Tiered for Celebrations

Inspired by the spire of a church and triggered by a baker’s urgent need to express love, tiered cakes have gained currency over the years as they add extravaganza to an occasion


Late in September this year, a bakery in the US faced the wrath of the country’s food regulator for including ‘love’ as an ingredient in the label of its products. Love, according to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), is not an ingredient and, therefore, should not be included in the label. Yes, they were serious! The argument goes that adding extra information in the label has the potential to distract consumers from the actual ingredients listed and deter their ability to realise what they are actually eating.

“Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient ‘Love’. Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name,” the FDA said in its “warning letter” to Nashoba Brook Bakery in Concord, Massachusetts.

“’Love’ is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient,” it added.

While, using ‘love’ into a food ingredient appears to be too far-fetched an idea, cakes, if not most bakery items, are many a time synonymous with celebration, festivities, and camaraderie. For, hardly anyone cuts a cake to mark a sad event. But cutting a cake is a ritual in birthday celebrations, weddings, marriage anniversaries, or in every occasion you want to remember fondly.

In fact, it is believed that it was love that triggered the imagination of the tiered cake by a baker in Britain, in the late 18th century.

“The story goes that William Rich set up as an apprentice in Ludgate hill and fell in love with his boss’s daughter. When he asked her to marry him he wanted to impress her with a large, beautiful cake and his inspiration came from the spire of St Bride’s church. However, there are no surviving records of this cake,” Catherine Gee of The Telegraph wrote.

The popularity of the tiered cake shot after the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. They became less common during the wars that followed in the next century, but after the Second World War ended and when economies of most countries returned to normal, the tiered cake came into vogue once again. And ever since, it has not seen much of a slide in popularity.

“Every individual wishes to feel special and treated in an exclusive way on her/his special day. Thus, to communicate this special feeling, cakes are designed in a tiered fashion to add extravaganza to the event,” said Pastry Chef, Paul Besra of JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru.

“The cakes were given an additional dimension to boost their aesthetic appearance and add value to the celebrations like marriage anniversaries, birthdays, etc.,” Chef Paul added.

In India, the tiered cake began catching the imagination of the well-to-do class after the increased integration of the global economies and also of cultures from the 1990s. The penetration of Hollywood movies and other foreign language films into India’s cinema landscape also contributed to the growing popularity of the tiered cakes. Cutting a tiered cake has now become a common sight even in Indian weddings and the ritual is becoming increasingly common to mark other big celebrations. And with significant numbers among the Indian population (though their percentage in the total Indian population is much less) experiencing prosperity with the growth of the economy driven by the service sector, it can only be expected that the celebrations with tiered cakes would only grow bigger.

Chef Paul agreed with this evaluation when he said, “Demand for these types of cakes are really high and in the coming years, celebrations of special occasions will be incomplete without such tiered cakes.”


Challenges in Making

While the sheer size and the layers facilitate Chefs to introduce mixed flavours in one cake, they do not face any particular challenge in creating a tiered cake. At least, Paul thinks so.

“There is no challenge in their making as such. It is just the transportation of such large cakes which is bit of a concern,” Chef Paul said.

However, for the uninitiated, preventing the top layers from crumbling down could itself be a challenge. Amanda Rettke, the creator of the ‘I Am Baker’ website, and the author of the book ‘Surprise Inside Cakes: Amazing Cakes for Every Occasion – With a Little Something Extra Inside’ suggests that working with a chilled or a partially frozen cake could help in the assembly of the layers. Sometimes, the layers may also appear lopsided. To align the layers perfectly, one can make use of crumb coating; a thin layer of frosting applied to a cake. Doing a crumb coat is a great opportunity to fill in any problem areas, according to Rettke.


What Makes a Great Tiered Cake

Answers to this question would obviously vary depending on taste preferences. However, a great deal of what makes a great tiered cake also depends a lot on the visual appeal. Apart from making perfectly aligned layers, one should also make sure that the layers are of equal heights.

When the frosting spills out a bit from the sides of the layers, the cake looks a lot more sumptuous. Another opportunity to make the cake look irresistible arises with the topping, the options for which are almost limitless.

But how about the taste? Experts feel that the key to making a great tiered cake is maintaining a fine balance between the cake and the fillings. All the flavours you want to introduce should also come ideally in equal proportions. One should also be careful not to indulge too much in the sweet quotient. 


Traditional Tiered Cakes

The combinations of fillings that one can choose while making a fluffy towering tiered cake are almost infinite. But some combinations have stood the test of the time. Some of these traditional tiered cakes are –

German Chocolate: Chocolate cake filled with coconut-pecan.

Black Forest: Chocolate cake with cherries, kirsch and whipped cream.

Brooklyn Blackout: Chocolate cake filled with chocolate custard and cake crumbs, and frosted with chocolate icing.

Red Velvet: Red-coloured cake layered with cream cheese icing or ermine (cooked butter cream).

Hummingbird: Banana-pineapple cake with cream cheese icing.

Princess Torte: Sponge cake with fruit preserves, pastry cream, and whipped cream blanketed in a layer of marzipan.

Lane Cake: Butter cake filled with a bourbon-raisin-coconut-pecan filling and layered with meringue icing.

Boston Cream Pie: Yellow butter cake filled with custard or cream and topped with chocolate glaze.                          n


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