Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Voting Booths

Well, here she is: our blue ribbon baby. The state fair competition was election-themed, so we sprang for the challenge. You can see an elephant's legs in the one booth and a donkey's in the other. Wocka wocka wocka.

Each booth is solid cake with a fondant curtain pasted to the front and appropriately "wrinkled." The flag base is my favorite part, but the most work certainly went into constructing the wooden support structures for the booths. They couldn't just be the four legs, because simple torque would knock them over; instead we had to brace them up under the individual booth, where it could be reinforced without being visible. (I felt like I was channeling my old Odyssey of the Mind balsa-wood-tower days.)

The blue ribbon is prominently displayed at home, along with a photocopy of our eight dollar prize check.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Neyland Stadium

Well, this was certainly the largest and most involved cake we've done. But then again, my brother's wedding deserved no less. Tara and I have now fully embraced the strategy of careful pre-planning (diagrams, blueprints, etc.), and thank goodness for it, because this baby had to be put together in four pieces.

The entirety of the stadium proper is cake, while the press boxes and jumbotron are shaped chunks of styrofoam, fondanted (inedible, of course). The cardboard support layers for the base and the upper deck were measured and cut out beforehand, so the two decks could be carved and assembled separately. We laid a first layer of cake and fit it to the base, then sawed it in half at what would eventually become the 50 yard line. Each half of the lower deck, then, was stacked and cut to match. Being able to access the middle (because the halves were apart) made carving out the "bowl" of the stadium much, much easier.

Thick, plastic dowels were placed around the perimeter to hold the upper deck later on, and thin wooden dowels were punched through both cardboard layers and all the way into the base for structural integrity. I'll be honest, though: even fondanted and assembled, none of it looked like a stadium until we marked the aisles between sections, and then it all just came together. (It's funny how the small things bring it to life).

After that, we piped every individual fan into the bleacher seats. It took forever, but I was particularly pleased that we were able to reproduce the "Orange Nation" student section and even the marching band's black uniforms. (The first thing Cale said when he saw it was, "Hey! You even put in the band section!" which was a big moment for me personally). Again, halving the lower deck totally opened up the access for piping all those tiny dots.

The trees around outside the stadium are just clusters of flat-leaf parsley stuck upright into the fondant. I loved the effect, but that staging idea may need some tweaking because after a while the parsley began to dry out and wilt. Ah well. Something to improve upon for next time, right?

Turns out, one of Cale's new in-laws actually played football at UT a few years back, and he was at the reception for the big reveal. He smiled, gave us a thumbs up, and then started snapping pictures with his cell phone, so I guess we can call this one a success.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sand "Castle"

Wade told someone that if he ever got a themed cake, he'd want it to somehow combine his two great loves: beach vacations and the UT Vols. Never ones to shrink from a challenge, the creative minds at Caldwell Cakes dreamt up a sand-castle version of Neyland Stadium.

It was a little more involved than we expected, mostly because it was an entire scene instead of simply an object, so the "essence" was much more difficult to capture. The slopes were carved in for realism, and also to allot room for the huge separately-built-and-coated cake stadium. We stuck on the skyboxes and jumbotron, slid the whole piece into place, and sprinkled graham cracker crumbs around for effect. Since it's supposed to be made of sand, we didn't have to worry about most of the details (colors, etc.), but that also allowed it to come out kind of like some sort of fun beachtime bathtub set. Ah well.

The umbrella is just one of those oversized drink garnishes, and the pail and shovel are molded leftover fondant. Tara wrapped a decorative post (previously an elephant's leg, by the way) in brown strips to look like a palm trunk; then carefully designed, cut, and fastened the leaves--I really like the way it looks.

The wobbly fenceposts were an easy final touch, but they just totally say "beach" to me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Baseball Glove

One of Tara's co-workers requested a cake for her son's birthday, and it was eventually settled upon that the design should be baseball-themed. We had to buy a glove to get the modeling just right, but this gave us a chance to test out a sort of reverse-engineering method. Instead of trying to reinforce the cake with a dowel/platform skeleton as usual, I built the structure and fit the cake into it. Consequently, the hand was able to open outward from the base without becoming unstable. Still, even after the fondant it didn't look like much until Tara marked the fingers and added the "stitching." The ball, if you're wondering, is a separate piece of cake with red and black piping.

The end product had Hayden's name, too, but I didn't get any great pictures of it at that point. Oh, and this was also our first paying gig! Woohoo!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bass Guitar

A cake so nice, it's pictured thrice!

Ben asked us several months ago if we'd consider making the groom's cake for his wedding, and we've pretty much been agonizing over the design ever since we said yes. Because of the distance, we had to bake the cakes (all nine of them) at home and then drive them to Cleveland...along with our entire bin of decorating supplies. Sheesh.

In case you can't tell from the pictures, it's life-size. Basically, we just upturned his guitar and traced it onto cardboard. We used the cutouts as stencils to carve the cake, and then slid them underneath as supports. The fondant is not homemade this time--it's a product called Fond-X, which is more expensive, but also more pliable and smooth (and still tastes great!). It was personally recommended by Kathy Wise, of Nashville's SweetWise specialty cake supply shop, and the purchase paid off in a big way.

In addition, we bought a special powder to give the guitar's body its shimmer. You mix it with vodka to make a paste, and then the alcohol evaporates, leaving a really stunning effect behind. Everything you see that's metallic is just something wrapped in aluminum foil, like gumdrops, etc. The ivory plate is white chocolate, and the knobs are Rolos we painted with black icing. My favorite parts were the final touches: strap attachments (inverted Hershey kisses), and the amp plug-in (an inverted piping nozzle).

I piped the Fender logo after much practice, but almost immediately someone at the reception smudged it. Ah well. The strings are actually strings--hence, inedible--but for pizzazz we picked up some silver embroidery floss from JoAnn's that, when twisted, looks startlingly like bass guitar strings. All the other embellishments are some manner of fondant, although the wood grain effect deserves some explanation. In fairness, the idea came from elsewhere on the internet; we first colored some icing brown, and then mixed in enough water to thin it out and create, essentially, an edible watercolor paint set. Unbelievable.

Monday, April 28, 2008


After all, what's an office birthday party without some kind of dessert shaped like a huge, clunky, vintage 1986 data-entry calculator?

This is our second cake tailor-made for someone not related to either of us, so we wanted it to be impressive. Last week, Tara's co-workers (the party-planning committee, apparently) were trying to divvy up assignments for an upcoming birthday celebration, but when they got to "pick up a sheet cake at Walmart," my gorgeous, go-get-'em gal spoke up. "No need, citizens!" she cried, leaping atop a nearby Xerox machine.

Okay, not really. But she did see an opportunity and took it, so props to her. I figured it would be an enlarged version, so imagine my surprise when she brought one home and it was literally just as big as a standard cookie sheet! Turns out, the cake you're looking at is actual size. (Doubt me? That's the real paper roll in the back.)

This one was a lot of fun, because the easy shape freed us up to spend more time on little details.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter Basket

Tara's mom's birthday falls right around the ol' vernal equinox, so we figured we could get away with doubling up on holidays. You can't really see the texture in the photo, but the sides of the "basket" are actually separate, interwoven strips of fondant. The handle is inedible, but we wrapped it with very finely rolled fondant peices to give it the wicker look (which took forever). The base, of course, is cake, and the grass on top is coconut shavings dyed green. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't put the real basket in the picture; it kind of calls attention to flaws. Ah well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


When MB announced the first Caldwell grandchild last year, the race was on to decide what Mom and Dad should be called. Ultimately, "Minnie and Papa Joe" won out, so this cake doubled as a celebration of that as well as Mom's birthday surprise! The ears didn't want to stay upright, but held long enough to blow out candles and snap this pic.

I know what you're thinking: no, the Far Side card isn't made of fondant.