Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mr Snowballs wanted a Star Wars Death Star cake

It was recently that time of year again when Mr Snowballs put in his request for his birthday cake with clear instructions that he wanted a Star Wars Death Star cake. I always argue that the sort of cake he wants should be reserved for "special" birthdays (such as my niece's 18th, mum's 70th, sister's 50th, best friend's 40th) or for our children's birthdays. As 40 something is neither, I always try to persuade him to be happy with a "norrmal" cake but it never works. So Star Wars Death Star is was ...
I didn't have the courage to make the whole cake into the Death Star but opted instead for a round cake with the Death Star on top. Mr Snowball informed me that if I wasn't going to do a "full size" Death Star then he also expected an Imperial Star Destroyer - he doesn't ask for much really!!

I have to admit that I had great fun making this cake and I was really pleased with how it came out.

The bottom sponge was gluten-free Victoria sponge with a mashed banana to help add moisture (gluten-free cakes are always so dry!). I covered the cake board in turquoise fondant and the cake in black fondant over Betty Crocker chocolate fudge icing (I seem to have an aversion to making buttercream after the gallons I had to make for Sophie's birthday). Then came the fun part.

I moulded the Death Star out of rice krispie treats (RKT); I have never used these before for my cakes but thought it would be easier than trying to bake a large cake ball. It was very quick and easy to do - I made the RKT before the school run one morning and by the time I came back it had set enough for me to start making the Death Star. Justin has some Lego Star Wars planets and I used one of these to mould the ball, greasing each half liberally before squashing the RKT in them. I read in a few recipes that it is a good idea to crush the rice krispies before mixing with the marshmallows and butter and I will definitely do this next time as there were quite a lot of divots on the outside of the ball. Also next time I will try to leave it longer to harden up, although the ball shape didn't distort too much.

I pushed the two halves of the soon-to-be Death Star together, emphasised the death ray hollow a bit more with my thumbs and then covered the ball in light grey fondant. I did this by cutting two circles of the grey fondant and placing over the RKT (I got the right size by using the Lego Star Wars planet as a guide), joining them across the middle of the ball. I then rolled out dark grey fondant and cut various shapes out of it: I cut circles to fit into the death ray hollow bit (marking it with the back of a knife before I put it on); a long strip to go around the middle of the Death Star; a circle cut into pieces of pie for the top; and almost-square shapes to go around the outside. I worked out that the squares needed to have angled sides to fit onto the ball. Once they were all on, I added random markings with the tip of a #2 icing nozzle and a knife and added tiny non-pareils (which was very fiddly!).

I made the Imperial Star Destroyer by stacking various cut and rolled pieces of fondant together, some white balls of fondant at the back with some silver balls and marking it with a knife. I also added a tiny Tie Fighter.

The finishing touches were Mr Snowballs' name in Star Wars style font in the turquoise fondant and copious amounts of sparkle to brighten the whole black/grey thing.
And the verdict? For someone who has high expectations, Mr Snowballs seemed suitably pleased with his cake and I had fun making it. Maybe next time I will be brave enough to tackle a whole Death Star cake ...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

My biggest cake to date aka THE handbag

My lovely (and quite a bit older!) sister turned a significant age this week. I planned to make her birthday cake and somewhere along the way came up with the idea of making it in the shape of the Mulberry handbag that she has been lusting after for a number of years!

So enlisting the help of my amazing mum and talented niece, we created a full size replica in cake and fondant! And it came out quite well ...
The actual bag is 36cm wide, 16.5cm deep and 26cm high - that is a lot of cake. My mum and I agreed to bake half the cakes each: I baked four victoria sponges in a rectangular tin using a 3 egg recipe and realised that another four of this size was not going to give us anywhere near the height we needed, so my mum baked two using 4 eggs and two using 5 eggs. She also make a "gallon" of butter icing which by scraping the bowl of every last bit was just enough to fill alternate layers and crumb coat the carved cake.

We started layering the sponges (alternating buttercream and strawberry jam filling), cutting each layer to an approximate width until we had the right height. Then we needed to add another 6cm to the end of the cake (the cake tins were only 30cm) so stacked these and "glued" them to the main body of the cake with buttercream. We ended up with nine layers of cake for the main part and 10 for the extra bit on the end! We then carved the bag shape out of the cake, with the top layer being about 5cm wide and the bottom being 16.5cm wide. I then carved a wedge shape out of each side of the cake, so that the finished cake would have the effect of the leather folding in, starting about 5cm down and ending about 8cm from the bottom (see photos below for a better image of this). Once carved, we put a couple of wooden skewers into the layers to help keep them together.
I've included the tall jam jar in the photo to give a sense of size!
I had found a tutorial on how to make the Mulberry bag cake (here) and this proved very helpful in all but the handles (more on those later).

We started off by covering the whole cake with a layer of fondant (we used Renshaw Regal Ice in Teddy Bear brown colour) - the sides individually and a single layer over the front and back of the cake.

The next layers of fondant we textured with a leather texture mat (bought from here). I was slightly disappointed with it but we just couldn't find anything else that could get close to recreating the leather effect we wanted so it did the job: it worked out expensive with the postage and you had to really press very hard to get the texture to show on the fondant.

We covered the sides first and then the front and the back with individual pieces that we carefully smoothed together at the top. We then cut another piece of fondant to fit across the top as the flap on the bag: see the images below to see how far down this came, although on the real handbag it is about 2cm higher than we had it. Before putting this over the top, we cut out two rectangles on one side where the handle straps would go on the front.
We then cut slits in the sides and used a stitching tool to create the stitching effect around the edges of the main flap, across the sides of the bag and around the slits in the side. We then cut a rectangle of fondant, "stitched" the edges and added buckle holes before gently pushing into the slits that we had just made on the sides.
Next step was the straps on the front and back of the cake. These went from the bottom of the bag to the edge of the flap (front and back) with stitching along the vertical edges. We also added a thin roll of fondant (using an extruder) along the edge of the bag, where the front met the sides.

Then we tackled the handles!!! The tutorial we were following used aquatic plastic tubing covered in fondant but this proved to be a disaster ... the tubing was just not strong enough to support the fondant and even with support (see kitchen rolls below) they collapsed and cracked.
So after a sleepless night trying to work out what to do, we came up with the solution of using some heavy duty mains cable as the insert (thankfully my dad was an electrical engineer and has lots of useful things lying around!). Once sterilised, this proved perfect as it was easily bent into the right shape of the handle and once bent didn't move. I also mixed some gum tragacanth into the fondant the night before which made it more pliable and less likely to crack. We then covered the bent cable with the fondant, ran the stitching tool along the inner edge and pushed it into the cake. Just to be sure they didn't sink into the cake further, we put wooden skewers cut to the right size into the cake to support the handles. Also by this time (which was about my fourth attempt at covering the handles) I made sure I only glued the edges of the fondant that I was sticking together and left enough un-glued to attach the handle neatly to the bag. And it looked perfect.
Finishing touches to the bag, to make it a Mulberry bag, where the gold clasp and padlock. My talented niece created the oval and key with the tiny screws and Mulberry logo, which we then painted gold (the key is attached to a piece of spaghetti as per the bag tutorial we were following).
The whole bag was then gently rubbed with Trex (a white vegetable fat) to give it a soft sheen and then we used brown lustre dust to darken the colour of the fondant to bring it more in line with the real bag. I used a clean paint brush, dipped in the lustre and then worked in circles across the whole bag.

The finishing touches were the writing in white fondant, the gold fountain candles pushed into small brown blocks of fondant and a gold ribbon around the board. The board had got slightly "mucky" so I used the brown lustre dust to add a sepia tone to the edges of the white board and in the white spaces. This worked well, toning down the white to blend in with the whole bag.
And here is the finished cake with the real handbag that my parents gave my sister for her birthday. So a very happy girl all round!

© 2013 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.