What's your best suggestion of what you can do to a box mix to make the cake sturdier for stacking tiers? I find the mixes are too spongy. Thanks!
My advice would be to find a box mix that's sturdy enough to begin with (such as a pound cake). Cake mixes are engineered to be VERY soft and moist, since that's what the consumer wants. The only "hacks" I can think of might make the cake tough.
I agree with PieceofLayerCake - I've seen people try to doctor up mixes and it just doesn't work. The other option is to layer with something *very* light, like whipped cream, and keeping the outside naked. It all depends on what your goal is.
One other suggestion I have is to trim the cake layers and freeze them slightly before decorating, if that's your concern. Then, chill the tiers fully before attempting to stack, which is recommended no matter what cake you have. If you properly stack a tiered cake (with sturdy doweling/etc.), the texture and consistency of the cake doesn't really matter.
Why use a box cake in the first place? Try one of Rose Levy Beranbaum's cakes designed for stacking. Delicious, too! Also, when professionals stack cakes, they insert dowels for added strength. You'd do well to read some guidelines for making/assembling wedding cakes before you start.
In this case the price of raw ingredients is a budgetary conflict.
A box of cake mix fits in a half sheet pan and will give you a nice thin layer that stacks pretty well. We usually cut one pan into 6 squares, which stack into a fairly accurate cube. I like jam or preserves as the filling. Frosting the outside is a bit tough with the cut edges, but a nice pour over ganache or glaze works well.
Genius idea - I never have enough round cake pans, and always feel like I'm fumbling when I have to slice cake rounds in half to make additional layers.
I was also going to mention the tip Chef June mentioned, of using dowels or very long cake pick to hold layers in place. They are a nuisance in 1) getting them (the dowels at a craft store or a home repair store are too thick, so you have to go to a cooking supply store) and 2) cutting slices if the dowels are still in there.
I guess how elaborate you want to get depends on how high your cake is!
If you're able and willing, the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook has an unorthodox way of making layer cakes by baking sheets (as Angela suggested) and cutting them out with various sized rings. She then uses the ring and acetate to build the tiers, freezes them, pops them out of the rings, peels off the acetate and voila a cake. I've gone a step further and used the frozen cake as a flawless surface to frost a finished product (instead of leaving it naked).
While it may sound crazy and it's possible you won't have the time, budget or inclination to accompany me on this crazy cake journey, I highly suggest you check it out for future endeavors. After the initial investment (truly just cake rings and a roll of acetate), cake decorating is incredibly streamlined. Check the book out from the library or look online, there is a wealth of resource. Here's a quick taste http://youtu.be/EHa3yNRCH5Y...
I am an old school cake decorator at heart, but I love people who successfully innovate the game and simultaneously make it accessable. Let us know how it goes!!!
I just watched the videos you suggested....great idea with the ring and acetate...thanks for sharing.
Thank you. Christina Tosi is an innovator that I've been following for some time. What she doesn't show is that one could easily take the cake that she considers finished and put a coat on the outside. Its sides are perfectly straight due to the acetate. Since the cake is frozen, it shouldn't even require a crumb coat.
Before I worked high-volume cake decorating, I used that method for cakes/cake tiers all the time. Its slightly more time-consuming, but far easier and far less involved.