I have been in birthday cake making mode recently, which prompted me to glance back through the recent caked decorating archives. Here are some shots from last year, when I was asked to create a Tolkien themed birthday cake. After much deliberation I settled on producing an iced version of the map from The Hobbit, which is not as daunting to tackle as the larger, very detailed map from The Lord of the Rings. As you can probably see, everything isn’t properly to scale and I’ve done a mixture of 3D and flat effects on the surface of the map. I stood the cake on a large board which I utilised as part of the scene. The decorations are a mixture of sugar paste, piped royal icing and painted on food colouring.I found it useful to pencil a guide on the surface of the map before I began painting and piping. The trouble with making mistakes on something like this is that the marks tend to show up (you can see a couple of smudges on the surface icing).
The base was a ginger cake (double my usual recipe, made in two batches) that I baked in a roasting tin to give plenty of space to work on. Waiting in the wings was a model dragon, all set to play the part of the terrible Smaug. It was handy not to have to attempt to mould a dragon and of course it made great souvenir to keep once all the cake had been eaten up.
Once the cake was cool I used a vanilla butter cream to sandwich the halves together and to coat the top and sides. I then covered the sides in a sugar paste (I usually use Dr Oetker’s as it dries to a smooth firm finish). I had coloured the paste grey, but left it partially unmixed to give a sort of marbled appearance simulating stone. I was trying to re-create the idea of the map laid out to be read on a plinth. The map is again made from sugar paste, I was aiming for an old, parchment looking appearance and I worked the edges a little to make it resemble a worn document.
As you can see from the pictures, I had the idea of placing Smaug on the cake board, suggesting his lair beneath the mountain. I sat him on top of a pile of gold coins, created from a patch of yellow royal icing with some orange and yellow sugar discs scattered on the top. The Lonely Mountain is half the size that I made it originally. I moulded what I thought would be the correct size, only to realise that I was completely off in my estimation. Cue one decapitated mountain, slightly more Hobbit sized. We’ll gloss over the fact that Smaug is out of scale since he is such a splendid feature.
I enjoyed transcribing the runes and writing all of the place names on the map, though keeping my hand steady and the print small enough was tricky at times. I managed to fit everything on and I don’t think there were any spelling mistakes! I even got smart and wrote a birthday message using the runic alphabet on sugar paste ‘tablets’ that I fixed on to the board and side of the cake.
All in all, the cake took me the best part of a day to decorate so it’s just as well that I was not charging for making it. One of the most difficult aspects of making anything is working out what your labour is worth. That’s probably one of the reasons that I never made a lucrative career as a cake decorator.
More from the confectionery archives another time…
Are there any cake decorators out there who would like to let us know what they’ve been making lately?