Welcome back! Today we are going to go inside your luxury wedding cake to explore what makes it stay standing, and keeps it structurally sound.
Something you may have noticed when cutting your luxury wedding cake (or any tired cake) is the presence of dowels.
Dowels are usually some form of plastic or wood, and are inserted into each tier of cake to support the one above. I prefer to use a recyclable plastic straw, that is hollow. This is because the solid ones can cause issues with displacing the cake, causing cracks on the outside.
Why have dowels?
The main function of dowels is to provide stability and support. Even though sponge cakes aren’t really that heavy compared to fruit cakes, they are quite delicate. A sponge cake won’t take the weight of another cake for very long.
If you have ever watched Bake Off when they haven’t used dowels, you’ll have seen the collapsing results! And their tired cakes are only out for a short time. Many times my husband has laughed at me for shouting ‘DOWELS PEOPLE!!!!!’ at the tv.
I have occasionally been asked why the dowels have to be there, as they get in the way when the cake is being cut up. Well yes they might, but if you didn’t have them, then you wouldn’t have a three or four tier wedding cake for very long!
Do dowels cut down the amount of usable cake?
I do take this into account when working out how big your wedding cake will need to be for the numbers it’s got to serve. In reality you’ll only be losing about six or seven servings in a three-tier wedding cake because of the dowels. And as we recommend ordering the cake for 10% less than the full number of guests, then it won’t make any difference.
You will also notice that there will be a cake board of some kind between each tier of your wedding cake. Again I have been asked why they are needed when the tiers sit on top of one another.
But the board it there for two reasons.
Firstly if there wasn’t a board, then the dowels would just push up into the tier above and wouldn’t give enough support. By having the board, you are giving something solid to rest on the dowels. Secondly the cake will need to be handled, and having a board means it can be lifted and carried safely, without fear of damaging the cake.
Types of dowels
I mentioned above about the types of dowel I use. But there are different kinds, and each cake maker will have their preferences.
I prefer a thick, hollow plastic straw type. Sometimes called pollydowels. And a wider straw that the pollydowel sits inside. I see this as a ‘belt and braces’ method.
Now I am aware that plastic isn’t the most popular thing, and I try hard to limit the amount I use. The cellophane I use to wrap some cakes for transport is 100% compostable for example.
I am always on the lookout for a better option for dowels. But, for now, the only other option is solid wooden or solid plastic dowels. And these come with their own issues.
The main problem with a solid dowel is that it displaces the cake as you push it in. Where the hollow straw type doesn’t, the cake simply fills the void and creates extra stability. The other problem with the solid wooden ones is cutting them to the correct height. A dowel needs to be cut to a whisker above the top of the cake it is going into, and this is a lot harder to do with wooden ones. They have to be sawed or cut with heavy duty cutters, running the risk of sawdust and splinters. Not ideal I think you’d agree! And the solid plastic ones are not much better.
But what about the thick paper straws I hear you ask?
Sadly they are not an option as cake dowels at the moment. Although they may work for cake pop sticks.
This is because paper absorbs moisture. So paper straws will start to absorb the moisture in the cakes and the fillings. Eventually becoming soft and they then start losing their strength. This defeats the purpose of a dowel.
I very much hope there will be a paper alternative, eventually, that can be used without going soft. But, for now, I will carry on using the pollydowels. They can be pulled out of the cakes and recycled, which is something. And you can speak to your venue or caterer and ask them to do that for you. I am also always looking for a compostable/biodegradable plastic option. So of they do get thrown away they will at least do minimal harm.
If what the dowels in your wedding cake are made of is important to you, then do discuss it with your wedding cake maker. We will always be happy to go through all the available options with you.
To discuss dowels with me, or any other aspect of your luxury wedding cake, click HERE
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