Clash of Clans Cake


For his 9th birthday, my nephew had very specific requirements – a Level 6 Clan Castle from Clash of Clans with an Archer Queen and Barbarian King as well as archers and barbarians. This is actually a fairly reasonable cake request, especially since Clan Castles are nice and square, and therefore quite conducive to being sculpted in cake. I, of course, decided to make it more difficult for myself by trying to make the archers and barbarians march in and out of the castle.


I think I actually built a pretty cool turntable mechanism out of 5-gallon buckets and rubber bands, but sadly once I got all the weight of the figures on it, it didn’t really turn. Oh well.

The characters, made of gum paste, are on a turnstile

I also had more problems than usual with getting the figures put together. Partially this was because I just didn’t have enough time so the gum paste wasn’t totally dry, but I also had problems with royal icing that just didn’t want to dry. I still don’t know exactly what the problem was. I think I must have mixed it wrong somehow because I’ve never had that problem before. I had so much trouble attaching the Barbarian King’s hand that I ultimately had to leave it off and add some red royal icing so it looked like his hand had been chopped off in battle.

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By the time we got the cake to the park for the party I was pretty frustrated, but I did eventually get all the figures standing up. I had to prop some of them up with bits of foam core concealed under green royal icing so that they wound up looking like they were knee-deep in unusually large tufts of grass.

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The kids loved it, though, which is the important thing. The best part was after the cake was served when a bunch of the kids dismembered and reassembled the figures like a bunch of miniature Doctor Frankensteins.

Archer Queen's head on Barbarian King's body

Enderman Cake

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For Sam’s 6th birthday, he asked for an Enderman cake (from Minecraft, of course). He specified that it should have a Minecraft backdrop and that it should be holding a cake saying “Happy Blockday Sam.”

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For some reason, I found it impossible to locate square candles, so I had to make my own by melting down round candles and pouring them into square molds.

The legs and arms are wood, the head, body, cake, and big grass blocks are cake. There are LEDs behind the eyes, which are covered with several layers of wafer paper and then a layer of purple gelatin sheet. Everything is covered with gum paste plaques. To get the crucial minecraft pixel texture, I cut stencils for every color and airbrushed them. The Enderman only took eighteen separate stencils; the cake took eight; the grass blocks took fifteen (five for the tops, ten for the sides).


The backdrop is foamcore covered with gum paste. In Minecraft, Endermen can teleport, so I tried to accomplish that by cutting out Endermen shapes in the foamcore before it was covered in gum paste and putting LEDs inside. That way, when the lights went on and off, Endermen appeared and disappeared. It worked pretty well, except that Endermen are supposed to be black and, of course, these Endermen had to be white, so they were sort of reversed ghostly Endermen. To paint the backdrop, I needed twenty-four additional stencils.


I was up all night decorating, so I was still awake when Sam woke up at 6:30 am and saw the finished cake for the first time. He was super excited and even more so when I showed him how to operate the teleporting Endermen.

The party was at Kidizens, a Lego play place, and we invited Sam’s entire kindergarten class, plus several other friends from his old preschool. The party was an absolute madhouse and a huge success.

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Darth Vader Cake


Icing Smiles is a great not-for-profit that arranges for volunteer cake decorators to provide special cakes for critically ill children and their siblings. This is the first cake that I’ve had the opportunity to make through them. I actually was pretty nervous about it, because this is the first cake I’ve ever made that wasn’t for family, friends, or a nationally televised competition.

I’m told Moises was really happy with it, so I’m happy, too.

Minecraft Halloween costumes

My nephews are very into Minecraft, so of course they wanted to go as Minecraft characters for Halloween. Nathan chose to go as a wither and Sam chose to go as a mutant enderman. I spent the better part of week staying up late to build their costumes out of foam core, duct tape, and LEDs. It was totally worth it.

Sam at his kindergarten Halloween party. He ran around showing everyone with great delight how he had four arms.

Sam at his kindergarten Halloween party. He ran around showing everyone with great delight how he had four arms.

Nathan ready to go trick-or-treating. He got tons on compliments on his costume and the lights made him very easy to spot.

Nathan ready to go trick-or-treating. He got tons on compliments on his costume and the lights made him very easy to spot.

In my totally unbiased opinion, Nathan, Sam, and our friend Isaac (who was dressed as My Hero Zero, lavishly adorned with EL wire) had the best costumes we saw all day.

Schoolhouse Rock cake

Leigh baked a delicious orange cake with fresh orange juice and zest

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My little friend Isaac loves numbers, so for his eighth birthday we decided he should have a cake based on My Hero Zero from Schoolhouse Rock.


It was a really small, casual party at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, so I wanted the cake to be both entirely edible and convenient to eat without utensils. Each number was an individual cylinder of cake. I made the tubes, as well as the numbers, out of gum paste, then filled them with alternating layers of orange cake, milk chocolate ganache, and ginger cookies. The ginger cookies were structural, since the gum paste couldn’t bear the weight of seven layers of cake cylinders plus the gum paste figure.

Gum paste Hero figure resembles birthday boy, Isaac

To make the figure on top of the cake entirely edible, I reinforced the gum paste with an armature of uncooked spaghetti. I send my brother-in-law to the store to get the spaghetti. He evidently read every box of spaghetti in the store to find the one with the longest cooking time, under the theory that a longer cooking time would indicate sturdier pasta.


I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Isaac as happy as when he saw this cake, and he’s generally a happy guy. I love making cakes because cakes make everyone happy. This one has to rank amongst the most gratifying cakes I’ve ever made.



Skeletor Cross Stitch


My friend and I signed up for a meditation class together.  It turns out that we’re both really bad both at meditating and at attending meditation classes.  So I made her this cross stitch.  I’m pretty sure that this will be just as soothing for her as actually meditating.

Dem Bones Cake


My nephews’ preschool has the delightful tradition of having the pre-K kids perform a little skit based on one of their favorite books as part of the end-of-the-year graduation ceremony.  Three years ago, Nathan’s class performed Dr. Suess’s The Sneetches, so I made him a Sneetch cake.  This year, Sam’s class chose Dem Bones as their book so, of course, I made him a Dem Bones cake.

Ever since I saw this video, I’ve been wanting to try to make a zoetrope cake, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Unfortunately, I don’t actually know anything about constructing a zoetrope, so it didn’t totally work.  Next time I’ll have to do my research a little better.


In order to make the sixteen skeletons around the sides of the cake, I sculpted one skeleton and then made a mold using food-safe silicon.


I could then make the skeletons by pushing pieces of white fondant into the mold and sticking them onto the cake.  The skeletons are holding letters that morph from the letter “S” to the letter “A” to the letter “M” to spell “Sam.”


The turntable I built for the cake worked perfectly, but I never got it synchronized with the strobe light or viewing slit well enough for the zoetrope illusion to really work.  It sort of works if I animate all these photos together like this, though. Dem-Bones-Cake-01

Ultimately, it didn’t matter whether or not the zoetrope effect worked, since Sam absolutely loved the cake.


He especially loved the skeleton heads and by the end of the party he had eaten the heads off of all the remaining skeletons on the cake.


Emperor Palpatine Whoopie Cushion Cake


My nephews and I play a game called “Emperor Palpatine Whoopie Cushion.”  I don’t remember the genesis of the game.  Essentially, the boys put imaginary whoopee cushions on a chair and then I, as Emperor Palpatine, sit on the chair, make a farting noise, and chase them around the room shouting about how I’m going to destroy them.

So, for his fifth birthday, Sam requested an Emperor Palpatine whoopie cushion cake.  Here is what I came up with.  The steps, the chair, and the lower portion of Palpatine’s body are cake.  The upper half of Palpatine is rice krispie treats.  I used a little recording module from Radio Shack to record the sound, triggered by a button under the seat that was depressed when Palpatine sat down.

This may be the silliest cake I’ve ever made (which is a pretty high bar), but it was also perhaps the most entertaining.


Star Wars cross stitch

Apparently I’ve suddenly decided that I cross stitch now.  So for Christmas, I made my nephews Star Wars cross stitches.

When I put them to bed, I often sing Garth Brooks’s The River.  The chorus begins with, “I will sail my vessel, until the river runs dry.”  Nathan made up his own lyrics: “I will fly my X-wing, until there’s no place left to go.”  So I turned it into an inspirational cross stitch for him.


Another song that I often sing at bedtime is the Rainbow Connection, from the Muppet Movie.  Sam is very into beautiful colors and he dressed as pink Darth Vader for Halloween, so for him I made this Darth Vader – Rainbow Connection mashup.



Fruit Ninja Cake


I’m so happy that now that I’m back in California I can make birthday cakes for my little friend Isaac again!  He really loves the game Fruit Ninja and he really loves numbers, so I went for a Fruit Ninja cake that prominently featured the number seven.  At one point I had planned to make the base shaped like four number sevens, but fortunately Isaac’s mom pointed out that my sketch looked disturbingly like a swastika, so I shaped it like six number sevens instead.  Cakewreck narrowly avoided!

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Isaac was celebrating at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, so I had to make a cake small and portable enough that it could survive the hour drive over windy roads and conveniently be served in the middle of a busy amusement park.  By my standards, then, this cake was remarkably practical.  The only problem was that it was too windy to light the candles.


Basically, the number seven is a wooden cut-out covered with fondant to look like the background of Fruit Ninja.  The slashes that are cutting the fruit are poured isomalt.  All the little fruits are cake covered with modeling chocolate.  I started with a basic white cake recipe and then added fresh squeezed fruit juices and zests so that each cake is flavored like the appropriate fruit.  The lime, orange, and pineapple worked especially well.  It turns out to be pretty hard to get kiwi flavor and watermelon flavor to translate into cake.  For the bombs, I added a little bit of Tabasco sauce.  I think they had a little bite at the end, but I didn’t want them to be too powerful since kids would be eating them.