Using straws in wedding cakes
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The only time I have ever seen drinking straws used in construction is a bakery from my youth used them to hold together two cupcakes to create a form that was then figure piped to look like a variety of characters: princesses, athletic mascots, etc.
Cutting dowels is a pain, even if you don’t have strength issues in your hands. When I taught cake classes in a continuing education program I had a number of older students who had issues with strength in their hands. Some of them couldn’t squeeze the pastry bag hard enough to execute every technique. When it came time to teach how to stack a cake, I discovered a tool that really helped them. It is a PVC pipe cutter. It makes short work of cake dowels with very little strength required. You can get them at most hardware or home improvement stores.
The support doesn;t have to be thick to be strong - that's why corrugated cardboard holds up.
If the straws are put straight in they should hold even a heavy weight cake. I used them in a 6 layer, 3 tiered wedding cake with a thick dark chocolate ganache filling and fondant over a white chocolate cream cheese buttercream. The cake was heavy fudgecake. It held up perfectly (in the 100 degree heat!). Maybe your cake is heavier, but from my understanding of engineering, the straws should certainly hold. (Remember that they are hollow until they enter the cake, and then they fill with cake ,which stabilizes them as well.
I'm intrigued, I'd love to kiss wooden dowels good bye.
I e-mailed my brother to ask his his professional opinion on support issues. He's got several engineering degrees and designs supports for buildings. I'm hoping he'll come back with straws are a good thing.
With out running some tests he said (using a variety of terms that I didn’t understand), in essence, that dowels are way better than straws, but it is likely that you will never need all of the support the dowels supply, it would depend on the cake. Even in cases where the support was needed, straws could be used exclusively but it would take more straws than dowels to offer the same support.
Typical engineer, he wouldn’t give me any kind of answer unless I supplied him with every possible variable in the problem. And then he said to really know he would have to run some tests, which was a none to subtle way of asking for cake.
He then waxed poetic for a half an hour about the differences between plastics, wood and steel and that made me very sorry I ever asked.
He said the question would make a great grad student project but also offered up: when in doubt, don’t risk it and use more support than you think you need. For him it’s a building that topples, for us it’s just a cake.
So I will now use straws in the upper tiers, but stick with wooden dowels on the bottom as my cakes are usually very heavy.
apparantly bubble tea straws are good but this is just what i have heard, i always use dowels
Using strawsHi everyone, thank you for all your feedback, I must confess I succumbed at the 10th hour and went with the dowels, the straws sounded so easy but I am just not that big of a risk taker when it comes too layering my cakes and most of the feedback came in after I had finished the cake. I am not abandoning the idea; I will try them, but it will be when I am able to keep an eye on it. As I mumbled under my breath about cutting the dowels, I discovered an easier way of getting my desired length. I inserted the center dowel for height, I then took my small marble cutting board and rolled the dowel while pressing an sharp exacto blade over my mark, within a couple rolls the dowel was ready too be snapped off. I then ran it over a piece of sandpaper to remove the small pieces of wood and to get a flat service. It was really simple, I had the bottom tier ready in minutes. Happy baking...:chef:
the original question:
"I am just not sure if it really works?"
if the cake does not collapse, it works.
if the cake collapses, it does not work.
in the usual and customary sizes employed, there is no question as to whether a wooden dowel will take more axial load before buckling than a hollow plastic straw. if you have any doubts, push down on a vertical straw until it buckles. then push down on a vertical dowel.
in the typical 4 - 6 inches lengths employed in cake making, I doubt you will be able to cause failure in the wooden dowel, at all.
if you would like the formula for calculating how much load each type of column can take before it buckles, I can provide those.
i wonder, though, if you';ve taken into account the fact that the dowels or straws are inserted into the cake, and don;t therefore fall sideways. Secondly, that the straws, when inserted into the cake, are not hollow, but full. True, they;re full of cake, which has a much lower mass than wood, but much more than a hollow straw. Wouldn't the cake all around the straw as well as inside it add considerably to its resistance to crumpling? And also there is the cake all around them, too. So it;s not like the columns of a building, but rather like the reinforcements inside cement. And only vertical ones, not horizontal. You would use an I- beam to hold up a building, rather than a solid block of steel, no? because of its shape, it would be strong
. I'm interested to hear from the engineer.
Anyway, to your very concrete (sorry) and practical criterion for determining if it works (whether it collapses or not), my own experience with a very heavy (12 inch dia at the bottom tier) 3 tier, 6 layer fudge cake with ganache filling and frosting and a complete covering of fondant, was that it worked.
indeed, as you noted - the cake surrounding the straw will add significantly to its load bearing capacity. as will various properties of the cake - angel food vs spice cake for example - when it gets a couple days old and stale, it'll be stronger yet . . .
the cake inside the straw will be of exceedingly small benefit - stick a straw in the cake, remove, push out the resulting "plug" of cake stand it vertically on on end, see how "strong" it is <g>
methinks the best answer comes from the cake people - common sense indicates a straw will work "to some limit"
"non-engineer" statements like "okay for the top tiers" although valuable as "the voice of experience" are technically inadequate because the type of cake, icing, decoration - essentially "how much weight" - is neither mentioned nor are such things "standard" - and no one has mentioned "how many straws" either....
one does not have to watch too much tv to encounter a pastry crew that under-estimated the structural integrity of their design . . . even using dowels and pvc pipe - oops, pvc pipe is really a big straw! <g>
large plastic dowels from wilton or wooden dowels from the depot are used for the bottom tiers.
Straws DO NOT get filled with cake when inserted into the cake, just a plug at the bottom.
Keep on baking!!!!
On anything over 3 tiers, I drive a 1/4" wooden dowel through the entire cake, for side-to-side support (shear? is that the correct word?). To decide how many straws to use, I simply add 4 to the size of the cake; so that a 6" cake gets 10 straws underneath for support, and a 12" gets 16.
All very non-scientific, but experience says that it works.
I generally use straws if I'm just dealing with 2 tiers and dowels if more than that. Straws are amazingly strong as long as the force exerted on them is straight down, as others have said.
The larger the tier, the more straws (or dowels) I use. Regardless, once the cake is completely set up, I dowel the whole thing all the way through from top to bottom and down through the cake drum to the table for added stability.
I have used the large milkshake straws to put in stacked cakes that could be wedding cakes however they were birthday cakes that wer 12 10 and 8 inches for a birthday I have used at least 8 in the bottome 12 layer 6 in the 10 and none in the top and then I use a dowel wooden rod to put down thro9ugh the center to hold all together no problems with slididng or otherwise so far give it a try much cheaper and each to snip those straws off bed bath and beyond has the big milkshake straws they are at least 3 times the size of the regular drinking straws Hope this works out for you