For my little friend Max’s second birthday cake, the only guideline that his parents gave me was that the party was Cars themed. So I asked my five-year-old nephew for his expert advice on designing a Cars cake. He suggested that I make Mater and Lighting bumping tires. What he meant by this was the Cars equivalent of the fist-bump. So the idea that I came up with was a scene wherein Lightning and Mater had just made a cake for Max and decorated it with oil (because that would be delicious to a car). Of course, Mater and Lightning probably haven’t had much experience with making cakes and decorating for parties, so they’ve made a bit of a mess of things, with oil spills and torn streamers. My plan was to have Lightning hanging from birthday streamers wrapped around telephone poles, as if he’d gotten himself tangled while hanging them. This was, of course, meant to be reminiscent of the scene in Cars where Lightning gets tangled in the telephone wires. In the end, this didn’t work out, but I still think the cake overall was a success (and that, next time, I could make the hanging effect actually work).
As with many of my cakes, I made a lot of gum paste pieces in advance, especially for Mater’s bed and tow hook. And, of course, I made fondant tires, which are coming to be quite a specialty of mine. I was especially pleased with Lightning’s tires, once I painted “Lightyear” on them.
I made the telephone poles out of aluminum rod covered with fondant and I made a wooden base for Lightning with brass strips bolted to it, with which I planned to hang Lightning from the telephone poles. This meant that I had to make Lightning’s entire undercarriage, since it would all be visible. I’m not sure whether Lightning’s undercarriage is ever visible in the movie, but I found a Lightning toy that had a fairly detailed undercarriage for me to copy.
With the advance work done, it was time to make the cake. I tried a new marble cake recipe because Max’s mother told me that she likes marble cake. I think it was a tasty recipe, but, oddly, it was a little more challenging than a monochromatic cake to carve. The two colors made the shape of the cake a little harder to perceive as I was working on it.
The little birthday cake was pretty easy, even though I actually don’t do very many simple stacked cakes because they don’t generally interest me. I did a simple buttercream icing on it, and textured it a bit with a spatula. I was striving for that fine line between making the cake look like Lightning and Mater didn’t have much experience making cakes and making the cake look like I didn’t have much experience making cakes. I think I walked the line relatively successfully.
Carving Mater and Lightning went well, again using toys as helpful models. After a quick crumb coat, I was ready to cover them with fondant. Then the challenge was to get all the details on, since both Lightning and Mater have very specific paint jobs. (For those Cars aficionados out there, I went with the original Cars Mater and Lightning, as opposed to the Cars 2 Mater and Lightning, having ascertained that Max hadn’t yet seen Car 2 yet.)
Mater, of course, is so rusty that you start with the brown and then add the patches of blue and green paint on top. I assembled his bed and tow hook with royal icing, which took a bit of time, but it wound up sturdier than I was afraid it might be, which is good since I had to take the cake on a two hour drive to get to the party. I applied white gum paste for the eyes / windshield and blue-grey gum paste for the side windows and then added some extra brown gum paste trim.
To paint the blue and green, I used white food coloring mixed with paste colors. The nice thing about this was that when I then went in with more white to write the text on Mater’s doors, it created a little dark shadow around the letters, where the green paint pulled very slightly away from the brown fondant underneath. This helped highlight the text really nicely. Then I went in with some darker brown to make the rusty parts more interesting before adding the final details like the lights on his head and his one headlight. The most important touches were, of course, his big white gum paste buckteeth, which, looking at them now, I think I made a little too small.
For Lightning, I made templates for all of the decals, and then cut them out of white gum paste and applied them.
I think I did a decent job painting in all the colors, though I wasn’t entirely happy with the Rust-eze sign on his nose, since the brushstrokes were still fairly evident. This is probably the sort of project where the ability to print edible images would really come in handy.
At this point, I made my attempt to hang Lightning. At first, this seemed to go fairly well. The poles were strong enough to hold him up and he seemed fairly stable. Unfortunately, after hanging there for a little while, he began to separate from his base and fall forwards. Fortunately, I noticed this and was able to catch Lightning before he did an actual header down from his perch. At this point, I decided it would be a lot smarter of me to take him down and put him on the ground – although I do maintain that, given another chance, I could have made this work.
With all three cakes – Mater, Lightning, and the birthday cake – in place on the base, it was time for final touches. The fist-bumping tires read well, I thought. I used piping gel colored black to write “Happy Birthday Max” on top of the cake, as well as to glob big oil drips all over the cake. I also added oil tracks crisscrossing the board, as if Lightning and Mater had tracked it around while setting up for the party.
The very last touch was the addition of the streamers. To give them the look of two colors of streamer wound together, I rolled out two very thin pieces of gum paste and them stuck them one on top of the other and rolled them once to stick them together before cutting them to width.
I am sad that I didn’t manage to get Lightning to hang from the telephone poles, because I think that would have been super cool. But Max (and everyone else at the party) seemed to really like the cake. Like all children (at least in my experience), Max for some reason especially enjoyed the fondant tires.