Tiers without Tears: The Story of a Three-Timing Birthday Cake

Although I have less-recent photos for posts on other topics waiting to be written… I can’t resist writing about this month’s baking adventure – my first two-tiered masterpiece! The birthday trifecta of my lovely MIL, her brother, and one of my Bros in Law was a great reason to try out several caking techniques in fact. Thanks James for the awesome ‘finished product’ shots! 

[Note to those who might have seen this post published a day early but not been able to find it: sorry! I had forgotten to watermark some of the photos so I reverted it to draft. Thanks for coming back to read it again!]

I think I spent at least a week doing the prep for this cake – and that long literally losing sleep over it… What if the top tier is wonky? What if I can’t separate them again after the photoshoot? What if I drop one(!) or both(!!) tiers in transit? (The birthday celebrations were a car trip away from our house, and these photos were taken beforehand). What if the brocade falls off? And the most terrifying of all – what if I just can’t cover a cake with fondant to save myself?! 

I wouldn’t say that these worries were all for naught – it took me two goes to get the fondant to an acceptable state – but it pays to recognise that the caker is always going to be the most critical of the cake!

Other than two-tiering and covering a cake with fondant, the other techniques that were new to me were: creating and arranging life-like gum paste roses, using the petal buttercream technique on the bottom tier, and crumb-coating with a white chocolate ganache (top tier). Suffice to say I learnt alot! 


The upper tier was lemon poppy seed cake from this recipe from Lauren’s Latest, split between two 6 inch tins. Separating the cake layers was a layer of white chocolate ganache (I followed these instructions using a 3:1 ratio of white choc vs. cream, and found the spreadsheet referred to – The Ganacherator – to be really helpful!) overlaid by about 1/4 cup of lemon curd (I used a recipe similar to this one with egg yolks and cornflour in it, but the ‘authentic’ way is more like this recipe). Finally, the fondant covering was white icing from Bakels’ Pettinice range and the tulip motif was made from gum paste (which is basically white icing with a small amount of dyocell added to cause it to dry hard). Gum paste was also used to make the roses – but I think that would take a whole other post to describe…!

The bottom tier was Dana’s Chocolate Cake from Destitute Gourmet (which Sophie Gray of DG has posted her recipe here in cupcake form, but it’s the same recipe as the cake); I used one quantity of the recipe per tier for three tiers. In between the tiers is a layer of mango mousse with fresh mango pieces (use a half quantity of the recipe here under ‘B) Mango Mousse’)- a bit daring for me but I think it paid off! The regular buttercream used for the crumb coat (it looks green but is actually the same colouring as the outer, petal technique, made green because of the natural yellow of the butter in the buttercream) is a half quantity of this Basic Buttercream Icing, although I did omit a cup of icing sugar because it was sweet enough! And the petal effect was done with my favourite of icings – Swiss meringue buttercream (see post soon on how to make this for yourself, or this tried and tested one from Sweetpolita!). In order to get the ‘true blue’ colour, I replaced half of the butter with vegetable fat (Crisco) which whitened the icing so that it took up the colouring more faithfully.

Method of Assembly

I think words can be made better by photos, so below is ‘picture diary’ of the caking process if you’re interested. 

Adding the wet to dry ingredients for the lemon poppy seed cake
A bit fuzzy, this picture shows how one quantity of the lemon cake recipe makes two decent-sized 6 inch round cakes, with butter papers used to line the tins.
Perfect white choc ganache!
A dollop of white chocolate ganache to secure the cake to its board
White chocolate is the first layer, with lemon curd ready to go top, then the top layer.
The mustard bottle in the background contains a simple sugar syrup that is applied to the layer before toppings are put on, in order to keep the cake moist.
Applying the ganache undercoat for fondant
The finished ganache layer – I found it difficult to smooth before it dried; any suggestions?
Starting with the fondant in roughly the same (round) shape as the cake
I applied a watered-down coating of lemon curd to the ganache to make sure the icing stuck!
After rolling out the fondant icing to a thickness of approximately 5mm, use the rolling pin (like the one in the background though preferable tapered so it doesn’t dent the icing) to place the icing on top of the cake.
Secure the top of the sides to avoid cracking along the edge, and use a smoother to attach the whole way down the cake.
Once icing is attached trim away the ‘skirt’ at the base of the cake board.
Da-da! Not perfect, but a good (second) attempt!
Gum paste pressed into a tulip brocade stamp, left to dry
Edible glue was used to attach the brocade
Blending stewed fresh mangoes to make the mousse
Gelatine to set the mousse
Fresh mango to be cut into pieces and mixed with the mousse.
Fresh mango mousse and fresh mango – yum!
The chilled and set mousse is slathered over the mango pieces
Application of the crumb coat


SMBC ready to be blue-ed
Five shades of blue used for the petalling
The smart way to petal is to complete a vertical column at a time. My way was not the smart way, therefore the columns don’t exactly line up!
Finished petals
Dowels marked and ready to be cut to size for supporting the upper tier (note: secateurs were sterilised!).
Placement of dowels for supporting the top tier.
To finish the top of bottom tier, a combination of petal directions helped to hide the ‘seam’ between cakes – tricky as it needed to be disassembled after these photos, so I couldn’t ice right up to the top tier.

And the eaters were pleased 🙂


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