As I’m sure most of you are aware, I have become quite addicted to Cake Decorating. My mum always made me a birthday cake and it is something I have always fondly looked back on. I used to love coming home from school on my birthday wondering what type of cake she would surprise me with. I am trying to do the same for my children and every year I try to push my knowledge and skills to a new level. I am mostly self-taught but I did do a cupcake decorating course at the start of the year which helped me learn some of the simple but effective secrets to getting a great looking finished product.
So far, the cakes I have made include a cake in the shape of the number 1, a pink butterfly cake, a Thomas the Tank Engine cake, a Hootabelle cake and most recently (and in my opinion my best yet), a Lightening McQueen cake for my son Ethan’s 4th birthday.
My number one tip is, not to be over-whelmed by what you are trying to create. Just try to break it down into small steps. It is quite easy, but time consuming.
The cakes I make are covered in icing called Ready to Roll Fondant (RTRF or Fondant). As this icing is a heavy icing, it is important to make a cake that can withstand the weight of the icing. A good choice is a mud. You can use a regular chocolate, carrot, butter, sponge cake (etc), however bear in mind that depending on the type of cake you are creating, you may need to insert wooden dowel supports in the cake to support the weight of the icing.
Secondly, in the past I have used packet mix cakes. I prefer the Greens brand, but I’m sure any brand will do the trick. However, for the Lightening McQueen cake I branched out and made the cake from scratch. I was quite nervous about this but found it to be incredibly easy, so much so in fact I wondered why I had not attempted it before. On the other hand it was quite sobering to realise how much chocolate and butter go into making a mud cake – not very good for the waistline girls, but delicious none the less! Either way, its up to you whether or not you bake from scratch or from a packet mix.
I baked the cake about 3 weeks before Ethan’s birthday party. I made a 10 inch square, deep pan mud cake. By making the cake in advance, I took the pressure off myself having to do everything at once. I baked the cake one afternoon, allowed it to cool, then wrapped it in several layers of cling film and popped it in the freezer for when it was needed. A mud cake will keep in the freezer for about 2 months so if you’re really keen to can start prepping your cake very early!
Earlier in the week leading up to Ethan’s birthday party, I covered a 12 inch cake board in black vinyl. Remember to buy a bigger cake board than the cake size if you want the board to be on display, otherwise buy the same size board as the cake and you will not see the board at all. I then added little white squares in a checker pattern in 2 lines on either side of the cake board to give a racing feel to the cake board using paper that was plain white on the top with adhesive of the back. All I had to do was measure out the squares, cut, peel and stick them to the pre-covered board. Once again, you can prep this early to save time later on.
On the Thursday morning before Ethan’s party, I took the cake out the freezer before heading off to work. This way it would be defrosted by the time I was ready to work on it that night.
Fondant does not stick to cakes in the same way as other icing does, so you need to prepare your cake in one of 2 ways so that the fondant has something to stick to. One option is to mix some jam with water and brush this over your cake, then apply the fondant. The other option is to use a product called Ganache which I buy pre-made. You can make it yourself (I think it is basically melted chocolate and cream) but I figure why bother, it’s just going to take you more time and effort. I also feel that ganache gives a smoother finish to your cake so that when you apply the fondant it also looks smooth (no lumps and bumps).
The following are some of the items I used to make the cake:
Tools: Fondant: Ganache:
Steps for Carving your Cake:
To make the shape of the car, grab a toy Lightening McQueen and draw around his shape on a piece of paper. Then, enlarge this shape on a photocopier until you get the size you want your cake to be. For me, this was 300%. Lightening McQueen would be about 25cm long.
Place this paper on top of your cake and using a sharp, straight edge knife, cut out the shape. You may need to use a smaller knife to edge out some of the finer details. Set the leftover cake aside to use later.
This is up to you, but I like to take the top crust off my cake so that the cake is completely flat on top. Having a flat base makes it easier when it comes time to putting the cabin part of the cake on the base on the car. I find it best to use a serrated knife (eg a large bread knife) to remove the top crust.
Using a ruler, measure the width of your car base. From memory, mine was 14cm. Using the leftover cake, cut a section that is 14cm wide by 14cm long. This piece will become the cabin of the car. (This is the larger piece of cake in this picture).
Cut a sharp angle to make the windscreen of the car. I started my cut 2cm in from the edge on the top of the cake and angled my knife down to the base of the cake. The top, flat part of the cabin was 6cm. Then I angled my knife at a more gentle slope to shape the back window. Repeat this step on each side of the cabin to slightly edge out the side windows.
Finally cut 2 long, triangle shapes to resemble the wheel arches and headlights. I forgot to photograph them here, but you can see them later on in the ganaching photos.
You have now finished carving the cake and can start ganaching the cake. Use an ice-cream scoop to scoop out a couple of balls of ganache into a microwave safe container and microwave for a few seconds until the ganache turns into a peanut butter consistency. Using a palette knife, spread the ganache evenly over the cake to the desired thickness. I aim for no more than a 5mm thickness. First ganache the base of the car, then place the cabin and wheel arches on top and ganache those.
The last step in ganaching and carving is to dip your palette knife in hot water and apply it over all of the cake to smooth out the ganache. Then allow the ganache to set on the cake for 24 hours.
Applying the Fondant and Details
I purchased the red fondant for the car pre-dyed for $14.95. You can buy plain white fondant for $9.95 and dye it yourself using gel dyes, however as these cost around $5 each and it takes more time and effort to dye the fondant, I figured it was easier to buy the pre-dyed fondant.
Remove the fondant from the foil wrapper and knead it until it achieves a dough like consistency. I use a product called “The Mat” to knead the fondant on. This costs about $40 and I strongly recommend purchasing it if you are going to decorate cakes regularly. Fondant becomes sticky as you knead it, however it will not stick to “The Mat”. However, if you don’t want to outlay this money, you can knead it on baking paper and apply a small amount of corn flour to your hands if the fondant is sticking to them.
Once the fondant has reached a dough like consistency, flatten it with your hands, then roll the fondant like you would dough with a heavy, non-stick rolling pin. I use a marble rolling pin. You can use any other sort but may need to apply corn flour to prevent sticking. Alternatively, when using “The Mat”, put the second layer of plastic on top of the fondant and roll it out to a 5mm thickness. As Lightening McQueen was 25cm long, 7cm high on each side and 15cm wide on top, I needed to roll around a 30cm circle to cover the cake.
Now it’s time to place the fondant over the cake. If using The Mat, carefully peel back the top layer of plastic. The fondant should stick to the bottom layer of plastic. Pick up this piece of plastic and position it over your cake centrally, fondant side down. Then, carefully begin peeling the plastic away from the fondant, making sure the fondant covers all of the cake. Take your time doing this so that the fondant does not tear or crack.
If you are not using the mat, wrap the fondant loosely around the rolling pin, then unroll over your cake.
Allow the fondant to rest for a while so that it can stretch gently to the curves of the car. You can lift it up, pull it and stretch it gently in places as required. Once you are happy with it, rub your hands all over the car to fully press the fondant into the contours of the car. Then use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to trim away the excess and wrap in cling wrap to avoid the fondant drying out for use later.
Use the back of a knife or a quilting tool (cake decorating tool), to make an indented outline of the bonnet and windscreen.
Next, roll out some white fondant and cut out in the shape of the windscreen. Use the original toy as a guide to the shape you need to cut. Brush a small amount of sugar glue or water to the back of the fondant to help it stick and gently press into position.
Roll out some more red fondant and add some tylose powder to this fondant to make the fondant become hard. Cut into the shape of the spoiler. Insert wires into the spoiler and connect it to the cake at the rear of the car.
Use some more white fondant to shape out the headlights and mouth.
Add some blue gel dye to a small amount of white fondant and roll into a small ball. Flatten gently to make a circle shape and position on the windscreen as the eyes. Repeat this step with black fondant for the pupil of the eyes and again with white fondant.
Dye some white fondant yellow to make the indicators on the headlights.
On e-bay I purchased a sheet of edible icing images for $10 that contained the Rusteze logo. I cut this image out and stuck onto a rolled circle of white fondant with sugar glue, then stuck this onto the bonnet of the car. An alternative to this would be to roll white fondant and using a yellow icing pen (you can buy these at the supermarket for a few dollars), write Rusteze or Happy Birthday or even your child’s name on the circle.
I also used these edible icing images to make the number 95 with lightning bolt which I stuck to the sides of the car. Alternatively you can roll yellow icing and cut out a lightning bolt and numbers 9 and 5. This is what I did to make the 95 of the roof of the car.
Roll out black fondant and cut into a triangle shape to make the side windows. I then cut this in half to resemble the front and back side windows. Stick to the car with sugar glue. Repeat for the other side.
Add silver caschous to the bonnet to resemble the rivets of the car.
Next, thickly roll more black fondant, cut into circles for the wheels, and stick to the car with sugar glue. Roll more black fondant, cut into 4 strips and stick with sugar glue to the resemble the rear window of the car.
Dye some white fondant grey, roll and cut into circles to make the inner part of the wheels. You can also roll thin strips of this to edge the windows to give them some more dimension. Again, stick to the car using sugar glue.
Using an edible ink pen, draw details on the inner grey sections of the wheels.
Now your cake is complete. I used a large pizza slide to lift the cake off the baking paper and onto the pre-decorated cake board. I was beyond happy with how this cake turned out. It was hours of work, but spread over several days it was not so bad.
As I put Ethan to bed at the end of his birthday party, he said, “Mummy I love you and thank you so much for making my special Lightening McQueen birthday party”. This made all the hours of work well and truly worth it!
Baking and Cleanup: 2 hours
Carving, Ganaching and Cleanup: 1.5 hours
Fondant, Details and Cleanup: 4.5 hours
TOTAL = 8 hours
Cake Ingredients $10
Ganache $6 (only used about 1/3 of container, which is $18)
Red Fondant $15
Edible icing images $10
Cake Board $3
Black Vinyl: $3 (for a meter)
Self adhesive white paper: $3
TOTAL = $50
I already had blue, yellow, grey and black dyes, white fondant, wires, edible ink pen and caschous so I did not add these to the cost of the cake. I also did not add the cost of tools such as “The Mat”, my rolling pin, circle cutters and palette knife which I use on every cake.