Fondant, Farm Animals, and Far-Out Fun!

laying fondant on cake stripes punk farm book Recently, our school librarian asked me to make a cake inspired by the “Punk Farm” books, written and illustrated by Jarrett Krosoczka. The author would be making a trip to our school, and several students had won the opportunity to share some cake with him during their lunch break! So I got to work with step 1: research. Armed with both “Punk Farm” and “Punk Farm Goes on Tour,” I sat down to read. And read. And read. I’m happy (and somewhat embarrassed) to admit that I read each book several times, my mind going a mile a minute thinking about both the cake, as well as how I plan to incorporate this book into my elementary music classroom. I chuckled aloud at the chicken who says, “I’m scared!” and the pig who’s afraid to get dirty, for nothing escapes me when it comes to jokes intended for small children. Luckily I have the sense of humor of a small child, so I enjoyed myself immensely. (It must also be said that his presentation to our students was not only a heartwarming explanation of the background of a few stories, but a kid-friendly lesson in perseverance and following one’s dreams.)

So after I finished my very serious “research,” I set about brainstorming a way to recreate these funky little dudes. I finally settled on trying to capture their personalities with fondant. Here is the method I followed:

1. I drew each animal on a cardboard cake board and then cut it out. They are each about 4-5 inches tall. I made photocopies of the cardboard cutouts:

sketch of punk farm animals for fondant cake2. I covered the front of each animal with the base color of fondant and wrapped it around the edges, gluing the edges on with a bit of gum glue adhesive (gum paste mixed with water). You can see below that I had already wrapped the white base color around, and had just cut out the red feathers and was about to wrap them around, as well.

punk farm animals fondant and cardboard3. Once the base color of fondant was attached to the cardboard, I flipped the face over and added all the features, like sunglasses, hair, mouths, etc. Since I had a photocopy of the drawings I had made, I knew how big to cut these features. Here is a photo of each fondant-covered animal:

punk farm book cake animals made of fondantOnce the faces were done, I taped a stick to the back of them and stuck them in the cake. I also used scrapbook paper and stickers to make the “Punk Farm” banner.

punk farm book cake

If you enjoyed learning a bit about “Punk Farm,” you can find Jarrett on all the usual social media places (@StudioJJK). And here’s some inside information: he’s a cake-decorator as well. Check it out on his Pinterest wall!

Which other children’s books would look good as a cake? I’ve done only one before (a “Five Little Monkeys” cake, complete with jumping monkeys!), and am counting down the days until December so that I can complete the “Polar Express” idea one of my good friends suggested. (I’ve worked out how to make it have smoke, I think!) I’m always looking for more project ideas, so comment below if you have thoughts!

Painting a Stained Glass Cake

food coloring paintbrushes for painting cake Warning! If you attempt this cake, it will take you longer than you think. And whatever you think that means, double it, at least. And if you happen to have an afternoon Easter gathering to get to, well, then, you’re just outta luck.

As I’ve made more and more cakes over the past year, that is honestly one area in which I’ve improved: I can give myself a fairly accurate timetable for how long a cake will take. So I was feeling good on Easter morning, my cake all made and covered in fondant the night before, ready for the vibrant splashes of color from my paintbrushes. I meandered to the kitchen, giving myself four entire hours to paint this, but was almost certain it would take around three. It took five. And I was late for Easter. 😦

And, shhhhh… I didn’t even finish the back, something that caused me, the Ultimate Perfectionist, physical pain and anguish.

It really is quite simple: all you need are the gel food colors, a brush, and some clear vanilla or lemon extract (or any clear alcohol, like vodka!). Put a little food coloring on the plate, mix a little extract so that it becomes the shade you want, and paint away. My steps are photographed below: cover cake in white fondant, sketch design with yellow food coloring, paint in the sections, and outline with black food coloring. Ta-da!

how to paint a stained glass effect on a cakeHere’s what the top looked like! Some of the sections are a bit streaky, but like I said, I was running really late!   stained glass cake with food coloringEaster cake painted stained glass I also tried this neat jello dessert I saw on this blog:

I CAN’T STAND HOW CUTE THEY ARE! Easter egg jello with colorful rainbow layers

Easter Egg Cake Pops

easter egg cake pops headerburned cupcakes for cake popsEver wonder what to do with your leftover cake pieces? Cake pops are the answer! Last night, I made a wedding dress cake for a friend’s bridal shower. Not only did I have tons of leftover cake once I had carved the dress, but I also had an entire tray of cupcakes that had burned bottoms. Solution? Cake pops!! 🙂 I’ve only made them once before (click here to see the life-like roses for a “Bachelor” viewing party!) but everyone knows that cake pops are just so darned cute. (For the real Queen of cake pops, check out Bakerella!)

Step 1: Mix your leftover cake pieces with a can of ready-made frosting from the store. Add the frosting little by little so that it doesn’t get too wet and heavy. (I think one box of cake mix mixes into around 1/2 or 3/4 whole can of frosting.)

Step 2: Form the cake balls into whatever shape you like. Put into refrigerator for a while.

Step 3: Melt candy melts in a dish. Dip the tip of a stick into the melts, and then insert into the bottom of your cake pops. Place back into the fridge until these harden. (It only takes a few minutes!)

Step 4: Once hardened, dip your entire cake pop into the candy melts. Twirl to get rid of excess (I haven’t mastered this yet!), and then place upright in a cake pop holder or a piece of styrofoam. Let harden completely.

Step 5: Finally, the fun part! Decorate away! 🙂 I attached the larger sprinkles one by one, using a toothpick dipped in a teeny bit of the melted candy. For the smaller sprinkles and sugars, I used a paintbrush dipped in piping gel and coated the area I wanted covered, and then dumped on the sprinkles. They will adhere exactly where your piping gel was!

cake pops how to in progressOnce everything was dry, I set about taking my photographs. A brightly-colored container, a few sheets of paper, a piece of styrofoam, and some plastic grass from a craft store and viola! All you’ll need is the camera! 🙂

Easter egg cake pops 1 Easter egg cake pops 2 Easter egg cake pops

A Cake with a Big Dog and a Really Big Hockey Puck

dog cake with toews“You made this? Whoa, good job!” he said. I stared back, eyes wide, and attempted to process those words. Unfortunately, after what was probably far too long a pause, all my addled brain could come up with as a response was, “Um…well…good job playing hockey!” The last words came tumbling out. A very small corner of my brain screamed a warning, “Lame! Lame! Lame!” but the words slid out unimpeded.

An inward sigh. Alright, so perhaps my meeting with Chicago Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews didn’t go quite according to plan. But he was kind enough to sign a photo of the other Blackhawks cake I made for WGN last spring. In fact, I was able to meet many of the players that night and all were incredibly kind and gracious. Their reputation for being accessible, fun, and “normal” was certainly evident.

This event, “A Fetching Affair,” was at the Drake Hotel and sponsored by the Bryan and Amanda Bickell Foundation. A few months ago, I had seen an advertisement for this event, right around the time that I completed a different cake in the shape of a French Bulldog puppy. That puppy cake made me wonder if the Bickell’s foundation would like a similar cake for their fundraiser. I asked, they said yes, I made the cake, and next thing I know, I’m standing in the Drake shaking hands with the Bickells themselves. (Who couldn’t have been nicer, might I add.)

The cake was done in multiple steps. As I work full-time and have responsibilities on week-nights, I was really only able to work on this on the weekends. I will list the steps below, along with some photos of the process:

dog face made of modeling chocolate in stepsSTEP 1: Create Dog’s Head (two weeks before event)
1. Carve styrofoam ball in general shape of dog head.
2. Cover in modeling chocolate
3. Add modeling chocolate until it has the proper shape and color of your dog.
4. Add fondant eyes, tongue, and nose (fondant accepts gel colors and modeling chocolate does not. I don’t know why.)
5. Using a paintbrush, dab on black, brown, and pink luster dusts to add dimension and shading.

close up of dog faceSTEP 2: Make the Dog’s Body (1 week before event)
1. Go to the hardware store and bother the workers with this question: “We are trying to make a life-size dog cake. Can you help us make a skeleton?
2. After they laugh at you, walk around until your parents find the appropriate wood, dowel rods, shims, screws, and general doo-hickies to make it happen. Then, have them put it together for you.
3. Make a batch of rice krispies and pile it on the bottom. (Remember to line your base with wax paper, otherwise the rice krispies will be stuck to it!)
4. Keep piling on the krispies! You have to really push them in together, squeezing from all sides. If it’s not compact, it will not be secure. This dog was 11 whole batches- and there was very little waste that I had to carve off at the end.
5. Any areas where gravity is pulling the krispies down, just shove in some modeling chocolate. It will hold it together.
6. Allow to cool completely.
7. Carve structure until it has the shape you want.
8. Cover with modeling chocolate. Try to make as smooth and even as possible.
9. A few inches at a time, apply another thin layer of modeling chocolate. Using a burnishing tool, press it in using parallel strokes so that it looks like fur. The direction of the fur should be consistent and should follow the contours of the dog’s body.
10. Once the body is finished, add the front legs with modeling chocolate.
11. Using a dry paintbrush, dab loose black and brown luster dusts where appropriate to enhance coloring.

internal structure of dog cake step by stepSTEP 3: Make Dog Toys, Bones, and Pucks (1 week before)
1. Rawhide bone: Roll out white modeling chocolate and then wrap it until it looks bone-like.
2. Dog’s toy ball: The only other non-edible portion of this cake. Because I wanted a perfectly smooth appearance, I used a styrofoam ball. Notice the ball is completely smooth… how did I do that, you may wonder? A brilliant idea! It is no mistake that there is a black/white stripe down the center of the ball. I measured and then cut a circle of red fondant and then stuck it onto the ball. Do the same for the opposite side. Then, take a white stripe and wrap it around to hide the seams. I added a black stripe on top of the white (to model the uniforms’ stripes). But since my black stripe looked uneven, I then added black circles. (They were cut out with the base of an icing tip.) This not only hid the ugliness of the uneven black stripe, but it made it look more playful, like something a dog would have.
3. Hockey pucks: Roll out black fondant so it’s the same thickness as a real puck (1 inch, thank you wikipedia). Use a 3-inch circle cookie cutter to cut the puck out. Once it’s dried, use fondant to add the team logo on top. I cut each color individually and then put them together like a puzzle. I used a black food-coloring marker to draw around the edges, like the real logo is outlined. Forgive me that  it doesn’t look perfect, but seriously, these are some teeny little feathers we are talking about here!dog bone toy and pucks made of fondant

 STEP 4: Make Hockey Puck Cake (1 day before)
1. Make two separate 16-inch cakes. They are GIGANTIC, fyi.
2. Cut off the domed top while it’s still in the pan. You’re more or less assured to get a straight cut that way.
3. Frost and then cover cake with black fondant.
4. Cut out approximately four thousand squares. (Kidding… sort of. I did get two blisters from using this teeny square cutter, so what does that tell you?)
5. Using gum-glue adhesive (a pinch of gum paste mixed with a tbsp of water to create an edible glue), stick the squares onto the side of the puck. (If you look at the side of a real hockey puck, it has these little scored indentations. I’ve placed a real hockey puck on top of the cake below.)
6. Add the words “OFFICIAL, MADE IN SLOVAKIA” out of fondant, if you want. (I had cutters for the smaller letters but free-handed the larger ones.) I decided to add the words because to be honest, the whole thing looked like a tire instead of a puck. (It actually stills looks like a tire, just a Slovakian one.)
7. Optional: greet Marian Hossa at the event by proclaiming that you, too, were “made in Slovakia.” I did NOT do this, although both my dad and brother separately suggested it.

how to make a hockey puck cakeblackhawks cake with hockey puck and crumpled jersey6. Create Fondant Jersey (1 day before)
1. Roll out several strips of red fondant.
2. Roll up some wax paper and tape it so it makes a little ball. I used several of these so the red fondant would stay “up,” instead of collapsing like a deflated balloon. You can see one on top of the cake in the photo below.
3. Lay a strip of red fondant, crumpled a bit here or there to look like an actual jersey. Then place a wax paper ball on it. Drape another piece of fondant on top of the ball. Keep going until it looks like an actual jersey. I actually crumpled my real jersey on the table and then copied the folds.
4. As you go, you’ll need to add the appropriate colors/logos/etc. This tomahawk logo pictured was fun but difficult to do: cut out yellow “C,” then cut out green sticks and white stones. Lay green sticks across the “C.” Cut and remove the yellow area under the green. Lay entire puzzle atop black fondant. Attach with gum glue adhesive. Cut around logo. Lay entire thing atop piece of red fondant. Then drape the red fondant on the rest of the jersey appropriately. Do ALL this before the fondant dries (about 5ish minutes), otherwise the logo won’t drape nicely and will be hard and flat. In this case, you WANT droopy fondant, since it’s supposed to simulate clothing.
5. Put several plastic tube supports into the cake. I had more than what is pictured below. That dog is heavy!

life sized dog cake with blackhawks gear and gigantic puck

STEP 7: Transport Dog to Event! dog cake in car
1. Pray.
No, seriously, driving in downtown Chicago traffic is unpleasant at all times, but especially unpleasant when you’re trying to protect a chocolate dog from moving about. We definitely had the dog with me in the backseat, and the rest of the cake in the trunk. Luckily there were no sudden movements and she made it safely!

We pulled up to the loading dock and a kind man came down with a cart. He was as careful as I wanted him to be wheeling Bailey around on that cart. And he stopped each person we passed, exclaiming, “Do you guys believe this is a CAKE?”

STEP 8: Set up Cake
The cart driver wheeled right into the ballroom, and there stood Bryan and Amanda Bickell. I paused in the entryway, because even though I was coming to their event, I was taken aback to see them there. They definitely recognized their (chocolate) puppy! Bryan doesn’t have his “nice-guy” reputation for nothing- he was as personable and genuine as they come. Aren’t hockey players the best??

Now that that is over, I am looking for another project. Any ideas? I’m thinking about a rotating tornado. Leave me a comment below if you have another idea! 🙂

kathryn with dog cakeLike the Chicago Blackhawks? Check out some other goodies I’ve made here:
Rink cake with gum-paste players
Blackhawks/ hockey-themed iced cut-out cookies
Blackhawks jersey cookiesFondant logo cake
Blackhawks logo cake

Game On! Super Bowl Cookies Fit for Champions

Ahh, the Super Bowl. My favorite game of the year! Because it’s the last football game that I have to hear about for a while! (Kidding! Kidding!)

It’s not that I completely despise football- it’s just that I don’t understand it, and from my uninformed opinion, it’s nothing that the introduction of a strictly enforced limit of whistle-blows wouldn’t fix in a hurry. In an attempt to understand and to participate in the hype, I recently attended my first game- Bears vs. Packers! It didn’t go well for the Bears (did that need to be explicitly stated?), but it was quite a learning experience, and, I have to admit, a lot of fun. 🙂 Going to a Bears game had been on my bucket list and so my kind aunt, mother, and sister accompanied me. I wrote about this experience in my “30 While 30” blog, and will paste a bit of it below:

Earlier that morning, my aunt had piled us into her car and then zoomed off to catch the bus that would take us directly to the stadium. As soon as we sped away, she began a rousing version of “Bear Down.” My mom quickly joined in: “Bear down, Chicago Bears. Dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah, dah VICTORY…” They proceeded with the song and missed the majority of the words, but certainly had an unmatched spirit… and volume. As soon as that was finished, they began an in-depth, complex explanation of the game of football. In the backseat, I listened for about two sentences, and then stared out the window. What an ugly, gray day, but at least it wasn’t precipitating. A few minutes later, I looked at Elizabeth, who was looking at her phone. Miraculously, the ladies in the front were still going! Elizabeth and I exchanged glances and rolled our eyes. I thought about stopping them, but then I got curious and wanted to see how long they would go, and I am happy to report that we made it a full twenty minutes without a pause.

I hadn’t paid full attention to their explanation because I actually understand the game already: you are trying to get your ball all the way to your set of yellow posts (but you have to be careful, because every once in a while, they switch which posts are yours). You can choose to kick it in, throw it in, or run it in. These are all worth various points. There are about three players on each side that are important (one guy throws, one guy runs, and one guy catches)- actually four if you count the kicker who, let’s be honest, spends most of his time watching the game. Now, while these important people are working together to score the points, the rest of the men generally try to knock each other over. Usually these men also have copious amounts of hair.

Football has the interesting ability to elongate time- the quarters are meant to be 15 minutes, but everyone knows that games actually last for 3 hours or more, which means that 1 minute (in the regular world) = 3 minutes (in the football world). They seem to accomplish this by calling hundreds of timeouts and also by breaking little rules, which causes the refs and/or coaches to cast colorful flags into the wind. The flags are different colors depending on the crime.

Each time your team has the ball, you have four chances (they call them “downs”) to get your ball to your endzone. Sometimes, when they can’t quite tell if the ball went far enough, they bring out two people holding orange sticks with a chain connecting them and they measure the distance the ball went. This will tell you if you’re qualified to take another turn. This is one of the major ways in which they manage to elongate time in Football Land. (It is unknown as to why, in an era in which they have remote-controlled cameras literally flying and capturing the game from above, they still choose to measure something as important and potentially game-changing as a “down” by using two men holding sticks.)

While all of this is happening on the field, many things go on on the sidelines, as well. They allow some players to exercise on stationary bikes, for example (probably the kicker, because he doesn’t do a whole lot and I’ll bet he gets bored). There are a lot of other things happening on the sidelines, too- usually lots of arguments, flying clipboards, and red-faced coaches who look like surely they will have coronary attacks within minutes.

Unfortunately, that game failed to convert me into a sports fan. So when I realized recently that I haven’t posted anything from this blog in over a month (and that is bad practice for building readership! 🙂 ), I decided I needed to change that! So here I am, going with a Super Bowl theme! Enjoy!

Building the Basesupplies for building football cookie stand
I went to Home Depot and asked if I could buy astro-turf in, say, a 4 by 2 feet section. The man laughed and told me it was sold on a 12-foot roll. So- does anyone need any astro-turf? I have a lot of extra!

I also bought some styrofoam and taped the pieces together. I cut the astro-turf to fit, and glued them on the sides. Then I used white tape to make the lines on the field. Ta-da!

Creating the Cookies
For an in-depth explanation of how to create jersey ones, check out the hockey jerseys I made here at this link.

patriots seahawks cookie helmets for super bowlThe last step was to attach sticks to the back of each cookie, and then insert the sticks into the styrofoam. This is very simple, though I forgot to take a photo. Put several candy melts in a piping bag, microwave it on half-power, and then cut off the tip. Pipe a line on the back of the cookie and set the the stick in the melted candy! It’ll be hard within five minutes and ready to use.

super bowl patriots seahawks football jersey cookies 1One cookie that didn’t make it onto the display: My Elvis Patriot. C’mon, you can’t deny it- he looks exactly like The King!

patriots elvis cookie

Complete with a deflated football. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. 🙂deflated football for super bowl cookie display

A Christmas Cookie Tree

various cut out cookies royal icingI realized recently that I’ve never written a cookie post! Which is odd because for every cake I make, I probably make two batches of cookies. Hmm. So why haven’t I written about cookies? Oh, yeah: because decorated cut-out cookies are a plot designed to suck away every moment of your life, coat your entire body in powdered sugar, give you tendinitis, and clutter your kitchen almost beyond repair.

But, they are SO DARNED CUTE that I just can’t help but make them! The problem is that by the time I finish, I can’t stand to look at them anymore, much less write about them- all I see are the wasted hours of my life, hours that could have been better spent, say, watching Netflix, or something equally important. (Eh, who am I kidding– I totally watch Netflix while decorating cookies.)

In any case: the time has come for me to write a post about cookies. And since I am now on winter break and have some free time, it is the perfect chance! My inspiration for this project came this past October, when I entered a Blackhawks Halloween contest after having spent hours and hours carving 25 pumpkins (that’s unfortunately not an exaggeration), only to find that the contest was closed at the time of my submission. (Helpful hint to the fine BH organization: Next time, can we please have a closing date, or at least can you remove the functional submission link? Thanks. From, Kathryn-Covered-To-Her-Nostrils-In-Pumpkin-Goop.)

cutting hockey cookiesAfter having missed that contest, I devised a Christmas plan, in case they announced another one. And this time, I would be ready, darn it!

So here I am, the day before Christmas, twiddling my thumbs. No contest.  …  So, does anyone want some cookies??? 🙂 Or a homemade tree on which to display cookies? Might I suggest using this as a display of Christmas cookies that each have a relative’s name on it? Wouldn’t that be a nice treat for your holiday dinner! You can use the method outlined below and place each name on a Christmas cookie. It would be so lovely!

The first step in this project was to build the tree. I looked at every craft store possible for a pre-made tree that was to my liking, but I couldn’t find anything. Luckily, my dad is pretty handy with a drill, so we were able to put something together with dowel rods. Drill the holes in the large center pole, stick in the dowel rods (which had already been measured and cut to create the typical “tree” shape), paint the whole thing, and cover with Christmas greenery. Ta-da!

construction of cookie tree DECORATE THE COOKIES
The way you do this part of course depends on whatever you’re decorating. In my case, I wanted a red outline for much of this jersey, but not the bottom, since the actual ones are white on the bottom. Had I outlined the entire cookie simply in red, you would be able to see the red outline around the white and it would look silly. You’ll need a hard consistency royal icing (I use Wilton’s recipe) to pipe the outlines. As you can see below, I piped the outlines and then added the stripes and collar.

I used an awl to poke a hole through the top of each cookie so that I could put them on the tree later. I then outlined that hole using the thick consistency red royal icing. Once that was done, I flooded the cookie with thin consistency royal icing. Once it’s dry 24 hours later (see, I told you these are a pain), you can decorate the top of the cookie. royal icing hockey jersey cookie blackhawksWRITING THE PLAYERS’ NUMBERS
Perhaps there is a better way of doing this part, but I do not know what it is. I wanted the numbers to have the font they really do on the jerseys, rather than just be done in my handwriting. But to accomplish this, I needed a “double row” of thick royal icing. And when I piped a double row, it looked completely ridiculous. (See first picture below.) So I wet a paintbrush and sort of coaxed the two parts to come together and form one cohesive line. It worked somewhat, though the edges are still not perfectly straight.

royal icing piping hockey jersey

MAKE THE COOKIES SPARKLE! royal icing with silver luster dust
The top cookie on this “One Goal” hockey tree is the Stanley Cup. I don’t own a cutter for this so I tried to eyeball it. I covered the cookie in gray royal icing, but what a huge difference a little luster dust makes! They make metallic dusts in a variety of colors. And a little goes a long way! Simply mix with a splash of lemon extract and paint it right on.



blackhawks hockey jersey cookies christmas treeblackhawks jersey cookie christmas treeUpon first glance, my dad huffed at the tree and said, “Well I don’t like it because Corey’s on the bottom.” (Had he been given the opportunity, he says, he would have played goalie, too.) I explained to my father that in my tree, the goalies are on the bottom center, like a strong foundation, surrounded by the defensive players. The forwards are on the top half, and furthermore, the centers are in the center, the right wings on the right, and the left wingers on the left.

blackhawks hockey jersey cookies christmas tree 1What ideas do you have for recycling this tree? Right now I’m leaning towards using this same cookie cutter to create an array of “ugly sweaters,” each one labeled with a guests’ name. Maybe it could be cute for favors for a Christmastime bridal shower or baby shower? What do you think?

Check out some other Blackhawks goodies here:
life-sized carved puppy with Blackhawks gear
large rink cake with gum paste players
Blackhawks/ hockey-themed iced cut-out cookies
Blackhawks logo cake

Painting on Fondant

materials for da vinci painted cakeQuestion: How on earth can I recreate a Renaissance art piece using cake materials? I’ve been putting it off for months. Impressionism, post-impressionism, surrealism, cubism… those are so much more forgiving. But the precision of those Italian masters would be impossible to recreate, and I resigned myself to skipping that period.

But then I thought, really, Kath?! You’re going to do an art series and skip one of the most well-known periods? So I devised a compromise. How about I do a famous drawing instead of a painting? That would be easier because I wouldn’t have color troubles. A sketch would be even better than a drawing- a nice, rough, one-tone sketch that maybe looked like it was scribbled in five minutes, as opposed to, say, the Mona Lisa.

After looking around a bit, I found a print of a Leonardo da Vinci drawing that is suspected by some to be a self-portrait. Pretty simple- brownish background with brownish chalk. (Well, simple for Leo, I mean, haha!) I set to work with the fewest materials ever: brownish fondant, one fine paintbrush (that would be a paintbrush that has a thin tip, not a paintbrush that you look at and say, Dang, that paintbrush is fiiiiiine!), brown gel coloring, and lemon extract. That is literally it.

The process is simple enough- cover a rectangular cake with brownish fondant, put a little food gel coloring on a plate, add a splash of lemon extract (or you can use vodka, just sayin’), and paint away. The more extract you add, the lighter your color will be. The less you add, the bolder the color will be. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly, because:

Brown food coloring is apparently not brown, it is green at heart. And black is actually blue.

This is a weird phenomenon to me, and I do not understand the chemistry behind the process. But here is what happens, according to my simple observation: If you use brown coloring in fondant, royal icing, buttercream, gum paste, or any other medium I’ve ever used, it makes it brown. (Duh.) However, when you add lemon extract, it separates into individual colors, with the predominant one being green. ??? Why? I don’t know! I don’t get it! And the black coloring turned blue! Check out the evidence below!

difference between black and brown food coloring

In a way, this is a sort of beautiful plate. But in another way, it’s extremely annoying when your Leonardo da Vinci comes out greenish and seasick. And as I could find neither a cause nor a solution, I present to you: Leo: His Life on the High Seas.

It is hard to paint for hours while leaning over and not being able to support your hand.

Sounds like I’m being lazy, which is something I usually specialize in- but this is a serious problem here. Pick up a pen for a sec and try to write something without placing your arm on the table. I bet your handwriting isn’t very nice, huh? This is the way cake decorators always have to work, because obviously, one cannot rest her arm on the rest of the cake. Now, I’ve been taught a few different ways to anchor my piping hand (you get SUCH a better, cleaner result if you anchor your hand!)- but this was impossible to anchor for so many hours. Normally, the longest thing I would need to anchor for would be “Happy Birthday!” It would have been super nice to set this cake up on an easel, but again, that’s not something you can do with a cake. (Think: “cake-sliding-down-broom-handle” from Sleeping Beauty!)

As always with food coloring, you cannot add light color on top of a darker one.

Therefore, if you paint over an area that should be lighter, you are in trouble! You must be careful! Working with paint is quite different because yellow paint can be painted atop black, but since food coloring is clear-ish, that doesn’t work. For example, using the third photo below- with regular paints, I would paint the pupil the desired color and add a dot of white in the center of the pupil to make it look like it was glinting. But in this case, a little area for the “dot of white” must always be preserved and not painted on. It’s a backwards sort of way of thinking.

Here is the in-progress photo compilation, featuring the cake as well as the speck of dust that is inside my phone’s camera lens (anyone know what to do about that?):

in process painted da vinci cake 1in process painted da vinci cake 2leonardo da vinci cake painted with food gel coloring self portrait

leonardo da vinci cake painting with food coloring self portraitClick below for other art-inspired cakes:
Van Gogh (painting with buttercream), Monet (painting with royal icing), Monet (Nerds candy), Cezanne (apple peels), Michelangelo (modeling chocolate sculpture), and Ansel Adams (chocolate shavings)

Do you have an idea for an art-inspired cake? Leave me a suggestion in the comments below!

A Special Puppy Cake for a Very Special Person

Perhaps you’ve heard about Haley. Maybe you’ve heard about her on the news, seen her with the Chicago Bears or read about her in a magazine. Maybe you follow her facebook page. I, myself, have never met Haley or her family. But what I have witnessed is an entire community coming together to support and encourage Haley in her battle with brain cancer. Diagnosed in the summer of 2013, the community has since rallied to envelop Haley, her family, and her caregivers with prayers and well-wishes.

This past weekend, Haley was the guest of honor at an event and I was lucky enough to be able to create a cake for her. A “French bulldog puppy” was requested so I set to work!

dog cake in processThe body of the puppy was four sheet cakes covered in modeling chocolate. Once the basic shape was created, I stood up and stepped out of the kitchen for a moment. Walking back in a minute later, I suddenly stopped in my tracks and the air was knocked out of my lungs. “Oh. My. Goodness. That’s no dog- that’s a TURKEY!” My heart sank as I stared. It literally looked exactly like a turkey. From every angle. I can just picture the conversation now: “Um… wow! We had requested a French Bulldog, but, um, a turkey is good too!”

It was at this moment that my nerves began. I usually have a pretty accurate overall vision for cakes, and while I always worry about finishing on time or running out of materials, I never worry about the design.

But this turkey/dog? Oh my!

I took a deep breath and tried to tell myself it would be okay. “It doesn’t even have a head yet, silly!” the small, rational part of my brain countered, as the rest of my being screamed “OMGIT’SATURKEYDOG!!!”

And so, with great trepidation, I quelled the swirling nerves and put my game face on. Since the bird- err, dog- was already covered in modeling chocolate, it was time to add a layer of fur. I took a little at a time, warmed it in my hands a bit, stuck it on the side, and used the burnishing tool to create little ridges that (hopefully) looked like fur.

dog cake burnishing fur

Once the modeling chocolate fur was added, I added the head. I had taken a styrofoam ball and covered it in modeling chocolate, inserting the whole thing through the cake and into a pre-made hole in the cake board. I would like to say that the head was inserted at a jaunty angle to give the dog a spunky personality… but the truth is, I didn’t trust it to sit up straight. It was covered in so much chocolate and was so extremely heavy that I needed to have the stability of an angled base, as well as the ability to rest it on the side of the body.

dog cake in progress add headAbout ten hours of Netflix and one depressing Blackhawks loss later, the turkey dog was not looking like anything fit to serve. I did a cursory glance throughout the kitchen as I imagined myself re-baking the cakes at 3am. With the bundle of nerves rising closer and closer to the surface, I continued to add fur and textures and shading, as I sent up a prayer and hoped for the best.

It wasn’t until I added the snout that I suddenly believed in the dog. (Try it- cover up the snout in the photo below. It looks like something out of Star Wars, right?) But that cute lil’ fondant nose, painted with black food coloring so it glistened? Nooooow we have a dog, instead of a gremlin. Whew!

french bulldog dog puppy cake modeling chocolatefrench bulldog puppy cake close up of faceFor some more in-depth modeling chocolate examples, check out my attempts at Bucky the Badger, Yoda, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and the Wizard of Oz characters!

To learn more about Haley and donate to her cause, check out her website here. If you’re in the Cary area, come to her event at CGHS this Saturday for a festive afternoon of cookies, hot chocolate, live music, and a silent auction chock full of great items!

It’s a Pumpkin! No, it’s a Cake! Wait, it’s a Pumpkin Cake!

painting gum paste fall leaves with food coloringBeing a Pinterest/ Facebook/ Twitter fan, I have been seeing many Thanksgiving treats in my news feed recently. Adorable “gobble gobble” cookies, cakes in the shape of turkeys ready to carve, cupcakes with pilgrim hats… but I had yet to come up with an idea of my own. I saw a post with a pumpkin bundt cake recipe that looked heavenly, and it occurred to me: a bundt cake has ridges. A pumpkin has ridges. What if I covered a bundt cake with fondant? It would actually look like a pumpkin, right?

I’m sure there are about a million people that have figured this out already, but I’m a little slow to the party! So here is my attempt at a pumpkin cake!

STEP 1: Create the Leaves
1. Color your gum paste/fondant mixture a light yellow or orange. (I did a bit of each.)
2. Roll out very thinly and use a leaf cookie cutter to cut shapes.
3. Drape the leaves over crinkled wax paper so they do not dry flat.
4. Wait for leaves to dry. (best to wait at least a day or two, though I did mine only about three hours later. They were still a little soft but, ever the procrastinator, I was out of time.)
5. Scoop out a bit of brown, red, and orange food coloring and put them in separate parts of a plate. Dump a bit of lemon extract in the center of the plate. (The extract dries really quickly so you’ll need to keep getting more!)
6. Using a paintbrush, paint your leaf! Save the darkest bits for the highlights at the end.
gum paste leaf painted with food coloringSTEP 2: Make the Cake Look Like a Pumpkin
1. Cook two separate cakes in a bundt pan. When the cake cooks, it will end up with a domed top- you’ll want to slice that part off. (And eat the scraps while it’s warm….believe me, you’ll want to, because as you cook this recipe, your kitchen will be smelling more and more like heaven!)
2. Wait for cake to cool. Use this time to eat all the scraps. And also paint more leaves if you’re feeling ambitious.
3. Place one cake with the cut side facing up, and cover the top with frosting. Place other cake on top, making sure to match the ridges on the sides.
4. Cover the entire thing with frosting.
5. Drape an orange piece of fondant over the cake.
6. Press fondant into the ridges. If you had coated it liberally with buttercream, this is helpful, because you’ll have deeper and more prominent ridges.
7. Paint highlights onto your pumpkin. I used a light orange fondant as a base, because I wanted some light orange highlights on the ridges. If I had used a darker orange, I would have needed to paint a light orange highlight- and food coloring doesn’t cover that way. Imagine taking a dark orange crayon and coloring on white paper. Then, imagine picking up a yellow crayon and trying to make a yellow part on top of that orange. Doesn’t work, right? Food coloring is the same. Your “base” needs to be the lightest color, and you have to paint on the rest.  how to cover pumpkin cake fondantSTEP 3: Create the Stem
1. Take a brown lump of fondant and make it look like a stem… I really don’t know what else to say. 🙂
2. Take a toothpick and make little points in the top of the stem, because pumpkin stems really do have that prickly sort of top!
3. Paint with green and brown food coloring.

pumpkin cake covered in fondant thanksgivingSTEP 4: Place as Centerpiece!
See how long it takes your family to realize that it’s a cake!

thanksgiving table with pumpkin cake centerpieceSTEP 5: Cut open and enjoy! 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! pumpkin cake being cut open fondant

No More (Modeling Chocolate) Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!

Five little monkeys jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped his head!
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,
“No more monkeys jumping on the bed!

I don’t know about you, but this is probably the first nursery rhyme/ finger play that I can remember. In fact, this rhyme accounts for some of my very first memories of my parents tucking me in at night.

So when our school librarian approached me saying that the author, Eileen Christelow, would be coming to speak at our school and would I please make a cake for her?- I was beyond excited!

The monkeys each are made of modeling chocolate. I know I talk about it all the time- modeling chocolate is SO easy to make and is much more workable than fondant. Take one bag of candy melts, melt them in the microwave, then mix with 1/4 cup corn syrup, put in fridge for a few hours, and it’s ready to go! (Tint the color after you melt but before you mix with corn syrup.)

For these particular monkeys, the arms and legs are stuck in with toothpicks. I attempted to give each monkey a unique pose.

IMG_4242IMG_4243Once the bodies were firm, I used white modeling chocolate to form pajamas. Then I used a food-dye marker to draw on patterns (they match the illustrations in the book!).

IMG_4244  The bed is simply a cake made in a 9×13 pan, cut in half, frosted, with an orange piece of fondant thrown across the top like a blanket. I covered a cake board (that I had already cut into a headboard shape) with brown fondant and stuck it to the cake. Finally, I used the leftover white modeling chocolate to make pillows that I scattered around the bed.

five little monkeys jumping on the bed eileen christelow 2It was such a pleasure to meet Eileen Christelow! She was a wonderful speaker and had our students captivated for the entire assembly. Hearing her speak and watching her draw was like having a piece of my childhood come to life right before my eyes!

What other childhood books do you think would translate nicely into cake? It may be my next series!