Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to Transport a Wedding Cake

Sigrid and DJ's Wedding Cake
I made a wedding cake for a friend last weekend. I did my research, used a trusted recipe, and mapped out a baking schedule. However, there was one thing I had trouble preparing for: transport. Since I've never made a cake this big, I obviously didn't have the proper delivery equipment, so I knew I had to improvise. While there's quite a number of DIY cake transport articles on the internet, I still found myself stumped and stuck with a list of tips and tricks that were a bit difficult to imagine without detailed instructions. Add in the fact that we all want to DIY to save money just as much as we want to test our creativity, and I was left with options of expensive contraptions or inaccessible materials.

After all the time and effort we've put through to create an awesome cake, the last thing we need is the stress of worrying about getting it to the venue as perfect as we want it to be. For this reason, I've compiled the best DIY information I've found on transporting a cake, and added some from my own experience as well.

Naturally, you can pretty much use any cake recipe you want. Just remember that some recipes make more stable cakes than others. When making a stacked cake, denser cake recipes for your base tier work best as they support the upper tiers better. The same goes for custom-shaped and fondant-covered cakes since denser cakes carve better, and fondant can be pretty heavy. The point is, you don't want to worry about a soft, wobbly cake that could crumble the moment you accidentally hit a pothole during transport.

Just like the cake recipe, anything goes with icing. There still are, however, a few things to keep in mind. The filling and frosting of the cake can affect its shape during transport, so make sure you're familiar with the icing used. Soft filling and frosting can cause the layers of a cake to slide, and while dowels help avoid accidents like this, it's still best to plan your icing. Fondant holds its shape pretty well, unless you use a soft filling and a thin dam between layers which could make it soggy and leak. Buttercream also holds up satisfactorily in warm weather, as does Royal Icing, which hardens quickly to a smooth, matte finish. Whipped cream frosting on the other hand, tends to melt easily, especially when it's warm out.

Always refrigerate a cake with perishable filling and frosting hours before transport and crank up the air conditioning during the entire trip. Avoid putting the cake in a closed trunk during warm weather.

Save the finishing touches for the final cake assembly at the venue.

Structure and Design
You can probably skip this part if you've got your own cake stacking equipment. But if you're like me, then you're probably still dreaming about getting your own cake support system. Now while I'm saving up for my Cake Stackers, let me share a few techniques that I've found to be very useful.

"Glue" each cake to its cake board to hold the cake in place. Use can use edible glue, royal icing, or your cake's frosting, as long as it's the kind that dries stiff. You can get ready to use edible glue from your baking supply store, or you can easily DIY with egg whites, confectioner's sugar and cream of tartar. You can also use meringue powder if you're iffy about the egg whites.

Stacked cakes can be transported assembled or in separate boxes. For cakes with lots of tiers, it would be better to transport them half-assembled, around two to three tiers in each box, depending on height.  Stacked cakes must be supported by dowels on each tier. You can use thick, wide straws or wooden dowels. Each cake must also be stuck firmly to their own cake boards. Those with less tiers can be transported fully assembled, just make sure that you have enough dowels. One long dowel inserted through all the layers helps keep a stacked cake together and in one piece.

Multi-tiered cakes on pillars are always transported separately and assembled at the venue. You can set the plates of the pillars in place on top of each tier, but take out the pillars.

It's always best to assemble all removable decorations at the venue. Keep toppers, flowers, ornaments, and accessories like cake pillars in a separate box. Don't leave them in the box with your cake.

There are actually a couple of techniques to protect your cake during transport. Wilton described the three best ways - in pan, on foam, and in box - here. To be on the safe side, I personally like combining two or all three. I find the idea of an unboxed cake not only scary but unsanitary, even if you're transporting dummy cakes (you'll still have to keep the part of the dummy that touches the real cake clean). Unless of course they're all dummies and are made solely for display.

You can usually find cake boxes in different sizes at your local baking supply store, but with today's cakes getting bigger and with designs getting more complicated, sometimes the available cake boxes just won't do it for the creative DIY bride.

I needed a box high enough to cover the top two tiers of my cake and found a 16x16 utility box in the hardware department at the grocery. The boxes come unfolded, which was perfect, because I needed more coverage.

I folded the box to shape and assembled the bottom, securing it with lots of packing tape. Using an ordinary cutter, I sliced through two corners (see dotted line) to create a "door" that opened downwards. I found this the easiest way to slide the cake in and out of the box without any difficulty. Once the cake was inside, I simply taped parts of the "door" in place to keep it closed during the trip. I kept the top of the box unfolded to cover the entire height of my tall cake, and then taped some clear plastic wrap over the opening as cover and protection against dust, bugs and whatever else.

If you have enough time and patience, it's pretty easy to make a custom cake box for transport to fit your cake design. Hardware and office supply stores offer a wide selection of larger box sizes that you can easily customize. Just make sure you get a new, clean box to transport your cake in.

Board and Pan
Inside the box, make sure that the cake is placed on a board wider than the actual cake, and that the board is the same size as the box. This keeps the sides of the cake away from the box and ensures that the whole thing doesn't shift around during transport. A shallow pan works great to protect the icing and decorations as well. Again, just make sure that the board extends far enough from the cake and fits the pan just right to avoid shifting.

Double-sided Tape
Use a lot of double-sided tape to keep the board or pan (and your cake) firmly stuck to the box. This helps especially if you can't avoid using a smaller sized board or pan that doesn't reach the box's edges. Just make sure you bring something flat and relatively sharp (like a knife) to help scrape the tape off once you're ready to take it apart.

Non-slip Mats
Foam mats work best, but you can easily make use of yoga mats or even slip-proof baby mats. You can place them on the floor under the box during transport or inside the box under the cake board/pan if your board/pan is smaller than the box.

The stacked cake above was pretty tall. Although it only had three layers, it could pass for four or five, so I transported them in two separate boxes, with the two top tiers already assembled. I had no problem with the base tier, but the two upper tiers needed more attention.

While my DIY box covered the entire height of the two stacked tiers nicely, there was a lot of room inside to make the cake move about. I didn't want to use a bigger cake board to cover the 16" box base, and I didn't want to dirty the 12" cake board since it was going to be placed on top of the base tier (now boxed separately) at the venue. So to make up for the extra space, I lined a 14" cake pan with a clean foam place mat,  positioned the assembled cake in it, and then taped the pan like crazy to the bottom of the box. I could have used another non-slip mat under the pan but I went for the tape instead, and it worked perfectly. No slipping and no moving about. I know I should've included actual photos but we were such in a hurry I just totally forgot to take pictures.

I found that another way I could have done it was to fill the empty spaces with styrofoam to prevent the cake from moving around. This way I didn't have to tape the pan's bottom to the box. You may also use other materials available to you that would help keep the cake in place during transport. This method can also be used with a cake board of course. With a board, tape the foam firmly to the bottom of the box to cover the spaces and avoid shifting. You don't want the foam accidentally going over your cake board and ruining your cake.  Make sure it's level and that the board won't slide underneath the foam.

Time everything beforehand. Get yourself familiar with the venue area and allot at least three hours before the wedding for travel time and assembly. Bring someone to help you out not only at the venue but also to act as a "spotter" for the cake during transport.

The amount of space you'll need for transport will of course depend on the size of your cake. While you may also use the floor of your car, the trunk is actually the best place to put your cake. Don't risk placing your cake on a car seat, no matter how level you think it is.

While most sedans will have ample space, I would still recommend using a car with larger trunk space for transporting a cake. An SUV or minivan will do nicely, since it also makes it much easier for you to see how the cake's holding up without having to stop and get out of the car to check on it every time you feel you aren't driving careful enough.

Drive carefully. Avoid sudden jerks or brakes as well as steep roads or sharp turns. Better yet, have someone else drive for you, so you can check on the cake when needed. Because my cake had plastic covering on top, it was easy for me to just peek and inspect any damages from the back seat. Besides the cake, mind your other decorations too. Place the them in a spot where they won't easily fall and get crushed.

Besides the cake decorations, remember to bring your cake decorating tools with you in a tool caddy to keep everything organized. Don't forget to bring extra icing for final touches and touch-ups. Extra decorations for back up might come in handy too, just in case any of your decorations break or are damaged during transport. Bring extra napkins or towels to help with any cleanup.

Find a wheeled cart at the venue if you can. Loading the cakes onto a wheeled cart is the safest and easiest way to get them from the car into the reception hall.

Photo by John Stillwell, AP
Assemble the cake on the table specifically provided for it. As much as possible, avoid having to assemble it on a table other than where it's going to be during the reception. This minimizes any risks of damage from moving the final assembled cake from one table to another. Don't forget to decorate the table and cover up anything unsightly. 

Once you're done, you may want to take a photo of your final work for documentation. Before you leave, do not forget to approach the wedding coordinator or the event manager and turn over care and any instructions you might have on handling the cake. Settle any paperwork needed at the same time too.

I sure hope this helps lessen the stress of transporting a DIY wedding cake for you. If you have anything to add, I'd love to hear about it! Happy DIYing!


leideleon said...

I love your post about this wedding cake you made for a friend. The cake is just divine. Good luck on your wedding cake! Can't wait to see the pictures!

Anna said...

Thank you Lei! Will definitely post photos! :D

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I have read a ton of them online and this one 'takes the cake' as far as being most helpful. The illustrations made the whole thing make sense and seem much less daunting!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, your tips are fantastic, puts my mind at ease now. best of luck with your cakes!!

Makeup On Demand said...

You're making your own wedding cake? How exciting! I can't wait to see the pictures. Good luck on the whole thing!

Cisis said...

Best ever!!! Thank you so much!!

Kathy Kendall said...

Do you have any tips for making a white cake more dense or transportable without losing the taste??

Anna said...

Hi Kathy! Hmmm, that depends on your recipe. I usually just use a pound cake recipe for denser (and yummier) cakes. You may want to try adding a pudding mix or lessening the baking powder. Or you can substitute your whole eggs with just yolks instead (1:2). HTH!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! feel so much happier about transporting my first wedding cake next week. Taking it up to London that shall be interesting!

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