozen, I whittle it down. Perhaps that’s more wasteful of the filling but I find that it’s a more reliable method. Building a tapered layer cake free-form is invariably awkward and unstable. The better approach is to build the cake fully first, whittle down to the desired shape, then feed hubby the scraps.

      For a cake that is meant to be carved, it’s better to use sturdy fillings that don’t require a dam. If a filling requires a dam, it is not the most suitable for this shape cake.

      If you do use my freeze/thaw layer cake method, beware that Bavarian filling cannot be frozen. Once frozen, it turns to mush. It is one of the only fillings that does not work with that method.

  4. Hi
    I love how you’ve done this and i’m going to use it on my next cake.
    I have a questions, what about doing a fruit cake?? how would you taper this?

  5. That looks wonderful. I actually ordered your book, but haven’t received it yet. So glad I did! I live in Arizona and it’s very hot in the summer, my issues with Buttercream is that it starts melting five minutes after it’s loaded in the car. is there a way to keep from melting so quickly?

    • Yes! First, make sure that your cakes are well-refrigerated before delivery, so that they are cool to the core. If you have a car whose backseats go down, fold them down and then start the car and run the AC. Run it until the car has cooled down. Then just as you are ready to leave, put the cakes in the trunk with some grippy traction pads underneath (I cut these contact grip liners to prevent the cakes from sliding around). Then immediately drive with the AC on high. I find that the trunk works better for transporting cakes because no sun can get in there, and the sun is the real killer. However this only works if you are able to circulate cool air through your trunk.

      Another thing you can do on a super hot day is to pack smallest, most delicate tiers in coolers. Here is the system that I have devised for packing a cake cooler. This shows a cross-section of the set-up. Using this method, the cake parts remain stable and cool, even on extremely hot days or steep delivery drives. The finger holes make it easier to lift the cardboard platter out of the cooler and if the cake is small, you can usually even lift it out using the dowel.
      Cake Cooler

  6. In a warm place would your buttercream melt and start to slip or get all gooey? Do you have to ensure that the place you’re delivering the cake to is also kept very cool?

    • Of course I always hope that the place I am delivering to is cool, but I have not always been so lucky. On a super hot day, I wait until the last minute to deliver the cake. And I make sure that if it’s outside, it goes in the shade. Buttercream can get soft but I’ve never had any major disasters with it. Why, have you?

  7. Fantastic tutorial. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Did you fill this cake using the recent tutorial? The sides look so perfectly even. Also, what is your buttercream recipe? I usually add hi-ratio shortening to mine. Still looking forward to your book!

    • Nancy, you’re welcome! Yes, I do fill this type of cake using my cake filling tutorial. I use sturdy enough fillings that they can be carved through without compromising the structural integrity of the cake. As for my buttercream recipe, I use American style buttercream using all butter, no shortening (I’m not a big fan of shortening). The recipe and instructions are in my book.

  8. Thank you for sharing! I have a question the are cakes 8×2 or 8×3 and how many per cake? Also how many people well it feed taper 6-8-10?
    Thank you

  9. Love this tutorial!! If I wanted to cover with fondant, would I use the upside down method to cover and after I flip, add a circle of fondant to top and smooth?

    • Follow the upside down method to get the frosting on then cover the cake (upright) in fondant. Make sure the cake is well chilled before covering it in fondant. It is a little harder to cover topsy turvy cakes with fondant but is still totally doable.

  10. my godness!!!!how can you smooth so perfectly a cake!!! i can t believe it!!
    it looks like fondant!!
    lucky you are for not being my neighboor,i would knock at your door to beg you for helping me achieving such a perfection!!!ha,ha!!
    anyway,discovering your blog bring me new challenges ,i m novice in cake decorating,and i have soooo much to learn,so a big thank you for sharing your technique.
    happy baking