Cake decorating in the parking lot… But of course.

Well, it’s been just about 4 months, and the pain and humiliation have dulled enough for me to tell you all this horrible story.

One day, a friend from work asked me to make a cupcake cake for her granddaughter’s first birthday. It seemed like an easy enough request. So I baked, I frosted, and I photographed:

pink cupcake cakeThe next day, I got up and loaded everything in the car. It promised to be a long day; after the 45 minute drive to drop off the cupcake cake, I was headed up north to Wisconsin for my college roomie’s bridal shower. Along with the cake for my coworker, I had 75 individually bagged cookies to bring to the shower. (It was a busy night of baking the evening before and I now realize I never even took a photo of the flower cookies for the shower. Some of them are pictured here in this photo I took to remind myself “Goodness I’ve baked a lot of things today:”)

IMG_5313I drove away from the house with a spring in my step and a song in my voice. The cake sat securely next to me while the cookies were spread out across the backseat.

As I drove, I noticed that the cake was wobbling to and fro a bit. Nothing abnormal, and to be honest, I was secure in the cake’s internal structure. Three layers of cake made up the green base. Three other layers of cake were then set on a cake board, which was then placed on top of the green layers. With five thick straws holding up the pink section, and a wooden dowel rod going through both layers, I thought it had more than enough support.


About 20 minutes into the drive, a small crack appeared in the side of the green frosting. I momentarily freaked out, but, remembering the cake was for a friend, I knew she wouldn’t mind if I popped into her kitchen and used a spatula to fix that little crack.

Ten minutes later, and the crack had grown. Hugely. I began to drive with one hand holding onto the base, trying to keep it as perfectly horizontal as possible and trying to minimize bumps.

Suddenly, I felt something on my hand, Something heavy. Something that felt like frosting. Glancing quickly at the cake, I let out a high-pitched shriek as I fumbled between driving, catching the cake, and righting my newly arrhythmic heartbeat. The top half of the cake, the pink half, was literally sliding forward. I managed to pull the car over with my left hand just as I caught the top of the cake with my right hand, stopping it just before it fell clear off the bottom part. I sat there in stunned silence, my hand halfway shoved between the two sections of cake. Slowly, I lifted up the pink half of the cake, and the disaster beneath cannot adequately be described in words:

IMG_5343I wish I could say that I scrunched up that cake to make it look worse for the picture, but unfortunately, I did not. It literally fell apart.

I got out of the car, still holding the (intact) pink half of the cupcake, and had no idea what to do. So naturally, I called my mom. And though she is excellent at providing emotional support, she was unable to provide assistance to her daughter who was standing sobbing in the Mariano’s parking lot on a drizzly Sunday morning with half a cake in one hand and the other half spread across her front seat.

I tried to collect myself. I removed the cake base with the messy green bits and put it on the floor of my car, and then set the pink half into the large circular pan. I stood there in the parking lot, using approximately ninety thousand Starbucks napkins that I have amassed over the years (I KNEW they’d come in handy some day!) to wipe off the buttercream that coated my entire arm. Between sniffles, I devised a plan.

I took my tear-stained face into Mariano’s. “Can I help you?” said a concerned worker. “I just need, um, plastic cutlery, and some paper towels. And water. And a plastic bag,” I answered with a hiccup. The gentleman showed me to the aisle and then, I assumed, went back to call the authorities.

I took the supplies back to my parking space and squatted next to the car. Handful by handful, I tossed chunks of cake and green buttercream into the plastic bag. I dampened some paper towels and then attempted to wipe off the frosting around the edge of the cake base. Wetting fondant is not a good idea because it causes it to get sticky and it also leaves a sheen, but it was better than leaving the green everywhere, I thought.

Once the base was sort of presentable, I put the top of the cake on the base. I stood up then and placed the cake onto the trunk of the car. (I can’t frost in a squat.) Initially embarrassed with the glances of Sunday morning shoppers, I now stared at them haughtily, my chin up and my hand tightly gripping my plastic spoon-spatula, eyes just daring them to make a comment: “What? You looking at ME? Haven’t you ever seen someone decorate a cake on the trunk of a car with a crappy plastic spoon before? Geez. Keep shopping, folks, nothing to see here.”

IMG_5345Adding to the overall stress was the fact that, of course, I had promised to bring this cake over by a certain time, and not only would I now be late for that, but I was risking being late for the bridal shower. Which I had the party favors for.

When I eventually arrived at my friend’s house, she oohed and ahhed and graciously reminded me that it was “a smash cake for a one year old. Don’t even worry a bit.” And after showing her the pic of how I had helpfully pre-smashed the green layer for the kid, I went on my way.

“Technically,” the moral of the story is:
Do not taper the edge of a cake in so much. Especially if you’re using regular fluffy cake instead of firm pound cake.

However, the MUCH MORE IMPORTANT moral of the story is:
Only make cakes for kind people who are nice to you if you mess up.

Have you ever had a cake disaster? Or any disaster in the kitchen? Tell me about it in the comments below. It’ll help my self-esteem.


(Literally) My Family Tree

fondant and real grandparents

When the time came to create a cake for my grandparents’ birthdays, I struggled to come up with an idea. What does one make for the perfect couple? The man who is so fiercely dedicated to protecting the marginalized of our society, giving a voice to those who have none? Who has shown his children and grandchildren the very definition of love with the way that he adores his wife? The woman who leads the conga line across the stage at the restaurant when our family’s “song” comes on, who demonstrates her pride in her family with unabashed delight? Who- literally- will seek out the people on the fringes, so that they experience, even if for a moment, the feeling of belonging and inclusion? The couple who cares for each other before they care for themselves, and who have demonstrated how to live out a faith-filled life that is brimming with love?

With these thoughts swirling through my head, I rejected idea after idea. Nothing seemed good enough for them. And suddenly, my sister said, “The family tree!” Now, everyone knows that I am spending much of my free time conducting family research, but I hadn’t thought of actually bringing that to life in edible form. After a discussion at dinner on Sunday, it was decided: I would attempt to recreate a family tree. Grandparents at the bottom, with the families sprouting off on the branches. What better to way to honor them than by bringing their “legacy” to life, in fondant form?

Though our history has been traced back until the 1700s in rural Ireland, out of necessity due to both time constraints and cake design requirements, I narrowed down the branches to include only my immediate family. This Irish blood is what accounts for the ghostly skin and the dark hair… And the fact that one in three people in the family are named Mary. (Ok, I’m just kidding about that.) But in all seriousness, due to Irish traditions, names tended to stay within the family. For example, in one strand of our tree: There is a Robert who has a sister Mary and a sister Margaret. Robert marries a Margaret (who has a sister Mary). Robert’s mother’s name is Mary, whose mother’s name is Margaret, who’s grandmother’s name is Mary. Add in an aunt Margaret, a great-aunt Margaret, two great-aunt Mary’s, a great-grandma Margaret, and a great-great-grandma Mary, and then remember: this is just ONE strand. On the other side- completely unrelated- the Margarets begin anew.

photo 1With the exception of one cousin, who has a name that says it all, really- Margaret Mary- the naming tradition has fallen by the wayside with the past few generations. (While it is nice to keep family traditions, it HAS been nice to get to know the other 19 letters in the alphabet!)

Ok, back to the cake! Counting up the relatives, we discovered we needed 25 heads. I asked/begged my mother and aunt to help in this endeavor, promising them that “fondant is really fun!” Luckily, these two women are great sports and we really did have fun making heads, noses, eyes and mouths. (And this aunt isn’t even a part of that particular tree! Do you see what I mean? I have the best relatives all around!)

Next, we created a base for the tree. This tree was going to be very heavy, so we decided to use rice krispie treats instead of cake! Cover the base in fondant, and trim off excess fondant:

photo 3 photo 4 photo 11

Next, create the tree. I used a large plastic cylinder, stuffed it with modeling chocolate, and then stuck in some metal decorative pieces I found at a craft store. I then duct-taped these sticks together because I was afraid the addition of the heads would cause them to shift around a lot.

photo 22 photo 33 photo 44

Once the branches were secure, I added the heads (in family groups). The heads had hardened with a small bit of wire inside, and I wrapped the other end around the “branch” and secured it with floral tape. Then the entire branch was covered with modeling chocolate.

DSCN0049    DSCN0051

The entire project ended up taking a ridiculous amount of time – my lovely mother was roped into work with me literally all day. She was a hard worker that completed all the hard or boring jobs like making leaves (yawn), softening the modeling chocolate (ouch!), and everything else that I could bark out at her.

Not only is she a hard worker, but she’s got a sense of humor!

Normally, I spend a lot of time thinking about the cake recipient while I’m decorating, but boy, in this case- wow! It was like a trip down memory lane!

photo 55Later that evening, we had a birthday party and presented them with the cake. As always, it was a very enjoyable evening and I was reminded about how blessed I am to have this life, these perfect relatives. And as I was thinking about what to put in this blog post, an unfortunate quote came to mind: “Every family has a weird relative. If yours doesn’t… it’s you.”




Yoda birthday cake

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

I recently watched these movies for the first time (I know, I know) as part of a year-long project. (I turned 30 this year and made a goal to have 30 new experiences during my 30th year!) Since I’d never seen any of the Star Wars movies, I decided it was high time! And who better to share it with than my dad, the Ultimate Fan? (We once went to a Star Wars concert and there were Stormtroopers milling about. My dad insisted on waiting in line to take a photo with them. There he stood in the long line, the oldest person by at least 40 years… but you’ve gotta admire his tenacity!)

Anyways, of the entire series, the line that stuck with me the most was that one: “Do or do not. There is no try.” When it came time for my dad’s birthday, it was pretty clear that Yoda was the man on the menu!

This was my first experience using modeling chocolate, and let me enlighten you on its many wonders! I’ve used fondant a bit, but with fondant, it’s basically impossible to work out seams. With modeling chocolate, you can stick on another piece and blend the two together so it is seamless. This works perfectly for creating Yoda’s face. Take a look below at the process! Simply start by covering a piece of styrofoam, and then add on from there. Use pointed tools to create wrinkles and other texture. (His face became flattened, a condition from which he never recovered, in between the fifth and sixth pictures, when I accidentally set him down face-first.) yoda 3fixing yoda cake Once the face was finished, it was time to stick it on the body. I had created the body out of a stack of round cakes, with a cup shoved down the center. Let me be the first to inform you to NEVER DO THIS. I had failed to foresee the need for Yoda’s head to need to be on a strong pillar of some sort, something I could stick into the cake. So instead, I was stuck trying to balance it on the cup. Bad plan! Bad plan!

Before I finalized the cup-balancing-situation, I did some last-minute touch-ups, which included my sticking a pole up Yoda’s nose. DSCN0091That part was more fun than I care to admit. 🙂

Oh! The ears! I hate them! They are made of rice krispies and are waaay too thick. I wish I had had the foresight to use gum paste, but by the time I thought of it, it was too late. So instead, I used two blobs of rice krispie treats and formed them into that shape. Cover them with fondant, add some texture and highlighting colors, and put a little candy stick in the end, and there you have it. I just think that they are so thick (especially from this angle here on the left). If I do this cake again, I will create gum paste ears in advance!

Yoda birthday cakeYoda cake inside Yoda cake face

Thanks for reading! Do you have any tricks or tips that would have solved some of my conundrums? How about your favorite line from Star Wars? 🙂