Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for the ‘Cakes’ Category

Turning a Lamb Into a Lion

Those of you who know me or follow this blog from way back know that I make cakes, mostly for my kids’ birthdays. My cakes are pretty extravagant. One year it was an Amazon bowling cake. Another year it was a three-dimensional barn cake complete with animals. I’ve even made an anaconda cake and last year, Hogwarts! I even made a turkey cake for some friends and bassoon and snare drum cakes cakes for my sister’s wedding shower! This year’s assignment was for my girls’ Narnia birthday party, so I thought a cake of Aslan would be in order.

I wanted to use a pan I already had, so I turned to my lamb cake pan. I knew I needed some additional dimensional elements to turn the lamb into a lion, and I assumed I would use fondant, as I have before. But after our trip to the Crayola factory in Easton, PA a few weeks ago, my brilliant almost-11-year-old suggested something different: Crayola’s model magic! So I created ears, a tail, and front paws from the easily available, easy to color, and very non-toxic stuff a few days before cake decorating day and set it to dry.

There was only one website I found that used the lamb cake pan to create a lion and though it was cute, it wasn’t the look I was hoping to create. I used two other websites for inspiration and got to work.

First came the cake baking. It started like this.

The next step was to frost the front legs. I intended to leave the model magic it’s own color, but as I worked, I realized that it made more sense to frost it to match. You can see the tail laid out as well, showing the original color of the model majic after we tinted the base yellow color with brown and orange marker.

We are already looking more lion-like! Note the white on the fronts of the paws. This was one of the little details that really made a difference later on. You can still see a bit of the yellow of the model magic showing through at this point.

Next I finished frosting the rest of the body. I frosted flat because I knew the texture would come mostly from the mane later on. I used a toothpick to drag an outline of the back haunches, which I will fill-in later with a contrasting frosting color.

Next came the lion ears. I frosted them with white on the inside and tawny on the outside. Because the model magic is so LIGHT when it dries, I was able to “glue” the ears on with frosting – no toothpicks needed! Interestingly, the lamb ears essentially disappear when the lion ears are added. The lamb pan ears become part of the mane later on. I also added frosting to the tail and some white for the muzzle on this step. At this point, I was a bit alarmed because it looked so much like a house-cat. But hey, what’s a lion but a big, wild house-cat, right?

Next, it was time for the mane. I used a #2 decorating tip to pull from the face back. I noticed that lions’ faces are heart-shaped, so I outlines that shape with a toothpick before I started. I intended to cover the ears all along, so I dragged over them. I also didn’t worry about connecting the disparate mane pieces or how curvy they were. I just had fun with it! I did continue the mane over onto the back of the head, most of the way down.

I was happy with the mane, but in retrospect, I would build out with frosting the space between the right lion ear and the lamb ear from the mold, just to avoid that weird in-cut. But one of my FAVORITE parts was using the same decorating tip to pull the tail. I had already curved the model magic upward and let it dry leaning against an upside-down glass custard cup, but when I added the tail hair, it really made the cake look great!

Finally it was time to attend to the face and paw details. I have come a long way artistically as a result of my older

daughter’s private art lessons! I ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room studying her latest painting of a cat for eye and muzzle details, and I think it paid off! I also used the same #2 tip to pull claws of black out of the white part of the paw. They curved just perfectly all on their own (thank you, gravity).

Finally, I added the finishing touches of the girls’ names and ages, as well as an appropriate lion-ly happy “biRRRRthday” greeting and voila! Meet Aslan, the Narnia birthday lion.

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How to Make a Unicorn

Every year for the past 10 years, I have spent the day before the girls’ birthday party creating their requested custom cake.  This carries on an important family tradition handed down both from John’s side of the family and mine.

In John’s family, it all started with the bear in the wagon – the traditional first birthday cake for all John’s siblings and cousins that took 4 boxes of cake mix and three people working all day to accomplish.  On my side of the family, the most famous and remembered cake was the doll cake, with an actual doll IN the cake and the cake as her large, old-fashioned hoop dress.

For me, the annual cake odyssey has become a welcomed challenge.  No two cakes are ever the same and they are all custom designed and made, so I know no child will ever have a cake like my kids have!  Past years’ cakes have included Caillou, Dora and Backpack, Blue from Blue’s Clues, Elmo, Bert & Ernie, Pocahontas, a 3-D lamb, a 3-D barn with barnyard and silo, and the unforgettable Amazon bowling cake.

This year, I decided to document what goes into making one of my custom cakes!  I start with the kids’ request and an idea.  Sometimes, there is a Wilton cake pan for their request, which makes things much easier.  Usually there isn’t, so I go from scratch.  This year, a unicorn was requested.  It was to be white with a blue mane and tail and a pink horn (my children have very definite ideas about their cakes!).  This clip art I found online made the perfect pattern.

Unicorn Cake

Next, I cut the cake into the shape I need.  I started with two 9×13 cakes, blew the clip art up to the size I needed, then cut around the paper.  Easy!  (The lines have nothing to do with anything – they are lines from the cooling racks when I turned the cakes out and righgt side up again!)

Where the paper ran off the cake, I cut pieces to create what I needed (like for the mane and head).  I made my unicorn a bit fatter than the picture to waste less cake and feed more people.  I also had trouble with the curvy tail, so I just made it straight.  There are no rules, so sometimes you have to make things up as you go along!

Unicorn Cake_0001

Next comes what’s called a “crumb coat” of frosting.  This is a thin, easily spread layer which seals in the crumbs and binds the various pieces of cake together into a whole.

Unicorn Cake_0002

After the crumb coat, I start the decorating.  I start with the smallest color or area first – in this case the blue mane, tail, and hooves.  I also add some piped detail to show the legs, body, nose, and eye.

Unicorn Cake_0003

Next comes the l-o-n-g part – piping white stars onto the body.  It took 6 bags of frosting to cover the white areas alone!  I made 12 cups of frosting altogether for this cake.  In this picture, the stars are only half piped.  I used Wilton tip #21 and the cake is sitting on a full sheet cake board, so that gives you an idea of the size!

Unicorn Cake_0004

When the cake was fully piped, it was time to add the unicorn horn.  I took a waffle ice cream cone and stuffed it full of cake.  Then I iced it with thinned buttercream colored pink, sprinkled it with pink sugar, an shoved it into the cake, keeping my fingers crossed that it would stay.  So far, so good!  I added some pink detailing to the ear to pull in more of the pink color.

Unicorn Cake_0005

And finally, I added the words, piped in more thinned pink frosting.

Unicorn Cake_0006

Happy birthday to my two quickly growing-up girls!

Unicorn Cake_0007

This Takes the Cakes

So I have a few partially written serious blog posts that need to be finished and posted, but I got inspired tonight to start posting pictures and stories of my custom cakes after following a twitter link. (Thanks to Patti for the idea!).

Here are the last three cakes I’ve made, all for my sister’s bridal shower on April 20th.

Groom-to-be is a drummer percussionist who works at Grover Pro Percussion in Woburn, MA; bride-to-be has a master’s degree in bassoon an plays in various orchestras. They met playing in an orchestra, so the musically themed shower was appropo. The teal g-clef is supposed to be an ampersand (teal is the wedding color) so that the trio together symbolizes “Frank and Dawn.” Get it?

The drum was yellow cake, the bassoon was chocolate, and the treble clef was carrot. All were crumb-coated in buttercream and none was filled because I didn’t want anything going bad. I had to bake them on a Wednesday, decorate them on a Thursday, and drive them to Boston (along with my mom, the two kids, and all the shower stuff) on a Friday for a Sunday shower. You also might not know that fondant (the stuff they’re covered with) is sugar based and therefore very susceptible to moisture, so I could not refrigerate them.

These were my first serious fondant cakes. I made two other cakes the month before to practive my fondant techniques. Those might show up on here some other time.

Thank you, Ace of Cakes, for the motivation to learn how to use fondant! I love that show because every time I watch, I notice something subtle but interesting. (Sadly, today I noticed that they color their fondant by hand, which is by far the hardest part of working with fondant, IMHO. I was hoping to avoid this step in the future by making my own fondant, but it looks like there’s no avoiding it)

And thanks also to Stacey Burk for the fantastic directions on making a bassoon cake. Who’d’a thunk that googling “bassoon cake” would have worked so beautifully?!

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