I haven’t made a post since my niece’s Monster High Birthday Cake. It sure has been busy! Since then I have made a few cakes. Here are their pictures. As always, you can click on them to get a better look:
So, yeah, I’ve been busy! My focus this year has been quality over quantity. I approach cakes as a craft as well as something delicious to be devoured and enjoyed. Custom cake decorating is so time consuming, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding. I think all creative jobs are like that!
One random Wednesday (July 8th), I decided to take the kids to the $3 movie theater to check out Inside Out. Three kids. Alone. It was okay, but we left early because the baby was not feeling it. When I got out of the theater, I checked my phone and my cake page had a new message on Facebook from a PR person representing .. Sesame Place! I couldn’t believe it!
I had to think about it initially. I take a lot of time on my cakes and characters, so I wasn’t sure if I could pull this off with the amount of time that I was given. But then I posted to Facebook about it (naturally, ha), and I got all sorts of positive responses. Ones that stand out are “What would Elmo do?” and that we’re never given more than we can handle.
I got the details the next day. All baking would be done off the premises. Fondant decorations could be made at home. Then, at the park, we would have ample amounts of time to finish our cakes. Later this turned into two hours, from 10 am to 12 pm. This sounded like a good amount of time to me because I tend to obsess and sometimes it’s better if I am only given a certain amount of time to do something.
I was also picturing myself and a bunch of other bakeries/cake decorators. But then I read the document again and it said I was just going to be one of FIVE. Eeeep! There’s no where to hide when you’re just one of five.
And then there was the prize if you won … You would have to make ANOTHER cake to present it on Sesame Place’s actual birthday, July 30th. And you get 35 tickets for family, friends and customers.
My first thought was, “Another cake? After rushing so much to make the first one?” I posted that to Facebook, too, and my friends joked that maybe I should just make a lack-luster cake to guarantee that I would lose and not have to make another cake. Ha. Ha.
Even though I was nervous about this project and its parameters, I decided to go for it. You only live once, right? And it would be setting a great example for my children.
I had to jump in and make a plan immediately. The first thing I did was decide on my design (roughly) and get started on some important characters. I consider Sesame’s most important characters to be Big Bird (Jim Henson’s favorite and THE original headliner) and Elmo, because – HE’S ELMO.
From there I decided on Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Abby Cadabby and very last minute I made Zoe because I needed one more character.
I made these three first. I used a large open tip to make Big Bird’s feathers. Time saver right there. I considered doing the feathers one by one for about a second, but “ain’t no body got time for that”.
When I decided to make Abby Cadabby, I just knew she had to “fly”. I’m not sure how I got this idea. It just popped into my mind and I just had to try and do it. It would be my one showy thing that I could fit into this cake. That and the balloons, too. If the skewers would hold them, I would make them. After testing it, I went along and made 12 balloons. Originally it was going to be 6.
As far as the cake, I just wanted something sturdy. I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to be eating it, but I made white almond sour cream cake for my sister’s birthday and it worked out well, so that’s what I made for this cake. The recipe I have makes 14 cups of batter, so I made a 10″ cake in one shot. Then I was also able to make the 8″ and the giant cupcake out of one batch. It saved a lot of time.
Oscar the Grouch was fun to make. His can is hollow. I let slate gray fondant dry on a paper towel roll. After it was dry, I painted it silver with luster dust. I aged it with black coloring mixed with vodka.
To get ready for this contest, I packed everything except the kitchen sink. My fondant mat, paper towels, Viva paper towels, gum glue, paint brushes, all three of my revolving cake stands, etc. etc. etc.
The night before, I crumb coated my cakes since other cake decorators were bringing dummy cakes (Styrofoam cakes). I was going to fill and crumb coat it on-site, but I figured if people were bringing dummies, which obviously don’t need to be filled and crumb coated, I would get my cakes up to the same point to make it fair.
I decided on covering my cakes in buttercream because I’m just awful at covering cakes in fondant. Okay, not awful, but not great. The thought of attempting it in front of people stressed me out. I debated about what type of buttercream to make. In summer I usually make buttercream that is 2/3s butter and 1/3 Crisco. But there’s also a variation that’s HALF Crisco, and then one more version that is ALL Crisco. I figured that there would be a chance that someone would be eating it, so I went with my usual 1/3 Crisco. I made an all-Crisco batch of buttercream for my borders.
I was obsessed about the weather all week. One day it was saying it was going to be raining. Another day it said it was going to be 95. Either way, it was going to be hot and humid. I was sick with worry about my cake falling over or it just not coming together or everything going wrong. I wasn’t sure how well my fondant (LMF) was going to hold up. Cake and heat do not get along. I knew that I would be under a tent. I was picturing a catering tent. What we ended up having was basic outdoor tents and umbrellas.
I was also going to take my kids, husband and father-in-law along. How could I not go to Sesame Place and not take my kids? We left very early Tuesday early to get to the contest. We had to get there at 9 AM to get all of our stuff set up. We planned on dropping the baby off with my mother-in-law, picking up my father-in-law and going from there. We got about ten minutes out when I realized that I forgot my cake board! Ugh! So we had to back track and get it. We got there a tad late – 9:15, not too bad.
When I got into the park, my eyes were drawn right to the gigantic birthday cake. In front of it there was only 3 tables. Only three of us decided to participate in the contest. I was shocked and I would have been nervous, but by that time it was a little too late! I also noticed that the other two bakeries had teams of two or three people each. I was thinking that this was going to be the case, but actually seeing it made me feel crazy it was that I showed up by myself. How could I ever compete with big bakeries?
When we got there, we loaded everything up onto a dolly to get it in the park. My kids loved it. Nah, they didn’t ride on it. They wanted to, though!
It took a while to get set up. I put aside the tools that I didn’t need right away and went from there. To brighten up my table I brought a birthday banner that I had saved from my daughter’s second birthday. I was going to hand it along the front, but decided to just place it on the top of the table. A lot of people asked me about it. It’s from a seller on Etsy named Spoiled Mama Studio . I love her designs!
Before the contest started, I was looking nice and fresh.
The contest started after the National Anthem played at 10 AM. The first thing I did was cover my large cakes in buttercream. I knew that they wouldn’t crust over with all the humidity, so I didn’t even bother trying to get them super smooth. With the extreme weather, it just wasn’t going to happen.
Then I covered my giant cupcake. I cover the liner part upside down. Then I covered the top with white fondant. After that, I added the “drips” to the 10″ and 8″ cakes and the “filling”.
After all this was done, I put my pink cake on the cake board, then my blue one on top of that, then my cupcake on top of that. I didn’t place my 10″ cake quite where I wanted to put it, but it was too late and the buttercream was way to melt-y to even attempt to move it over. I really regretting not going with my idea to make “buttercream” using only shortening. Shortening doesn’t melt quite as easily as butter. Sure, that sounds gross, but for all intents and purposes, that would have been a much better choice. But you live and you learn!
I stuck my sharpened center dowel rod into all three of the cakes. I use a poultry hammer to hammer down. It goes through the cake boards very easily. Then I added my big, pretty border with my 100% Crisco cream. By that time, I believe it was about 11:20ish. After that it was just a matter of adding the oversized sprinkles that I had made out of fondant. I also added the slogan “35 Years of Furry Fun”, which I had made a head of time.
Then I added my characters. Cookie Monster needed his cookies added. I had a bag of Cookie Crisp ready to go. People really loved this! I enjoyed telling everybody how my husband asked me to take what I needed for this project and then we ate the rest between the four of us in five days.
I was really glad that my father-in-law came back at some point to take pictures and video. He ended up helping me a little bit. I joked that he was my assistant of sorts. He helped me move stuff and when the cake was finally ready to turn around, he helped me lift and turn it. And, wow, was it ever heavy. He also helped me when people were asking questions and I was trying to talk and work at the same time.
This is all the boring stuff … What was really fun was all the people who came up to the table, asking question, admiring the decorations.
One guy said to me, “where’s your team?” I told him it was just me and he said, “that is impressive!”
I talked fondant to one lady who seemed to know a little bit about cake decorating. That was fun!
One sweet Sesame Place employee told me that he was rooting for me.
When I was finally finished (with ten minutes to spare), a family came back who had been there when the park first opened and they were happy with how my cake had turned out. They congratulated me on getting it finished. Then they asked me to take a picture with the cake.
I also got to talk to the Intelligencer / The Courier times. That was so fun! She took pictures and asked good questions. I also talked to ABC Action news briefly. It hasn’t been aired yet, and I’m not sure they are going to use the footage. They did a brief 3 minute news story, and I wasn’t even in that very much. That’s really okay with me! Working with cameras on you is kind of intimidating. I kept kidding myself in my head that I felt like a Kardashian with the camera on me. Ha!
I felt so gross when I was finally done! A few good pictures were taken and we let people come through and look at all the cakes for a while. It was a long journey to get to this point (but really, only about ten days!), and it was finally over. Then the real fun would begin soon of voting and waiting to see the outcome.
The other two cakes were amazing! My other competitors were full bakeries with teams of two and three. Bredenbeck’s cake was an impressive structure with four figures on a cake holding up ANOTHER cake. Alice’s Bakery and Confectionary also made a full structure that included a water slide and large, detailed characters.
After putting aside my characters and decorations, I cut my cake for the employees. It was fun to see how excited everybody was for CAKE! Every employee at Sesame Place who I met was SO incredibly friendly and encouraging.
After I was changed out of my dirty and sweay clothes, it was time for fun. We ate lunch at Elmo’s Eatery. My kids were so excited about all the fun they had been having all day. I thanked my husband for everything he had done to help me get there. Taking off of work, getting the kids ready, helping the kids through Sesame Place. And he said to me, “No, we’re here all because of you. You earned this.”
We spent a good amount of time swimming and I was so happy and smiling so much my cheeks began to hurt. It wasn’t very crowded, so we actually had quite a relaxing swim. Then we did the carousel and got changed back into our dry clothes and it was time to head home.
The voting took place on Facebook Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It was nail biting. I would get in the lead, then ABC would get in the lead. Back and forth all day. I was so addicted to checking my phone. My friends, my family, my alumni, all started sharing and writing about me. It was so amazing. Everybody was so supportive and flattering. I was truly humbled by the experience. One lady, a friend of a friend, said she would have voted for me even if I hadn’t been a friend. That meant a lot!
Every time I started to win, I wondered if I truly deserved it. Friends assured me that I did because I did the entire cake by myself. I told myself that no matter who won, they would deserve it. They were three great cakes and each one was different than the other in its style. I was just so proud of the fact that I even did the contest with so little time, three kids running around, and so much work to do. I didn’t have as much votes at one point, but had well over 1,000 “likes” (which are different), so I was quite proud of that.
Just in case I DID win, I had to have a plan. Of course, I had all of my decorations from the original contest on hand and ready. So I didn’t have to do that over again. I started baking my cakes all over again. Except this time I made from-scratch cakes. A 10″ chocolate butter cake, an 8″ Hershey’s chocolate cake and the giant cupcake was chocolate, too. If I lost, I would use it for something else. If I won, I would be ready. It would be a win-win situation.
Like I said before, every time I would get a vote, the other team would get a vote. I put down my phone to make our Friday night pizza with my son. The next time I got on Facebook on my phone, my friends were congratulating me on winning. I couldn’t believe it really! I was sincerely in shock. I was very grateful that I had done all that baking!
Since this blog is basically already a book, I’ll try to make the rest short.
I pulled a lot of late nights between Friday and Wednesday. I had to make a double batch of fondant, hand roll more oversized jimmies, make more curly cues, make some new balloons, and put together a new board.
I made a new “35”, custom cut this time from one of my favorite fonts. I also made a Sesame Place logo because my husband said that I “just had to”. The pressure was on to make it perfect. Here are some progress pictures.
Custom cut logo. Used the half moon shape from my clay extruder (Makins Clay Extruder can be found on Amazon) for the yellow border.
I cut white fondant ruin, let it sit for ten minutes, then cut my letters.
I also decided to make a version of their official “35” year logo (the two balloons and the star balloon). To make my balloons shiny, I mix vodka and corn syrup. A tip I learned from Royal Bakery on Facebook.
For Cake 2.0, as I began to call it, I decided that I just had to cover my cake in fondant this time, because my buttercream would not stand up to the heat. I filled and crumb coated my cakes in all-Crisco icing on Monday night. We were in a heatwave, so buttercream made with real butter was just out of the question.
Tuesday night, I covered my cakes in fondant and added the over-sized jimmies that I had prepared. The calls all went on their own cake board.
Covering a big cake isn’t that hard, but I am bad at laying it on just right. This took two attempts.This is all I did the night before the big day, Wednesday night. I put the center dowel rod through for added stability. I planned on taking it out, putting the giant cupcake on, then putting it back in. I covered it with Press ‘n Seal overnight and for the ride. At this point, it would not fit back into the refrigerator. I kept it in a well-air-conditioned room so that it would stay nice and not wilt or get pock marks. And my plan worked well!
On the big day, July 30, I added the characters and the top cupcake on-site when we got there. We arrived on time this time, bright and early at 9 AM! This time, our six-month-old and the kids’ grandmother joined us.
I was so nervous that my cake would stumble over and didn’t want to take any chances of the cupcake falling off. I kept asking my daughter if the cake was okay on the hour-long drive there.Thankfully, it made it to Sesame Place just fine.
It was another hot one, of course, and it was CROWDED. But, despite the heat, I got a lot of joy out of seeing people admire my cake. Many people would stop to look at it. They took pictures of it and with it. I love to see people enjoying my cake, but at the same time, I don’t like a lot of attention, so I just watched from afar. Sometimes my mother-in-law would say, “here’s the lady who made the cake – all herself!” They really did it up for the 35th birthday party and gave out party hats and blow-outs for the kids. It was awesome and so exciting.
The president made a brief speech and announced the cake. It was very brief, but it was so nice. We were right up front and ready for the big moment – the characters coming out to dance! When they finally did, my kids were just so excited. They were right next to the stage, since we were there so early. My daughter was so happy to get to see Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster and Elmo right up close. She had the hugest smile on my face. I think that was my very favorite part of the day.
These two cakes really were a challenge to me. I thought many times that I couldn’t do it. But I persevered and pushed through. And I have the best friends and family a person could ask for. I can’t thank everybody enough for being so supportive and being my cheerleader all the way through. And the voting and sharing was truly amazing! My mom friends, my Upper Darby alumni, my family — all my networks really helped me get to the 35th birthday party. Thank you all again for pushing me past my comfort zone.