Sunday, 22 January 2012

My First Ever Topsy Turvy Cake

I metioned in my last post that I made a Topsy Turvy Cake for my fiance's birthday (though he wasn't my fiance yet back then, maybe my cake skills inspired him to propose!). It was a pretty big challenge as it was the first Topsy Turvy Cake I'd ever made - in fact it was a lot of firsts: first time decorating with fondant, first time making marshmallow fondant, first time making a multi tiered cake. Yep I was feeling pretty ambitious! Luckily I had a friend who helped me make it which made it a little less daunting. Anyway I thought I would share the experience :)

This is the cake. I have to say that it turned out much better than I ever expected! Though I have to admit I half expected it all to be a disaster and thought I would have to race to the Cheesecake Shop at the last minute to get a back-up cake…

So here goes, the description of the loooong process to get it looking like that!


We had a few weeks to plan and prepare for the making of this cake so that definitely gave us more than enough time to plan it pretty well and buy all the things we needed. Being an engineer I also drew up some fairly nerdy diagrams of how the cake would all go together… but we won’t go there! We also found a very useful tutorial online which described in detail how to make one of these cakes.

The main things to decide were the design of the cake (we found one we liked through a Google search), how large we wanted it to be and what flavour cakes we wanted.

Also we had to work out all the cake tools we needed, which ended up being:

6", 8" and 10" cake tin

6", 8" and 14" cake boards

10 wooden cake dowels (to hold up the layers)

Blue and brown food colouring

Icing spatula and fondant smoother

Round cookie cutters

Plus of course all the cake ingredients and several bags of marshmallows and icing sugar for the fondant.


We decided on three different flavoured layers – chocolate on the bottom, then vanilla in the middle, and caramel on the top. The recipe for the chocolate cake is an awesome one I got from my mum (it will go on this blog eventually), but the other two recipes were found on the internet.

The layers of a Topsy Turvy Cake should be quite tall so we had to make two of each size of cake. Because we only had one oven and three cake tins it took us a LONG time to bake all the layers.

Important Lesson #1: ALWAYS line the base of the cake tin with baking paper! Otherwise it can be really difficult (sometimes not possible at all) to get the cake out!

So once all six cakes were baked, we cut the tops off all of them so that they were flat, and then cut a diagonal top into one of each sized cakes (for the uneven effect). You could use one of those wire cake cutters to do this, but we just used a large sharp knife and it worked fine. You will notice that on the chocolate layer I added an extra bit of cake to make it a steeper diagonal; this was because the chocolate cake was so large and not quite as tall as it should have been, it made it quite difficult to cut it at a good diagonal angle. One other thing I will mention here is that a mud-cake sort of cake turned out to be better than a sponge sort of cake because it was a lot easier to cut into.

Here are all the tiers, all cut up and ready to go:

Speaking of cutting, this was when we cut into the layers to create the Topsy Turvy effect. Because as I found out, it is only an effect – the cakes aren’t on an angle at all, it just looks like that because of their diagonal tops! For this to work you have to grab the middle sized cake board and place it on top of the bottom layer, right in the middle where you want the middle layer to sit. You then use a knife to cut around the edge of this board, into the bottom layer of the cake. Only cut a little, maybe one or two centimetres (I guess this also depends on how tall your layers are). Once that’s done, take away the board and use the knife to cut into the cake so that there is a ‘hole’ in the centre with a flat bottom, the size of the middle layer.

Then repeat the same cutting process on the middle layer, using the smallest cake board. The top layer doesn’t need a hole cut into it, because it’s on the top (seems obvious).

The next thing was to stick all the bits together and this where Buttercream Icing comes in.


Buttercream icing is made of butter and icing sugar. The recipe we used was:

250g unsalted butter

3 cups of icing sugar (round about)

To stick the cakes together you simply spread a thin layer of the icing on the bottom layer and place the top layer on top (do the same for any other extra bits of cake you want to stick on).

Buttercream icing is also used to ‘crumb coat’ the cakes. When I first came across this term I had no idea what it meant (coat the cake with crumbs? was my best guess!). So anyway I looked it up and found out that all it means is putting a thin layer of icing on the cake before you put your main layer of icing (or fondant) on – it stops crumbs (aha! hence CRUMB coating!) from getting into your main icing, for a much smoother look.

So once we stuck all the bits of the three cake layers together we crumb coated them with the buttercream icing and put them in the fridge for a bit, while we made the fondant. We also put them on the respective cake boards at this stage (top layer on the 6" board and middle on the 8" board so that you wouldn't be able to see the boards when fully decorated).


This is actually quite easy to make, though it does get a little bit messy and sticky. All you have to do is put a bag of marshmallows (we used white ones so that we could colour the fondant later) into a microwave-safe bowl with 1-2 tablespoons of water and microwave for about 30-40 seconds (depending on your microwave I guess, I would start at 20 seconds and see what happens, then put it in again). You’ll know it’s done when you mix the marshmallows with a spoon and they form a smooth thick liquid. Then start sifting in the icing sugar – you will need a LOT. Keep mixing as you add the icing sugar, and when you can’t mix it anymore because the mixture is so thick, take it all out, roll into a ball and start kneading. You may find that you need to add just a little more icing sugar to give it a more dough-like consistency. We found that the mixture was quite sticky (as you would expect it to be!) and it helped spraying our hands with oil (from one of those spray bottles) as we kneaded it. When you’ve kneaded it into a smooth ball you’re all done.

Let me add here that you can get ready made fondant from cake decorating stores if you want to avoid the extra work of actually making it! I’m pretty sure I will be doing that next time, although it was good to learn how to make it myself.


We used the paste type of food colouring (as opposed to the liquid ones you can get from most supermarkets) and found that it worked perfectly – no mess and very quick. You just add the coloured paste a little bit at a time and just knead it through the fondant until the colour looks smooth. We found that with the blue colour we only needed a tiny bit to reach our desired blue whereas with the brown we used the whole bottle and we still didn’t think it was dark enough. Anyway the point there is to definitely make sure you only add a little bit of the food colouring at a time, because it’s really easy to keep making the colour a little darker, but once you’ve gone too dark it’s pretty difficult to go back.


The next stage was to roll the fondant out so that we could put it over the layers of cake. Again it kept sticking to the bench top so we ended up rolling it out onto some baking paper (from memory we also may have sprayed the baking paper with a bit of oil). The baking paper was also a handy tool in lifting the fondant over the cake without ripping it. We also sprayed some oil onto the rolling pin to stop it sticking.

The thinner you can roll out the fondant the better (because it’s VERY sweet!) but you don’t want it so thin that it rips apart really easily so you just have to find a happy medium. Once it’s rolled out lift it off the bench top at one end (again it helps if you can lift it by the baking paper underneath) and put it over the cake. Once it’s on the cake you can smooth it into shape and then cut around the base. The fondant smoother was surprisingly handy here (not sure why it was that surprising, it is called a fondant SMOOTHER for a reason, but anyway...). Make sure your cake is right next to the rolled out fondant to make this all easier. Do this for all three layers and voila, you have your three layers ready to be put together (though it might be good to refrigerate them just for a little while at this point).

Here they all are in the fridge, all cut, crumb coated and covered with fondant and ready for assembling:

I will also mention here that a couple of weekends before we made this cake we had a practice run with the fondant – we made a much smaller one-layer cake and we covered it with fondant. This really helped as we (kind of) knew what we were doing when it came to icing the Topsy Turvy cake.


This was the (relatively) easy bit! Remember those wooden dowels I mentioned right at the start, well this is where they came in. They are used to support all the layers on top of each other, so the cakes don’t sink into each other. They don’t have to be wooden by the way, but the cake store I went to only had wooden ones. Anyway first we had to cut them to the right size – they should be the same height or a tiny bit higher than the cake they’re going into. To ensure they’re the right size, just insert them into the cake (in the sport they’re going to be in to support the next layer) and make a mark about 5mm above the cake. Take them out of the cake, and cut where the mark is.

Important Lesson #2: If the cake dowels are not higher than the cake they're in, the cake board sitting on them might stick to the fondant, making it extremely difficult to separate the layers later on! (It will also ruin the cake board...)

Anyway once the supports have been cut to the right height for both the bottom and middle layer, insert them into these layers again and place first the middle layer onto the bottom layer, and finally the top layer on the middle layer – with the diagonals orientated in alternating directions.

Like this :)

The cake is now ready for decorating! (If this is your first time by the way, this could be about 8 hours after you started this whole process… it was for us!)


We made all the decorations from the marshmallow fondant – we made sure we made extra fondant in each colour for this purpose. We rolled out the fondant again and cut out the circles and stripes, and then rolled the remaining white fondant into thousands (well maybe not that many but it sure felt like it) of little balls to decorate the edges.

The next problem we came across was when sticking the fondant shapes onto the cake. As we didn’t have any idea of how to do it, I suggested using water, and that’s what we went with.

Important Lesson #3: Water is not the best thing to use when sticking fondant decorations on.

We brushed a little bit of water onto the back of all the shapes and stuck them on. While it worked okay for the circles and the vertical stripes we went through a lot of grief trying to stick on the horizontal stripe on the middle layer. The water made it quite slippery so it kept moving, and it also made the colour run so as you can see on the photo of the final product, there are some brown marks on the white layer.

I have since then learned about a product called Sugar Flower Glue. I haven’t used it myself yet but according to the lady who recommended it (who makes amazing cakes by the way) it is the best thing for sticking fondant shapes onto fondant icing. Apparently it’s sold at most cake decorating stores. Will definitely have to check it out next time!


And the back...

And ready to be eaten!

My boyfriend was certainly impressed with his birthday cake! I’ll definitely be making another one sometime soon and hopefully with all the things I learned while making the first one it will turn out even better!

Oh and here is the address for that useful tutorial I mentioned earlier:


  1. [...] It was never going to be as cool as the cake I made for him last year (which was my first ever Topsy Turvy Cake!) because I didn’t have anywhere near as much time but I still think it turned out pretty [...]

  2. Hi!
    What a fantastic first try! The cake looks brilliant, and I love the colours & design! I tried my first topsy turvy cake not long ago, but I only attempted 2 tiers, because the whole process was too daunting to consider 3. Well done! Cant wait to see the next one! :)
    Miss Cat

  3. Thank you so much! I had a look at your cakes and they are gorgeous, especially your topsy turvy cake, I love the colours! I look forward to seeing more of your lovely cakes too :)

  4. [...] main difference between this cake and my first ever Topsy Turvy Cake was the way I stacked the layers. Last time I had cut into the bottom two layers, so that the [...]

  5. [...] birthday cake the best one yet (see the previous birthday cakes I’ve made for him here and here). He’s a big fan of the Aston Martin DB9 car so I decided that’s what I would make. It [...]