for my daughter's fifth birthday, she specifically asked to have a party where every one could make crowns. since last year we already had a castle themed party, i thought this year we could do a Fancy Nancy themed party to go with the crown making idea. many of the fancy nancy cakes i saw online were kind of crazy/messy looking. i imagined something fancy not kitschy. while thinking of fancy, pillows came to mind. so i decided to try my hand at a sculpted cake and making a pillow cake seemed to be an easy way to get my feet wet.
after sketching out the design, i planned out which items would need the longest time to dry and then began to make them first. i spent a day making several batches of marshmallow fondant then i created the tiara. first i created a tiara form out of gum paste (made with fondant and gumtex) and allowed it to dry. then using fondant/gum tex blend, i rolled small balls, about the size of a pin head, used a fluted gum paste tool to hollow out the ball to create the illusion of a facet. then adhered it to the tiara form with a dab of water. i did this 150 more times.
then rolled some larger balls and a tear drop for the 'pearl' accents. when the pieces were sufficiently dried, i mixed some white pearl dust with some silver luster dust and some vodka and painted it on using a soft decorator brush, making sure to fill the hollows.
i had considered using pulled sugar to make the facets, but sugar can appear cloudy and get really sticky if there's any humidity...but i did toy with the idea of using these great cast sugar gems, but for $50, it was just a bit too pricey. after the tiara, i set to work making all the roses and leaves. there's a couple of ways to make roses...there's the Wilton Method and then there's just making each individual petal and sticking them together one at a time, which is the way i like to do it...so 312 petals and leaves later, i had all the flowers i needed. it was a lot of petals but an easier task than making petals for some hydrangea clusters that i did for my cousins wedding, making almost 4,000 individual petals.
after the decorations were finished, i set to work on the decorative cake board to set the whole cake on. i cut large squares of corrugated cardboard, and stacked 4 of them, making sure to angle the corrugated channels perpendicularly for strength. i taped them together to keep them from sliding apart, lightly misted it with water, and covered it with purple fondant. then trimmed the edge with purple grosgrain ribbon. i decided to decorate it with some royal icing scrolls. i used a press kit to imprint the scrolls and then went over the imprint with royal icing, using tip #2, adding extra flourishes and dots where needed to fill out the design.
to make the cake tiers, i baked two 12 inch square cakes and two 6 inch round cakes. i decided to bake at slightly higher temperatures to get a nice hump on top so there would need to be less carving to get that rounded pillowy look. after baking and cooling on racks, i wrapped them in several sheets of plastic wrap and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours...a cold cake would make for easier carving.
after filling and stacking the square cakes together with the rounded top on top (no leveling needed for the layer on top, but i did level the bottom layer for stability), i used a serrated knife to carefully trim away the edges to create a beveled edge, just eyeballing it as i went. it was a very 'crummy' task, crumbs all over the work table and floor. i thought about saving the trimmed off cake to make into cake balls later, but it was such a mess that i ended up just sweeping all of the crumbs into the trash. it felt so wasteful!
i worked with the cake on a turntable which made it easy to see the cake from all angles while i carved away at it so i could make sure it was all coming out even. i realized then that i needed a smaller cake board to support the cake because the one i had under it was sized for a 12 x 12 cake and once i had carved away the edges, the part touching the cake board probably only measured 6 x 6. so i cut a smaller square and carefully moved the carved cake to the smaller cake board.
once it was carved to a pillow shape (surprisingly, the cake held together), i iced it with a thin layer of cream cheese icing*, thinned with milk, so that it would smooth onto the cake without tearing or breaking it. then i put it in the fridge to firm up the icing. meanwhile i filled and stacked my round cakes, which didnt need any carving since they had baked up a nice rounded top in the oven. i just inverted one so the rounded top became the bottom and topped it with the other with the rounded part on top. this, too, needed a smaller cake board, so i trimmed down my 6" round cake board to a 4 inch round, then iced the cake with thinned cream cheese icing and popped it back in the fridge to firm up the icing.
then i took out the square pillow cake and covered it with homemade marshmallow fondant. i was worried about getting the fondant around the edges and under without tearing or wrinkling the fondant. the fondant i made was quite elastic which i think made it easier to stretch it smooth. it also helps to wrap the corners first because smoothing out excess fondant is easier to do on the straight sides rather than the pointy corners. all in all, it was not difficult. i also covered the round cake with marshmallow fondant.
i had planned to do some icing embroidery on the round 'tuffet' cake, but in the end, i didnt want it to be too busy, so i left it plain.
for the quilted look on the square pillow, i used my rotary cutter tool that has sort of a ridgey edge, and just lightly ran it over the surface to emboss it with faux stitching.
i think the crumb/texture of the cake suffered from being frozen and trimmed away and i didnt want to chance the structural integrity of the pillow cake by putting in a mousse type of filling so i just filled it with a thin layer of cream cheese icing.
*my favorite icing is white chocolate cream cheese icing (i'll post that recipe at the end of this post), but sadly, my local grocer didnt stock a nut free white chocolate (one that wasnt processed in a plant with peanuts), so i had to omit the white chocolate since it for my daughter (severe peanut allergy) and to her friends, many of whom also have nut allergies.
this was a cake for a boy's 4th birthday. i was asked to incorporate a monkey and the color purple into a cake design. a clown would be performing at the party. so i created this circus themed design.
each tier was actually two 2-layer cakes stacked to create a nice tall tier over 7 inches tall. the problem with serving a cake slice over 7" tall is that it wouldnt fit on most dessert plates, but the tall shape makes for a nicer looking design. so i stacked two 2-layer cakes to make each tier. when cut, the slices will only be less than 4" tall, the perfect serving size.
all the decorations are made from fondant. i used gum paste for the wired decorations and rolled them as thinly as possible to decrease the amount of weight the wires would have to support.
the white posts are cookie sticks and the flag pole is a wooden skewer.
the animals and clowns are all fondant with some gum tex added to help hold it's shape. the clowns took almost a week to dry because they were so large. i molded all the pieces out of white fondant and then painted them with food coloring thinned with clear vanilla extract.
the name plate is thinly rolled gum paste. the name is painted on using black food coloring and a super fine brush..it literally has 5 hairs on it which allows me great control over fine details. the plate was edged with rolled fondant to create a frame for the name.
the top tier was made to look like a circus tent and the bottom tier was modeled after the round platform that the lion and seal are sitting on. if i could change one thing about this cake, it would have been to shape that bottom tier with a flared base so it looked less drum like and more like a platform.
the monkey on top was tricky because i needed his arms to be thin, but strong enough to not break, and that left hand to be able to hold the banana. the tail had to be strong enough to hold the balloons. so i made those parts with full strength gum paste, then created supports with toothpicks to hold everything in place until it was fully dried. then held my breath that nothing would knock it over and cause it to shatter (there are ALWAYS casualties when working with very thin pieces of gum paste!).
the ball that the monkey is sitting on is a ball of Rice Krispies Treats. making such a large ball out of fondant would have been too heavy, so i opted for molding RKT into the shape of a ball and then covering it w/fondant.
the monkey's hat and the number 4 on the flag is finished with sanding sugar to give it some texture and shimmer. i think the stars on the wires could have been improved with a bit of sanding sugar too. i didnt have any sanding sugar in blue, green or purple at the time, but it's easy enough to make some with plain white granulated sugar. just put some sugar in a ziplock baggie, put in a little bit of paste icing color and massage it around, and voila! colored sugar!
the cake board (base) is covered with green fondant and iced with green sparkle gel icing and allowed to dry for a week so it is dry to the touch. then i painted on the words Happy Birthday with black food coloring. and then finished it off with purple grosgrain ribbon.