So right now it’s Tuesday, June 13, 2017. This past weekend was the 5th annual Lisa Mansour’s New York Cake Show. I can’t believe it, but I got GOLD. I had planned on making a blog about my cake but didn’t know that I would have such exciting news for you.
Here are a few pics of the show, then I am going to start my story about this cake!
I am very active on social media, and I have been watching cake shows from afar, Cake International in particular. But, being a Pennsylvania girl of modest income, a cake show in England is a far off goal. For a long time, I resigned to myself that a cake show was not in my future.
But last year I learned about Lisa Mansour’s New York Cake show. It was only its fourth year, so it makes sense that I hadn’t heard about it. I was sad to have missed it, but made it my goal to try and go in 2017.
Then, around February or March, the theme was announced: Broadway. At first I was very narrow-minded. I thought to myself, “I don’t know anything about the modern shows like Hamilton … ” I posted about it on Facebook. And, let me tell you – I have the greatest friends. They all encouraged me to go. My friend Lea said she would help me go since she has worked in New York before, so she is super familiar with the area.
Someone suggested Phantom of the Opera and then light bulbs went off. I knew Phantom might be a popular choice, but if I could come up with an original and interesting design, I might be able to make something amazing for the show. No matter if I placed or not, I was ready for adventure and to finally go to a cake show in person!
I read the rules and read them two and three more times so that I was crystal clear on everything. I looked up images and started to really form ideas in my head. I made this sketch when I saw this famous image of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman from the original 1988 cast.
Before I even registered, I quickly made some candles. I knew that candles could be so important.
I played around with sizes for the picture that I selected and held it up against my dummy cakes to get an idea of how it would look visually. I didn’t end up doing the music up top because there wasn’t any room for it, but more on that later.
MAKING THE PHANTOM
To make the Phantom and Christine, I first made a basic white gumpaste silhouette. I knew that gumpaste would be strong enough to hold up my semi-3D figures. I make my 2D/3D figures working from the back to the front. It will look a little funny as I go. The first thing I was super anxious to do was the Phantom’s face. His face came together super easily. I can’t say the same for Christine.
The way I approached my faces was inspired by Mimi Cafe Union — Sachiko Windbiel’s work is exquisite! I studied her posts on Instagram that show her step by steps. And when I saw that she was teaching a fondant figure class at the show, I jumped at the chance! Now that I took that class, I know exactly what I was doing wrong. I can’t wait to try figures like this again in the future with all my new knowledge.
Going on ….
Then I started to make Christine, because I couldn’t do too much with the Phantom because he is very much covered by Christine, who is front and center. I made sure to make a little bit of his elbow, which is behind her head.
Then I made her body shape. I made two small balls of fondant to give her breasts some depth, and covered it with more skin-color fondant. Then I used my small ball tool to give her neck and clavicles some definition.
Her left hand (our left) took just a couple of tries. I’m lucky because hands can prove to be difficult.
Below is my first attempt at her face. I almost was going to let this slide, because I don’t have a ton of time on my hands. But then I remembered that this cake is going to have a lot of eyes on it, so I should try again a different way.
Before I attempted a new face, I gave her make up to see if that would help. I used the original 1980s make up that Sarah Brightman wore, but I HATED IT.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all the way dried out, so I gently pulled her off and started again. I didn’t do much differently than the first time, but my result was so much better. I think she is sort of a Sarah/modern Christine hybrid.
I gave her much more subtle make up and very lightly painted her eyes, like a water color painting. Her cheeks and lips are petal dusts. Then I started her hair using big pieces of fondant and smaller pieces of fondant rolled into snakes.
Above is my original face with my new face. I am a big believer that if you have the time to fix your mistakes, you totally should! But at some point you have to stop or you will drive yourself crazy and you will never be done your project.
For the rest of the figures, I had to work from the back to the front. Phantom lures Christine into his lair right after a performance, so she has her costume on underneath her white dressing gown. The bodice is red with gold details, so I had to make that red bodice first.
I used my clay extruder to make a small amount of white cording for her gold bodice details. I would let it dry before painting it gold. You can also see my test piece of hair. I also made the Phantom’s collar and his mask.
For his mask, I actually had to drape fondant on his face and gently cut around, looking at the picture as a guide. I learned in my research that there have been a bunch of different Phantom masks over the years.
I don’t have pictures of the next few steps, because it was the week of my daughter’s project fair at school, so we were busy getting ready.
For Christine’s hair, I used one of the small circles in my class extruder to make long, dark brown ropes. Then I wrapped them around skewers. Cake dowels would have been too thick. I let them partially dry so they would hold their shape, but still soft enough to go where I wanted them to.
I made her right (our right) arm and hand out of skin color fondant. I also made sure to paint the gold details on her dress and let it dry. Then I slowly built up her dress, from the bottom to the top. The ruffle details and the bows were added last. The rope for her robe was a bit of a waste of time, since her hair covered most of it. I also made sure to make the Phantom’s left arm before I made HER left arm so it would be layered correctly. I know this is sort of confusing!
After her dress and his arm were done, I added some brown fondant for where her curls would be, to be both a guide, and to make her hair look more full.
APPLYING THE CURLS AND ADDING PHANTOM’S ARM
Bare with me here … I added the left part of her curls with the partially dried fondant hair. The next thing I did was add his left and ride forearms and hands. I very gently made his hand go into her hair. Then I tried my best to make his hands look natural and soft, and a bit strained, like in the photo. You can see at the very top of this photo that I had a reject hand or two.
Then I added the white for his white shirt and the dark blue for his suit jacket. I made his suit dark blue to contrast the background, which I had planned to be black.
Then I added the rest of her hair and was done this part of the project!
BACK OF THE CAKE
I really didn’t leave any part of this cake untouched. So I tried to come up with something different and engaging for the back of the cake. After looking at so many photos of the show, I was reminded of the Red Devil mask. In this part of the play, the Phantom crashes the masquerade ball while wearing this costume. He has a new musical that he has written, demanding that Christine be the main actress in his new play.
I actually did this before I made my figures because I knew that it would be “easy”. I thought it would make me feel better if I got something major finished first, so I would feel like I made a dent in my project.
I got a huge piece of white fondant and started to carve it out with my ball tools. I added extra white to the top for his expressive eyes.
After that, I filled his mouth and eyes with black fondant (not black paint) and added teeth. I thought about doing teeth the easy way, but it didn’t look right. The easy way being just a long rectangle of white fondant with little notches in it. Instead, I made individual teeth.
In this pic below, I’m checking out how it will look on the cake and am visualizing his hat taking up the top tier of the cake. I wanted the hat to be grand and taking up a lot of negative space. I wasn’t ready to put the cake all together yet, so I decided to dry the mask on my 8″ cake. I put the dummy on its side, propped it up, and laid the mask on top of it. That really did the trick.
THE HAND CRANK MONKEY
An important part of the musical was the hand crank monkey. He is seen at the beginning of the musical during the auction and he is seen in the Phantom’s lair.
The first thing I did was take a big hunk of black fondant, cut it THICK, and used my X-Acto knife to cut a large rectangle. Then I cut a thick piece of red fondant the same size, placed them together, and rounded the sides to make it look like a plush little stool. Then I stuck a tooth pick down the middle for the monkey to sit on:
For the gold details around the black, I made some ropes with my clay extruder. I lined the entire top bottom, and sides, and made some simple curls at each corner. One actually broke off at some point and I had to fix it the day before the show. The detail on the front of the box is from a Wilton mold I had lying around. I wanted it to be simple but enough to suggest an ornate box. With something so small, there’s only so much you can do.
I don’t have many pictures of the next few parts. I was working on an order at the time, so I was in sort of a rush. After it had dried, I painted the details in gold. I made his body and made the look of hair with a veiner tool. Then I pushed it down on the tooth pick. I covered part of his torso with his red vest.
Then his arms and legs were next and were surprisingly easy. Then I made his symbols. As a bit of a cheater trick, I had them meet at the middle so they would support each other.
My kids asked me if he was the monkey from Toy Story 3. LOL. I made his face by making the basic shape. Then I added on more hair and his face from smaller pieces of fondant.
I supported his feet and arms to make sure they dried the way that I wanted it to. I did the entire monkey body in one shot. This was one of the easiest parts of the project.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Sometimes when you make cakes like this, you don’t know how it will all come together in the end. You make all your elements and hope they all fit together. I played with different arrangements. I had made 3 pretty roses using red fondant that I had left over from my daughter’s Elmo cake.
Monkey on the top…?
Monkey on the bottom?
Feeling inspired, I covered my cakes in black fondant, as well as my cake board. It is actually part of the rules that the cake board be covered in fondant. After I did that, I looked at it all together again without putting anything on permanently.
After everything was on, I scrapped the idea of hand cutting the PHANTOM logo. Not a lot of room.
RED DEATH’S RED HAT
To make the red death’s hat took a couple of tries. I thought that I could cut it accordingly, and use paper towels to prop it up. But that failed miserably.
So then I cut out a new hat and let it dry for half a day. Then it was nice and sturdy and held its own weight. Then I attached the mask.
To make the rim of the hat, I used a lace tool and gumpaste.
To make the feathers, I cut them by hand, added lines out with my veiner tool, and dried the on tin foil so they would have a rumpled look. When they were dry, I added them to the hat.
I made my tiers flush in the front for two reasons. It created a space in the back to build my feathers in. And it created a flat surface in the front to support my figures. I’ve done this in the past with actual cakes, so I knew this would work well.
When the hat was nice and dry, I painted the trim in gold. When the gold was dry, I aged the hat and made shadows on the skull with black petal dusts.
When I looked at my cake at this point, I decided that it needed more. I ran out to JoAnn fabrics with a 50% off coupon in hand, I bought more Wilton black fondant. I made more rose buds, and got to work making more roses. I started with 3, but had 7 in the end.
My roses were not made with a rose cutter, but an individual petal cutter. Then I used my Wilton calyx cutter to add that detail. What are roses without the green calyxes? I wanted to do this right, so I made sure to include them so that my roses looked complete.
At this point, after I added the roses, it looked complete. I added shading to all the characters, the roses, and the candles. I took out the original flames and made new flames so I could color the wicks with an Americolor black marker. I made sure to make the middle blue and orange like in real flames.
You can see my naked sides below. I knew I had to do something with the sides. When I was looking up Playbills, I stumbled upon Playbill.com. The website has a complete history of all the Playbills from the Majestic Theater. In case you don’t know, the Majestic Theater is the theater where the Phantom of the Opera is performed on Broadway. So, perfect! I thought, what better way to celebrate Broadway’s longest-running show with a brief history of its Playbills?
I ordered my prints from my favorite Etsy seller of edible images: EdiblePartyImages. I told her what I was up to and how big the Playbills should be. She arranged them for me on a 8″ x 11″ sheet of edible paper. I waited until the Thursday before the show to add the images because the instructions say they can fade. I wanted them to look their best.
I also wrote a small essay on my cake. My husband graciously printed and laminated it at his work. Here is what it said:
Phantom and Christine
I was inspired by the theme to make a cake based on Phantom of the Opera, because I have seen it several times and it’s one of my favorites. I made the Phantom and Christine in their famous scene together; they are based on the original Broadway stars, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman.
On the back of the cake is the Red Devil mask, which the Phantom wears when he interrupts the masquerade ball. On the top is the hand crank monkey, which is up for auction at the beginning of the musical (Lot 665), and is later seen in the Phantom’s lair when he kidnaps Christine.
The Playbills on the sides are from the Majestic Theater, dating the original 1988 Playbill through 2016. Left (from top to bottom): January 1988, January 1998, February 2012. Right (from top to bottom): January 26, 2013, June 2014, July 2016.
Almost everything on the cake is hand-made in fondant and gumpaste. The front details on the music box and the trim on the hat are molds. The Playbills on the side are edible images on fondant.
I also added a red trim with hot glue gun. As part of the rules for the cake show, you have to have “feet” under your cake. My husband told me a great idea to make feet: cut 1″ squares of my cake boards and glue three of them together. I made four for each “corner” (squares don’t have corners), as well as for the center. This was pretty easy and then my cake looked truly complete.
I took my pics (see the beginning of this post) and was ready for the cake show. Now that I have typed all this up, I remember how much work this all was. For such a little cake, it took hours upon hours of work. I’m so glad that I took this opportunity to show what I’m good at and to learn some new things in the process. It was such a fun cake to make and brought back so many memories … Memories of listening to Phantom in my bedroom in middle school, seeing it for the first time with my mom in Philly, and another time with my boyfriend (my to-be husband).
I can’t wait until next year and hope to make a lot of fun things between now and then.
Thank you all so much for your encouragement. It takes a village.
P.S. My next article will be about the cake show itself, as well as my New York adventure!!!