Wednesday, March 13, 2013

African Animal Baby Shower Cake

I have many friends in the zookeeping world, so maybe it's not too odd that a couple weeks ago someone said to me, "Hey, could you make an aardvark baby cake? Maybe one where the mom is holding a baby but the baby head is an aardvark?"

Yes. I could.

I had a lot of angst preparing for this cake because I was trying a lot of new things. I'd never made a stacked cake, covered a cake in fondant (except to make it look like a tablecloth, as in the tea set cake), made figures out of fondant or painted on a cake. Sooo...there were a lot of ways this cake could have gone wrong!

Fortunately, the cake turned out like this:

My largest challenge was actually covering the cake in fondant. I didn't have a rolling pin, which made rolling it out quite a chore. I used a drinking glass. The fondant got all bunchy along the sides of the cake, but I don't know if it was because I didn't roll the fondant into a big enough piece or didn't roll it flat enough...In any case, painting the cake covered HUGE errors.

Here's an embarrassing photo of the covered cake as I'm starting to paint.

It's also clear that the stacked cake is not exactly level; this, too, seemed to be somewhat remedied by adding the figure and paint.

I used food coloring gel and water to paint the whole cake and then used some icing for the clouds.

It is supposed to be a progression of day into night going from the bottom to the top, but I'm not sure if that idea comes across.

I worked on the fondant figures ahead of time so they would be dry in time for the baby shower and they were pretty fun to make. I used animals from the mom-to-be's nursery mural, which has an Africa theme. The animals on the mural are: an aardvark, a hornbill, a hedgehog, a serval and straw-colored fruit bats. The aardvark is on top of the cake with the figure of the mom.

She looks like this without the aardvark. I made them separately and stuck them together at the last minute.

The fondant white-bellied hedgehog and hornbill looked like this:

The straw-colored fruit bat is there too; I also made her from fondant, but instead of sitting her next to the cake or suspending her, I just made her very small and adhered her to the side so she can "hang" from the tree.

The serval was tricky because I had no fondant of a color that would work and had to paint white fondant and use an edible marker for the details.

And the final product, displayed here at the baby shower, ended up looking pretty good!

I enjoyed the painting part--it was like watercoloring! But it would help to know how to do water color... And I'm definitely going to have to do some research on improving my fondant covering skills. Youtube, here I come!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Movie Popcorn Bucket Cake

If you're as interested in cake as I am (I know you are), you've probably seen many variations of the movie-cake, where a talented decorator creates a realistic popcorn bucket out of edible materials--none of which are actually popcorn.

I decided to try my hand at this for my aunt's birthday/Oscar night party this year. In the past, I'd decorated some very elaborate cakes for my dear Aunt Sittrea, including a book cake and a tea set cake. I was excited to try my hand at making this cake, and even though it looks simpler than the other two I'd made, it had it's own set of challenges.

The finished product looked like this:

First I needed to make the popcorn, which in the end, was my favorite part of this cake!

I started with a bag of mini-marshmallows and, after some experimentation, discovered that cutting them into clover shapes gave them the most realistic look. If you are hoping to try this, be sure to clean the knife frequently so it doesn't get gummed up; this tears the marshmallows rather than slicing them. I added a dab of watered down food gel along each one and let them sit out for a day to get stale so they weren't so squishy. I made about two cups of them, which took a while, but was worth the effort!

Next I had to bake and stack the cake for the bucket. I used four six-inch rounds.

I measured the cake and estimated how tall and wide to make the strips of red and white fondant around the bucket and put them on over the "dirty icing" layer. I also added a plaque of sorts to be the front label of the bucket.

This label was my biggest problem and my biggest disappointment. I should probably have traced or used a stencil or something to compensate for my sloppy handwriting. My first attempt looked pretty bad and I ended up removing the plaque and making a second one.

Here's the first one:

The second was better, but not stellar. Lastly I adhered the popcorn to the top of the stacked cake with icing and painted it with yellow food gel as butter.

I think the Oscar party-goers appreciated the cake and I keep learning every time I try something new!

Aardvark, Bird and Gifraffe Wall Art

If you don't work at a zoo, (and even if you do) you probably have never heard a pregnant woman say, "I'm planning on decorating the nursery with an aardvark theme." But if you're me, this was hardly unexpected. My brilliant and kind friend Sara is due to give birth to a baby in April and I wanted to make her some aardvark art to adorn the nursery walls, since aardvark art is not easy to come by.

This was an incredibly easy project that turned out so well I made some more for myself. I simply bought two pieces of scrapbook paper with complimentary colors, modified an aardvark drawing I found to make a template, and cut out the form of the aardvark from the solid colored-paper.

The framed result:

I liked the aardvark, but for my bedroom I wanted some custom bird art, so I found a drawing I liked and made a stencil of two birds on a branch. Add frames found on clearance at the craft store and...

I have two pieces of art with exactly the colors and patterns I had in mind to brighten the walls!

Before I made the aardvark, I had tried the same technique for a wall-hanging to go with my giraffe-print electrical panels. I liked how it came out and will put it up, but I think using a darker solid color would have made the giraffe print pop more.

Merman Cake

Maybe it's a reflection of my personal style, or maybe the friends I choose, but occasionally I get requests for really odd cakes. For instance, this anteater cake I did last November.

This time the cake was a merman cake for my friend Tom. He loves really tacky merman ornaments like these, which inspired my artistic pal Adam to suggest a merman cake for Tom's birthday party. I insisted that Adam collaborate with me on the project and this is what we ended up with.

Genius. I can't take credit for the parts that are impressive, such as the illusion of rock hard abs or the cute cowlick in the hair-do, but I will admit to making all of the sea creatures, only some of which are visible from this angle.

My favorite is the octopus.

In the next post, I'll demonstrate that I have more strange friends (aardvark nursery art?!)