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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.