Love Makes the World Go Round Cake


My friend’s granddaughter’s birthday party theme was Love Makes the World Go Round. So I came up with this cake, which is meant to suggest the earth traveling around the sun on an outer space cake board.

cake sketch


The color is all hand painted. The sun came out looking maybe a little more like a giraffe than a sun, but at least the overall effect is fun and colorful.


The earth is mounted on an aluminum strip that rotated freely around the post supporting the sun, so you can make the earth orbit around the sun.

Terraria Celestial Event Cake

011 20160319 Nathans 10th birthday party  DSC_2904

Nathan, for his 10th birthday, requested a Terraria celestial event cake, with a four-sided pillar, each side of which corresponds to a phase of the celestial event – Nebula, Stardust, Vortex, and Solar – and includes the appropriate monsters.

2016-03-17 23.51.32

Fortunately, after Sam’s last Terraria cake, I am expert at painting pixel-y gum paste Terraria characters. The guy on the side is Nathan’s avatar, with a Horseman’s Blade, which he specifically requested.

Nathan's avatar with giant sword. Note the individually hand-painted pixels.

The tower is cake, mounted on a pipe connected to a bevel gear, so that the cake can be turned with a crank.


Hand crank

I wanted to make the backdrop change color to correspond with the celestial event phase, so I made a light box like the one I made for the Terraria Blood Moon Cake. Inside are strips of LED tape in pink, yellow, blue, and green. When the cake turned, a strip of copper tape on the gear created electrical connections that lit the appropriate color LEDs as each side of the pillar came to the fore. It quite well at home, but the party was outside on a sunny day, so with that much ambient light the color change was virtually imperceptible.

Pink is the Nebula Pillar

026 20160319 Nathans 10th birthday party  DSC_2937

Blue Stardust Pillar

024 20160319 Nathans 10th birthday party  DSC_2954

As usual, I made about four times as much cake as the party required.

Inside is vanilla layer cake with buttercream icing


Terraria Blood Moon Cake

2016-01-16 21.21.08

For Sam’s 7th birthday, he wanted a Terraria blood moon cake. Apparently, when there is a blood moon, a lot more zombies come out and there are some kinds of zombies that only appear in the blood moon. So we settled on a design where the moon changed from blue (regular moon) to red (blood moon) and a bunch more zombies rose up out of the ground.

2016-01-16 20.54.41

2016-01-16 20.54.43

The characters are handpainted gumpaste. The blood moon zombies are all mounted on metal tubes that are attached to a little platform. The platform is lifted by fishing line attached to a wooden dowel, so that when the dowel is pulled out, the zombies rise up for the blood moon and when the dowel is pushed in, the zombies sink into the ground for the regular moon.

2016-01-16 20.54.47

Sam also wanted his Terraria avatar and the guide NPC, so I included a little house made of gingerbread where they can hide from the zombies and mounted them on a track so they can walk back and forth.

2016-01-16 05.48.03

The backdrop and the moon are light boxes with lids of plexiglass covered with fondant. Inside, are rows of red LEDs and rows of blue LEDs. The LEDs are wired through the platform that raises and lowers the zombies, so that the blue LEDs light when the platform is down (regular moon) and the red LEDs light when the platform is up (blood moon).

2016-01-16 20.56.50

2016-01-16 20.54.15

2016-01-16 21.07.08

Inside Out Cake

20151011 Inside Out cake DSC_1057

20151011 Inside Out cake DSC_1080

This Inside Out cake was for my friend Isaac’s ninth birthday, which is why it’s in the shape of the number 9.


The number 9 itself is mostly foam core covered with gum paste, because I needed room to embed LEDs and I didn’t need very much cake because they party was pretty small. 20151011 Inside Out cake DSC_1143

The memories around the edge of the 9 are gelatin bubbles, which are made by dipping partially inflated balloons, coated with shortening, into melted gelatin. They’re surprisingly sturdy once dry and technically edible, though it’s a little like eating plastic.


Each memory bubble contains a picture of the birthday boy, at ages from infancy to now, printed on edible wafer paper and each one has an LED behind it.

20151011 Inside Out cake DSC_1062

20151011 Inside Out cake DSC_1258

The figures are made of modeling chocolate with gum paste hair and clothes. They are made over a wire armature attached to a motor, so that they can spin joyously around.


The actual cake is the memory balls in the middle of the 9, which are cake balls dipped in royal icing and then in colored piping gel. I was trying to make cake that was easy to pick up and eat with no utensils, because the party was outside. But I didn’t leave enough time for the piping gel to dry, so they wound up extremely sticky and messy to eat. Still tasty, though.

20151011 Inside Out cake DSC_1146

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.

012 20150308 Nathans 9th birthday DSC_9917

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.

014 20150308 Nathans 9th birthday DSC_9969

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

023 20150111 Sams 6th birthday DSC_7649

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.”

138 20150111 Sams 6th birthday DSC_7796

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.

144 20150111 Sams 6th birthday DSC_7848041 20150111 Sams 6th birthday DSC_7684

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.

Schoolhouse Rock cake

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

20141011 My Hero Zero cake DSC_4815

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.



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.