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Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 02

Most of the cakes I make are a 2-4 day process.  The final 2 days are always baking 2 nights before the party (so Friday for a Sunday cake) and then decorating on the day before the party (Saturday for a Sunday cake).  I add a few more days prior if I need to make fondant decorations or anything that requires drying time.  This Pitfall cake, for as detailed as it looks, took 3 days.

Day 1: Thursday

When I got home from work I prepared the base stand to get it to look like a brick wall with a cave by covering it with fondant and scribing a brick pattern to match one from the game.

Day 2: Friday

In the morning before leaving for work I gave the stand a quick wash of color.  I needed to fill in the grout lines and give it time to dry before I got home.  In a small cup I mixed together 1 drop of black Americolor food gel, 1 drop of brown gel, and 6 ml of water.  I used a food-only paintbrush to apply the wash to the fondant, not aiming for any sort of pattern, and allowing the color to drip and run a bit before smoothing it around.  I let it set for a minute or two then dabbed at it with a paper towel to remove areas of excess, and then used the same brush with only water to remove even more color.  The goal was not to paint or finish the brickwork but to allow the dark color to seep into the etched lines and provide some aging.  pitfall lost expedition night 1 07

At this point it looks like a dark, muddy mess.

When I got home from work I rushed to bake the 2 cakes I’d need.  I knew I’d have plenty of time for them to cool before I planned to ice and decorate on Saturday, but I often use the oven for storing fondant bits overnight and didn’t want there to be any residual heat left inside it.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 01

When the cakes were cooled some I wrapped them in saran wrap to set aside for the night.pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 02

Then I prepared the table for getting down to some fondant painting.  These are the supplies I prepared: in the lid of my color box are a smaller box of Americolor icing colors and a bottle of Wilton White-White, then the contents of the case itself is my collection of Wilton icing gels and some regular, grocery-store-type food coloring.  I brought down some cotton balls thinking I might use them for blotting, but testing on a scrap of fondant revealed it stuck terribly to the wet sweet, and I quickly got rid of them.  I’ve got a measuring cup of water for rinsing my brushes, a small cup of water and syringe for adding clean water to my colors if I need to thin them any (the syringe gives you way more precision when working with tiny amounts of color than dropping by spoonful or pouring), and a small cup of the leftover dark wash from the morning that I’d kept moist in a tupperware for the day.  I’ve got a few sizes of food-safe paintbrushes and some paper towels for blotting, and finally at the bottom is my standard palette, left over from an old pack of hors d’oeuvres.

That’s the palette I use most often, and it works great with larger quantities of color, like when tinting icing sugar/water for the fondant toppers I make.  However when using tiny bits and blending a lot of shades I find it’s not as practical, and I eventually switched over to an artist’s style palette with small dabs of the gel colors on it, and a small styrofoam tray for blending.  The colors bead up on the tray so I don’t lose any to absorption.pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 03

I prepared the stand by putting it on my lazy susan, a wooden one from Ikea.  I’ve also got a glass one and a plastic Betty Crocker one, both from the dollar store, but this one is the one I always reach for.  I stuck a tub of icing in there to help weigh it down.  The stand is pretty heavy, especially with the fondant, but that was a precaution.pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 04

The first thing I did was to mix up a color that approximated the bricks I was trying to copy.  In the game they look like this:

pitfall lost expedition bricks

Now that I had the general shape scribed in and the darker grout lines, I needed to lighten the bricks to a faded, creamy, beige-ish color.  I began to mix up a color, testing on the paper towel until I had something that looked right.  You can see at the bottom of this next pic where I’d tried out a color that was too pale, and I had to darken it up a bit.  In the end I used some Wilton White-White as a base, then some brown and black Wilton gel colors, a touch of Wilton lemon yellow, and some of the morning’s dark wash water to thin it out.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 05

I painted small dabs of the resulting mix onto each brick individually, blending and smoothing until I got rid of the brush strokes and had something that looked like an old brick wall.

For the first time ever I took a short video of my process.  If you find it helpful and want more video tutorials, please let me know in the comments.  🙂

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After the back was done I moved on to the front.  The small amount of mixed color that you saw in the video was enough to paint the entire back and front.

pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 06

The next step was to add some greenery.  I knew I’d have a lot of grass and vines and leaves in the cake, but wanted to add more depth to the bricks so I used more of the dark wash and deepened it up with Wilton gels (leaf green I think).

pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 08

I used a messy brush to pounce the color in areas where moss would grow, mostly around the bottom of the back piece and around the top and sides of the front.  This is a great reason to keep those brushes that get all messed up, so you don’t ruin good ones!pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 09

As I added the moss I made sure to keep the brush from being too wet – the effect was supposed to be subtle – and I also periodically touched my brush in different areas of the mix where I hadn’t fully blended, sometimes picking up straight gel from the edge of the palette.  This gave me varying shades of green and a more natural look.pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 10

Finally I used some White-White and Americolor black and a touch of brown to get a nice varying gray shade for the rock cave.  Again I resisted the urge to overmix the color, so I could get depth to the wall.  Sometimes I touched in a bit more white, which lightened the grays, and then I’d go back in with a more liquid black, getting into the cracks.pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 11

Here’s the finished support, set aside for the night.  The front (above) and the back (below).pitfall the lost expedition cake day02 12

 

 


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Making a Pitfall: The Lost Expedition cake, day 01

For Henri’s 7th birthday party he wants a Pitfall cake.  As in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition.  As in the old PS2 game all 4 of us at home play, and love.

This gave me a bit of a challenge.  The most iconic visuals from Pitfall are, well, the pits.  And Pitfall Harry swinging on vines.  Pits would be easy enough to make, but vine-swinging?  Hmm.  This required a think.

My first thought was to make a framework that would go over the cake with vines and a little fondant Harry hanging down, but while I poked around at work, looking at unused frame displays, a new idea struck.

I found a 2-level display that got my creative juices flowing.  In order to plan properly (and avoid scale mishaps like in the Diego & Dora cake) I took iPhone pics from a few angles and then printed them out really pale, so I could sketch over them and have a rough idea of what I wanted to do.

It’s difficult to photograph something clear but you can get a rough idea of my process here:

pitfall lost expedition paper demo collageFirst I sketched my plan onto paper.  You can sort of see in the first image that I have a brick wall with a balcony-like upper tier.  The blue overhang is supposed to be a waterfall that flows down onto the cake below, and it’s not easy to see unless you click, but there’s a healing spring/fountain hidden behind the waterfall.  Once happy with the sketch I needed to see if it would work, conceivably, and so I used some scrap paper and made a quick mock-up of where the actual cakes would go.  There’s one layer of cake on the top tier, the ‘waterfall’ hanging down, and then a layer of cake the same height as the bottom tier, butted right up against it.

Okay… maybe there’s something here.

This was Thursday, and his party would be on the upcoming Sunday afternoon, so I knew I had to get started right away.  After work I stopped at a bulk candy store for supplies like green sprinkles and extra fondant.  I also picked up 2 cake boards.  I usually use trays for my cakes but I didn’t know how well the stand would fit and I didn’t want to be limited by side edges.  I bought 2 so I could ‘glue’ them together with icing, as I didn’t think 1 board would be strong enough to support the heavy cake.

pitfall lost expedition home paper demo collage

Here’s the same paper mock-up at home, on the actual cake boards so I could test for fit.  What I was hoping for, and am happy about, is that the board is long enough for me to extend the lower cake section beyond the paper template.  I plan to have crocodiles in the water but hope for room to put a pit as well, and I think this will give me enough.pitfall lost expedition night 1 01

Next I cleaned the display stand and wrapped it in saran wrap, and used duct tape to block off the two open edges.  I also cut 2 cardboard ovals to fit over the tiers, as they have large cut outs where the products are meant to sit.  The top one will be used as a cake board, and the lower one will merely be covered in icing.

pitfall lost expedition night 1 02

Next I tinted some white fondant to a beige-ish shade and rolled out enough to cover the back of the display…

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…and then trimmed it to size.  At this point I realized that even dampened, the fondant did not want to stick to the saran, and I removed all the coverings.  D’oh.  I make the mistakes, so you don’t have to.

Water-dampened fondant DID want to stick to the clean plastic stand just fine, luckily, and I covered the back with the large sheet, smoothing it down well against the back and around the edges, blending it out with my fingers.  I did the same for the larger areas of the front as well, and then carefully wrapped one thick-ish piece around the open edge of the upper tier, smoothing it into place above and below while being VERY careful to not tear through the open front.pitfall lost expedition night 1 04

Once the fondant was secure I used a scoring tool to scribe a brick pattern into the fondant.  I had to be careful to not pierce the open-fronted balcony edge, but for the rest it was all flush against the thick plastic, and I could press pretty hard if I needed.

For the back and the upper tier I did a rough approximation of a brick pattern found in the game, as seen in the background here:

pitfall bricks

I did the back first, then copied the dimensions over onto the front.  For the lower tier, I wanted it to look more like a cave than a brick wall, so I wet the fondant and pressed on little pieces with my fingers, smoothing and adding more until I had something that resembled a natural rocky wall.

pitfall lost expedition night 1 05

I also used the same beige fondant to cut out shapes to let harden.  On the left are a sleeping croc for in the water, round pieces and a tiki head for the healing spring, and a croc’s open mouth with poor Harry struggling to break free.  (Or, what I HOPE will look like that eventually).  I tinted my remaining beige into a few shades of green and used a leaf-press cutter to punch out 2 sizes of leaves, which I set over the edge of a Styrofoam food tray (saved from buying vegetables) to dry.  I also cut a few strands of tall grass but I’m not sure if I’ll end up using them.pitfall lost expedition night 1 06

At this point it was about 1am and I set everything aside to dry by the dehumidifier and went to bed, knowing the next few nights would probably be pretty late ones to get everything done in time.

 


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Skylanders Cookies and Cake Topper

We’ve now run through Henri’s 1st cake (football jersey), his 2nd (The Wiggles Big Red Car), his 3rd (Diego, Dora & friends), and his 4th (Jake & the Neverland Pirates).  His 6th cake, the Minecraft plains biome, was already posted as well, which leaves one missing, for those of you who can count.  😉

Sadly, for Henri’s 5th birthday, I didn’t make a cake.  His party was at the now-defunct Fundomondo and they provided a cake with the party package, and nothing I tried managed to convince them to swap the cake for something else so I could bring my own.  I didn’t see the need for cake redundancy, so I made cookies instead that fit the theme for that year, and also brought my own cake topper.  That year’s theme was Skylanders Swap Force so we had…skylanderscookiesandfondanttopper square insta

The first thing I did was bake my standard vanilla/shortbread cookies and leave them to cool.  While they did their thing I drew up a sketch for the topper I wanted for the cake and traced its shape onto a slab of white fondant.

After the fondant had dried a few days I traced a mirror image of my sketch onto wax paper, using a toothpick and black icing gel.  Then I carefully pressed the wet gel onto the fondant slap and pressed lightly to transfer the outlines.  The process is the same I explained here.skylanders cookies and fondant topper 01

I let the gel dry a bit so it wouldn’t smear when I sat down to work with it.  When it finally got no more than tacky I painted the topper with icing I’d tinted with gel colors, then set it aside to dry until the party.

Here it is on the generic cake they provided:skylanders cookies and fondant topper 02

I used the same process to painstakingly transfer outlines of the 8 different Skylanders elements onto 4 dozen cookies.  Sometimes I had enough gel left on my little squares of wax paper that I could use the same transfer twice, but most of the time I had to re-trace each element each time.skylanders cookies and fondant topper 03

I let the gel dry a while just as I had for the cake topper, then painted in each outline with tinted icing.

skylanders cookies and fondant topper 04

Once they’d dried another day or so I carefully outlined each one with a black edible ink marker.  The icing dried hard enough that I was able to stack them to bring them to the party without any cracking or indents.  Because they were so thick they were still fresh-tasting and tender even after being worked on for a few days.  (I ate a tech one.  Because Sprocket).

 

Henri’s other birthday cakes


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Diego and Dora Cake

When Henri turned 3 he was all about Diego & Dora.  Okay actually he was all about Dora.  (I think he had a crush).  For the longest time you couldn’t get through a day in my house without being encouraged to ¡vamanos! or go ¡al rescate! or yell at Swiper to stop swiping- and the Map!  Oy.  Don’t get me started on the Map!

Anyhoo… there was nothing he wanted for his cake except something ‘Dora’-themed.

diego dora cake titled

So that’s what he got.  (Complete with really crappy old cell phone pics… weeeee!)

Looking at the pics now, 4 years later… I’ll admit I was really disappointed with some parts of this cake.  My own fault- I’d made the figures earlier in the week along with the basket for a hot air balloon, intending to write Henri’s name on a banner hanging from it, and set that aside to dry with the figures.  Only later on did I bake the cake, and begin decorating while the figures were still set aside.

My plan was to make the cake look like a hill with a little waterfall running down… all so I could use my bright idea of Goldfish crackers as goldfish.  I figured I’d stand the characters naturally around, like they were enjoying a day in the rainforest after landing from a fun ride.

The cake was iced with grass and water areas, and I put the chocolate rocks around the base and crushed up graham crackers as sand.  Finally, the night before the party, I got the figures and basket up from the basement where they’d been drying near the dehumidifier… and instantly realized they were too big.  Like, WAY too big.

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In fact the only place on the cake that had room to set down the hot air balloon basket was directly on the top of the waterfall.   diego dora cake 03

Even Dora and Diego would know that’s a muy not safe landing spot.  😦

But, it was too late to do anything about it.  Now I know the importance of scale and measuring my work, and haven’t had an incident like this again.diego dora cake character collage

Closeups of Diego & Boots, Dora (wearing Backpack), and Baby Jaguar, along with the Goldfish in the water.  For the water I’d put down white icing first and let it set a bit, then overlaid it with blue icing and deliberately chopped them together in places, breaking the crust on the white icing, much like I did for the hot tub water in the Betty Boop cake.  If I were redoing the cake I’d also take more time to make the characters look more screen-accurate, specifically in their faces, and most specifically for Dora’s face.  I remember having the hardest time mixing the correct colors and had no tools beyond toothpicks at the time, so the figure modelling isn’t my best work, though the kids didn’t seem to mind much.diego dora cake 01

To make the hot air balloon I used a regular balloon attached to one of those rigid sticks with a balloon holder on top, like you get at carnivals and fairs.  I always save stuff like that in case it comes in handy, and for this it did, as I’d had no idea how I’d rig up a balloon before I thought of it.  I hung a loop of yarn around the balloon, tacked down in spots with dabs of clear nailpolish, and into the ‘basket’ part I pressed 4 paperclips, leaving only a loop off each end sticking out.  I tied the dangling yarn to the paperclip loops and voila- a hot air balloon.

diego dora cake 04

And when it came down to it?  All the kids cared about was that they could eat it.  And it was good.  🙂

Henri’s other birthday cakes so far


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Record, Star and Music Note Cookies

Last year was my first year performing with the Becket Players.  Actually it was my first time performing on stage since college, roughly 18 years prior.  :O  In addition to being one of the actors (the performers are divided between singers, dancers and actors) I also made most of the props for the show.  I ended up making some really cool things for us to use, and I’ll be posting tutorials for all of it over the coming months.  I’m part of the show again this year, and tonight is our first prop/set design meeting, so I figured it was as good a day as any to post these cookies I’d made last year and never showed.

Last April the cast got together for a costume parade at one of our homes… to eat, drink and try on all the costumes for every song, skit and dance number, take pics and see how everything looked cohesively, what worked and what needed last minute changes.  Everyone was asked to bring a little something to eat, and I decided to make these cookies.

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I made my standard vanilla plain/shortbread recipe and rolled the dough pretty thick, as I wanted them to remain somewhat moist in the center.  I cut the shapes from star, music note and circle cookie cutters and then after they were baked I left them to cool overnight. 2015-04-11 record star music note cookies 02

The next day I used the same cookie cutters to cut out some thinly-rolled fondant, yellow for the stars and black for the music notes.  I moistened the top of each cookie slightly with water and then smoothed the fondant down over the cookie, making sure the edges were well stuck.  The records were done the same way, only I used 2 sizes of smaller cutters than the base cookie, and a straw for the tiny center dot.  If I were to redo these I’d actually cut the black circle with the smaller cutter and inset the yellow label into it, and do the same for the black center, as that would be more accurate… but for a quick design, the layered version works too.
2015-04-11 record star music note cookies 03

The final touch was to write on the labels with my black edible ink marker.  The theme of our show last year was Legends, Fads & One-Hit Wonders and I wrote all the names of the songs we did in the show on individual record cookies.  I’d say they were a hit… but they already are! 😀


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The Wiggles cake

Continuing to add Henri’s backdated birthday cakes as we count down to this year’s party, here’s the cake I made for his 2nd birthday, which had a The Wiggles theme.

I’ve posted about the party before, but sorta glossed over the cake, so here are some more details.

the wiggles big red car cake

The first thing I did was to cut out a LOT of man-shaped cookies.  Each invitee was going to receive their own set of Wiggles characters in their lootbags, and I needed to have extra for the cake, and in case of breakage.  Once the cookies had baked and cooled I tinted up some homemade royal icing and got to work.the wiggles cookies

A little while later I had these guys.  (The black icing marker details were added a few days later, to make sure the icing had dried enough).

the wiggles cookie lootbags

Once thoroughly dry, the cookies were packaged up and attached to assorted coloring books to be given out after the party.

Then I was on to the cake.  I had rented a Wilton 3D Cruiser cake pan from our local cake supply store.  I baked the car-shaped cake out of chocolate cake mix, and for the base I baked a 9 x 13 sheet cake out of vanilla cake mix, as I wasn’t sure the car cake pan itself wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone.  It took 1.75 boxes of cake mix, but it’s an odd shape, so I couldn’t guarantee it would be cut in a way that would give enough slices.  It took me about 3-4 hours to make my own buttercream icing, tint the colors I needed, crumb-coat and then decorate the cake.

the wiggles big red car cake 01

The cake as baked wasn’t a convertible, so I used a knife and carefully cut it into a more appropriate shape for what I was trying to duplicate.the wiggles big red car cake 02

I remember being panicked that I wouldn’t be able to ice the cake smoothly, which is why I’d ended up filling it all in with a star-tip in my piping bag.  the wiggles big red car cake 03

I copied the Big Red Car’s colors off a DVD case we had at home, and used leftover of the 4 main icing colors to cover the sides of the base cake.the wiggles big red car cake 05

The logo and the front windshield were the only two spots I dared attempt to smooth over.  After the basic shape was down, I piped the letters with a narrow round icing tip.the wiggles big red car cake 04

I waited until right before serving to add the 4 cookies I’d reserved, as I was afraid they would absorb moisture from the cake and crumble or break at the attachment points.  So I brought them to the party in a flat tupperware and stuck them in at dessert time.the wiggles big red car cake 06

I let Murray have a chance to drive. 🙂

the wiggles big red car cake 07

Henri’s other birthday cakes so far


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Henri’s Football Cake

Henri turned 7 last week.

I know, I don’t know where the time went either.

One minute he born, the next he’s this: Photo 2016-01-08, 7 11 31 AM

…this super-cool, chapter-book reading, rational-thinking, butt-shaking, quote-spewing funny, loving, sweet, creative, hysterical wise old soul.

His party is coming up and it got me thinking that I’ve never gotten around to posting all his cakes from prior years, so I’m going to amend that.  First up: his first birthday.

When Henri turned one Yannick suggested a football theme, as the Superbowl was coming up and his favorite team at the time, the Indianapolis Colts, were playing.  Using Yannick’s hat and jersey I set little Henri up for a photoshoot and got this pic:IMG_0248

Then, using the front and back of a Colts trading card for reference, I made up this invitation:Photo 2016-01-15, 2 36 58 PM

Love his stats 😀

The cake was only my second or third attempt at using fondant, so looking back on it now, I cringe, but at the time I was pretty proud.  I’d tinted white fondant to as close a match to Colts blue as I could and then cut a huge cake into roughly a jersey shape.  White fondant was used for the accents.  I remember being afraid to trim the edges and have cake show through underneath so I’d left them look ‘messy’, hoping it would appear like rumpled fabric.  Heh.Photo 2014-01-17, 6 57 19 PM

I shaped one of the cut out cake sections into a football which I covered with fondant I’d tinted brown.hfootball01

The smaller cake not only provided a place to put his name without messing up the look of the jersey, but it also was a perfect ‘smash’ cake to give him, so he could get his first taste of sugar and try to feed himself.

It was a hit 🙂

Henri’s other birthday cakes so far