A friend was asking Dave recently about tips on making her toddler a birthday cake. She wanted to make one that would look like her daughter’s favourite TV character. As they talked about creating novelty cakes, cutting, shaping, mixing colours, rolling out and customising fillings and toppings, I realised that between us, Dave and I have amassed a good bit of know-how on icing. And so this post is about using fondant icing (the thick icing that a Christmas or wedding cake is normally covered in) to create the scene or character that you want. I’ve also thrown in ideas for fillings and choice of cake, specifically with youngsters’ birthdays in mind, but you can adapt for any celebration – we made an owl cake for my dad’s 70th birthday and he was dead chuffed.
The first thing you need is a good picture of what sort of cake you are making. Our niece was all about Peppa Pig so that usefully narrowed the field for her cake! I typed ‘Peppa Pig’ into google and clicked on Images to find some different images:
You could also try searching ‘Peppa Pig Cake’ and see what other types of cake have been created. But we finally found this image and thought it was a winner:
To make our cake creating just that bit easier we went on and found the same image but in outline only.
We knew we wanted the finished cake to fit on a 12″ x 12” cake board, so we adjusted the image on the computer until it was just under 12” in length … you could do the same thing on a photocopier. This process also helped us to realise that Peppa would need to be made up of two separate but identical cakes, one for her head and the second for her body, as well as visualising the sizes of cake needed, in Peppa’s case 2 x 6″ square cakes. We added in the square, on which we where going to put the number 3 on.
We normally use a fruit cake and you can see my Birthday fruit cake recipe here. But good alternatives are a Madeira or chocolate Madeira cake. (Read my blog here to learn more about the differences between Victoria sponge and Madeira cake and to understand why a Victoria sponge isn’t ideal for royal icing). As Peppa was for our niece’s third birthday, we decided on chocolate Madeira.
We baked two 6″ square chocolate madeira cakes. When cooled, we trimmed their tops until we were left with two matching squares of cake, each with an identical height of approximately 4″. Dave then cut out Peppa’s profile separating her head from her body and removing her ears, arms, tail and feet – this may seem a bit drastic but these features were added back later! Using cocktail sticks, he secured Peppa’s outlined head to the top of one cake and her outlined body to the second. Using a bread knife (any sharp serrated edged knife would do) he cut vertically around the outline – delicate work but easier than you might think. Once each cake was head and body shaped, he cut them width ways and equally into three thus creating two layers ready for a generous coating of buttercream icing. (Because you want the cakes to be of identical height for the final icing, you may need to do some adjusting of the buttercream filling).
We are now reaching the actual icing stage in our work, but first here’s an important trick. Marzipan or icing stick better when a thin layer of apricot jam coats a cake. So heat some jam in your microwave until it is warm but not boiling and then use a paintbrush to cover your cakes top and sides.
On most of our cakes we put a layer of 4mm/ 3/16” thick marzipan on first and then cover this in a layer of 4mm/ 3/16” icing. The advantage of marzipan, other than it’s taste, is that it hides any slightly uneven surfaces that the cake might have – particularly useful when wanting two cakes to appear as one, as in our Peppa Pig creation. If you are covering a round cake then you can buy pre-rolled marzipan, but if you are covering any other shape of cake I would just buy a rectangle of marzipan and roll it out to the desired shape.
After all this about marzipan, we didn’t use it for our niece’s cake because she doesn’t like it! We just had to be extra careful with our icing technique and make sure we’d covered dips and holes sufficiently.
When we first started icing cakes we would buy white icing and food colouring and mix. Big mistake. Adding liquid dye to white icing is time consuming and has the added disadvantage of making the icing too sloppy to then work with. We now order online or buy pre-coloured ready-to-roll icing. If we can’t find the colour we want, say a light pink, then we mix white and red pre-coloured icing to get the desired pink and this seems to work well. Most supermarkets now do their own brand of royal icing, but you can also buy it online – we have used lots of Renshaw icing which is good to work with.
When you roll out the pre-rolled icing sugar, dust the work surface with white icing sugar. You can then roll to get the thickness you require – we normally go for about 4mm – without the icing sticking to the table. The white icing sugar magically melts away so you don’t see it.
Here are Peppa Pig’s body and head and the rectangle we were going to put the number three on. Once you have finished the icing, you are just left with the task of creating and attaching those features you had to remove for the initial shaping – in this case, Peppa’s tail, feet, ears and arms as well as adding eye and mouth detail. This sort of thing opens the door to being positively creative and to help, I’ve added these other tips
- Get creative – we used ear bud sticks with the cotton wool removed for the top of BB8. Use whatever you can find … butcher’s string for the tail, etc.
- To stick different bits of icing together, roughen the surfaces to dull the sheen and then use a tiny amount of water to stick the icing together.
- You can also use a dab of water to smooth out slightly rough icing and overlaps.
- We use cocktail sticks to hold different bits of the cake in place. I’m sure the purists wouldn’t do this, Mary Berry wouldn’t approve, but it works for us.
- If you need to stop icing mid way through, don’t worry, just cover with greaseproof paper to protect the cake from dust, flies etc. and it will be fine. If you wrap the icing you have yet to shape in cling film it won’t set hard and you’ll be able to continue the following day.
- Don’t put the cake in the fridge mid-way through icing or once you have finished – fondant icing doesn’t like being cold.
Here is the finished cake. We covered the silver cake board in white icing. We got rid of the rectangle which was going to have the number three on it, there didn’t feel like there was room on the board after Dave have added Peppa’s arms. So instead we put the number 3 on Peppa’s body.
Lastly if you want to make life really easy buy some icing smoothers, they help create a smooth polished surface with clean edges. Here is one option – a Cake Smoother. (This link is an affiliate link which means that if you purchase the Cake Smoother I receive c.4% of the cost of the item from Amazon.)