Ten Apples and a Bit of Food Coloring

Later this summer, I plan to enter a cake in the County Fair. The assigned challenge is to recreate a famous painting using candy or jelly beans. Immediately, it occurred to me that I had already tried to create a version of a famous painting- but it wasn’t with candy! In planning for this upcoming cake in July, I thought, now, what will I do with two cakes that resemble famous paintings? One Van Gogh, and the other Monet?

Time for a cake series! It’s summer, I’ve got some free time, and… why not?

So far, I have Van Gogh in buttercream, and will (hopefully) have Monet in candy. Why not try a still life using the subject matter from the painting as the subject itself? What follows below is my attempt at creating a Cezanne still life using apple slices to create the apples that he painted.

Step 1: Cover cake board with fondant.photo 3

Step 2: Paint background on fondant. In order to remain entirely edible, I used food coloring for paint. Put a little gel food coloring on a plate, and mix it with a little lemon extract. Paint away!photo 4photo 7 photo 8Step 3: Create plate and metal canister from the original painting. DSCN0300
For these, I rolled out gum paste and let it harden for a few hours. And
then paint away!

Step 4: Peel those apples!
I had chosen a variety of apples in a multitude of colors. I peeled them in large chunks and then soaked the pieces in lemon juice. I tried to figure out how to keep the pieces from turning brown at the edges and curling in. In the end, the pieces retained color for several hours, but they definitely did curl. Since they had been drenched in lemon juice, it did seep into the fondant surrounding the fruit. I re-painted the fondant once everything was finished, but… pick your poison, I guess! 🙂 If you look in the photo below, you can see the way the fondant bubbled up around the yellow lemon in the foreground. Yikes!

Step 5: Layer the apple peelings.
This was a sticky job that took a few hours to complete!      DSCN0301Once the apples were layered, it was time to photograph! If you step back and squint hard enough, the apple peelings come together enough to look like the apples in the painting! 🙂

cezanne apple still life with cakeSince this was created on a cake board, all that was needed was to put the board directly on top of the cake. I decided to try out a new recipe, and, since I had so many apples sitting around, went with this German Apple Cake recipe I found online. The verdict is in: yummy, yummy, yummy!

german apple cakeWhat other work of art would you suggest that I attempt next? My goal is to recreate several famous pieces, each using a different edible technique. Check out the first in my “Art” series here: “Painting with Buttercream,” an attempt at post-impressionism.

Leave a comment below with your suggested works of art!

P.S. You may want to use a higher quality plate than I did… oops. Lemon extract + brown and black food coloring = pink and teal stained plate?? I don’t understand how, either.

stained plate

Painting with Buttercream

Kathryn Favorite Things(1990:)
“What is your favorite subject?” – Art.
“What is one thing you know a lot about?” – Art.
“What is one thing you are really good at?” – Drawing.
“What is one thing you’d change about school?” – Have art every day.

Out of the mouths of babes, as the saying goes- these are the real answers of an 8-year-old Kathryn. My mother, the family’s Keeper of the Memories, saved my “All About Me” worksheets from second grade, and one thing was abundantly clear: I loved art class! (Notice that there is no mention of math. :/ )

(Side note!! If you zoom in on this worksheet, I just realized you can see that my (fabulous) choice of “stretchy black pants” was actually covering a previously erased answer, “School U-” I’m gonna guess that was going to say, “School Uniform.” Nice to know I was already a full-blown nerd at age eight. The only person alive who liked Catholic school uniforms.)

Anyways: crayons, colored pencils, paint, play dough- you name it, I played with it. My mom even kept some of my first drawings, as you can see below! Though missing some important features (like bodies), the most notable thing of all was included: my dad’s fantastic mustache.

kathryn old drawingsFast forward a few years: the love of art has remained the same, and the drawing capability has marginally improved (I’ve started to include arms and legs in my figure drawings). A few weeks ago, I saw a photo of Van Gogh’s famous painting, “The Starry Night.” It occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to “paint” a cake using buttercream! Though making cakes is a huge creative outlet, I’ve been missing real art- drawing, painting, and the like. Painting a cake seemed a like a bit of a compromise, and this art style seemed perfect since it uses dabs rather than blended strokes.

First thing’s first: the cake! I wanted the “dab” effect to run throughout the cake, rather than just on the surface, so I purchased a Duff tie-dye mix. The mix comes with lots of colors, but I didn’t use the reds (since there are no reds or oranges in the Van Gogh).

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Attention: This next part was great fun! 🙂 I used a spoon and dropped the colors in the pan in a random and assorted manner. I had to fight an extremely intense urge to run a toothpick through it all and create The Greatest Swirl Ever– but I was afraid the colors might run together.

Duff cake mix before baking

And the cooked result- how cool is that?! cooked Duff cake mix 

Though unusual to first cover the cake in fondant, and THEN buttercream, I wanted to have a smooth surface to “paint” on. So: on went blue buttercream, and then fondant. Man, that is a lumpy fondant job- I really stink at covering with fondant. I have watched just about every youtube help video out there, and I still have a hard time. Luckily in this case, the frosting totally covered up the lumpiness- but still. A skill to practice. :/


The next step was to create a color palette. Simply tint the buttercream various colors!

color palatteThe photos below show the painting progress, step by step. (Hey! Did someone say “Step by Step?” As in, my favorite song from second grade, as listed on the worksheet above? Check out the music video here! An unusual soundtrack to listen to while contemplating a buttercream Van Gogh, that is true. Perhaps you’d rather listen to this beautiful performance of “Vincent,” performed by Josh Groban.)


As you can see, I very faintly sketched out the major portions of the painting- mainly the large swirl and the beginning of the hill.

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The final step – just for fun- was to lay a picture frame around the cake and create the illusion that it was hanging on the wall. I laid out a white tablecloth, taped a string to the back of the frame, and stuck a pin in the tablecloth- as if the frame were really hanging on the wall.

Van Gogh starry night painting cakeClick here to watch a 3-minute timelapse of a different time I painted this cake!

Now for the fun part! As you can imagine, I was DYING to cut into this cake! I really wanted to see if the layering would come out- and wow, did it ever! This Duff cake mix is an amazing product. Check out some close-ups below!

duff cake mix van gogh cake 2

duff cake mix van gogh cake close up of van gogh cakeI had a lot of fun working on this cake. If you could recreate one work of art using a different medium, which would you choose?

(Next up for me is “La Sagrada Familia” – a cathedral in Barcelona (architect: Gaudí) – I want to build it with sand! 🙂 ) la sagrada familia