Giddy Up Pard-nah!

As the cake has become the centerpeice and focal point of many different types of celebrations, we are lucky to be able to put our talents to work to bring many creations to life.  This cowboy birthday cake for a lucky little boy turning one is the latest example.  While everyone can see how stunning the final is, few realize how many steps it takes to get there.  IMG_4901

For those who may be interested here’s a general overview of the steps taken to create this cowboy hat.  Everthing on this cake was technically edible (aside from the wires attached to the shooting stars).  There’s a certian feeling attained when all the items are handmade out of sugar and other edible products that you just don’t get when plastic or other pre-made decorations are used.  Your first job is to inventory the items required and figure out which ones need to be made a few days ahead so they will have sufficient drying time.  In this case the hat, the belt buckle, the rope, the horseshoe and the banner all needed time to become stiff enough to retain their shape after being glued on the cake.

I like to tackle the most difficult task first, the cowboy hat.  I used gum paste to mold the two different parts – the brim and the top. Gum paste is a stiff white modeling product – kind of like very dense play dough.  It takes a while to knead it and get it workable.  The brim was fairly straightforward, just a matter of cutting out a fairly round disc out of the tinted gum paste.  We are fortunate to have a commercial dough sheeter which we use to run our gumpaste and fondant through.  It saves a lot of rolling pin time!  I checked the size of the brim by placing it over a 6″ cardboard cake circle (since it would be sitting on top the the 6″ top tier).  Once I was satisfied with the flat shape I used some small jars of Sprinkles that were just the right width to curve around and hold the gumpaste in place. This was placed on a sheet pan and put aside to dry.  It’s important to keep eye contact with it for the first hour to make sure it doesn’t decide to slip and go wonky on you.  The top part of the hat was a lot more tricky.  Although gumpaste is stiff and sets up quickly it is not stiff enough to just hold itself in place, especially a curved peice like this.  I poked around our bakery until I found a small glass bowl/ramekin with a flat bottom that was the circumference I was looking for.  I turned it over and took a chunk of fondant and molded the fondant onto the top of it into the shape of the hat. Once I tried out this “dummy” shape on the brim and was satisfied with it, I wrapped it in plastic wrap then dusted that with cornstarch so the gumpaste wouldn’t stick to it.  I rolled out the gumpaste into a shape large enough to cover the whole thing, then smoothed it over.  With an awkward shape like this you will end up with seams, which I put at the back of the hat.  I then trimmed the bottom edge to a smooth round shape and put it aside to dry.

To make the rope, the leftover brown gumpaste was re-kneaded and rolled out into long thin pieces.  Many of you will remember this technique from your own Playdough days!  You have to work quickly so it doesn’t start to dry out, and any unused pieces need to be kept covered by plastic wrap.  Two peices are laid next to each other then twisted into rope.  It’s trickier than it looks getting a nice even spacing and twist, the middle never seems to want to cooperate!  Once the rope is twisted I coiled it into the final shape, adjusted the ends and left them to dry.

I still had brown gumpaste left, so decided to use it up on the belt buckle as it would be painted with edible gold dust anyway.  I kneaded it and formed it into the buckle shape, leaving just enough to roll out strips for the letter “H” in the middle.  I used various round cutters, presses and gumpaste tools to make the patterning on the buckle.  The H was formed and the 4 peices were laid aside seperately to dry.

I tinted small portions of gumpaste blue for the star (cut out with a cookie cutter), red for the #1, and yellow for the stars (also cut with cookie type cutters).  I then mixed up gray for the horseshoe.  I googled images of horseshoes, printed one out and sized it for the cake.  I find that in order to really get the feel of certain items it is best to work from a template to replicate the curves and proportions exactly.  I rolled out the gumpaste into a thick tube, flattened the whole thing, shaped it on top of the picture, pinched the ends into shape, then added the little indented details and holes.  The leftover gray was sheeted out for the banner and cut into the needed shape.  I printed out an edible sugar sheet with the message “Happy Birthday” on it, cut that out to shape, put a fine mist of water on the gum paste banner and adhered the sugar sheet to it.  I then stood it up in a squiggle and left it to dry.  I am glad I kept an eye on it as 10 minutes later when I checked on it the whole thing had flopped over into a heap! I repositioned it, put a few supports in place and left it nearby untill it was firm.

Now on to Day 2!  The first order of business is assembling all your items, glueing and painting them so they have sufficient time to dry and will be ready to be applied to the cake at the end. The “glue” is a good stiff batch of Royal Icing made with egg whites and powdered sugar.  For the hat I popped the top off of my makeshift mold and checked the fit on the brim.  I adjusted the bottom edge by cutting it with a razor blade, and glued the back seams shut.  I decided it would be fun to hide some of Casey’s delicous chocolate truffles in the hat, so I piled some in there and placed the top on and glued it lightly in place.  For the hat trim I used a chocolate modeling paste.  This stuff is awesome to work with – it is basically a huge block of Tootsie Roll – what’s not to love?  It warms up nicely and can be rolled out into strips for the hat trim and was also used for the belt.  Unlike gum paste which is technically edible, you actually do want to eat the modeling chocolate!  After adding the hat trim I glued the red “1” into the blue star and added that to the hat.  I also glued the 3 pieces of the “H” onto the belt  and painted it with an edible mettalic gold dust.  The stars  were painted on front with the same dust.  The dust is added to rum to make it liquid and painted on, that way the rum evaporates quickly and leaves a nice sheen to the items.  Once the stars were dry I flipped them over and glued on the white wires in various lengths.  Now that all the decorative pieces were prepared the cake itself is ready to be iced.

The clients chose a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse – always a good choice for a kids party – or any party really!  The cake was baked, sliced and filled the previous night so it can be brought down to a very cold temperature overnight.  We feel that our whipped cream filled cakes are the most yummy, but as they will be out for quite some time during the decorating and delivering process, they need to start out extremely cold…  Casey takes the cake, covers it in buttercream and returns it to the chill for the buttercream to set up.  The top tier was then covered with white fondant.  For the bottom tier we tinted the fondant a denim blue.  We thought it would look cool to add a fabric like texture, which we did with one of Casey’s specialty textured rolling pins. The two tiers were stacked on each other and handed back to me.

For the final touches and assembly I started with the “pants”.  By looking at a pair of blue jeans I used a straight edge to add the seams and various indentations.  The pocket seams were added with a large round cutter.  The length of the chocolate belt was double checked then added to the cake. You have to be careful if your fondant is tacky you may only get one chance to apply things – they can stick solid! A little glue was applied to the overlapping belt section.  I used the flat leftover scrap fondant from the bottom to make the belt loops (Always think ahead before you squish your leftovers back into a ball).  After I glued on the belt buckle I put a couple of toothpicks through it to make sure it stays in place… it is very heavy item and I wouldn’t want it to fall off in transport.  I made up some red fondant, rolled that into a rope for the bottom border of the top cake and used the extra to make the pocket handkerchief.  I rolled out some black fondant into a flat sheet and cut out the cow patches with a #11 exacto blade and applied that to the white fondant.  I positioned the hat on top, glued on the horseshoe (using toothpick supports), and added the stars, the ropes and finally the banner.  VOILA!  easy cheesy! Well maybe not THAT easy, but a delightful result.  We also made several dozen very chocolatey cupcakes in gold foil cups with little red and blue stars on top.  The client was really happy with it and sent me this note:

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks so much! The cake and cupcakes turned out PERFECT! You are very talented! It was delicious too. We did find the truffles:) Thought that was a cute idea.

I will definately be keeping you in mind for any cake needs in the future.

Thanks again!

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