I feel like I have been making a lot of first birthday cakes lately, but I suppose that makes sense since so many of my customers, friends, and family are around my own age. This one was another special one for me because it was for a returning customer / cousin. And it’s one of my favorite themes! The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
Do you remember when this book came out? Because I do! I remember our librarian reading it to us and there was always a long list of kids waiting to take it out of the library. It is one of my children’s favorite books. And I have to admit, I love seeing all the different takes on this theme other cake decorators come up with.
My cousin sent me a ton of different images of Very Hungry Caterpillar cakes, and told me what she liked and didn’t like about each one. Then I came up with a few sketches and a plan.
The first thing I had to do was make colors. I grabbed our copy of the book and quickly realized I would basically need ALL THE COLORS. Luckily, I had some extra fondant colors from other recent projects.
Here are all the finished colors:
The very first thing I knew that I had to do was make the caterpillar. I used a wire to help give him structure and to keep with his shape. I swirled together light green, dark green, and yellow to make his varying colors:
After the caterpillar was completely made, I added in some toothpicks so that I would have something to stick in the cake for support:
Then I stood him up on some styrofoam with added support under his head so it wouldn’t droop:
I made some 3D foods for the cake board, including the ice cream, lollipop and piece of chocolate cake. I also custom cut a number “1”, added small dots echoing the illustrations in the book, and then added a red boarder. Then I put a stick in so it would stand up later. These were the only things I had to make ahead of time (usually 2-3 weeks).
For the cake, we went with an 8″ and 6″ funfetti cake. All I did for this was double my favorite funfetti cake recipe by Sweetapolita. I made one change — I used all purpose flour instead of cake flour because I didn’t want it to be too delicate. I didn’t change the amount, either. Doubling the recipe allowed for just enough batter for two 8″ and two 6″ cake tins. After they cooled, I torted them so I could make elegant 4 layer cakes.
I covered a 12″ cake board in regular green fondant and let it dry a few days. I don’t put the ribbon on until last, so it doesn’t get dirty
After that, the Wednesday before the party, it was time to get started. I made a triple batch of vanilla buttercream (Toba Garrett’s Decorator’s Buttercream recipe) and a 1.5 batch of chocolate buttercream (Savory Sweet Life recipe– I omitted the almond extract). I filled and crumb coated my cakes and let them rest in the fridge for a bit. After that, I covered them in my white buttercream.
When it was time to put my cakes on the board, I carefully lifted my cake with my Wilton Cake Lifter and attached the cake to the board. I used hot glue between the boards. Since it would be traveling for over an hour (eeek!), I had to make sure it was steady.
This cake was two tiers, so I HAD to make dowel rods for support. I did six in the 8″ cake this time because it would be traveling over an hour.
Next, I gave my buttercream another round of smoothing with my Viva paper towels. I have been doing this while the cakes are cool lately because they really crust over well in the refrigerator. After they warm up for a few minutes is the perfect time to get the cake even smoother with paper towels.
Then I just had to add some buttercream on the cake so they would stick together, and place my 6″ cake on top.
Then I measured my center dowel rod, sharpened it, rinsed it off, and inserted it down the center.
I simply use my tapered angled palette knife and little by little add buttercream around the cake. I added more buttercream to all of the cake to ensure that it looked perfectly white. I know I used my paper towels again. I wanted it to be smooth, but at the same time, I didn’t want to obsess.
After that, my cake went back in the fridge until the next day.
I decided the smartest way to go about this design was work from the bottom up.
We decided on the colorful circles to mimic the circles that Eric Carle illustrated the inside covers of the book. I got out all of my small circle cutters and held them up to the cake to decide which one would look the best, while also allowing room for the other decorations. Then I rolled out all my colors and cut all my circles. I could have done some math to find out exactly how many circles I needed, but I chose not to this time.
Then I placed them on randomly, like in the book. I really had to resist doing them in proper rainbow order, ROYGBIV.
Next, I printed out Liam’s name in one of my favorite fonts, Bernard MT Condensed, font size 150. I look at the ruler on the side of Word to see how many inches it is. Then I held it up to the cake to make sure it was a good size: not too big and not too small.
The way I designed the name was a happy accident. I had collected up my extra circles, balled them up, and was about to throw them away, but I really was intrigued by the way the colors looked mushed together. So I rolled the marbled ball out to see how it would look. I thought it looked a lot like the way Eric Carle makes his illustrations, so I decided to use it for Liam’s name. I also rolled out some red to make a background so it would really pop and have a lot of detail.
After the fondant was set and slightly dry, I cut the letters with a fresh X-Acto blade (currently using #11 blades). To keep everything centered correctly, I make an X on the front of my cake board — at least, when I know it is going to be covered with ribbon. I don’t do this if I am not going to be adding ribbon.
To attach, I lightly brushed the letters and placed them on the red, then cut around them with my knife. After that, I placed them on my cake and popped it back into the fridge again.
All that remained of my cutting by hand was the caterpillar’s food. I started by rolling out my fondant to let it set. I printed out my food and resized them to the correct side. I found them on Google images. Then, using my pin again, I made my shapes and cut them with my X-Acto knife. I used one of my round tips to make the “bite” hole in each one. For the detailing on the strawberry and watermelon, I made quick marks with my AmeriColor black gourmet writer.
All my finish foods, below.
It’s worth noting that I quickly and easily made little circles out of my red fondant for the cherry cake. Then I made a triangle for the top part of the pie. Then I made the crust.
By this time, they had set up enough, meaning they weren’t too soft and weren’t completely stiff. You need them soft enough to adhere to the side of your cake and stiff enough that they won’t warp in your hands. I lightly wet them with water to adhere them, but not so much that they were soaked. A very light moistening. I usually dip my brush in water and brush off the excess on some paper towels.
After that, I quickly added stems with tiny pieces of brown fondant rolled between my fingers. Then it was time for one of my favorite parts: I added the toppers and the 3D foods that I made ahead of time.
To get the ice cream, lollipop, and cake to stick, I just wet the bottom of the foods — not just moisten this time — really wet them. Then pressed them onto the board. Since the board is covered with fondant, it worked well because fondant sticks to fondant quite nicely.
The very last thing to do, as I mentioned before, was add my 5/8″ red ribbon. Some people like to use double-sided tape to do this, but I use hot glue.
The next day, when the sunlight was good in my dining room, I took my pics and I was done! I add my logo and website in Gimp and Paint, respectively. My backdrop is from the awesome Sugar High, Inc. I use natural light and no processing.
I hope you learned a little something about the process of making a cake like this! As usual, if you have a question, just ask.
PS-6/12/16. Here are some sweet pics from the party!