Adventures of a Cake Diva

A Blog About Adventures in Baking and Cake Decorating

Sailboat Cake: A Neat Trick for Carving Cakes. 01/22/2013

Sailboat Cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva

     I was terribly afraid that this sailboat cake would end up looking like, well, anything but a sailboat.  Carving a cake can be a little tricky.  Getting the shape right is more than half of the battle.

Sailboat Cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva   As I stood before the stack of four filled sheet cakes, I hemmed and hawed quite a bit.  At one point I remember thinking, “Just cut the freaking cake!”  But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it…

Making a template to carve cakes via Adventures of Cake Diva

   So, I drew a template of the boat’s shape onto a piece of paper.  To make sure the boat was symmetrical, I folded the paper in half, lengthwise.  Then, I cut out the template.

Using a template to carve cakes via Adventures of a Cake Diva   Next, I placed the paper template onto the cake.  Then, I used a long, sharp, serrated knife to cut the cake, using the template as a guide.

Initial shape of sailboat cake     Here’s how the cake looked after I carved the initial shape using the paper template.  Then, I used a smaller sharp, serrated knife to tweak the shape a bit.

Crumb coated sailboat cake     Before I covered the cake with rolled fondant, I covered it with a thin crumb coat of buttercream.  After I covered the cake with fondant, I added some decorative touches like the cabin on top and the gumpaste sail.  Then, I added a few fondant waves on the side of the boat, and I finished off the cake board with the “water” (presumably, Lake Michigan) using tinted royal icing.

Sailboat cake via Adventures of a Cake Diva

   I wish I would have taken a picture of my friend’s face when I presented her with this sailboat cake.  (Sheer delight.)  What made it even better was that, as soon as she saw the cake, she knew that it was a sailboat.  Whew!


Happy Birthday, My Coffee-Loving Friend: How to Make a Coffee Cup Cake Topper 11/16/2012

Most of the time, whenever I’m baking, I’m in my happy zone.  If I’m just making a cake for the sake of doing so, it’s no biggie if it doesn’t work out.  (It’s been known to happen.)  But, if I’m making a special cake for someone, I always get a tiny case of butterflies in my stomach.  Just a little nervous flutter.

If you’re a caker, too, you know what I’m talking about.  (Just take a peak at some of the forum posts on Cake Central.)  The butterflies don’t go away until the cake is delivered and the recipient is delighted.  Then, after I return home and clean up the disaster that I created in my kitchen, I’m itching to do it all over again.  Call it a “caker’s high,” if you will.

I got my caking fix this week by making this cake for my coffee-loving friend’s birthday.  The cake was a Mocha Mud Cake with Chocolate Buttercream.  Although my guinea pigs co-workers thought is was really yummy, I’m still tweaking the recipe.  Keep your eyes open for it in a future post.  I made a fondant figurine of my friend seated by her beloved cup of coffee.  (She’s a fan of Biggby Coffee, so the design on the cup is a bit of a riff from their logo.)  Guess what?  This cup of coffee was super-duper easy to make.

Using cereal treats, form a cylinder shape. Take your time to get the height of the cup right and to mold the shape of the cup, as best as you can.  Then, taper the cup ‘s shape by carving the cylinder. Easy does it, though.  It’s better to carve it, little by little.

Once you’re satisfied with the shape, set it aside.  Next, roll out your fondant and cut it into a rectangular shape.  Cover the sides of the cup with buttercream and apply the fondant.  Smooth with your fondant smoother.  Then, make a fondant rope for the lip of the cup and apply it with a dab of water.  Decorate the sides of the cup as desired.  Lastly, pipe a big ‘ol dollop of buttercream on top for the “whipped cream.”  See how easy that was?

Do you get a case of the butterflies whenever you make a cake? Tell me about your “caker’s high.”  I know I’m not the only one who’s addicted to it.


Funfetti Cake (from Scratch) and a True Confession 06/16/2012

I decorated the cake with fondant elephants to match the invitations. You can (kind of) see one of the invites in the lower right-hand corner.

I’ve got to get something off of my chest.  (We’re all friends here, right?)  I offered to make a little cake for my friend’s baby shower.  When I learned that she had been craving Funfetti cake, I panicked.  I thought this meant that I might have to consider using a box mix.  Yikes.  I’m a die-hard scratch baker.  It’s who I am.  Yet, I refused to stand in the way of a pregnant woman and her cake cravings.  What to do?

After a little recon, I felt a wave of relief when I learned that Funfetti is simply a white or vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles mixed into the batter.  Whew.  I’ve spent, literally, years of my life experimenting with different white cake recipes.  Thank goodness I’ve got a good one.  It’s so light and airy, that it borderlines as a dense Angel Food. Yet, it’s moist and has a good vanilla flavor.  This recipe is amazing, whether you decide to toss in the rainbow sprinkles or not.

Sometimes, I think pictures (or at least my pictures) don’t really show you that a cake is beyond good.  I wish that you could reach into your computer screen and snag a little taste.  I have no doubt that you’d want another bite of this cake, particularly when it is paired with this smooth, creamy Vanilla Buttercream.

Now, when it comes to buttercream, I fully realize that cakers usually fall into one of two camps.  Either you prefer a non-crusting recipe, like this Vanilla Buttercream, or you only use crusting recipes, like my “Bakery Style” American Buttercream.  Choose whichever recipe best suits you.  Either will pair nicely with this yummy Funfetti cake.

Yep, I said it.  This scratch baker thinks that (scratch) Funfetti cake is pretty yummy.  I never thought I’d try Funfetti, and I’d never dreamed that I’d find it to be delish.  But, I do.  True confession.

Funfetti Cake

Yield: Two 8” round cakes

Cake Recipe Inspired by: The Whimsical Bakehouse

1 ½ sticks butter, unsalted

2 cups superfine granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/3 cups cake flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 ¼ cup milk

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles

¾ cup egg whites

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Prepare pans by spraying them with non-stick baking spray.  In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar.  Set aside.  In a large measuring cup, stir together milk and vanilla paste.  Set aside.  Next, in a separate bowl, beat together the butter, 1 ½ cups of sugar (reserve ½ cup), and salt until light and fluffy.  Add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture.  Then, add the rainbow sprinkles, and continue mixing until well-combined.

In a separate bowl, beat together the egg whites until foamy.  Then, continue beating the egg whites and add ½ cup sugar.  When stiff peaks form, use a rubber spatula to completely fold the egg whites into the cake batter.  Pour the batter into the cake pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Cool on wire cake rack.

Vanilla Buttercream

2 sticks butter, unsalted – chilled, but not straight from the fridge

1 cup all-vegetable shortening

4 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening until smooth.  Next, while you continue to beat the mixture, add the milk and vanilla.  Then, add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Beat until smooth.  Lastly, before using, take a rubber spatula and stir the frosting thoroughly to eliminate any air bubbles.


Here Fishy, Fishy: How to Make a Cake Topper Using Rice Krispie Treats 04/29/2012

   I’ve had thirty-some birthdays in my life with just as many cakes to celebrate.  Most of them, I don’t remember.  Maybe you’re the same way.  But, there have been two cakes that I will never forget.  My mother made both of them for me when I was a child.

   When I turned five (or maybe six), my birthday cake looked like a giant hamburger.  Why did she make this cake?  Because, at that age, I would have eaten a hamburger for dinner every night, if she would have let me.

   For my eighth birthday, my mother converted our kitchen table into a Ms. Pac-Man board. She made several cakes–one for Ms. Pac-Man and each of the ghosts.  Why did she make this for me?  Because the pizza place that we frequented had a small arcade.  I always begged her for quarters so I could play Ms. Pac-Man.  When our pizza was ready, it was a bit of a fight to get me to the table to eat.  If it were up to me, I would have skipped dinner and kept playing.

   Both of these cakes said something about me, at that time in my life.  Because of this, I can still remember them (many, many) years later.  Maybe this is why I have a little bit of a soft spot for making birthday cakes for kids.

   This week, I made this birthday cake for a little boy.  While I was working away, I snapped a few photos of how I made the fish topper.  As I write this, I am feeling a bit like a magician who performs a trick and then shows the audience how it was done.  (For me, this is always a bit of a let down.)  I am really hoping that isn’t the case here.  Even though the construction is fairly simple (albeit time-consuming), I think the end result is still pretty neat.

Gradually build the shape.   Before you start, pull out a cake pan the size of the cake that your topper will sit upon.  This will help you to scale the topper to the correct size.  Turn the pan upside down, and place a cake board on top.    You can use a cake board that is the same size of the pan or a slightly smaller size.

   Place a small amount of room temperature Rice Krispie Treats (from now on, “RKT”) on top of the cake board.  Then,  sculpt the shape of the fish by gradually building it, layer by layer.  At this point, just focus on getting the general shape.  Since this cake was for a child, I wanted the fish to look cartoon-like and not too terribly realistic.  To achieve this, I made the fish’s body, and particularly the face, really round.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact, it won’t be perfect.  That’s okay.  This is a process, at least it is for me.

I know, I know. I need a manicure! 🙂

Fill in any gaps.  After you’ve shaped the fish’s body, take a good look for any gaps of missing RKT.  In the end, this “sculpture” will be covered with fondant, which will magnify every crevice.  Take the time to make sure that you have a solid base.


Fine tune the shape of the fish’s body.  Using your hands, mold (push) the RKT into the shape that you want for the body.  You’ll notice that some of the RKT will start to crush together.  This is actually a good thing.  You’ll have fewer craggy edges to contend with when you cover the sculpture with fondant.

   You might find that you need to remove some excess RKT.  Use a sharp knife to saw away the excess, a little at a time.  If you accidentally take off too much, no worries.  Just add more RKT to build the shape again.

   As you go along, take a couple of steps back from your work space, and look at the fish’s body from all angles.  Also, it’s helpful to take a few short breaks to reapproach the sculpture with fresh eyes.  The RKT will remain malleable for a good couple of hours, so you can take your time to some extent.

Once you have finished the fish’s body, or while you’re taking a break from sculpting, start working on the tail.  Using a ruler, figure out the width and length that you’ll need to make the tail.  Remember that you will have 1/8″-1/4″ of fondant that will cover the RKT.  You should subtract this amount from your length measurement, since it will reduce your surface space.  Add this amount to your height measurement, since the fondant covering will make your fish a wee bit taller.

Make a template for the tail and side fins.  Once you’ve figured out the tail’s measurements, draw a template for the tail.  The picture to the left shows my free-hand tail drawings.  Since I was aiming for a cartoonish look to the fish, I kept the shape simple and clean.  Cut out your tail drawings and hold them up to your RKT sculpture.  Make sure that you are happy with the tail size and shape.  You can also make a paper template for the two side fins, too.  I just cut them out of gumpaste free-hand with my X-Acto knife.

Using your paper templates, cut out two tails and side fins using gumpaste (preferred) or fondant.  Make 3-4 gumpaste cubes for the top fins.  Tint either gumpaste (preferred) or fondant an orange-yellow color.  This should be the same color that you will tint the fondant to cover the fish’s body.

   Using an X-Acto knife and your paper template as a guide, cut out two tails.  Lay the tails on top of each other, and insert in the middle 3-4 toothpicks.  In the picture to the left, I had just laid one tail on top of the other.  See the seam?  Take a dab of water to your finger and then rub the seam.  It will disappear.  I used my gumpaste tools to make a few markings on each side of the tail.

   Cut out the two side fins.  Also, shape 3-4 cubes of gumpaste (approximately 1/2″ tall) for the top fins.  Insert a toothpick into each cube.  All of these pieces will need at least 2 days to dry.  I always set my figures on a plate that has been sprinkled with cornstarch (prevents sticking) to dry out.

Cover the RKT sculpture with a thin layer of buttercream.   I always put a thick layer of buttercream on the RKT and then swipe away small amounts until a thin layer remains. Some cakers cover their RKT with white chocolate, rather than buttercream.  I’ve always used buttercream, and I’ve never had a problem.

I snapped this photo before smoothing the fondant.

Cover the RKT sculpture with fondant.  Use your fondant smoother to smooth out the fondant, just like you would for a cake.

Decorate the fish.  Make the eyes, mouth, and eyebrows from fondant.  Use a dab of water to apply these pieces to the body.  Cut out 3-4 ribbons of yellow fondant to make the side stripes.  Attach the fondant ribbons to the sides of the body with a tad of water.

   Insert 3-4  toothpicks into the top of the fish to create holes for inserting the toothpicks that are imbedded into each of the top fins.  Do the same at the rear of the fish to make the holes for inserting the tail.  Don’t try to insert the top fins or the tail without making these holes.  At this point, the fish’s body (RKT) is very hard, and you will run the risk of breaking these pieces.  Then, insert the top fins and the tail.

 Ta-da!  You’ve just made a cutie little cake topper!  Once you get the hang of it, you can make all sorts of cool things using these skills, like a fire truck, the neck of a bottle for a bottle cake, or a coral reef for a mermaid to rest upon.  Now that you know how it’s done, I hope that the magic hasn’t been lost for you.  I was still amazed when I made this fish and set it on top of the little boy’s birthday cake.


Tutorial: Easy Peasy Whimsical Fondant Roses 02/03/2012

   I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”   While I certainly don’t think that anyone should ever actually skin a cat, I really do embrace the heart of this saying.  After all, there’s more than one way to do almost anything.  I’ve come to accept the fact that I am not good at doing a lot of things.  Whenever I’m faced with one of these things, I try to figure out a different approach that plays to my strengths.  

   A prime example of this is that I cannot, for the life of me, pipe a buttercream rose.  I’ve tried umpteen different methods, and the results are all the same.  My rose always looks like a cabbage.  It’s true.  So, about a year ago, I started learning how to make various gumpaste flowers, including the dreaded rose.  After a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned that I enjoy this aspect of cake art.  I’m starting to get pretty good at it, too.  I’ve found another way to “skin the cat,” at least when it comes to making roses for my cakes. 

   However, for some of my cakes, a realistic gumpaste rose does not fit the design, style, or theme.  It would be like me wearing a pair of heels with sweatpants.  It simply does not work.  For these cakes, a great alternative is this adorable, whimsical fondant rose.  You won’t believe how easy it is to make.

    After you have kneaded the fondant to warm it up, roll it out to about 1/4″ thick.  You’ll have problems if your fondant is thicker or thinner than this, so don’t be afraid to measure the depth with a ruler, if you need to do so. 

    Using a circular cutter, cut out five (5) circles for each rose that you wish to make.  The size of the cutter is entirely up to you. Don’t sweat it.  If you want a bigger rose, use a bigger cutter.  If you want a smaller rose, then use a smaller cutter.

   Place all five (5) of your circles in a straight line, with the top edge of each circle overlapping the bottom edge of the next circle.

   Here’s where it all starts to come together.  Start at one of the ends, and begin rolling up the fondant. 

   Keep on rolling!  (See how it’s starting to look like a rose?)

   Here’s what it will look like after you’ve rolled up all of the fondant circles.

   Find the mid-point of your rolled-up fondant and pinch the center to create a base for your rose.  (I know, I know.  I desperately need a manicure…)

   Using a pair of scissors, cut the fondant at the base of the rose.  I have a pair of scissors that I only use for cake decorating, as a safe food handling practice.  


   Using your fingers, open up some of the petals.

   And there you have it, folks.  You’ve just made one heck of an adorable whimsical rose.  

      You can use these roses as cupcake toppers.  I made these Bailey’s Irish Cream cupcakes for a good friend’s wedding.  (You’ll have to wait until closer to St. Patrick’s Day for the recipe!)  

   You can also cluster several of these roses to create a cake topper.  Really, there are countless ways that you can use these little cuties in your caking.  So, let your creative juices flow, and have fun!


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