Friday, March 5, 2010

It's Elmo!

Did you guess Elmo? The eyes and nose were a dead giveaway right? :)

Anyway, quite a while back, a friend of mine requested that I make an Elmo cake for her son's 2nd birthday. I was reluctant at first, because I didn't have much confidence and did not want to ruin a little boy's second birthday by producing a lousy cake which looked horrible, or fell apart! It's different if it's your own children or nieces, and nephews... they're family and have to forgive you! hahaha :P

But since I love challenges, and my friend was giving me a lot of freedom to just make what I was comfortable with, I decided to forge ahead! There were some things which did not work out, but it still turned out pretty decent.

I'm happy I attempted this, because I love the resulting creation.

I had to start almost a week before the birthday party, because there are lots of parts which need days to dry out and harden.

First I made Elmo's body parts. I made his torso, head and arms from Rice Krispies and eyes and nose from gumpaste.

To make the Rice Krispies, you need 50g of marshmallows for every cup of Rice Krispies. You're supposed to microwave the mallows, but since I do not own a microwave oven, I melted them over the stove. Then you just stir in the Rice Krispies and when the mixture has cooled down, you mold them into the shapes you want and leave them overnight to dry hard. Mine were still a bit soft after a few days and even a couple of nights under air-conditioning! (might be due to not using a microwave)

I initially wanted Elmo's arms to reach upwards, but when I later tried to secure the arms in place by skewering them with toothpicks, they threatened to fall apart! So in the end I just glued the arms to Elmo's side with royal icing and prayed hard. I had to prop one arm with toothpicks while drying because it was coming apart! On hindsight, I think I will mold Rice Krispies over a wire frame in the future.

Gumpaste is just fondant with gum tragacanth added for extra firmness. It dries hard. I initially made Elmo's eyes and nose from Rice Krispies as well, but when I covered them with fondant, they were still really bumpy no matter how I rolled them. So, I had no choice but to make the whole thing from gumpaste. This made the front of Elmo's face very heavy when I attached them on later and it looked like Elmo's head was about to topple forward!! Horror of horrors!

I remedied this by sticking a long bamboo skewer down his head and right out the bottom. Before that he was only held up by short toothpicks. I think next time I try something like this, the torso or base should be made of something heavier like cake.

'Sigh'... I still have nightmares of Elmo's head rolling off in front of a bunch of kids!! I'm definitely going to use a lot of wires the next time I work with Rice Krispies. (This is the first time)

I also made a lot of other pieces earlier, the ones which needed to be hard and thus had to be made of gumpaste and not fondant. Everytime I had some free time, I would quickly make a few pieces. You really have to plan ahead for a large project such as this.

Anyway, next was to make red royal icing. I chose to use royal icing instead of buttercream because royal icing will survive transportation better. Royal icing, buttercream or even fondant, whatever icing it is, it is sooooo hard to make it super red or super black! Because of this, I am considering buying an airbrush!

I think I used half a small bottle of Wilton Christmas red, half a bottle of darker red and some black before I got an acceptable shade of red. Still not what I wanted initially, but it would do. Because of all this liquid in the form of food colouring, the royal icing was rather thin and took days and days under the air-cond to dry, and even then it was not totally hard and was crumbly.

I first stuck Elmo's head on with toothpicks and then glued on the arms with icing. Then I covered him with a layer of icing in case the lighter coloured Rice Krispies show through the "fur".

After sticking on the eyes and nose with more toothpicks, I began to pipe on the fur using a small star nozzle. Because the icing was a bit runny, the grooves of the star didn't really show, but that was okay. It made quite a natural 'gruffy' look. This fur piping was quite tedious work. It's another thing I've never tried before.

I prayed that Elmo's arm would stick and his fur would harden, and most of all he would not lose any body parts!!

After that, assembling the cake was the usual stuff. I baked two 9" square American chocolate cakes which I levelled, then crumb coated with chocolate buttercream.

During the morning of the party (luckily it was at night), I had to rush out to get a 12" cake board, a large cake box, candles and knife. I had run out and forgot to replenish.

Then I covered the cake in blue fondant and stuck everything else on.

I am a bit of a perfectionist and there are a few things which irritate me;
1. Elmo is slanting a bit, and is also looking slightly to the left.
2. his eyes are too big, making him look like he's suffering from hyperthyroidism.
3. his left arm looks dislocated.
4. he is "shedding fur" because the royal icing is too crumbly. (thus causing irritating red spots on my blue fondant!!)

Well, other than that, I think I did a great job. It was stressful yet fun... I really hope Little Jarod will be delighted! At the end of the day, that's where the most joy and satisfaction comes from when making children's cakes for their special day!

P/S: thanks to the friend who ordered the cake, I have so many photos of the whole process. She requested I capture it on film (can you still say that when it's digital??), which is what I usually intend to do, but always forget when I get too engrossed with the task at hand. (also my hands are usually covered in corn flour or Crisco, so right now my camera is a bit oily and quite fair!)
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