Aidan is very big on Minecraft at the moment and it seemed like a fun theme so I was quite pleased when he requested this one. He specifically requested an ocelot and an Enderman on it and after a bit of research I was fairly happy. Then he requested a ghast. Brimming with confidence I agreed at which point he told me that they float and die if they touch the ground. Excellent.
I put this to one side to concentrate on the actual cake. Internet research showed me a number of different ideas for decorating the actual cake. The Minecraft world is based entirely on cubic blocks so I knew I wanted a square cake and I was drawn to this image:
This is an earthblock (apparently) and I’d seen a few slightly simplified versions online. I had a small square cutter. How hard could it be?
Initial measurements suggested I needed a total of 405 small squares in assorted shades of green, brown and grey. Having found 3 each of brown and green pre made I mixed some grey and set to work figuring it would be easiest to have a stock of squares made in advance. More on this later.
Next the figures. This started well. As mentioned before everything is based on cubes so it’s just a case of mixing the right colours and getting the scale right. Steve and the ocelot were relatively easy, especially with the addition of a little gum tragacanth to harden the fondant and a few props to hold everything in place while the edible glue dried. The Enderman was trickier as they are tall and thin and therefore unstable. He was left headless to allow the body and limbs to dry out as much as possible. The ghast was the last creature to tackle. The actual creature was quite simple, a grey cube with black eyes and mouth and painted on tears (I still don’t know why they cry all the time, I don’t think I want to) plus nine dangling tentacles held on by sugar flower wires with some edible glue for reinforcement.
Now to the actual cake. Naturally this also had to be a cube and I used a 7″ square. I knew I would need either two or three layers depending on how much the cake rose. As it turned out 3 layers of three egg mix sponge cake made a cube of near perfect proportions and also a really quite huge cake especially when there were only going to be fifteen children at the party. To make it a bit more interesting the layers were different colours, one chocolate and two different shades of green. If I’d had more time I could have cut and rearranged the layers to form squares inside. The cakes were filled and coated with chocolate buttercream. This was relatively firm to prevent it from squeezing out between the squares as they were stuck on.
I’ll be honest, sticking on the squares was a real headache. While making 3D figures in advance to allow them to dry is a good idea it’s not such a good idea with squares as they got very brittle and hard to manage plus some had stuck together. Next time (ha!) I’ll make them as needed and let them dry on the.cake. As it turned out the cake was a fraction smaller than anticipated so I did have a few spare squares. Aidan’s verdict: “Oh. It doesn’t look like an earth cube. You’ve used too many light colours.” So I accidentally trod on his foot.
The cake had to be transported to the party venue so the figures were hastily arranged on top when we got there together with Aidan’s name in Minecraft font cut from grey fondant. I had hoped to be able to dangle the ghast over the cake but it was just too heavy so I stuck it on a skewer instead. The Enderman was very unstable. I had attempted to anchor it with wires through the feet but it wasn’t enough. He sat on the side until it was time to sing Happy Birthday and lasted just long enough before nosediving into the candles as we got to the last line of the song. Aidan seemed pleased that it had helped him blow the candles out.
“This year,” said Liam “I’d like a Top Gear themed cake please.”
“Oh? But you had cars last year. Don’t you want something different?”
“I’d like it to have the people on it. Jeremy Clarkson, Hammond…”
This was going to be a challenge.
Where to start? I’ve never really made human figures before, certainly nothing which had to be identifiable as a real person but I soon realised that the Top Gear crew were quite identifiable as a group. You’ve got a tall bloke in jeans, another tall bloke in jeans but with long hair and a flowery shirt, a much shorter bloke in jeans and a person in white overalls and helmet with his arms folded. I set to work.
I started with Jeremy and created a fairly nondescript person. Blue legs. Check. White shirt. Check. Grey hair. Check. This was the standard by which all the others were created. James May initially looked remarkably similar until I added some longer hair. Richard Hammond was pretty much identical but comically short. The Stig was all in white. I painted on some further distinguishing detail (and I admit James’ flowery shirt looked much more like leopard print by the time I’d finished) and I was actually pretty happy with them.
Now, it wouldn’t be much of a Top Gear cake without a car so it had to be Liam’s favourite car in his favourite colour, an orange Lamborghini Murcielago. Luckily it’s a very distinctive body shape and after version 1 was abandoned for reasons of scale (Richard Hammond wouldn’t even have fitted inside) version 2 was successful. I used black food colouring and silver edible glitter to add the relevant details.
The cake itself was covered in green and grey fondant to become the test track, with detail added with white writing icing and the final touch was Liam’s name and age added to a number plate made from yellow icing.
As is now traditional Liam had a cake for his actual birthday as well as his party even though they were only two days apart. This year’s surprise theme was geocaching. If you don’t know what this is you could go and have a look at Geocaching or you could just take my word that it’s using multi million dollar satellites to look for tupperware in the woods.
This was a relatively simple cake to plan. The most popular containers used for geocaches are lock’n’lock boxes, a clear plastic container with a light blue lid which has snap down catches on all four sides. I also wanted to be able to put things inside, specifically a log book and pencil (edible) and a real travel bug for Liam to find and set off on its travels. The cake started off as a chocolate and banana flavoured square sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream. I then cut a small square out of the top before adding a chocolate buttercream crumb coat and then covering the whole thing with white fondant. This almost went disastrously wrong as my first attempt involved covering it in stages in an attempt to create sharp edges. This ended up with buttercream squooshing everywhere and a total mess. Luckily it was easily salvaged with a single sheet of fondant.
The next stage was the lid. I wanted Liam to be able to lift this off to find the contents of the box so I added a substantial quantity of gum tragacanth to light blue fondant and cut out a square. This was where my latest technique (stolen shamelessly from a YouTube video) came into its own. Need to cut a straight line from fondant? Knife pulling at the edges of the cut? Easy, use a pizza wheel. Genius! The lid was finished off with a green label and rested loosely on top of the cake
Inside we needed a pencil and a logbook, the bare minimum required to log a find on a real geocache. These were straightforward to model out of fondant and there you have it, an edible geocache!
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a traditional Royal iced fruit cake but the small weirdos in my house refuse to eat either fruit cake or Christmas pudding. Naturally this was a perfect excuse to make a substitute cake, especially as I was itching to make a fully spherical cake with the hemispherical tin. A little browsing on the Lakeland website suggested the obvious design in the circumstances, a chocolate Christmas pudding.
As with the Angry Bird I used a recipe designed for a conventionally shaped tin, in this case a 3 egg teatime chocolate cake mix. I did one half at a time, I’d like to say this was to properly test the temperature and baking time but actually I only have one tin.
The first cake was not a total success. I knew not to use fan assist as I really didn’t want it to dome but I experimented with bottom heat only at 150deg. An hour later and the top wasn’t even close to cooked, the tin had rolled slightly sideways and the oven was a mess of overflowing cake mix. I added top heat and after another 30 minutes or so it got there. Luckily it rose sufficiently that the lost cake mix was not a problem and the cake release spray did its stuff like actual magic. After cleaning up the oven it was onto round 2, this time with top and bottom heat from the start. It looked done and passed the skewer test after about 1h 15m and had risen spectacularly (but evenly).
I sliced it flush with the tin and decided another 10 minutes was necessary.
The decoration was simple but effective. The cake was sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream and then covered in a crumb coat of softer buttercream. To cover I used 2 packs of Renshaw’s chocolate flavoured fondant icing. It’s not easy to cover a spherical cake evenly but I was eventually happy with it. The decoration was finished off with a “splat” of white fondant icing and some holly leaves and berries. Voila.
Note to self: don’t order a Yule log this year.
Another year, another request for a Lego cake. This time Aidan wanted a Ninjago themed cake. After a few tense moments including the phrase “Oh, have you already ordered it?” I resorted to Google for inspiration. I eventually determined on a square cake topped with a circle. The top layer was to be a Lego Ninjago head and the whole thing would be guarded by the Ninjas, not forgetting Sensei Wu.
I started with the Lego figures, wanting to give them enough time to dry out (more on that later). i made them to scale so they were fiddly to make, particularly the hands, but edible glue was very helpful for sticking things together without having to squash them too much. I used a combination of icing pens and edible silver lustre with a very fine brush for the details and I was pleased with the result (although apparently it didn’t look like Jay’s face).
Onto the main part of the cake. This was a simple sponge mix in a 7″ square tin for the base layer and a 6″ round for the top sandwiched with buttercream and strawberry jam and covered in a buttercream crumb coat. The bottom layer was covered in white fondant with circular emblems of each element (I am very briefly an expert on Ninjago) on each side. The top layer was first covered in yellow fondant (sides only) and then wrapped in green forming the ninja mask. Lloyd (the green ninja’s) eyes were then painted on with black food colour.
Assembling the cake was a mixture of highs and lows. I was pleased with the positioning of the figures, Sensei Wu and Lloyd stood on top with the other four ninjas* on guard at the four corners (I should mention that Jay’s eyebrows had by now been thickened and pronounced suitable). I used the Lego mould I bought last year to make a few Lego bricks in appropriate colours and placed them on top, just to reinforce the theme.
Now for the lows. You remember I mentioned letting the figures dry out? I then put them on a freshly iced cake and put it in an airtight container. Fool! I took the lid off in the morning of the party to add the candle only to discover that the figures had absorbed moisture from the icing and gone all droopy. Jay had hurled himself into the abyss although this may actually have been a reaction to the unsuitable eyebrows. It was all more or less cobbled together with more edible glue but it’s a big lesson for next time. Either be less organised so nothing gets made in advance or assemble nothing until the last moment. Oh, and invest in a non airtight cake cover.
Final verdict? A bit wobbly but it went down well. We’ll gloss over the fight over who got which ninja in their party bag…
*Kai, Cole, Zane and Jay. I see no reason why you shouldn’t have this knowledge inflicted on you as well.
Aidan’s first cake this year and I went for simple again, mostly due to lack of time. He has recently acquired a TMNT fancy dress outfit as well as a love of ninj-ing so I decided to go for a turtle based on the mask which goes with his costume.
Helpfully Sainsburys sell pre coloured fondant in just the right shade of green and with the mask to use for inspiration it was a relatively simple process. I started with an 8″ round sponge and trimmed the sides to make the face shape. The offcuts were used to buildup the jaw to give the cake a 3D feel. It was sandwiched together with buttercream and jam and the extra bits stuck on before covering the whole thing in a soft buttercream crumb coat.
The decoration was quite simple. A layer of green icing all over. The mouth was cut from white icing with a craft knife. Likewise the mask from red icing. Eyeholes were cut from the mask and the offcuts used to cut eye shapes from the white. Once it was all stuck together there was just a small amount of detail to be added with icing pens. All in all, an unusually smooth process!
Another week, another party. This weekend was Liam’s birthday party with his school friends and he requested a cake with racing cars on it. As luck would have it he’s 8 this year, providing an ideal shape for a race track. Helpfully my local kitchen and cake decorating supplies shop rents out cake tins so for the bargain price of £1 I had 24 hours use of a no. 8 tin.
It’s a slightly odd style of tin which doesn’t actually have a proper base to it so the preparations involved a lot of foil and greaseproof paper
The next question was about quantity. There was a difference of opinion in the shop as to whether a 4 or 5 egg sponge mix was appropriate. I went with 4 and hoped for the best. As it turned out it was pretty much perfect.
Once it had cooled it was onto the decoration, I was a bit nervous about trying to slice and fill it but it held together well. Sandwiched together with buttercream and jam and covered with a soft buttercream crumb coat it was time for the fun bit!
I started off by turning the cake into a track with green fondant (grass) for the sides and grey (tarmac) for the top. The small circles were fiddly to cover but with a bit of faffing about it was eventually done. Now for the cars. There were going to be 7 children at the party who would obviously want a car each, preferably all different colours. The cars were fairly simple to make, if a bit fiddly due to their small size. Edible glue (bought from Lakeland) was very definitely my friend here. It requires very little pressure to stick so allows the tiny pieces to stick together without being squashed out of shape. A slightly flattened pear shape made up the main body of the vehicle with a block on the back for a spoiler. Small but thick black circles made up the wheels with tiny white hubcaps. Then a small ball of icing in a different colour made a helmet and a white circle on each bonnet ready for a number. After they had dried overnight I used a black icing pen to write on the numbers and draw visors onto the helmets.
The track didn’t need too many details. I used white chocolate writing icing to draw a white line all round the edge of the track and also a start finish line. The bends were marked with crescents of white icing with stripes painted on in red food colouring. That just left positioning the cars and securing them in place with more edible glue. Cue the checkered flag!