All buttercream super hero cake!

So it’s Ellie’s birthday weekend again! I’ve made a cake for Ellie every year for the past few years; I have lost count. This year, we decided on a Funko Pop! Theme. At first I was going to make them out of fondant — easy peasy. But then I decided that these figures are such basic shapes that why not trying to make something with buttercream?

I have been very inspired by bakeries working in all buttercream, like Viva La Buttercream and White Flower Bake Shoppe. Last year, I made a Charlie Brown cake for Threadcakes and used the frozen buttercream technique, and it turned out great, so I was confident I could give it a go again.

First, I need to give credit where credit is due. There is a great tutorial on how to make buttercream transfers by Cake Journal: https://cakejournal.com/tutorials/how-to-make-a-frozen-buttercream-transfer/ . This truly tells you all you need to know about making buttercream transfers.

First, I looked at the characters she decided on – classic Wonder Woman and Batman. Then I gathered all my colors.

I cut out my templates and made sure everything fit correctly:

Then I made 5 lbs of American Buttercream. I use Toba Garrett’s Decorator’s Buttercream recipe. I had to guess how much of each color I needed.

I traced my picture onto parchment paper and flipped it over.

Then I made a bunch of bags fitted with small tips — 3, 2, and 1s. I usually avoid 1 tips because even when you sift your 10x (which I do), there tends to be clumps.

The first thing I did was make my black lines, then let it rest in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Then I did the white details, dots on her costume, and red star on Wonder Woman and filled in Batman’s white eyes.

I let it freeze a little white again, then filled in the skin color:

After letting it freeze a little bit more, I added the rest of the colors:

The next day, I softened some butter and made a small batch of buttercream. Believe it or not, I didn’t have enough buttercream! It is so hard to estimate your colors when making buttercream cakes and the consensus is that making too much of each color is better than not enough. So .. I didn’t have enough buttercream to crumb coat under my cake. I did a thick crumb coat on the top of my cake that was more like a regular coat because I like to be generous with my buttercream.

Then, after adding some fresh buttercream to the yellow and red to make sure I definitely had enough, I started the details on the top of the cake. I was going to do a starburst design, so I drew it into my crumb coat with a toothpick first.

Next, I colored in the yellow and the red and tried to smooth it out and blend where they met together.

Then, after letting the cake rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes, I smoothed it out with a Viva paper towel as best as I could. I scraped off and added to some areas to try and get it nice and even. Then I outlined it with a black line. I wanted to go for a comic book look.

I don’t have many pictures of the rest of the steps. After letting it chill again, I added the blue on the sides. Then I got a number 1 tip and added the dark red dots to make it look even more like a comic book.

From there, I added my buttercream transfers, which turned out pretty well! I smoothed them out with a paper towel, added white shine to Wonder Woman’s eyes and lined them a little bit more to really make them pop. I also made her name in a comic book font. I fixed that as best as I could. Then I wrote HAPPY BIRTHDAY free hand. I added my border with my number 18 tips.

I also went back and added some silver luster dust to Wonder Woman’s cuffs. I didn’t paint it on. I just sort of dabbed it on (when the cake was chilled).

And then I took my pic and was all done!!

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I know I have made more complicated cakes before — much more complicated. But there was something so nice about working in all-buttercream. And Ellie and her mom (and brother, too!) were so delighted!

Did I mention this cake was one of my very favorite cakes, King Arthur Golden Vanilla Cake — with mini chocolate chips? Before covering it with buttercream, I poked it with a toothpick and added simple syrup to ensure that it stayed moist.

See you next time!
Nichole

New York Cake Show and Highlights from NYC

A DICEY BEGINNING

Last year I learned about Lisa Mansour’s New York Cake Show. Only in its fourth year, I not-surprisingly hadn’t heard of it. I told myself that if I could enter in 2017, I would!

They announced in February-ish that the theme this year would be Broadway. They’re going to try and keep it New York-themed for as long as they don’t run out of fun themes. I wasn’t sure a) how to navigate getting to NYC and b) what theme I would do.

My friend, who has ordered many cakes from me over the years, used to work in NYC, so she jumped at the chance to help me out. So that was sorted. And then someone suggested Phantom of the Opera, and then I really got inspired. To see more about my step-by-step, please visit my last post HERE.

In March, I started my cake. I gathered what I needed, made my design and was done in about 3 weeks. I did my research/ refreshed my memory of the show and was inspired. I’m the type who really loves to seize that inspired feeling before it goes away. Plus, I knew that I had a bunch of cakes coming up, and not much going on in March, so I took the opportunity. Without orders or family birthdays, I was able to take my time.

Before I knew it, June rolled around. I got an email from someone who wanted a cake the week of the show. And then I also got news that my friend who was going with me was having a family emergency and couldn’t go.

Since I was done my cake, I took the cake order. I got baking straight away.

But when my friend cancelled, I sort of freaked out. I am brave when it comes to driving places, even though I get nervous about getting lost, but driving into the city was out of the question. I can’t even drive around Philadelphia without screwing up.

Of course, I posted about it in my mom group. A few people offered to help. But then my friend K not only offered to help, but she had a game plan. It was her daughter’s birthday that week, so she had already been planning to make a trip into the city. A little hesitant because I never met her and her family in person, I took the opportunity. A lot of people encouraged me and I knew that she had met a bunch of others, so she was vouched for lol. Rachel asked if she could go with me to the show. I asked K if that was okay, and she was more than fine with it.  She has kids, too, (2, 6, and 9) and knew they would probably get along well with Rachel.

That week, I made a lovely graduation cake and made the final touches of my Phantom cake. I had to add my edible images and fix something that broke and clean up some messy spots. Then I packed it up — in a better box than I had before, thanks to my neighbor.  I put on a lid and was ready to go!

I had to wait until my husband came home to make the hour and a half trip to K’s house. He surprised me by coming home an hour early :). I was mostly ready, so we gathered up the rest of our stuff, buckled up Rachel and my cake, and we were on the road!

Then … I realized we forgot the muffins we had baked them, so we had to turn around.  I grabbed them and jumped back in the van before I could be spotted by Ben and Alex.

I asked my husband if there was somewhere to get gas between our home and 78. He said, “probably?” He was wrong! I got to a point and there was 78 before us. I pulled over and was able to find a gas station pretty close to where we were–phew.

The drive from Pennsylvania to her home in New Jersey was actually pretty easy. 78 and 278 had almost no traffic. I arrived in no time at all. Well, it felt like no time at all.

I snapped this picture of Rachel with her little suit case (originally a suitcase that her Bitty Baby stuff came in) right before we knocked on K’s door. We were a little nervous to be landing on the doorstep of someone new, but we took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

We were greeted by a crazy happy family. They had some of their family over for dinner, so it was especially hectic when we arrived. Her eldest took our stuff and our shoes, a perfect mini hostess. Rachel was a little shy and very tired, too tired to really watch a movie with the girls. She’s like me — a bit slow to warm up. We also came bearing 24 pumpkin muffins that we had baked the night before and a sweet card that Rachel made M when she learned it was her birthday. I didn’t even ask her to do that. She just did it 🙂

CAKE SHOW DAY 1

I set my alarm for 6 AM, but was up long before that. I had pulled my back that week, so sleeping was a little rough. I got a quick shower and we went downstairs. M (K’s husband) graciously made me some coffee and Rachel had a muffin, even though we planned on a fun side trip to Dunkin Donuts!

I had to be set up between 8 AM and 9 AM. It was so exciting when our trip was over and we were at the venue — Pier 36 in the Lower East Side. We got in line to check in. The line was going out the door with awesome cakes. K’s daughter, B, came along. I gave B and Rachel some programs — which looked like Playbills — and they were excited to go inside.

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We spotted some super fun cakes while we were waiting in line. The girls in front of us had an awesome Aladdin cake. We saw a cute Phantom of the Opera 3D doggie cake being carried around. Then we saw Renshaw’s beautiful Statue of Liberty cake made by famous cake decorator Chef Benny Rivera. Even from afar, as we waited in line, we could tell it was a beautifully detailed creation.

The first thing we looked at, after I checked in and put my cake on a display table with my entry number, was this HUGE Broadway cake. It wasn’t part of the competition, it was a show piece for decoration.

Then we started to walk around the show, starting at full table displays, celebration cakes, and wedding cakes.

Rows and rows of cakes!

We instantly loved this beautiful Mary Poppins cake by —— . It was part of the Show Table competition. It actually ended up placing, coming in third.

This Elphaba cake inspired by Wicked was another Show Table cake. It came in “Highly Commendable”, which I suppose is Honorable Mention. I loved the detail and especially loved the lace on her sleeves. If you know who made this cake, let me know.

We explored the shoe cakes next. They were all impressive — truly!

I loved this Lion King shoe, below. I’m happy to say that she won TOP/Gold for all the shoe cakes. This cake was made by Sandra Lopez Durbin. Find her on Instagram as sandras_cakes_ . She has uploaded some great close-ups.

This Aladdin Shoe Cake came in First. This Shoe cake was my daughter’s favorite of all the shoe cakes. She loves how the blue shoe looks just so real. I love the three belly dancers and the cute look on Aladdin’s face.

The Wicked cake below was one of my favorites of the entire show. I love the labels, such a great detail, and I love the little gears. Not to mention, the wonderful faces of Glinda and Elphaba.

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This cake below got lots of attention, and rightfully so! It was a contender in the Cupcake Display Category, but the huge plant really stole the show in this one. K let me in on the fact it was from Little Shop of Horrors, which I haven’t seen. Looks like it must be cool!

The amazingly huge and detailed Rent inspired cake was made by Melissa Alt of Melissa Alt Cakes (find her on Instagram as MelissaAltCakes — she has more views of this). I mean I can’t even begin to describe this cake. And, as many others have said, pictures do not do it justice. There was something new to see on this cake every time you viewed it. It was mostly hand painted — picture water color painting, but with food color and alcohol (vodka or something similar). This cake won BEST SHOW CAKE and $2,000! Way to go, Melissa!

I am not sure who made the flower cake below, but it was just amazing. K didn’t believe me at first when I said they weren’t real. It’s so tempting and alluring to touch these because they really suck you in with curiosity.

The cake below was made by Chrissie Boon (find her on IG as ChrissieBoon) and was the TOP Wedding Cake.  This cake was hard to get close to because it was often crowded by admirers. My very favorite part of this cake, besides its professionally executed balance and design, were the musical lines and notes (I do NOT know how she did that) and the bottom tier. The bottom tier had small flower and decoration arrangements that represented different famous shows, including Phantom, Mary Poppins, and Wicked.

This Cinderella Wedding Cake, below, was absolutely breathtaking. The carriage/shoe up top actually revolved! I could so see this at a wedding and it would be such a perfect centerpiece. Many of us are trying to figure out the mystery artist…

The cakes below were a handsome trio.

The cake all the way to the left was a chocolate sculpture by Lidia Lourenco of BakingSmiles by Allyson’s Sweets  (she is also on IG as baking_smiles) and was made of all different kinds and shades of chocolate. It was the only sculpture entered, so it won TOP in sculptures, but I have NO DOUBT that if there had been more entries to this category, it still would have done amazingly well. It is amazing that it didn’t melt, since it is chocolate.

The cake in the middle was a cake from the Wedding Cake Competition. It was made by Shelby Cedrone of Sugar Monster Sweets. You can find her on Instagram at ArwenofElves. Her beautiful creation stood out because of its shape, its shading, and its cascade of flowers. She wrote of her cake: “I did not want to translate [An American in Paris] literally and instead wanted to invoke how the film and show made me feel with colors and flowers.”

The cake on the far right placed Highly Commendable in Wedding Cakes and was made by Natalie Dionisio. I love how flawless and delicate it is. The bottom tier with the feathers really stand out to me.

The two cakes below were two of my favorite Celebration Cakes. The cake on the left placed 1st and the cake on the right placed 3rd.

The cake on the left had so much great figure details. It was made by Leo Vilela Cakes. You can find him on Instagram at leovilelcakes.

The cake on the right was made by Brian Fisherman of Sweet Karma Desserts. Find him on Instagram at Sweetkarmadesserts.

Below is another stunning Wicked Cake from the Student Celebration Cake category and it placed 2nd. I LOVE the perfect cutting of the Wicked logo and I love how they incorporated the trend of geode cakes with the colors from the show.

Another student cake is this Shrek Cake, below. It is another cake made by the Sugar Monster team — Ryan Del Franco — and it placed 1st! I am a big Shrek fan and I love the mushrooms, the detail of ear wax in Shrek’s ears, and the rustic feel of the tree stump. This kid is going places!!

Below is a pic of the kids admiring a dessert table made by Allyson’s Sweets which went on to placed 2nd. I don’t know who made it. I cannot imagine making a dessert table — so much work! I really admire anyone and everyone who put together a dessert table. They include both edible and non-edible decorations, a cake, cupcakes, and other goodies, just like you would see at a real party.

I have to talk about this cake below. It was made by Machiro Sekimoto and took 2nd place in Intermediate Celebration Cakes. It got a lot of attention — just look at this detailed and realistic little pies, bows, and beautiful logo. It was frilly, cute and gorgeous!

One last cake to write about from Day 1 was this Kinky Boots Cake made by Ashley Holt from Sugar Monster Sweets. I know her from Next Great Baker, Season 3, as well as Cake Boss. I have been following her time since her TV fame on Facebook and Instagram. Her amazing display took BEST IN SHOW. So, if you’re keeping track, that means her bakery took 3 awards home! Simply amazing. It was the New York Cake Show’s dream team.

I didn’t see Ashley on the first day, because we left early, but I got to see her the second day. I was too nervous to say hi. I was raised to not interrupt people, so just going up to people in an every day situation is really difficult for me. But we were ready to go, turned around, and she was right behind me! I freaked out, said hi, and got a nice hug. I was over the moon!

By the time we had walked around and viewed all these beautiful cakes, I was shaking from all the coffee and from holding my cake for so long AND from not having anything in my belly. So we stopped by an Italian Cuisine booth and I got a little sandwich and the girls got Limonades. Look at Rachel’s FACE! Those were so sour!

Rachel and I with Benny Rivera’s Lady Liberty masterpiece, below.

 

INTO THE CITY

While we strolled around the show, the girls really bonded. Since we were all getting along so well, we decided to leave the show and go explore New York with them. We got an Uber into the city to around the Rockefeller area. We did so much!

We explored American Girl Store (and adjusted our dinner plans), Rockefeller plaza, the Lego Store, and more. Rachel was very sweet and picked out a Lego Hotdog man for her brother, because he loves LEGOS and hot dogs LOL. Here is a collage of our adventures.

Next, we hailed a taxi and met the rest of the family at the Central Park Zoo! After about a half hour, it was time to walk back to American Girl for M’s special birthday lunch.

 

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It was such a fun and delicious experience to finally have lunch at the AG Cafe. I honestly didn’t think I would ever make it to this restaurant. We had fun asking each other questions from their box of questions. Rachel brought along her Bitty Baby, “Anna” and got to put her in her own little high chair.

After that, we went back to the zoo for a little bit longer, and headed home.

I Facetimed with my husband and family. Everybody was swimming and having a good time.

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I got to take a closer look at the Playbill–what a perfect souvenir.

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And I bonded with their doggie, who loved me LOL. Us adults watched the movie Split while the 3 girls had a blast with their dolls and new doll stuff.

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CAKE SHOW DAY 2

Class with MimiCafeUnion

Day 2 in New York was a simpler day for us. I had a class, Rachel had a class, and we thought we might have some fun in between. I splurged on a class by Sachiko Windbiel. I am mostly “self taught” with hours or research online, in books, on Craftsy, so I was super excited to finally take an in-person class.

The class started at 9 AM and it was so much calmer getting into the cake show on day 2, since everybody was all set up. But there was still very much an air of excitement and happiness in the air. Sachiko and Lisa very graciously let Rachel sit with me in the class. I knew she would handle waiting with me and she might enjoy observing what a cake class is like. Plus, I brought along her iPad and headphones. It was a three hour class!

Everything was so well organized. Each student had a mat on a non-slip mat, a brick of Renshaw white gumpaste, some visual aids we could keep, water, corn syrup, some tools, and a support for our head. Our figure had come with a pre-dried bodice and left leg.

Sachiko is such a sweet teacher. You can tell she really loves what she does. She told us how she makes a sturdy body so that we can do it ourselves one day. For each step, would gather around and observe what she did, and then we could go back to our seats to replicate it.

For our head, arms, neck, and hair, we each received very neatly organized balls of fondant, each labeled accordingly. Her husband (I think it was her husband) helps her with handing out things, answering side questions, and taking high quality photos with his camera. It was interesting to see such a good team work together.

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Rachel was so super patient, but, of course, I forgot to factor in the fact that she would have to go to the bathroom! This venue was big and long, and the bathrooms were on the other side. So we were at the tail end of one of the instruction parts, and Rachel asked to go LOL. So we fast-walked to the other side of the venue. We heard some of our favorite songs and at one point someone helping run the event were singing together, made eye contact and laughed!

And that’s when we discovered something wonderful — I had received Gold! I had to take a double take. I didn’t think it was real or possible. Seriously. We were both so giddy, I was all smiles during our class. Smiles and disbelief. It was such a wonderul feeling. The second time she went to the bathroom, I snapped a quick pic as we danced to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls.

Believe it or not, 3 hours was not enough time for my class, and Lisa and the next teacher let us go about a half hour longer. Sachiko asked Rachel to take pics of each student on her iPhone — she is so good with kids! And she went around and took selfies with each student. She really knows how to make people feel so special. She also very quickly and expertly did our figures’ makeup and gave them all eyelashes and added some shine to the eyeballs.

I had to rush a little because of our bathroom breaks, but here is my figure:

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She is not perfect, but I feel like I learned so much and that it was a wonderful experience. I am going to buy her $15 standing figure class soon so I can more closely take a look at how she does everything. You can find her online classes here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/standingfigure

Here is Sachiko’s cake for the Cake Show. Aren’t those figures just so adorable?

We stuffed my figure (which was put into a nice box) under my cake in my cake box, so I didn’t have to carry it around.

Here are some more cake pictures. I took some close ups of another one of my favorite cakes — let’s face it, almost all of them were my “favorite”. This cake was an Intermediate Wedding Cake. I just can’t stop looking at it. It placed 3rd in its division and was made by Julia Federova. I can’t seem to locate any links for her.

Beauty and the Beast was such a popular theme. The above cake was hand painted. When I made my Beauty and the Beast giveaway I had originally thought of trying to do the stained glass, but went into a different direction. I’m so glad there are people out there who are willing to try such a challenging piece of art.

This cookie set below got Bronze and was by Cilia Moreno and you could SMELL the gingerbread — yum! We really admired the cups made of cookies!

Our plans to maybe go out to Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty and play went out the window because it was getting close to time for Rachel’s class and we still had to eat. We went outside to the food trucks to try out Gorilla Cheese. I was so excited all week to try this. I had spicy buffalo chicken, tots, and a Diet Coke and Rachel had a regular American grilled cheese sandwich. She chose a spot on the sidewalk for us to sit together. We shared our tots and really enjoyed our sandwiches.

And this is also when I met Reva from Merci Beaucoup! I saw her earlier but she was just finishing her class, and I didn’t want to bother her. Truth be told, I still didn’t want to bother her, but I stood there awkwardly waiting for a lull in the conversation. But one of her fellow chef buds introduced us and I got a hug. I talked to her about how we used to watch her and Marc on Amazing Wedding Cakes.

She asked me about which cake was mine and I said it was “just a small celebration cakes, but somehow I got gold!” And she said one of the things that means so much to me that I heard from this show: “it’s not all about being big! They don’t have to be big” Or something to that effect. It’s definitely something she had heard before. It meant a lot, because I was actually feeling down about my cake. Even with winning, it wasn’t huge and it didn’t show up in a lot of people’s posts about the show. But constant validation shouldn’t matter, right?

We walked around the show again and noticed so many more things that we didn’t see the first time around. This show — it really takes a lot of time to take it all in — sort of like going to a cake museum. Then Rachel reminded me that I had promised to get her ice cream so we made a beeline to Ice and Vice. On the way, we saw the Witch of the Upper East Side and Prince Powder Pouffe doing the Cha Cha Slide. These two were like the MCs of the entire show and were so fun and engaging. By the way, they can be found on Instgram: princepowderpouffe and wwues.

We got Mexican vanilla ice cream in a birthday cake cone and headed back outside. Rachel didn’t want to get any ice cream on the carpet. 🙂

I feel like this cupcake display by Diane Fender (which got GOLD) would have been the perfect complement to my Phantom cake. I love that so many of us made the monkey from the musical. I spotted four, including mine.

 

CUPCAKE CLASS WITH CHEF MARY CARMEN

I couldn’t resist signing Rachel up for an emoji cupcake class. Emoji and Cupcakes — two of her most favorite things. The class was taught by Mary Carmen of the NY Cake School. She’s on IG as chefmarycarmen. She was so great with the kids. She helped Rachel to learn how to roll her yellow fondant out properly using this innovative little tool that you roll and it cuts multiple circles in one go. We were at a table with a very creative and fun little girl. I helped her to make glasses for her cupcake. In the end we got to take home four delicious chocolate cupcakes. We ate ours for dessert after dinner.

The Witch of the Upper East Side and Prince Powder Pouffe stopped by. She even made her own witch cupcake, which turned out really cute!

Here’s Rachel with her finished cupcakes. She was so tired, and wanted to see her new friends so badly, but she was a good sport and made cute cakes.

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Some more cakes to post about:

I loved this Phantom of the Opera Cake, which was like a behind-the-scenes tour. The front was the stage with the candles and the boat and his mask and the back was the Phantom’s broken mirror and lights, etc. This cake was made by Stefanie of KakeStuff. She’s on IG at kakestuff and FB at facebook.com/stefatkake. Did I mention this ROTATED?

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We loved this Aladdin shoe display. There’s just something about it that I kept coming back to it. Plus, Rachel is a big Jasmine fan–she’s her favorite Disney princess.

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We also kept coming back to this GOLD flower display made by Chris Aranda (chrissaranda_cakedesigner on IG). Rachel got to meet him at our cupcake class as he helped Chef Carmen. My picture doesn’t do it justice. He also included a Wicked book on a cake stand, a real Playbill, and some green potion. It was just such a complete display. Honestly, everything in this category was just jaw-dropping. You can hardly believe these flowers are made of sugar.

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I also got to see this incredible piece, which wasn’t part of this competition, also by Sachiko. I have admired it on Instagram, so it was so cool to see it in person. It was at the Renshaw booth.

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AWARDS AND SAYING GOODBYE

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(Above) Rachel finally taking a picture with the incredible display (not part of the competition), which was made by the incredible Renshaw team. It was made by Kakes by Karen, Total Sugar London, MimiCafeUnion, Dawn Coffin Parrot and Merci Cakes.

She really didn’t think you were allowed to sit on the bench next to Mary Poppins. She refused. You can definitely tell that this little lady has been growing up in a house full of “DON’T TOUCH!” cakes. If you see a swipe taken out of a cake at a party, it was probably not one of my kids — they know better, even if the cake is from the super market lol. But then she finally got her picture 🙂

Anyway, right after her class, we went over to the awards ceremony. I didn’t completely understand the whole grading system and awards system. I had no idea until we were standing there watching other artists getting their awards that I would be receiving a gold medal. I was NOT dressed for it like other people were — I really didn’t think I would place! LOL! I was wearing an orange Johnny Cupcakes shirt and a headband. Dress for the job you want – lazy mum! Just kidding.

I actually heard Lisa Mansour say my name for top Celebration Cake. I really still don’t believe it, guys. I took my baby’s hand, while holding her cupcakes, wearing my purse and a school bag and looking very much like a tourist! We stood there with Lisa, Chef Nicholas Lodge (professional and head judge) and Prince Powder Pouffe. It was surreal. I focused on the cameras because I couldn’t bare to look out on everybody.

It was so exciting to see Ashley Holt and Melissa Alt Cakes win their grand prizes for the Kinky Boots display and Rent display, respectively. We were in the perfect spot, standing right in between them. It must have been fate.

When the last awards were given out (best in show), The Witch of the Upper East Side sang “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. Rachel was so amazed by her the entire show. But then Rachel started complaining again that she wanted to leave and so we did. She was so patient, even when bored during my long cake class, and while I walked from booth to booth. I couldn’t make her wait much longer.

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I realize now we should have hung around because everybody congratulates and mingles, BUT we had an hour ride back to K’s house. We wanted to eat a quick bite and say a proper goodbye. Then from there, we had to pack and drive an hour and a half home. So we quickly packed up and grabbed all our class stuff and left. It was so sad to leave!

On the way out, we saw a lady standing next to Rachel’s favorite cake from the show. She had taken a picture with it earlier in the day (below). She was so upset her favorite cake “only got Bronze”, but I explained to her that it’s still a great cake and it’s also about putting yourself out there and being part of this amazing show.

Anyway, I asked her if this was her cake and she said, “yes!” I told her Rachel loved this cake so much and that it was her favorite of the show. Rach was too shy to say anything, but she smiled and said “hi”. We talked about  how awesome Beauty and the Beast is. Rachel said she loved the picture in the middle. I could definitely see this cake fitting right in at a child’s party and it being the center of attention.

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I was feeling kinda sleepy, so M took us through Dunkin Donuts and I got a medium to perk me up for our drive.

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Funny, at home Dunkin is the official coffee of the PHILLIES — HAHA. I posted this on FB to tease my friends who are Phillies fans.

The kids got there last hour or so of play in. Rachel really bonded with the kids and with K, too. We exchanged iPad numbers so the kids could Facetime whenever they wanted.

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ALL GOOD THINGS…

So this trip — it was so much fun and so surreal. The best things about it …

  • We finally got to go to a REAL cake show! How could I resist a cake show that was only a two hour drive away??
  • I got to compete with real judges doing the judging.
  • I drove to a new place, which always makes me nervous.
  • We met new friends and we want to hang out again!
  • I got lots of bonding time with Rachel. I am so proud of how patient and respectful she was the entire time.
  • I talked to three cake celebrities who I wanted to see and they were so gracious. Reva, Sachiko and Ashley
  • I’ve connected with so many wonderful cake artists on Instagram, thanks to this show.
  • My work was seen by and marked well by professionals.

I can’t say enough good things about this experience. I am not sure if anyone will read this ridiculously long post that took me ALL DAY to write. Maybe my mom and siblings?? But if you do, please let me know. I hope to do this again next year. I don’t even care if I don’t place. I just want to work hard and be a part of such a perfect event again. I may even change categories for a new challenge.

Lisa Mansour — thank you again for organizing this amazing event!

Nichole

Phantom of the Opera Cake

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!

THE PLANNING

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.

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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.

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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 ….

CHRISTINE

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

HAIR
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.

DRESS
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.

 

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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!

Here are all the photos together from start to finish: 

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.img_0473img_0472

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.

MORE ROSES
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.

FINISHING TOUCHES
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.

Nichole

P.S. My next article will be about the cake show itself, as well as my New York adventure!!!

Beauty and the Beast Cake Giveaway! 

I have to admit, when Disney first announced the new Beauty and the Beast movie, I wasn’t that excited. Could Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione Granger, make a good Belle? Is it a good fit? How is the film going to look?

But after I saw how beautiful the live-action Cinderella turned out, my doubts sort of went to the side. Then I saw the first image from the movie and I fell in love!

This all came about because I was challenged by a friend to make a stained glass window cake, using the stained glass window from the first movie. I really thought about doing this for a while. I printed it out, figured out how big it would have to be for both quarter and half sheet cakes. But then I saw how small all the details would have to be on a quarter sheet and quite frankly, making a half sheet would be too much for a personal project.

Then I got the idea to do something more in my style. I was in love with the lovely folds of Belle’s dress in the image used for the cover of Entertainment Weekly. I thought about how these characters would look on a cake. I then took an inventory of the colors I already had to see if I could do this in some sort of economical way. When I can be resourceful and use what I already have on hand, I absolutely try to be!

Then I thought, “wouldn’t it  be fun to give this cake away on my Facebook page to feel like I am a part of this huge movie event?”  I know a lot of people are excited about this movie, so I hope that whomever wins is both a super fan of custom cakes AND Walt Disney pictures!

Below I am going to take you through my process of making these characters step-by-step. The very first thing I do is come up with my color palette. These are the colors I came up with, below. I only had to make a bit more of the golden yellow.


The next step was to make a silhouette. I use this as a backing for my realistic fondant work. It allows me to give it extra support and to keep everything in proportion. I used a Sharpie to make an outline of the basic image. Then I rolled out some white fondant very thin.

Next, I added tylose powder to a good amount of fondant. Tylose powder makes fondant dry quickly and more firmly.

Then I put my image on top of the fondant and gently pricked it with a pin. This allows me to only cut the image ONCE. I used to cut out the image as a template, then put it on my fondant and cut it again. This way is so much better.

It is almost impossible to see the little pin pricks in the photo I took, so I left that photo out! I got my X-Acto knife and put in a fresh blade and began to cut. I also cut out the negative space. In fact, I cut the negative space out first so it doesn’t get distorted. Then I dusted a piece of wax paper with corn starch to avoid sticking and transferred the image to the wax paper to dry.

From here, it was just a matter of slowly layering and building up the image from the bottom up. The first thing I did was Belle’s torso without her head. I wanted to make the head separate so that it would appear that she was looking up. I wanted to layer the bottom of her head on her neck to make it more realistic.

I rolled my fondant sort of thick for Belle’s head so I could add details and really contour her nose and blend her neck and throat together.

For her hair, I started with the hair in the back. Then I could layer the hair in the front over it.

I made sure to make her sleeves before her hair since her hair rests over her dress. I didn’t take a ton of pics of making the Beast’s head, but I did it in the same way. I added extra fondant for his cheek and blended it in. Then I made some thin strips for some more of his fly-away hairs. I skipped his horn for now. I wanted to start in on that beautiful dress!

The Dress .. I noticed in the image that she has a lot of light, tulle-like layers underneath. The best way to tackle this was from the bottom up.

The first step was to make some very thin strips of my yellow fondant. I made sure my surface was well-dusted so it would not stick.

Next, using my ball tool and my sponge, I made the edge even thinner!

The next thing to do was to lightly wet the white fondant with a little water using a paint brush. Then I ruffled up my thinned-out fondant and applied it. I kept going and going until I had three layers of ruffles.

The finished ruffles, below. This did not take very long.

The next part, I knew, was going to be much easier. I rolled out my fondant, but thicker than last time, for the main part of her dress.  I would layer this over her underskirt. I noticed that there is one barely noticeable layer above the tulle, so I started with that.

I added it to the figure, cut it down to size, and thinned it out at the top to avoid bulk.

Using a pencil and looking at my reference material, I planned where I would place the rest of the layers. Then I simply added them from the bottom to the top.

The top-most layer in her three-layer dress was the most-ruched. I made that a little thinner than the other layers to allow me to make all the pretty folds. I adjusted this layer and all the layers by hand to emulate the feeling of movement of the original photograph.

I took a break for a few days after this part was finished. The next part to complete was the Beast. The best place to start was his legs, so I could overlap his jacket over it. I made a layer of brown, and added a thicker layer in the middle to add depth. Then I made it look hairy with my veiner tool. I shaped small pieces of brown fondant and attached it to the bottom for his paws. Very small pieces of black fondant were used for his claws, which I shaped by hand. I used my viener tool to help me attach the claws so I wouldn’t smoosh them.

The next step was his jacket. I added some tiny white ruffles for his undershirt and sleeve. Only a simple, small amount of brown was needed for his hand. It can barely be seen.

Using small amounts of rolled blue fondant, I started to make the folds of his jacket at the shoulders and at the back where his buttons are.

Then I cut his jacket using the same method I used before for the sillouette and gently added it on, cutting where it was too much. Then I added some fondant for his arm and made his sleeve over it. I used my ball tools and my viener tools to define the wrinkles even more.

I am going to take a very quick detour here …. I am very active on Instagram (@nicholescustomcakes) and posted a step-by-step photo. Somehow or another, it got featured! I went from barely any Followers to almost 800! And the post got 12,000 likes total! It was astounding! Usually  my posts only get about 20-40 likes.

Next, I added his horns with some dark brown fondant and used a flat-sided tool to add the texture. Then I used some small bits of white fondant to add his buttons and the piece in her hair.

I bought a fresh, new small tipped paint brush at Michael’s Arts and Crafts to paint the remaining details. This part was very relaxing. I made edible paint by combining gold dust and a little vodka. I cleaned by brush often to avoid build up and to keep my lines clean. When the paint builds up on your brush, your strokes become much less defined.

First I painted the buttons and the hair piece, then cleaned up where I got paint on the jacket with a little water. Then I went back in to do the embroidery. My brush wasn’t quite as fine as I expected, so my strokes ended up being thicker than I wanted, but that’s okay.

The very last thing to do was to take a small, dry brush and to add a little shading on the jacket and their brown hair, as well as the horn. I decided not to shade the dress at all because it makes its own shadows. I added some blush to her cheek, but I cleaned it off because it was too much. All I did to take it off was wet a clean brush, wet her face, and pat it dry with a paper towel. You can’t always erase your mistakes with luster dusts, but since this area had no other painted details, I could.

Next stop will be adding this to a cake!

You can win this cake on Facebook! From March 6-13, like and comment on my post that looks like the picture below to be eligible to win this fondant decoration on a 9″ x 13″ vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. My page is www.facebook.com/nicholescustomcakes.

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Look for this post on FB to like and comment to win this cake!

Rules: Must be able to pick up on March 18 or 19, 2017 at 9-10 AM or in the afternoon in Quakertown, PA. You will receive one cake, no purchase necessary. Winner will be drawn randomly on Woobox.com. If the winner does not claim the cake, we will just have to eat it ourselves (darn!). All customers are eligible to win (both new and existing). This giveaway is NOT sponsored by the Walt Disney Company or Facebook.

UPDATE:

Daniel M. was randomly selected and won this cake! Here are two pictures of the finished cake, which was chocolate chip pound cake with vanilla buttercream icing:

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They loved the cake and gave me this wonderful feedback:

Everyone loved the beautiful cake! The cake was delicious! It tasted as good as it looked! Even better than the taste was the fact that the cake gave us a reason to get together with friends and family. Thank you again for the beautiful cake and the memories we made because of it.

Thanks for reading!
Nichole

Elmo!

Really quick blog! I wanted to show you how I put together my baby’s Elmo cake. To get started, I read and studied a blog by Cakes by Carrie-Ann for her Taddy Bear. You can find that here: http://www.cakesbycarrieanne.com/2016/07/11/tatty-teddy-cake-tutorial/#more-241

For a cake like this, you need a lot of supports to make sure it doesn’t sink into eachother. If it was traveling, it would be even more important.

For this cake, I made a double batch of spice cake. I baked that into two 6″ pans, and torted them. I also used 2 cups of that batter for half of a 6″ dome for the top of his torso.

I also baked up a batch of chocolate cake and made two 6″ domes plus a 4″ cake.

First step: fill three layers of the 6″ cakes and add 4 dowel rods. Do not put in a center rod. That’s for later.

Next step: place a 6″ board on the top and put on a little icing.

Next, put your fourth 6″ layer , a layer of icing, and the top of your dome. Be sure to make a flat surface at the top of your dome for the head to rest on. And ice the top.

 

Place in three dowel rods in a triangle shape. These will support the head.

Ice the top of the flat piece. Slice off the bottom of the dome of the head. Put a 4″ round cake circle, cut down to size, on the flat top and place the bottom of the head on top of it.

Then fill it and place the top of the dome on top.

Next, crumb coat the entire thing. Using a circle cutter, I GENTLY made Elmo’s mouth. This really makes it more delicate, so this is absolutely optional.

I filled this in with some black fondant right away to help hold everything all together.

 

Next, and very importantly, I sharpened a dowel rod at the right size and pounded it through the middle.

Elmo is smaller at the top of his torso and round at the bottom, so I tried to carve out that shape. Then I cut off the excess board on the bottom with my X-Acto knife.

I added him to a 12″ cake board, which I covered in white fondant and decorated. After that was just a matter of making his legs and arms with pre-made Wilton red fondant and covering with red buttercream. Then I added simple eyes and a nose. I had also made a fondant hat — simply cover a funnel with wax paper and let your fondant dry on it. Since this is a family cake, I let my older daughter help a bit :). I also very quickly covered that extra 4″ cake and gave it to Elmo. 🙂


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Star Wars Cake! Death Star and the Galaxy 

This week I made a Star Wars Death Star cake that I have been planning for months! It feels like a cake that was 22 years in the making, since I have loved SW since its 1995 re-release. So, needless to say, I was really excited to make this cake!

This cake is a special surprise for a 40th birthday, from a wife to her husband. And, fun fact, Star Wars turns 40 in March! It’s been 40 years since A New Hope has been released.

She also specified that she wanted a gluten-free cake. After a lot of research, I decided on baking with Cup 4 Cup flour, one of the best gluten-free flours available. I made my usual yellow cake recipe (for the 6″ dome) and Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake recipe, except with Cup 4 Cup and with almond milk instead of cow’s milk. And they turned out great! For the dome, I used the classic Wilton ball pan.

While making this cake, I came up with a way to make the Death Star that is SO EASY that almost anybody could do it! I’ll also show you how I made the galaxy cake, though I won’t go too much into that. You can learn more about that technique in the Crafty class called The Perfect Birthday Cake.

After letting the cakes soak in a vanilla simple syrup, I crumb coated both of my cakes. For the 8″ cake, I covered it a little bit more than a usual crumb coat. I have been wanting to try this method for a while. It calls for a regular covering of vanilla icing then a thin layer of black.

Something I changed from the tutorial: I let my vanilla coating of buttercream  really get firm and cold in the refrigerator so it would be easier to cover it with the black. So here it is chilled and ready to go:

To reduce the amount of black I would have to use, I covered my cake with a number 12 tip. For this, I set aside about 2.5 cups and dyed it black.

Then I smoothed it with my spatula.

And smoothed it some more with my Ateco metal scraper.

To make it look more like a galaxy cake, I decided to add some Americolor electric blue and electric pink to the cake and smooth it out.

Ta-da! What a fun effect to make. Then I smoothed it out with my Viva paper towels and moved onto the Death Star.

To make the Death Star, I decided the best way to make it would be to decorate it as two separate halves. I got a nice, sharp edge by doing it this way, too. I figured that if I did it this way, I would easily get a nice equator like on the actual Death Star.

I dyed the remainder of the gray fondant dark grey for the details. At first, when I was making this, I was going to cut out pieces individually.

After about forty minutes of doing this, and being unsatisfied with my results, a light bulb went off to streamline the process!

I pulled off my work and started over.

I rolled out my fondant and cut out a strip about an inch and a quarter wide (for the middle section). Then I wrapped it around the cake and smoothed it.

Then, after that, I got my clean X-Acto knife and made small vertical cuts for the space in between each section. I repeated this for the bottom part, which I cut to be about a bit more than a half-inch wide. I really just eye balled it. Then I made the cuts to be even with the cuts above it.

To make this even better and neater, use a ribbon cutter for the strips.

Another fun fact: after doing tons of research on the Death Star, I realized that every picture on Google images is different than the others. No two Death Stars are alike!

To do the top, I decided to use a circle cutter and then to cut out the middle. I wasn’t going to put a circle on the middle until after the center dowel rod was in.

Then I made my cuts to be even with the middle section of the space ship.

I forgot to add that to make the tractor beam (below), I used circles of various sizes and added the line details with a flat sided tool. I made the light circles with a number 5 piping tip.

Then I did the same on the bottom.

I added my 8″ cake to my 12″ black fondant-covered cake board. Then I cut a 4″ cake board down to size and added it to the bottom of the Death Star. Then I cut three dowel rods and put them in the middle of my 8″ cake. I flipped over the bottom hemisphere and put it on the cake.

Then I added some icing for a filling and added the top of the Death Star. Then I added a center dowel rod.


After that, I covered the top with a circle. Then I dusted the edges of the sections with black edible dust and started to add little lights (sprinkles) with a dab of water. This took forever! After those were added, I added little stars with a number 3 piping tip. Then added the rest of my words (hand-cut from a Jedi font) and the black ribbon along the bottom.

Here’s how it turned out!

death-star-cake-frontdeath-star-topstar-wars-back

 And there you have it, my first and probably only gluten-free Star Wars cake. I hope that Wade loves it!

Why Custom Cakes Cost More

halloweencake

I have been getting a lot of inquiries from people expecting a cake at a $2 per serving or less price. I thought I would take a moment to explain why the home bakers in the Philadelphia area and beyond charge at least $4 per serving and up.

First, there’s the designing. We search for inspiration, make sketches, some even know how to make sketches on the computer. That takes at least a half an hour. Many times my client has some changes, so I draw up a new sketch, and we go from there. It’s truly a great customer service experience for you!

Then, there’s gathering information and special materials. What flavor, how many people are you serving? Gluten free? Let me find the best gluten free flour you can afford. Many of the bakers in our area use King Arthur Flour, Nielsen Massey Vanilla, Domino sugar, and even imported fondant (cha-ching). Some of us make our own homemade fondant, which takes at least 20 minutes per batch.

And then there’s the baking. Say you want a 10″ butter cake and an 8″ red velvet cake. That’s going to take at least 2 hours to bake, PLUS all those dishes. Home bakers and custom cakers don’t have huge commercial dish washers or a guy to come in to do it for them. They prep the pans, cut the parchment, carefully refine their recipes so that they are the best to their abilities. Some large bakeries don’t let you have different flavors for different tiers!

And, like I mentioned, most bakers either buy expensive fondant or take the time to make their own. Then there’s preparing all the many colors that your special design needs. Sometimes I have to dye 8 colors for a cake and that takes more time than you may think. Usually at least a half hour and then my arms ache.

Then there’s preparing the cake board. Some people buy them pre-made (money) or piece them together with boards and foil (that’s money AND time). Many or us add a special coordinating ribbon that brings the whole thing together. When the design calls for it, a lot of the time we cover the board in fondant (oops, looks like we should buy or make even more fondant). Sometimes I cover my board in fondant, even if you’re not really paying for it, because you’re a great customer and I appreciate you.

I personally specialize in custom-cutting characters, a technique I have been working on for years. I learned to use an X-Acto knife in high school and it’s honestly one of my favorite things. But after coloring all the fondant colors I need, and then it’s time to cut. Depending on how many decorations I need for your cake, it may take an hour or it may take two or three. Then I usually have to paint on some details. I am VERY detail-oriented with my characters and may notice things you never saw before!

Then there’s the Tappit letters (the letters you see on the cake board above). You roll that fondant out, let it sit for a while, and get tapping. These letters look perfect, it’s worth it, but for me it takes 15 minutes and for newbies it may take much longer.

Then everything is ready — it’s time to put it all together! Depending on the size of the cake, it may take a little buttercream or a ton of buttercream, but either way you’re looking at a half hour to an hour of work. Most of us sift our sugar to ensure nice, smooth buttercream. Plus the expensive vanilla that tastes AMAZING.

Covering the cakes in buttercream and fondant takes anywhere to a half hour to an hour or two. Depends on the cake, skill level, and how fast one is, but either way, it takes time. Then it’s obsessing until it’s PERFECT.

Then comes measuring and adding dowel rods so your cake doesn’t fall apart on transport or make an ugly bulge from the weight, etc. That takes at least 10-20 minutes.

Throwing on (erm, I mean gently placing) the decorations is usually the easiest part and quickest part. But sometimes you need to wait until the cake is covered to make decorations that can’t be dried out (the decoration needs to wrap around the cake, for instance–like Frankenstein’s hair in the cake picture above).

And then, after 6-10 hours are up, you have a BEAUTIFUL cake. Custom cake decorators really are artists making art that also happens to be very delicious. It’s not like a super market where the cakes are prepared with less-than-stellar ingredients, shipped to the store in big boxes. Then the big bakeries are able to make HUGE batches of buttercream at once. Which is GREAT. There’s a place for budget cakes for people who need budget cakes. But there’s also a place, and will always be a place, for the people who want something more. Something designed just for you, prepared with fresh and quality ingredients, and put together with care.

And what you might not also know is that most cakers love it SO MUCH that they put in extra time that you haven’t paid for because it will make your cake that much more special. They do that out of love and generosity, knowing you may not notice or care. They do it because they want their cake to be the best. And, hey, maybe you do notice, so you give them a TIP — which WOW. That makes one feel really appreciated.

So the next time you find a baker to make you a cake for $50 when it takes six hours to make, don’t ask someone else who values their time for a quote. Just don’t do it.

And to those of you who value and understand, and can afford these cakes, thank you. You are supporting small businesses, helping make dreams come true, helping to provide for Christmas and birthdays and new dance shoes. Not to mention bills. These cakes may cost a lot, but most of us are not rich. After all, we can only charge so much–unless we are a celebrity and most of us are not.

And thank YOU for reading. 🙂