Friday, December 31, 2004

Dave Shutt's Nikon Camera Cake, December 2004

This cake was created for my brother-in-law's birthday this year. He's a photographer, and so the idea was to create a cake that not only looked like *a* camera, but *his* camera, a Nikon FM2. Now, it turns out that this particular camera comes in either all black, or black and silver. He has an all-black camera, but my sister and I weren't sure what he had, so I went with the black and silver version because it looks cooler.

This was an extremely involved cake, and probably took 15-20 hours total to make including baking it, finding good reference photos to work from, designing it, constructing it, and decorating. Maybe slightly longer if you include the time I spent shopping for ingredients (I ran out of fondant!) and a box to transport it in.

First of all, as I strive for with all of my cakes, everything is edible (except for 3 wooden dowels inside holding it together.) The interior is constructed entirely of yellow cake (with pudding, for extra firmness) and frosting. The exterior is Wilton fondant (you can make your own fondant, but since almost everyone just peels it off and throws it away, why bother?) I died it black with Americolor's black food coloring, which I bought a couple HUGE bottles of this year at the ICES convention in DC at the Hinkley Hilton. It's about 2 pounds of fondant total, and it takes a lot of food coloring to get it that black.

The first thing I did was decide how big to make the cake. It had to feed about 10 people. I decided to bake two 9-inch-square cakes. For the body, I just cut one layer in half and stacked the halves together with frosting. That ended up being about the right dimensions. Once I did that, I made all the dials for the top of the camera. They're solid fondant, no cake. Most are just rolled out and either cut out with an x-acto knive or with a cookie cutter, but a couple were necessarily shaped by hand. I broke the cake down into as many pieces as possible so I could work on them separately and if I messed one piece up, the whole cake wasn't ruined.

Since I didn't have the actual camera to work from, the secret to getting everything the right size was to get LOTS of photographs of the actual camera I was trying to recreate. My sister sent me one photo, but I had to find photos from all sorts of different angles, and close-ups of certain parts. Thank heaven for Google. In all, I worked from about 8 different photos. You've got to take a ruler and measure everything, and then calculate what size you need for the cake.

The silver is just luster dust mixed with grain alcohol (which is apparently illegal in PA, so my Mom had to pick some up for me in Delaware). Some people use lemon extract, which also has a fairly high alcohol content, but then everything tastes like lemon, so I try not to use it anymore. My coworker Marvin uses vodka, which also works ok. I like grain alcohol because it evaporates so quickly and leaves no taste behind. I painted the silver on by hand. This should be one of the last things you do, because the silver will get all over everything once it's on your fingers. I had to paint over a few silver spots with black, although you could also gently scrub it off with a wet Q-tip.

The numbers and letters on the dials and lenses are painted on by hand with white food coloring and a very small paint brush. The red letters don't show up on the black very well, so I painted them in white first, and then went over them in red once they dried. Word to the wise: you need a very steady hand, so practice painting the letters before you do it on the final piece, because it's hard to fix (although I did a little touching up with black food coloring later.) I actually made 3 different versions of the ASA/ISO dial and just picked the best from among them. All of the dials are held on with Royal icing. Also, since every dial was made from at least 2 separate pieces, they're held together with royal icing, too.

I wasn't at the birthday party (at Grotto Pizza on Main Street in Newark, DE), but I'm told it was a huge success and the cake was very popular. Lisa said people were coming over from other tables to look at it. I've included a photo of the birthday boy "taking a picture" with the cake, although apparently he doesn't know the right button to push! Just wait til he find out there's no film in the cake, either.

Problems: Oh lord. I had a lot of problems with this cake. I had been under the impression that I needed to have it done for Dec 27th, which meant I actually had to have it done on the 24th, because I was going to be at my parents' house for Xmas. So I was a nervous wreck. (For the record, I'm always a nervous wreck when I start on a cake--ask my boyfriend if you don't believe me. But once I get going and I lose myself in the process, I mellow out and everything always comes together in the end) But at some point--I think my mom told me--I discovered that it didn't need to be done until the 29th, which made a WORLD of difference. I ended up using the cake I'd already started as a practice cake to make sure the design would work right and hold together ok.

The biggest structural problem I had was with the lens. When it was just cake, it seemed ok, but I discovered that the cake couldn't support the weight of the fondant as well as I'd've liked, and it started to squish under it's own weight when it was turned on its side. The solution I came up with was to cover it with fondant, then let it sit over night on it's bottom so that the fondant would harden enough to support the structure, and that mostly worked fine. Another solution that I found but didn't implement was to make a jelly roll for the lens, and then slice it to the right length and cover that with fondant. I think that would've worked ok too.

Another huge worry I had was that the cake would fall over during transport. But it turned out fine, and the dowel holding the lens on proved adequate.

One thing I didn't get to do. You can buy gelatin in sheets that look like plastic, and you can cut them with scissors. I had this great idea that I'd put a piece over the lens so that it would look like glass, but I couldn't find my gelatin sheets anywhere, and Fantes was out when I went down there. The cake was still beautiful, but I wish I'd been able to do the lens that way.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Brian's Birthday. (May 2004)

Last year, Brian wouldn't let me make him a birthday cake. He said he thought *I* made a bigger deal of his birthday than *HE* did. I kept trying, but he insisted and I finally gave in. So this year I had to be slightly sneaky, and when he came over for dinner, I didn't let him know that I remembered that it was his birthday. He seemed genuinely surprised when I revealed the cake. Steve--whom I haven't seen in almost as long as I've seen Brian--came over for dinner, too, at the last minute, which was really nice, so he got to enjoy the cake too.

The cake is a 5-tier yellow cake, the largest tier being 6" round, followed by 4 more, each one an inch smaller than the one directly underneath it. I had to rush down to Fantes during my lunch break this week to get the smaller pan sizes, since the smallest I'd had up until then was only 6". Also, it turns out, there are no batter amounts or baking times listed anywhere for cakes smaller than 6", so I had to pretty much just guess. The batter amounts were easy, actually, since I just filled each one slightly more than half full. I ended up with extra batter, so I made a extra tiers just in case, and these eventually turned into the Noddy Cakelet and the Max & Zoe Cakelet, which I'll add to the list as soon as I can.

The colors are reminiscent of the Obnoxious Spring Monday cake I did in April 2001. I've always liked clashing, obnoxious colors, and since I know Dan would dump me if I WORE colors like that, I figured I can at least use them on a cake. And I knew they'd work really well on a tiered cake like this one, where you have a lot of room to spread the colors around and see how they relate across the height of the cake. I made 6 colors total, and made each tier a different color, reserving yellow for the star border (tip #16) around the bottom of each one

Problems: A bigger cake with this design would have needed some sort of structural support to keep it from sinking into itself, but I gambled that a cake this small would survive the 36 hours it needed to without collapsing, and I was right. I did have a problem with one of the layers being slightly uneven, and I was afraid the top 3 tiers would slide off, but I proped up the cake board on one side to level it out and things were fine. Also, the last 3 layers were a little hard to ice because they're so light that the move when you press the spatula against them. I actually ended up icing the top, 2-inch later in my hand and then put it on top of the cake to add the final decorations. The last problem is that I found out the Brian's moving to California! (Swimming stars) So this will probably be his last birthday cake for a while.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Noddy Cakelet. (May 2004)

This is actually one of the backup tiers I baked for Brian's birthday cake. It turned out I didn't need it, and lord knows I had enough extra icing, so I decorated this for Noddy and took it over to her for dessert. I believe it's a 5" round yellow cake.

Problems: No problems here. It's sloppy, but it was supposed to be. I wanted to see how that look worked on a cake. Kinda nice, actually.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Kirby's Baby Shower. (2004)

The wonderful ladies of the Slide Library commissioned this cake for a baby shower they were throwing for Kirby. They weren't specific about what they wanted, which was kinda nice, because it meant I could do what I wanted. My original plan was to do a stork theme, but I ultimately scrapped that idea when the teddy bear image popped into my head one evening while I was sketching ideas for the cake. Another trip to Fantes ensued, because I only had the big teddy bear pan, not the small one. Thanks, as always, to Jean and Ron at Fantes for their help!

For structural reasons, I went with all yellow cake, which is a lot more solid than chocolate. The bottom later is 8", and the top is 6". I used Earlene Moore's cream cheese butter cream recipe, which has become my icing of choice these days. The bear is covered in chocolate icing, which is basically just the buttercream recipe with cocoa added. I secured the teddy bear to the top of the cake with a bamboo skewer, since it had to survive the car ride to the library. (Thanks for driving, Ancil!)

The teddy bears on the side are just rolled fondant shaped in a press mold. (remember to dust the mold with cornstarch to prevent sticking--especially in this Philadelphia humidity!) I mixed brown food coloring with water and painted them. For the ears, I used a pink edible marker, and the dots on the eyes are black edible marker. I used fondant instead of gum paste for two reasons: 1) it's easier. 2) you can eat the fondant if you really want to. In retrospect, I should've thought about using chocopan, too, but I'm not sure it how much it would harden and retain it's shape. From a taste point of view, Chocopan would be the clear winner.

Problems: I wanted to do something really simple for this cake, because it was a baby cake. So I stuck to yellow and blue (it's a baby boy). It was...okay, i guess. But it really needed something more to bring it together, even with the teddy bears on the sides and top of the cake. Fortunately. I had just finished working on Brian's birthday cake, and I had several other colors already made, including a very nice pink. I added a few dots around the sides, and that seemed to do the trick wonderfully. Also, you can still see some of the guide holes I used to place the yellow stringwork around the egdes. Not a big deal, but it would have been prettier if they weren't so visible.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Lisa's Birthday, Punu Mask Cake. (August 2003)

Happy Birthday, Lisa!

Lisa and her husband spent the last year in Gabon, Africa. They got back to the U.S. earlier today, and rather than just bake the cake back in April (her real birthday) and show her a photograph on the web, I thought I'd wait until they got back and give her a cake in person. Last year's cake, architectural masterpiece that it was, gave me a lot to live up to. To be honest though, I didn't even try. I've known for a while what I wanted to do for this cake, since it would have to serve double duty as a belated birthday cake and a welcome-home cake.

The cake is based on a punu mask (see the last photo to see the cake and the mask that inspired it side-by-side), which has special significance for various reasons. As recently as yesterday afternoon, I still wasn't sure exactly how I was going to pull it off, though. I used a yellow cake, baked in two parts: the base is just a 10" square cake that I actually had in the freezer. (This is the first time I've frozen a cake--about a month ago--and decorated it later. Steve at Fantes said he's successfully frozen a cake for two months, so I figured this one would work fine. And it did) The mask itself was baked in a one of the glass bowls that Dan got me from William Sonoma.

I frosted the base plain white so it wouldn't detract at all from the mask, and I piped a plain shell border around the bottom. Then I put the dome cake on top of that. The mask itself was covered with rolled fondant, which I dyed with a couple drops of ivory food coloring so it would stand out from the white background. I sliced two pieces off of the dome to form the cheek bones. These pieces became the middle piece of hair. I cut various other pieces of cake from the scraps that were left after leveling both cakes. These became the sides of the hair, the eyes, nose, and lips. YOu can see the stages I went through in the 2nd image below. Next I rolled out the ivory fondant, laid it across the dome, and cut off the excess with a sharp knife. Then I gently molded the fondant around the pieces underneath that formed the details of the face.

I used a metal shaping tool gently form the slits in the eyes and the grooves in the hair. I stress the word "gently" because I had to be careful to get the indentations into the fondant without actually poking holes in it. When I was satisfied with the face, I mixed some food coloring (brown, red, burgundy, and black) and painted the appropriate portions of the fondant. The straw tassles at the bottom of the mask are also fondant, dyed lemon yellow and ivory, and formed with a clay gun. I poked holes in the mask with a wooded dowel and then stuck the tassles inside.

Problems: I had amazingly few problems with this cake. It really all came together at the last minute.

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Cow Cake. (August 2002)

Jean at Fantes has a sister who really likes cows. So she asked if I'd make a cow cake and some cow cookies for her (she'd seen the Christmas Cow Cookie I made Ron a while back). I agreed, although I was admittedly a little nervous about doing a cake for Jean--if it didn't turn out well, i'd never be able to go back to Fantes again!

Jean got me the cake pan she wanted me to use; it's one of those pantastic pans, made of white plastic, but you can bake them in the oven. Pretty cool. They work well, and they're much cheaper than the metal wilton pans.

The cake is yellow, and I used Earlene Moore's buttercream recipe, which has a little cream cheese in it. I used vanilla instead of butavan, tho. (in case you were wondering, it's pronounced byoo-ta-van. she talked about it some at the ICES convention in Nashville last month. it's a strong butterscotch flavor, and she uses it in EVERYTHING, she said.) The black icing is the same recipe, but I added some Valrhona cocoa until it was chocolatey enough. Delish. (it doesn't get better than Valrhona cocoa, people.) And then I added black food coloring to make it dark enough to use for the outlining and for the spots.

The cow bell, the udder, and the hooves were all molded from candy coating directly in the cake pan itself. Adds a little color and a different visual texture, which i think is nice). The grass was done with a 233 tip and leaf green coloring.

Problems: No problems at all, really. I was really happy with this cake. And so was Jean, btw. She even gave me a kiss! :)

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Tracy's Birthday. (July 2002)

I think Tracy has bought more cakes from me than anyone else, with the possible exception of Ancil. So when she started reminding me two months ago that her birthday was July 1, ("Twenty four days left until my birthday, David." "Twenty three days left until my birthday, David." "Twenty two--" you get the idea.) I decided to make her a birthday cake too. I knew she loved Tweety Bird, so it was pretty easy to decide what to make for her.

The cake went pretty easy. It was a chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream icing. I made the cake in the Wilton Tweety pan, bought at Fantes. (Where else?)

Problems: My only problem was the heat. July in Philadelphia is like August in Hell. I had to get the air conditioner out of the basement so I could bake without actually collapsing into a heat coma. And the icing started melting by the time I actually got it to the library to give to Tracy, but in all everything turned out great.