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A quick search around the web will bring up all sorts of opinions regarding the difference between a cake board and a cake drum. And just to complicate matters, you'll often find the term 'separator plates' thrown in for good measure – which is essentially a mix between the two!
What's less easy to find, however, is a one-stop guide that runs you through their similarities, differences, and actually shows you where your cakes stand in relation to these important utensils. Needless to say, the terms shouldn't be used interchangeably. So, here's what we mean...
Cake drums are the sturdy base that your cake will sit on top of. They're used for a variety of purposes, ranging from decorative to stability when transporting, and are bigger than the cake they sit on top of; unlike their cake board cousins, which are the same size as the cake they sit under. Ultimately, they're essential for every well-presented cake, and even more so if you're looking to make a multi-tiered cake.
Why invest? Primarily because of a cake drum's thickness. For example, near enough any fruit or substantial cake filling will be heavy. Consequently, it will be relying on at least 0.25" of thickness to support it. This will help with stability, but also elevates your creation to enhance its appearance. The same goes with any multi-tiered cake you've made, even if it's made from something spongy. You'll need that extra support, so try to be well-prepared with a range of different thicknesses.
As far as circumference is concerned, you should always be looking to give yourself at least 2" to play with once your finished cake has been placed on top. Whilst this is important for stability should you need to transport the cake (even if it's only into the other room!), it also has a host of decorative advantages as well.
Broadly speaking, you'll find two different cake drums: the disposable kind – made of cardboard – and the reusable kind – made from Masonite. Naturally, the Masonite varieties are going to be much stronger, and you'll find that they don't need to be as thick as cardboard to provide the same sort of stability.
Of course, you could just stack cardboard ones to get the required strength. The only issue with this is that you could very soon end up with an extremely cumbersome 'drum' that might not do your cake justice. That's before even taking into account the expense of piling multiple disposables on top of each other. Food for thought...
By and large, cake drums will come foiled or covered in contact paper – although this can be good for your presentation, often you will want to spruce them up a bit. For example, many cake-makers like to add a bit of zing to their base. This could be in the form of fondant features on the side, ribbons, icing sculptures or any number of little extras. If you're not too fussed about adding anything too fancy to the base, then you can buy patterned contact paper for a fairly reasonable price. This is an easy way to colour coordinate your cake.
Just a quick note, though: we would strongly recommend only buying clear contact paper or decorative sugar paper (edible decorating paper). You'll find some pretty lively looking contact papers that look like they'll do the job. Chances are, however, that they're made with non-edible inks and dyes that can be harmful if consumed. In short, you probably want to stay away.
Supposing they don't quite do it for you, there are plenty of edible colour markers out there to get creative with. Needless to say, there are countless options here. The bare minimum that we would suggest is investing in clear contact paper when you're using the foiled variety. You definitely don't want to cut into your cake and find that it's sticking to the foil (or worse: the other way around).
In terms of shapes and styles, you have plenty of choice. Whether it's a simple square, or a pleasant floral design, you certainly aren't short of choices. As with all drums, they will come with different degrees of foiling, and you can find disposable as well as reusable varieties.
Do bear in mind, however, that you are still looking for 2" of circumference to play with once your cake is on-board. As such, if you're looking into buying a less conventional shape (such as a petal), make sure it's big enough to provide the support your cake will require.
Occasionally you'll hear these referred to as 'rounds.' This can be misleading; they don't just come in circles (we'll get to this). Although
cake boards will sometimes be used to separate your cake from the cake drum, they are most frequently employed when stacking a tiered cake. Their primary function here being the even distribution of weight between the different tiers of cake.
One thing that cake boards share with their cake drum cousins is that different thicknesses will be required, dependent on the type of cake they are being used with. So, for example, whereas a self-sufficient gateaux or sponge will more than hold its own on top of 1mm, heavy fruit cakes are going to be wanting around 3mm for the same support.
Having the correct circumference is essential with cake boards. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to get right: they need to be the same size as the cake they are going to sit on top of. This is because, generally speaking, they serve no real decorative purpose. You will find, however, that some cake makers will buy (or design) decorated cake boards. This way, once the cake is cut into, an exposed board isn't revealed.
Most, however, will opt for simply icing the cake board, which is definitely our preference (in both a functional and edible respect). Effectively, you should be thinking 'substance over style' when deciding which board to buy.
Again, there are a few options floating about here. Primarily, though, you're going to be deciding between cardboard or foam. Whilst both will perform the job adequately, foam boards (or foam centred boards) are the preference amongst most bakers. This is because, as well as offering more stability, foam boards provide more of a defence against potential sinking, as well as offering a grease-resistant quality. This means that your icing is less likely to absorb into the board itself.
As with drums, they're more than capable of being used alongside contact papers, should you wish. Some bakers will even refrigerate/freeze their boards before putting them to use. Consequently, if you were to use the cardboard variety, you'd definitely want to cover with something grease-resistant before using them.
As mentioned above, boards are concealed and, primarily, ensure the stability of your cake. The most common form of decoration would be to simply ice them in accordance with their cake's colour theme; this way, you're hitting the function, decoration and consumption birds with a single stone.
Again, unlike drums, the style of your boards shouldn't be too much of a concern. As above, consider contact paper or an icing-based coating to cater for stability and consumption concerns. In terms of shape, you'll be able to find plenty of boards that will accommodate your cakes. They generally come in square, circle and rectangle, and there are plenty of sizes available to accommodate even the most monstrous of circumferences.
Again, remember that you're looking for boards that are the same size as the cakes they'll sit on. So in the case of multi-tiered cakes, for example, you're going to be needing as many boards as you have tiers, each decreasing in circumference as you work your way up the cake.
It's worth spending a couple moments defining where separator plates sit in relation to boards and drums. As mentioned above, they are essentially a combination of the two, and are used for creating a pillared cake (that is, a cake with exposed dowels).
So whilst they are primarily functional (like boards) they are both partially exposed, and larger than the cake which rests on them (like drums). As such, their presentation is a central concern when purchasing; particularly when they're employed for pillared wedding cakes (the most common form of pillared cake).
They can be covered and decorated in much the same way as drums, coming in a variety of sizes, and you can often find them in a 'crystal-look' style; reducing their noticeability. They also need to be large enough – and made of strong enough material – to support their respective cake.
In brief, they are:
Larger than the cake they support.
Used for tiered-construction (pillared cakes).
Must be made of sturdy enough materials to support their tier (in conjunction with dowels).
Are always at least partially visible.
Style is important.
Available in a range of sizes.
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