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.

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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.



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.


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.




Minion Chicken Coop Cake

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While my mom and I were taking a cake class at the Wilton School, we had a very nice Skype call with my nephews.  They told us that they were planning to be minions from Despicable Me for Halloween.  We also had a very entertaining conversation about whether or not they were building me a chicken coop.  The details of the chicken coop joke are kind of hard to explain, but basically I decided to take the joke to the next level.  So I made the cake I was making for class a minion / chicken coop cake.  Then I carried it back home on the plane.  It was greeted with shrieks of joy.

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Dinosaur Skeleton Cake

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This is a cake that I made for a class at the Wilton School on tiered cakes and buttercream.  I don’t do many buttercream cakes or many traditional tiered cakes, so I’m pretty pleased with the results.  It’s not as impressive as many of my cakes, but I think it’s still pretty fun.

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Star Wars cake

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For his seventh birthday, Nathan had very specific cake specifications.  He wanted a cake being cut in half by a light saber with “Jedi trainers” around the sides.  The only Jedi trainers he could specifically name were Yoda and Obi-Wan, which isn’t surprising, because he’s only seen Episodes IV, V, and VI.  So I found a picture of the Jedi Council and went with that.

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The light saber is a combination of poured sugar and pressed sugar with a string of LEDs embedded in it.  The handle of the light saber is gum paste.  The Jedi trainers are also gum paste, hand painted with food coloring.  I’m particularly pleased with the candle light sabers.

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Head Chopping Cake



When I asked Sam what cake he wanted for his fourth birthday, of course he wanted an Axe Cop cake like his brother had.  I didn’t have time to make Sam quite as large a cake as I made for Nathan, so I just went with a simple 8” round cake with a row of bad guys around the perimeter.

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I stuck a motor in the middle, so that I could attach chocolate axes to chop the bad guys’ heads off.  I really needed a stronger motor and a better way to attach the chocolate axes, but we did eventually manage to decapitate and/or knock over all the gum paste bad guys.


Carousel Cake

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My grandmother lives near a beautiful old carousel from the 1920s.  When we visited her when we little, she would always take us to ride it.  When I was designing her 90th birthday cake, I got to thinking about riding the carousel with her, and this is the result.

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Obviously, it rotated and lit up.  The little gum paste horses on the candles are modeled after horses on the real carousel.

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