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.