Angry Bird

Liam’s 8th birthday and a very simple cake for his family birthday tea. After the Alice in Wonderland challenge I decided that the Lakeland hemispherical bowls were a must have and particularly well suited to Liam’s current Angry Bird obsession. This was just for a family tea of 6 people so I went for a medium bowl sized cake and just a single hemisphere (rather than making the fully spherical bird). As advised on the Lakeland website I used a 3 egg Victoria sponge mix baked for about an hour at just 150deg and plenty of cake release spray. This was actually very effective. I also tried the often recommended approach of buttercream as a crumb coat under fondant icing which also worked well.

The decoration as usual used pre coloured fondant in the main. I had enough tan coloured fondant left over from the dormouse to make the bird’s breast and there was a tricky moment when I realised that I didn’t have any black but I improvised with food colour and a paintbrush and there you go. Simple yet effective.

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He does look very, very angry.

Alice in Wonderland

After a quiet winter cake season has rolled around again. An early start this year as I saw mention of a local charity event for PAC (Positive Action on Cancer) which included a cake decorating competition. The event was a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the cakes all had to be designed on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. Having checked this was an entirely amateur event (I wasn’t fussed about winning but I didn’t want to be embarrassingly outclassed) I was good to go.

Now, what to do? There are so many brilliant images in Alice in Wonderland. I thought about the caucus race but thought it might be a bit obscure. I had almost decided on making a dormouse in a teapot on a table decorated with other characters and images when a last peruse of Google images for inspirations led me to the idea of a teapot cake with a dormouse on top and images from the book decorating the teapot. I decided to make fruit cake rather than sponge as it would keep better giving me longer to do the decoration and made it in 2 pudding bowls to get nicely rounded cakes. I hoped it would rise enough to let me trim it using the edges of the bowl as a guide and it surpassed my wildest expectations.

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I sandwiched the two halves together with apricot jam and covered in marzipan, now for the interesting bit. As I have said before, life is too short to colour fondant icing and Sainsburys do a fabulous shade of purple so that was the base colour. The cake was covered in a plain layer of purple with a trim around the bottom and a rim around the top.

The next step was the dormouse and I have to credit Sadbiscuit for some brilliant instructions which I have only modified very slightly.

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Procrastinating hard on the difficult bits (spout and handle) I moved onto the decorations. I estimated 6 pictures would be necessary and chose the Top Hat, the Cheshire Cat, the “Drink Me” Bottle, the Mock Turtle, the Pocket Watch and a pair of playing cards. This sounds fiddly but was probably the most straightforward bit. The pictures were made of thinly rolled fondant which could just be stuck on with water and the fine detail was drawn with a combination of writing icing and icing pens.

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There was a small disaster with the top hat succumbing to gravity but this was overcome with some propping up.

Onto the trickiest bit, the spout and handle. The picture above shows the final version but this was the second spout and third handle. The key to getting these to work was a balance of weight v. strength plus solid attachment to the body of the teapot. The first effort used dried spaghetti as dowels but this turned out to be completely ineffective. As shown here cocktail sticks worked well together with royal icing as glue.

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The royal icing was a bit messy, particularly as matching the purple wasn’t easy. I tidied it up with ribbons of the purple fondant wrapped around the joints and finished off the whole thing with a lid propped against the side. (I had planned to put it on top but it obscured the mouse too much). Ta daa!!!

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On the day competition was tough and I was pleased to come third. Just look at the well deserved winner with its fabulous attention to detail.

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Champagne

I was 40 last year but for various reasons didn’t get round to having a party. Ditto my husband 2 years earlier so when we got our building work finished and the garden sorted out and decided to hold a garden party not being 40 seemed as good a pretext to celebrate as any. We invited about 60 people and decided to let the pub take the catering strain (and a fabulous job they did too, thank you Karen and Nick at www.bellatbuckland.co.uk ) but a party isn’t a party without a cake.

60 people needs a big cake so I embarked on my first attempt at tiering. Nothing too structurally complicated, it started with a 9″ square dense fruit cake covered with ivory fondant (should have been white but my 4 year old was being particularly distracting while I was shopping. Hey ho.) On top of this went a 7″ square sour cream lemon cake, also covered with fondant icing. I’ve never made sour cream cake before and I was particularly impressed with it, very easy to make but a lovely moist cake. I didn’t assemble this until the morning of the party so no need for any dowels or other scaffolding.

So far, so simple but what to decorate it with? I ruled out making figures, I was fairly sure that would have ended in tears and decided on a champagne bottle. My plan was actually a half bottle lying down across the lemon cake using mini chocolate cakes cut in half to make the bottle and marzipan to form the shape of the neck. Naturally events conspired against me. I started running out of shopping time due to 4 year old’s school settling in sessions and baking time due to the entire village losing power for an evening after a silaging mishap took out a power cable. I was left making the cakes in an old chopped tomato can which made it too big for the top of the cake. Roll on Plan B.

Plan B meant making a complete, if slightly scaled down, bottle to stand on top of the cake. It started well. I made a simple chocolate cake mix and baked 3 mini chocolate cakes which I sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream.

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I completely covered this with marzipan before starting on the bottle neck. Of all the things I have had to do late night dashes to the supermarket for (calpol, milk, bread) marzipan is possibly the oddest but I’d completely underestimated the size of a bottle neck. On my return, armed with another 500g of marzipan, I had a reasonable stab at creating the right shape. Even the perfectionist I live with agreed the proportions were about right so I left it to dry. I hadn’t factored in the weather. It’s been hot for the last week or so, positively tropical for Somerset, and the marzipan softened and flowed under its own weight. My nicely proportioned champagne bottle was starting to resemble Newcastle Brown.

The following day I had another go at moulding it to the proper shape before covering with bottle green fondant. By this stage the sides were starting to flow a bit too although the extra fondant layer did contain it a little. I was running out of time so I decided to press on as I had more confidence in my abilities to actually decorate it than improve the shape. The decoration probably was the high point. Dr Oetker gold spray was perfect for the “foil” and I used black fondant icing for the labelling with a combination of writing icing and gold flakes for the detail. It was the shortest squattest champagne bottle ever seen but I found it quite endearing.

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On cutting the chocolate cake I discovered why everything had rippled quite so badly. The buttercream had also melted in the heat and squished out of its layers forming a new layer between the cake and the marzipan. I think I will wait for a cold spell before I try anything like this again.

Superhero Fairycakes

I don’t usually bother with tricky fondant icing for fairy cakes but when school announced a cake sale I thought I’d go for a repeat performance of the cakes I’d made for Aidan to take to Tumbletots on his birthday (pic shoehorned into Ben 10). This was mostly an experiment in a. cutting an intricate shape as I swapped Superman for Batman mostly to avoid the sticky gooiness of writing icing and b. a different colour web for Spiderman. Results are mixed:

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The webs are OK (they look better in real life than in the photo) but I do prefer the sparkly silver. The main advantage of using black was that for some reason it came out of the tube with a finer line so the webs are neater. The bats were hard work. Individually they look OK but when they’re all lined up like this you can see how much they vary. The main thing I must remember for next time is use card for a template! Paper is just too flimsy and seems to allow the icing to stretch too much. Still, I think they are recognisable enough to appeal to the scavenging hordes of 4-11 year olds who will be let loose with pocket money tomorrow.

Ben 10

This particular run of birthday cakes is drawing to a close with Aidan’s actual birthday on Wednesday and for the grand finale the theme is Ben 10. Naturally this should be really easy, a round cake with some green and grey geometric shapes and Robert’s your mother’s brother, the Omnitrix. But of course this is Aidan and he will be hugely disappointed if there are no actual aliens. I have ascertained that his 3 favourites are Fire Guy, Four Arms and Rock Head (not sure they’re the correct names but I know who he means) and armed myself with a selection of ready to roll fondant, how hard can it be?

The answer is of course stupidly hard. The characters have a lot of detail and they tend to be quite tall and slender whereas the material properties of fondant icing lend themselves to short and squat. It’s the difference between Kate Moss modelling a fabulous dress and then seeing yourself in the changing room mirror. Image

I’m now downgrading my expectations to recognisable in context once they’ve got faces drawn on.

Now for the actual cake, I’m determined to perfect the ice-able chocolate banana cake so taking heed of the previous 2 versions (Superman and Lego) which were domed to the point of nearly needing to be scraped off the top of the oven (maybe just a little exaggeration there) I’m trying original temperature but conventional oven. It’s looking good so far, it’s definitely cooked but the top is smooth and only slightly rounded. Obviously there is still the taste test to come but I’m hopeful, very hopeful.

So it’s all done, I think the cake might be slightly stodgy but time will tell. It’s all assembled for the photo shoot, I take a single photo and fire guy falls off the cake, losing his head in the process. Then Diamondhead’s arm falls off. This is all going swimmingly. Still, I think they and the Omnitrix are recognisable, I will have to rely on very quick singing of Happy Birthday and possibly some strategic cocktail sticks. Ben10_cake

If all else fails I’m pleased with the accompanying Superhero fairy cakes.

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Update All is well. The cake wasn’t stodgy. After some strategic use of cocktail sticks through the feet there were no casualties. Aidan recognised them (although they now appear to have different names and apparently Diamondhead should have a black and white suit). I am counting this as a success and I can have a break before the next round of baking. Except I’ve just got a text, school cake sale on Friday. Excellent.

Lego

Liam’s party cake and what could be more appropriate for a 7-year-old boy than Lego? Google finds a multitude of images for inspiration and I went for a construction themed square cake.
Further googling, with a bit of eBaying, means I am now the proud owner of a silicone mould to make perfect Lego bricks and I also plan to make as many of the decorations as possible in advance letting them dry out thoroughly in a cardboard box (not airtight). As an additional challenge I am going to try to make the decorations 100% edible. Because this isn’t tricky enough.

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Liam has helpfully left a small army of Lego men next to the box to help me achieve that authentic facial expression.

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The cake is a chocolate and banana cake at Liam’s request, more of a pudding than something designed to be decorated but ultimately it has to taste nice so I gave it a whirl. This cake usually has chocolate glacé icing on top so I’ve used that as a filling instead. Having learnt from Superman I cooked it at a lower temperature but it still domed really quite impressively, (note to self: try conventional rather than fan assisted next time), so it required some jiggery pokery to get a reasonably flat surface. I cut off the domed section and used it to build up the corners, sticking them back on with a bit of extra icing. Then I cut out a corner ready to hold the Lego bricks before covering the whole lot in marzipan.

Actually assembling it after all this wasn’t too bad, it just needed careful measuring of the white icing to make sure it overlapped the edges of the bricks. The decorations are very nearly 100% edible. It’s primarily fondant icing, the arm of the crane is a liquorice stick held on with a cocktail stick, the only non edible thing is the string allowing the brick to dangle from the crane.

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Update: The birthday boy has given his opinion. “Hmm, that’s quite good actually”

Superman

Aidan has asked for a Superman cake for his party, not surprisingly given his current obsession with Superheroes. “Great” I thought “Round cake. Blue icing. Badge, belt and cape. Job’s a good ‘un”. No. That has been entirely vetoed by small boy who wants actual Superman on his cake. The saving grace is that he doesn’t care about it being 3D so I’ve found a reasonably simple picture (on a learning to draw superheroes website*) to make a template. Superman will soar above Metropolis in cake form!
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The cake was a chocolate banana cake which domed badly (note to self: next time try reducing the temperature) but rather than flatten it I left it as I hoped the extra height would add to the illusion of flying. Having covered it in blue fondant icing I moved onto Metropolis. Aidan liked a cake we found using GIS which had houses around the side but I decided we needed a whole cityscape cut out of strips of black fondant to be stuck round the sides of the cake. It would probably have been better cut with a proper craft knife (something else for the shopping list) but it’s OK. Section 1 (it had to be done in sections or it was too fragile to handle):

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Cutting round the Superman template would also have been easier with a proper knife, especially his badge but I like the overall effect and yes, he is off centre on purpose. I actually remembered to leave space for a candle.

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*www.dragoart.com/tuts/118/1/1/how-to-draw-superman.htm