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Jan 29, 2010 12:18 PM

has anyone here made a topsy-turvy cake?

i've been considering trying to make a topsy-turvy cake.
how hard is it?
i'm a competent cook, but by no means an accomplished baker. i was planning on just using trader joe's vanilla cake mix to make it. but i'm worried about the construction/icing.
is this dumb for me to try?
and would I have to use fondant?

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  1. Are you looking for something like this?
    Here's a video:
    and another better video:
    and some more instruction:
    some photos of shaping the layers:
    Wilton has a special topsy- cake pan if you want to cheat,

    There's more if those links don't suit you, just google topsy-turvy cake.

    Yes, fondant is the deal for covering these cakes. I'd read up on fondant a bit first, it's not rocket science but there are some little tricks to know. A basic buttercream goes on first, then the fondant tops that.
    I think, if you do some research and get your equipment together, pans, dowels, coloring paste, icing, buttercream, cake board, piping tips and pastry bags, you can do this. The shape can be whatever you like, it doesn't necessarily have to be round. I really don't think it's all that difficult, just time-consuming and complex, but so are wedding cakes sometimes. Fondant can be bought pre-made. There's lots of info, instructions and other videos online. You probably should start with a relatively simple decorating scheme, if you've never done that before, i.e. use a pastry bag and pipe decorations. The process of putting the cake together is akin to sculpting.

    Go forth with confidence. Good luck and take photos for your grandchildren to see.

    6 Replies
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      Thanks for the response!
      I'd found some info, but mostly I'd wanted some feedback from someone who'd made one. most of what i saw was by people who, if they weren't professional bakers, could have been.
      i dunno... this might be more than i could handle.

      1. re: Bob Loblaw

        That's pretty serious cakery. While there's nothing seriously different about doing a topsy turvey cake, there's a lot to know to making any successful tiered cake. is my favorite source for all sorts of cake-related information. There are good tutorials, and many helpful threads and people on the forums. (I'm modthyrth there as well).

        Whatever you do, give yourself a lot of time. A LOT of time. Multiple days. Make sure you plan enough time to have the cake finished the day before the party. If you're doing gumpaste work, you can start weeks in advance.

        Yes, you can buy fondant. Wilton is the easiest to find, at craft stores, and tastes the worst. It's far less expensive, and I think the product is easier to work with and tastes far better, when you make your own. It's not hard, and that can be done far in advance, too. It can be frozen for months.

        Cake decorating is pretty easy, honestly. But it does take practice, and there are tips and tricks to learn before your cakes will start looking good. My first attempts--while I was SO proud of them at the time--were really hideous, in retrospect. ;-)

        1. re: modthyrth

          While I agree that Wilton is crap fondant, there are other choices. It is much cheaper to make your own with better taste, can be made way in advance and frozen, but making fondant does take time and the OP is going to have enough work on his/her hands just sculpting, icing and decorating the cake. Basic cake decorating and rolling fondant is not very difficult but for someone who hasn't decorated a cake before, it won't be a walk in the park. Even the basics are a skill that takes time to learn.
          There are sources for good tasting fondant online and you can buy it at Wal-mart in the baking/crafts section, although I don't know what brand they carry:
 carries Choco-pan, Satin Ice and another brands, big tubs, good prices.
          Here's a good formula for homemade fondant, fairly simple recipe with photos:

          Another fondant recipe, for comparison:

          Here's a thread discussing what other posters think about making vs purchasing pre-made fondant, with links to pre-made brands:

          Working with fondant tips:

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            OK. Scaling down expectations.
            It does sound like 'serious cakery' which is beyond my current capabilities. But I do want to start climbing that ladder.

            Let's say that I limit this to two sections. So, we're talking about a cake that's maybe 8-10 inches high, total. bottom level is 12" diameter, top is 10" (or 8, or 6, we've got the cake pans) and served to a girlfriend who'd be touched that I made a cake, period (we cook a lot, but it's usually not cake. i do most of the meals, she does most of the desserts). Decoration = one kind of frosting, and candles. And even the candles are optional (if the pitch is too steep).

            I'll have one day to make this, but I will have that whole day.

            Could I do this sans fondant? would it be structurally sound? Could I use pretzel rods as the columns? would i need columns with a cake that's only 8"-10"?

            1. re: Bob Loblaw

              1) Yes, just buttercream would be fine. remember, it was the base on the cake under the fondant.
              2) An 8-10 inch high cake is not much of a structural problem.
              3) I can't say about the pretzel rods, I think you don't need any structural reinforcement in that size cake and the pretzels may soften inside the cake, over time. Actually, a few chop sticks or plastic straws would be fine for that height, if you feel you need something to prevent sliding, which is the biggest problem with multiple layers. My first wedding cake was three double layers, a 12", an 9" and a 6", no reinforcement, and stayed together just fine.

              The pitch of the cake will be controlled by the slicing angle on the layer; it's kind of up to you. The sharper the angle, the more dramatic the cake. So maybe candles would be fine, and besides, lit candles on a cake, especially a birthday cake, are not usually lit for long.

              Without the fondant, you cut your work and your expense back considerably.

              Try a nice buttercream, you may have a favorite recipe and there were recipes in some of the links I gave you.

              I just saw an episode of FN Challenge on Saturday night, where the pastry chef constructed a topsy-turvy cake with the top section of the cake only; the base was regular stacked layers.

              Good luck, have fun.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                Thanks for all the help.
                I think I'm going to give this a try!
                2 layers, no fondant.
                And we've got plenty of chopsticks around, so I'll probably just use those.
                This could be fun!
                Now I just need to start making some icing.

    2. Here's a homemade TT cake:

      Also, marshmallow fondant is supposed to taste better than most other commercially-prepared fondants.
      Sample recipe:

      2 Replies
      1. re: stilton

        I loved the "mess" photo in that homemade cake link, always good to get an "after" photo for a laugh later on.

        Marshmallow makes a good fondant base, it's cooked sugar, gelatin, corn syrup, flavoring and confectioners' sugar, just like many fondant recipes.

        1. re: stilton

          "the bottom was baked in cake pans... and well... the middle was baked in a soup bowl... and the top was baked in a mug"
          that's awesome!

        2. Ok. I've now made one topsy-turvy cake.
          man did that take a long time...
          the bottom level - 12"? - i left flat. that was devil's food.
          then two levels of 8", teh first level, the second split and angled.
          then 1 1/2 layers of 5" (half of one of the levels sttayed in the pan), the top one split and angled.
          Even with the most of the cake being made with Trader Joe's mix, this was way beyond what I should have been doing!
          It looks kind of cute, in that people-who-know-you-will-appreciate-it way.
          But I had a hell of a time icing it. I used an icing recipe from Baking For All Occasions, and it was a little tough for the narrow parts of the cake. It kept tearing away small sections.
          Really, you should have some experience icing if you're going to try a cake like this. Fun, but man did that take a long time!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Bob Loblaw

            Actually, making carved cakes with box cake mix can be trickier because it tends to be flufflier. carved or sculpted/tiered cakes work best with a denser, more pound cake like texture. This makes it easier to frost. Also easier to frost with a crumb coat when the cakes are a bit cold. I have seen recipes online that use box cake mix as a base but mess with the instructions a bit to get a cake that is good for sculpting, but I haven't tried them.

            1. re: jsaimd

              That makes sense. It was a time-crunch thing for me. I didn't really have time to make the cake at all, but figured I'd at least have a shot at it if I wasn't making the cake itself. But I do kind of want to eat the bottom layer first now!

              1. re: Bob Loblaw

                I typically freeze all of my cake layers before icing them...they really seem to hold together better this way when you ice them, and a freezer is much kinder to the cake than the fridge if you need to hold them for a few days, since it won't dry them out. I bake the cakes, let them cool completely, and then wrap them in a layer of waxed paper and a layer of foil before putting them in a freezer safe plastic bag.