How To Make A Sculpted Cake (Baby in a Flower Pot)
By the generous and very talented: Anne Hjelte/WelchSince so many of you seem curious as to how one of these things comes together, I thought you all might enjoy the picture filled journey down the path of a sculpted cake.
1. The preliminary scketch
A week before the day of the shower, I started all my prep work…..which included:
making the flowers, out of gumpaste
*making modeling chocolate and kneading in all the colors I would need
*making the umbrella out of gumpaste
*baking the cakes
*making the buttercream
*making simple syrup
*kneading all the fondant colors I’d need
*buying chocolate cookies and liquor
*cutting and covering my bottom board
*dying bamboo skewers green with vinegar and food color
I did a little each day. I had to fit that in between my regular job and family-care duties.
2. The night before, I had filled and stacked the cakes, so they would be ready for me to carve, first thing. The top cake is a lemon cake with raspberry buttercream, and the bottom cake is chocolate cake with mocha-toffee buttercream. All the cake layers are soaked with simple syrup; the lemon was soaked with lemon syrup and the chocolate, soaked with Kahlua syrup.
I prefer to use buttercream as a filling in sculpted cakes….it sets up firm and makes carving a cinch. Mousses and jams and curds don’t set up enough and are also very slippy-slidy. When you are carving out a cake, you don’t want your layers sliding around on you.
Here is my top cake…..I baked off two 8 inch rounds and 1 10 inch round. Cut them all in half and filled. Ready to carve!
3. Here is the rough cut
4. I just used my long serrated knife to get a general pot shape. Now for the fine tuning.
Lookin’ like a flowerpot! Mmmmmm……look at all those cake scraps on the table. Yep, a few went in my mouth (quality control you know) but the rest went into the garbage……
5. Next it’s time to put a layer of buttercream on there, for extra smoothy goodness
I snapped the pic with one hand as I was holding the pastry bag in the other. Not easy. I like to use the giant pastry bag with the giant tip for applying icing….makes for less work later.
6. Ok, here’s a pic for folks that wanted to see that “paint masker thingy” in action.
Tried to snap a pic myself, but just couldn’t muster up the co-ordination. Luckily, Amber, the front deli counter girl, took a pic for me. I hadn’t meant for her to include ME in the pic (Gawd!) but I wanted more of a close up of Mr. Smoothing Tool. Oh well, you take what you can get. See that I have my sketch on the reach-in behind me….along with all my other wacky magnets. Hey, I like to decorate my workspace…..Notice I hold the “paint masker thingy” by the bottom when I am smoothing the sides. If I don’t, and hold it by the handle, it tends to kind of bend. I hold it by the handle when I go across the top. See how nice and smooth? I
At hardware stores also know as “Paint Guard”, “Trim Guard”, “Paint/Trim Guide”… usually runs about $5 – $20.00 based on size.
6. Now it’s really starting to look like a flowerpot. But wait! It’s upside down! Why is that, you ask? Because it’s easier to carve and ice that way, and most importantly, much easier to apply the fondant. Into the fridge it goes, to firm up. Now for the second pot……
7. This is going to be the bottom flowerpot. It’s going to be larger, and a slightly different shape than the top flowerpot. I baked off 2 10 inch rounds and 1 8 inch round for this one. I only ended up using half the 8 inch round, as you can see. I have the saran wrap underneath the cake and on top of the board, so it will be easier to flip over later. ..
8. Here it is all carved out…..mmm….more cake scraps…..into the garbage they go…
With a layer of buttercream. I didn’t use the “paint masker thingy” on this one because of the curvature of the cake. I just piped the icing on and then smoothed it out with my offset spatula as best I could. After I refrigerate it, I will do the final smoothing.
9. So now I’m waiting for my pots to set up. Time to do some other stuff like:
- “Cuiz” [Chop Up via Food Processer] my chocolate cookies to make the “dirt” for my pots.
- Start dusting my flowers and leaves with luster dust to add a little depth and realism to them. For this project I just made “whimsical flowers” in that they really aren’t any particular flower….they’re just cartoonish and colorful. Well, the roses are, well, roses…..gotta have a few roses. In the background there
- You can see sort of how I did the gumpaste umbrella. I happened to have a dessert cup at home that was well suited for it. I filled out the top with gumpaste and added “ribs” with gumpaste, then put some saran on the top of that and put a gumpaste disk on it. I then cut out the rounded parts between the ribs…..and voila….umbrella! This was the first thing I made because I wanted it to have the maximum amount of drying time. Now if I were really smart, I would have made not one, but two or even three umbrellas because stuff always breaks. Always. No matter how careful you are. Especially in a commercial kitchen…..not only do you have to worry about yourself but everyone else too. I make more flowers than I need because I always manage to break quite a few. But, as it was, I only made one umbrella since I was so cocky and sure of myself. Turns out I was lucky……this time!
10. Ok, time to roll out some terra cotta colored fondant!
Dust the table liberally with cornstarch and roll away. I’ve done this so much I can just eyeball how much fondant I’ll need to cover a certain sized cake. When rolling out fondant, waste no time from the time you’re done rolling til you get it on the cake, because it starts drying out right away. Drying out means yukky little cracks, and me no likey little cracks! So I race to fridge, retrieve cake, and cover it quickly. Then I take my trusty little pizza wheel and cut the excess away. This excess will get kneaded back into the remainder of my fondant so that I’ll have enough to cover the other pot.
11. So I take the rounded pot out of the fridge, and, after washing my hands like a surgeon, I use the warmth of my hands to smooth the buttercream out so I have a perfect surface on which to cover with fondant. I tried using latex gloves for doing smoothing, but they are too much of a barrier to my body warmth. I need that warmth to lightly soften the buttercream for the proper smoothing. And here we have a nice smooth surface for the fondant.
Back to the fridge it goes to set up while I roll out my fondant…….and here it is covered, with the excess trimmed away. Notice that I trimmed off my plastic wrap quite a bit before I covered it. Otherwise I would have gotten into a wrestling match with it and the fondant.
Back to the fridge they go to stay firm while I take me a little breaky.
12. Ok, break time over! Back to work! My next step is to turn my pots over. I will turn the larger pot over first. I slip my offset spatula underneath the saran wrap and lift the cake off, and set it aside on the table. An important thing to note: If I’d used a mousse, curd, or jam filling, I wouldn’t have been able to do this so easily. With a refrigerated buttercream filling, the cake doesn’t flex at all as I lift it. I managed to nick a little of my polyfoil covering with my spatula when I went to lift the cake. Nuts. Oh well, I’ll cover that with a flower later.
I melt some white chocolate and smear some in the center of my board. I need to anchor the bottom pot so it doesn’t slip around.
13. I flip the bottom pot over, place it on top of my melted white chocolate, make sure it’s centered, and peel the saran wrap off. 13. My next step is to mark where I’m going to place my top pot, then insert straws within that area to support the weight of it. I decided to place the top pot slightly off center, and traced a circle with my paring knife to mark it. For most cake supports I use straws. They’re easy to cut to fit, cheap, and they work. The only time I use wooden dowels is when there is an UNGODLY amount of weight or a weird center of gravity involved. I used to use regular heavy duty bar straws, until I discovered…….bubble tea straws! They are super heavy duty and very large…..they have to be for people to suck up that lovely bubble tea. I don’t really think that fad is going to catch on here much in the states, but as long as I can get the straws I’m happy. I get them from an asian novelty wholesaler in Seattle. I think it’s Viet-Wah, but can’t remember for sure. 14. Anyway, I insert the straw, mark it with my thumb where it’s flush with the top of the cake, then pull the straw out and cut it. I use that straw as a measure to cut the rest of my straws. In this case I will use 5. One in the center and four around. 15. Now I’m all ready to place the top pot on……oh, wait, except for a swirl of buttercream on top of the straws to anchor it a bit. Next, I use my melted white chocolate to adhere an appropriately sized round cardboard on the bottom of my top pot.
16. Once that’s set, I flip over the top pot, and place it on my bottom pot.
Voila! Now, I really have to make sure that the top pot won’t slide around, so I stick a few bamboo skewers down through the middle and through the cardboard til it hits the bottom board. I use the side of my needlenose pliers to pound the skewer down through.
17. Now starts my very favorite part of this whole thing…..details! I figured that using my silicone lace impression molds will make great detailing on the pots. Here’s the one I’m going to use to detail the bottom pot:
I dust the inside of the mold with cornstarch……..then roll out a quick piece of fondant, and roughly press it in:
Then I place the top piece of the silicone impression on top, and roll it like crazy with a rolling pin. With the top part of the impression still in place, I pull off as much of the excess as I can.
Then I remove the top piece, and pull all the ragged edges back in……
18. Then I brush a little water on the back of the piece, and adhere it to the pot. I keep making them until the pattern has gone all the way ’round.
I use a different lace mold to make a pattern on the top pot.
19. Now it’s time to do the rims. When I did the lace impressions around the pots, I used fondant, because I needed the stretchability of it to conform easily to the shape of the pot. A little stretchiness in this case is good. But when it’s time to do the rims, I don’t want ANY stretching going on whatsoever…..
I want uniformly thick and perfectly straight strips, so for this I’m going to use modeling chocolate, which of course has been colored the same color as the fondant. See the neato embossing on my strip? I found that little embossing wheel at Seattle Pottery Supply, believe it or not, and it was cheap too. The embossers are interchangeable and it came with about 10 different patterns! I rolled out my strip, then embossed the pattern twice (one next to the other) then used my pizza wheel to cut nice straight even edges. I made two top strips and two bottom strips….the bottom strips are just plain.
These pots are going into the fridge for a while while I work on the other details.
20. Gotta make the baby! First I start with a styrofoam core. The reason for this is for stability and less weight. There was a time in my career when I thought I shouldn’t use ANYTHING that wasn’t edible, but talk about making life hard. I’ve made things out of solid modeling chocolate, but they were very heavy and hard to support. Then over the years, I realized that people really don’t eat the decorations anyway (except for a few overzealous kids), so I decided to reduce my chocolate expenses and weight by using styrofoam to bulk things out more and more.
I pat out a disk of flesh colored modeling chocolate, and place my styrofoam ball in the middle.
21. Then I bring the edges up around the ball and squeeze the chocolate together so that no seams show. I stick a couple of skewers in it so that I can hold it in one hand and model it with the other. Then I manipulate it in my surgeon-scrubbed hands to model the face, add a little nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hair and of course, a dimple. The baby head needs to go somewhere while I work on other stuff…..oh, here’s a good place…..right in the edge of my equipment box.
22. I’ve been so good about taking pictures at nearly every step! But here’s where I fail you…….when I get “in the zone”……meaning that I’m so intent on my little details….I sort of forget about the camera! Here’s what I did in between this picture and the next two:
- made the baby’s shoulders and neck and arms out of modeling chocolate
- sprinkled my cookie dirt inside the pots
- dusted the centers of my flowers with luster and color, made the calyx’s and mounted them on my green skewers
- rolled modeling chocolate onto a skewer to form the umbrella stem
- made the bottom banner and wrote on it
- made the baby’s flower bonnet
I modeled the baby’s neck and shoulders, then stuck that right on the top pot. Then I cut the skewers that are coming out of his head to the right length and pushed it down through the neck and shoulders.
I placed the arms and formed the hands. I stuck my umbrella stem through the arm and down into the cake so there would be adequate support……but darn, I wasn’t watching carefully, and the skewer came out of the side of the pot because my angle was a bit off. Oh well, I’ll cover that up with a leaf. At least you can see where the umbrella stem is on the skewer. On top of the umbrella stem is a little half dome of modeling chocolate, to support the gumpaste umbrella. I dab a bit of melted white chocolate on that, and stick the umbrella on top. Now all I have to do is place my flowers, mount the banner, and put his little bonnet on.
And here we have the finished product. It’s sort of hard to read the banner….it says, “May Showers Bring Adorable Flowers”. One thing I always seem to to do…..I’ll shoot the picture of my finished cake and I’m always tired…..so I’m too lazy to find a good backdrop. Then I curse myself later when there’s that yukky kitcheny background. God, in one picture I took, my cake had a dirty mop bucket behind it! All I can say is, thank god for Photoshop……I can always “fix” it later.
It took me 8 hours to put this together and that’s not counting all the prep I did the whole week prior. I don’t think a whole lot of people realize the time that goes into this stuff…..and it’s also why you don’t see it very often.
Anyway, the girl that’s getting the baby shower has NO IDEA this is coming. Surprising her is going to be the best part!