The cake is lemon butter cake with white chocolate ganache filling, in rainbow color. The horn, tail, and man are all royal icing.
I am not personally a fan of the Mr. Men / Little Miss franchise but my friend Isaac is.
The cake itself is layers of thin sponge and lemon mousse. The cloud pattern is baked into a thing cake, like you might for a roll cake. The cloud patterned piece is laid around the interior circumference of a springform pan, then inside of that are alternating layers of sponge cake and lemon mousse. On top is an apricot jam glaze colored with food coloring. I’ve never made this kind of cake before. It was both surprisingly easy to do and quite delicious.
For the figures, I wanted to try stained glass isomalt. The black lines are piped with royal icing and then I dabbed the melted isomalt in with a toothpick. It worked really well except that I think you are supposed to then put a layer of clear isomalt over the back to hold it all together. Since I didn’t do this, the royal icing joints were definite weak points.
The figures are more or less just sitting on top of the cake, which looked great for a few minutes, right up until the royal icing began to dissolve in the glaze. I have had this problem before with royal icing and various other edible substances, but apparently I haven’t yet learned my lesson.
Fortunately, everyone got to admire the cake before we had a Mr. Men structural failure and we ate it very shortly thereafter.
My creative brief for this cake was a frost dragon from Dungeons and Dragons. As far as I was able to discover, there is not actually a canonical frost dragon in D&D, but I found a photo of this figurine and my nephew deemed it acceptable so I set about transforming it into cake.
The interior support structure of the dragon is made of foam core and 1/8” brass rod.
The landscape around the dragon is rice krispie treats covered with royal icing, which I applied with an offset spatula then textured with a damp paper towel.
The underbelly of the dragon is also made of rice krispie treats, as a result of which I was reminded of a valuable lesson – rice krispie treats don’t stick very well to foam core, at least not well enough to be used upside down, supporting the weight of a layer of fondant. The rice krispie treats began to separate from foam core, resulting in some big cracks on the dragon’s belly.
Before it got any worse, I added a few more rock formations to support the belly and patched the cracks with royal icing.
About 2/3 of the tail is also rice krispie treats and the rest of the tail and body in chocolate cake, covered with fondant. The legs are a 50-50 mix of fondant and gum paste. I did all the scale texture with a highly sophisticated tool that I made by cutting a v-shaped notch into a piece of foam core.
Before I attached the head, a 2-year-old friend who was hanging around our house told me that it looked like a dolphin. She’s not entirely wrong.
The wings are also gum paste, over top of a structure made of wire. The wings were the part I was most nervous about attaching, but they turned out to not be a problem at all.
The treasure chest and the coins are also made of gum paste, with royal icing accents on the chest.
Because no dragon is complete without a miasma of ominous fog, I ran a PVC tube under the cake board and up into the treasure chest. I hooked this up to a home-made dry ice fogger, which consisted of a 5-gallon bucket with 3 little fans I had lying around glued into a hole I cut in the side of the bucket and – voila! The fog didn’t last too long, because there was no heating element in the fogger, but it was cool while it lasted.
For his 9th birthday, my nephew asked for Guardian Skywatcher from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you aren’t familiar with it, it look something like this:
This was one of those cakes of which I just underestimated the difficulty. In retrospect, the difficulties should have been obvious. The shape of the Guardian Skywatcher is very undercut. It has pieces suspended off the sides by thin supports. The propellers are wide at the tips but narrow in the center. And the entire thing is flying. None of these things are easy to achieve in cake.
Yet I blundered into the project with big ambitions but minimal preparation. Long story short, it was almost, but not quite, a total disaster. Attaching the pieces on the sides was a nightmare. The propellers all broke before the party. Even the pink piping gel I used for the glowing sections faded before the party started. On the bright side, at least the entire structure didn’t collapse, which was a real possibility.
Overall, clearly not my strongest work, but my nephew, who is among the sweetest people in the world, loved it anyway.
If you’re not an avid follower of the Cars franchise, you might not be familiar with Miss Fritter, so if you need to get up to speed, here’s a video clip.
I’m really happy with how well this one turned out. All the detail is gum paste and royal icing. The hand painting was particularly fun to do.
I also put Lighting McQueen’s number 95 in the middle of the cake because the birthday boy loves numbers.
The nice thing about this cake was that I could just buy the die-cast toy version of Miss Fritter and measure and scale it up. Then I gave the toy to the birthday boy for his present, so it all worked out perfectly.
Here is the cake Miss Fritter next to the toy version I modeled it after and the slightly smaller toy version that the birthday boy already had.
For her granddaughter’s birthday, my friend asked for a cake that somehow combined the themes of bluebirds and the universe.
I came up with this cake that’s sort of a cosmic bluebird in a space nest with planetary eggs in it.
It turned out to be surprisingly elegant, especially when compared to my usual cakes.
The swirl is a gum paste / fondant mix. The planets are isomalt. The bird is gum paste over rice krispie treats. I also put a little blue silhouette of a bird inside the cake.
My nephew wanted a Mega Rayquaza cake. If you’re not familiar with Mega Rayquaza, it looks something like this:
The details are all fondant and gum paste, except for the weird trailing tendril things, which are gelatin.
It wound up being extremely bouncy, which made the drive from our house to the park where the party was kind of stressful and it did suffer some slight damage along the way.
All in all, not my cleanest work ever, but a pretty cool shape to build out of cake nonetheless.
We’re all Harry Potter all the time at our house these days. So for his 8th birthday Sam wanted a cake of Norbert hatching out of an egg on Hagrid’s table. Here is what the scene looked like in the movie.
The thing about baby dragons is that they’re mostly wings. So in order to have enough actual cake in the body to serve the guests, I had to make the cake pretty huge. That base is a 3-foot diameter plywood circle, covered with wood-grained fondant.
The cake is stacked and sculpted onto a foam core base, supported underneath with aluminum straps, then covered with a mix of fondant and modeling chocolate. I started with a light skin-toned base and airbrushed the colors on top. Sam even helped me sculpt some of the details.
The wings began with a wire armature, covered with gum paste. The membrane is made of gelatin. I’m particularly pleased with the airbrushed veins.
My absolute favorite part about the whole cake, though, is the string of drool hanging from her mouth. It’s piping gel with a strand of sheet gelatin in the middle for structure.
To make the egg shell, I draped gum paste over an oversized plastic Easter egg, then Sam helped me to break into pieces and place it around Norbert like he had just hatched out of it.
The dishes are also made of gum paste. I formed them over a lovely set of china that my sister’s mother-in-law gave her. Obviously, it needed the finishing touch of a little piping gel tea residue in the teacup.
The treats on the dishes are rock cakes and treacle fudge that Sam and his mom made from recipes in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. We have also made the pumpkin pasties recipe from this book and all the recipes have turned out great. Highly recommended.
Inside, the cake is chocolate with chocolate buttercream icing. Sam helped me make that, too. For once, the amount of cake that I made was appropriate to the size of the party.
After the party, I tweeted photos of the cake to J.K. Rowling and she not only liked it, she retweeted it! As a result, my tweet is currently at over 965,000 impressions and 15,500 likes. Based on the replies, Harry Potter fans are some of the nicest people in the world.
Update: It’s now at over 1,000,000 impressions!
My little friend Isaac really likes the pit crews from Cars. Fortunately, if there is one thing I’m good at, it’s making anthropomorphic vehicles out of gum paste. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of experience.
Because I also like to build automata, I decided to make the pit crew dance.
I really wanted to make it voice activated, with a headset like the pit crew boss. I have successfully made a voice activated automaton before, but for some reason I couldn’t get this one to work so I had to settle for a switch. In the end, the switch was probably better because it was easier for Isaac to use than the voice activation would have been and he really enjoyed turning it on and off while carefully examining the mechanism.
The actual cake is the tires behind the pit crew. They’re a basic sponge cake with a raspberry or blackberry jam filling, with modeling chocolate treads, dipped in dark chocolate.
They were kind of like really fancy Donettes. Which is to say they were fabulous. If I do say so myself.
The bride is in law school and the groom is a paleontologist. The wedding was on September 3, which is the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which, as everyone knows, if the treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War and in which Britain recognized the United States as an independent nation. Just kidding, I had no idea what the Treaty of Paris was; I had to google it.
This is the design we came up with.
Each tier represents an era of the evolution of life on Earth – Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. The tiers get progressively shorter as you move up the cake, to suggest the shorter duration of each era. The overall shape is meant to evoke this kind of spiral shape that is often used in images describing the history of life.
Each tier has a “couple” on it, as well as other iconic forms of life from that era. The Paleozoic tier has a couple of trilobites.
The Mesozoic era features a Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing a fleeing pair of pterosaurs. Note the T-Rex’s feathers.
And the Cenozoic era tier has a megatherium (which is kind of giant prehistoric ground sloth) and a couple of hyaenodont skeletons (the groom’s PhD dissertation centered on hyaenodonts).
On top of that tier walks a couple of Australopithecus, which I’m told is something that the groom has been imagining on his wedding cake since he was a little boy. It’s inspired by these fossilized footprints that suggest that an Australopithecus might have walked next to each other, hand in hand.
The cake is covered with a mix of fondant and modeling chocolate and all of the figures are sculpted out of modeling chocolate colored with powdered food coloring. I made all the large figures in advance, over forms made to mimic the curvature of the cake tiers. That way I could make them well in advance and bring them in my carryon, since I had to fly cross-country for the wedding. (I didn’t fly with the whole cake. I arrived three days early and rented an Air BNB with a full kitchen to do the actually baking and assembly.
For the smaller fossils and bones at the base of each tier, I made molds out of food-safe silicon, so that when I assembled the cake I could just push some fondant into the mold and stick it on the cake.
Of course, Australopithecus would have been nude and the couple understandably didn’t want exposed genitalia on their wedding cake. They also wanted to incorporate the Treaty of Paris, so I was delighted to discover that the Treaty of Paris has a nice blue ribbon at the bottom, running underneath the signatories’ seals. So I made a replica of the Treaty of Paris for the top of the cake with a long ribbon on the bottom to wrap around the couple’s inappropriate bits. Although if you look closely at the above photo before I put the ribbon in place, you’ll see that I couldn’t resist making the Australopithecus couple anatomically correct.
It’s made of edible wafer paper with the actual text of the Treaty of Paris hand painted with food coloring. Of course it’s not the entire text, as the treaty is far too long for that. Using images I downloaded of the actual document, I photoshopped the signatures onto the bottom of the first paragraph. Then I printed it out at the actual size I needed for the cake. I turned this into basically edible transfer paper by coating the back of the paper with powdered food coloring. I put this on top of the wafer paper and transferred the text onto the wafer paper by tracing the printed image with a toothpick. Then I went back over the traced text with paste color and a detail brush. To get the graceful curve, I lightly sprayed the back of the wafer paper with water and then set it over and under a couple of rolling pins to dry.
The lowest tier and the dividers between the evolutionary era tiers are encircled with books, which are meant to bring in the bride’s studiousness. They also offered a great opportunity for personalization as the bride and groom sent me a list of all their most influential books. The dividers between the tiers are quite small and made so that they can be popped into place to conceal the cake’s internal support. Those books are just gum paste with the titles painted on.
The books on the bottom tier are much larger and can be seen from the top as well as the sides, so they required more detail to be convincing. So I made pages out of wafer paper and stuck them together with piping gel. Once that was dry, I wrapped each book in a gum paste cover and then painted the title onto the spine. In most cases, I was able to find real cover art from the book to base it on.
Inside, the cake flavors are vanilla, orange, ginger, and chocolate in alternating layers to suggest different strata of dirt. We wanted people to be able to have an archeological experience while eating the cake, so I buried chocolate fossils inside each layer. I made custom molds for the fossils, based on sculptures that I did representing various fossils that would have been common in each of the cake’s eras. With these molds, I cast the fossils in white, milk, and dark chocolate and then embedded them in the cake layers as I was stacking this cake. Then as the guests ate the cake, they got to excavate their chocolate fossils.
The drive from the Air BNB was about half an hour and not over the greatest roads. I enlisted the bride’s brother to help me deliver the cake, since he has an SUV with enough space. He is a former Army Ranger, yet apparently still found the pressure of the drive terrifying. I don’t blame him. I hate driving with cakes. We arrived at the venue without incident, though.
One of the groom’s paleontology friends created a museum card to accompany the cake, explaining all the different fossils, inside and out. He even gave a little introductory speech before they cut the cake. And apparently some of the groom’s paleontology colleagues even said my T-Rex was one of the best reconstructions they have ever seen in any medium. But, really, this photo is the best part.