On to the plate

Experimenting with flavours, colours and style of food served at our place

Decorating Cameron’s 21st cake


I wont bore you with a long winded story before the first photo. Of course there will be several long winded paragraphs, but first a photo of the fully decorated and assembled cake. This is a photo Mr Fussy took at the Church hall just as I’d finished putting it all together, I think it’s actually my favourite photo. Taken on his camera phone.

Mr Fussy Photo

We collected the 10” cake from Natalie after work on Thursday. I assured her taking it from the freezer at 4pm would be ample time for it to defrost in time for me to begin covering it in fondant sometime around 7:30pm. I was wrong.

The cake was still plenty frozen and while I put a smear of vegetable shortening on the cake it was a bit of a waste. There was no way fondant was going to adhere to the now frozen vegetable shortening.

There was no point having a panic attack. I had plenty of time really. But my preference would have been to have the cake covered Thursday evening.

Instead I re-did the cake board. Wednesday night I put a thin layer of fondant over the entire board and trimmed it. I really didn’t like it at all. I had watched a YouTube video of another way of covering the cake board and decided that was much more to my liking.

Mr Fussy helped me line up the cake onto the board so it sat in the centre, not before I scraped the ganache from the bottom – left over from when I had attached it to the cake board for covering in ganache. I then rolled the fondant and covered the board as I’d been shown. I was pleased the thickness was just perfect for the actual Perspex board the cake was sitting on.

I can tell you a lot of thought went into whether to cover the cake board before or after sitting the cake on it. This would have an impact on the modelling chocolate decorations. If I covered it last, then the fondant used on the board would end up covering 3mm of the modelling chocolate. I didn’t know if this would be a problem or not, might it end up pushing the panels where they sort of sprung out the top, like plank boards popping off the top rung of the fencepost. Or could I just attach the modelling chocolate sides to the cake leaving a 3mm gap at the base to allow for the fondant. I can tell you, this one small detail caused quite a bit of time to consider and I can’t say I really came up with a plan, it just happened that I covered the board on Thursday night and then calculated what that move meant.

I mentioned to Mr Fussy that if I woke anytime from 5am Friday I’d get up and cover the cake. I work at 3:50am. And what kept me awake was realising I didn’t put any melted chocolate onto the presentation board to hold the cake in place. Christchurch is really bumpy and I was having visions of the cake busting through the 3mm thick fondant and slipping off the board, or that it would clean jump up off the board and I’d be left with a few split seconds moving the board around trying to get it perfectly lined up with the now falling cake, to land exactly in the same spot it left. You can see how this would cause my brain to go into overdrive and not allow me to sleep.

Mr Fussy rolled over and murmured something to me and I gave strict instructions he must be very gentle driving due to the lack of chocolate cementing the cake to the board. Of course all earlier such pleas for him to drive sedately while transporting the gananced cakes to and from Natalie’s had fallen on deaf ears. I’m not sure why I expected him to take more notice now.

10 inch covered in panelled black fondant

At 5am I slipped on my running gear in preparation of covering the cakes then getting a run in before the day properly started. I thought an hour would do the trick. But at 6:30am I was just starting to pack things away. One of the sides wasn’t quite tall enough so I was fairly forceful in trying to coax it up the cake a bit to reach the top. That meant that it wasn’t the same thickness all the way which would only give me something else to worry about when attaching the modelling chocolate to the sides.

Following the instructions of the Craftsy Clean & Simple Cake Design course I signed up for, I smeared the vegetable shortening all over the surface of the ganache, in my practice cake I had used water. This only caused me lots of worrying moments during the day where I had dreadful thoughts the panelled sides would droop during the day and I’d end up making a mercy dash to Josie’s to flog her new tub of black fondant to re-do the cake.

I was relieved to arrive home with the 8” cake to find the 10” still standing and showing no signs of failure.

I was also relieved to find the 8” cake a lot smaller than I had thought. It sure made me feel better about covering it in fondant.

On the Wednesday evening I had covered my square cake dummy in vegetable shortening and had another practice go at covering the cake, turning it upside down to work on getting the corners nice and square, and the same for the top edges. It had worked out pretty well, but I knew that I’d need to get more fondant to the top corners so that they really did sit square. I had sharp sides and top but too little fondant for it to reach out to the point I needed.

I’d been working myself up over covering the 8” cake. I knew it wasn’t helpful. On Friday night I was fairly casual about the whole thing. I wasn’t rushing around in a flap. I didn’t even get onto it straight away. First up I put one side of the modelling chocolate onto the 10” cake, just to see how much time it took and how easy/difficult it would be.

First I cut myself a template of exactly the finished size of the panel so I could lay it across my modelling chocolate to know where I would actually place it. I had various lengths of the modelling chocolate so I needed to know that those shorter bits would still be long enough. And I needed to have thicker pieces at the ends because from experience with the practice cake, getting thin stripes to sit strong against the side of the cake isn’t as easy as it would be with thicker pieces.  I hummed and haad and made only one change to the pattern I’d laid out the previous Saturday. Cutting it out with the razor and attaching it to the side of the cake was straightforward and I knew the rest would be quicker since I now had the template and knew exactly where I would be making the cuts for the sides.

First side up

The only whoopsy was the height of the sides. I had made it a little too high so I then had to very carefully run the razor along bit by bit to try and get the side to sit flush with the top of the cake.

With that done and having gobbled a hamburger for dinner which Mr Fussy had nipped off to the local F&C to get, it was now time to start organising to roll the fondant.

I was in two mind whether to use The Mat or just roll the fondant out the old fashioned way. Because the cake was only 8” I decided to do it the old fashioned way. I was very conscious that I needed a little more thickness to make sure that in flipping the cake over I’d be able to have sufficient for the corners to reach the sides to make the necessary points. I also had more fondant than I needed so that I could be sure there was plenty of extra laying on the table that wouldn’t end up dragging the fondant down the cake.

I marked out the size I needed by dragging lines in the mixture of cornflour and icing sugar. Having already put a thin layer of vegetable shortening all over the cake, I kneaded the fondant to get it soft enough to work with. I used the vegetable shortening method again because I’d read that it would be easy to peel the fondant off (without getting gananche in it) if it went wrong, this would allow me another go at getting the fondant right if it all went belly up.

For some reason I can’t explain, I decided to fold the rolled out fondant over the rolling pin (a piece of PVC pipe I had cut for me at the local Bunnings store – and of course have spent time making sure it’s all clean and free of plastic shavings) ready to lay across the cake. Mr Fussy moved the cake closer to me which I had the fondant raised but not actually clear of the table. But it was enough to stretch it.

Pretty much every horror story you’ve heard about fondant, ripping, tearing, elephant skin, happened in a few seconds.

I actually looked to see if I could lift the fondant off cleanly to have a second bash, but there was ganache underneath. So I tried to work fast without panicing but all the time I was muttering how awful it was and how this had gone wrong and that had gone wrong and it was really ugly and there was nothing I could do to make it seem any less horrid.

So you wont be seeing a close up shot of the top tier.

It hadn’t been my intention to decorate the top tier that night, but it looked so bad that I wanted to make it better, not that I thought the side decoration would cover a multitude of sins, but it might detract the eye.

When I had practically pleaded Natalie to NOT have square cakes I said that if it went bad what I’d do is take the side decoration and cut it down the middle and then put one straight side at the base and the other half turned up the other way come from the top. But I’m afraid the cake was so bad that even that wasn’t going to have the desired effect, so I just went with the original plan.

I carried on and added the explosion. This was my 4th attempt at making it as a separate piece. I really didn’t want to have to add a second colour under the fondant and then cut the explosion from the cake. My practice explosion cake was a bit untidy with the secondary colour (red) leaving an impression on everything I touched. Yes I know it’s my that’s a bit unco and others would manage it without so much as a second thought. But knowing my limitations I really wanted the explosion to be separate and added to the cake. I had to add tylose powder to the fondant in order that it held its shape and not crumble and I tried to extract it from the upturned plastic lid that I’d wrapped it inside of.

I used two different sized cookie cutters to make the cuts needed to cut out a trough for which the explosion would be inserted into. I didn’t quite cut deep enough so it was a bit fiddly trying to coax 2mm of fondant apart from the cake.


This is probably the closest shot you’ll have of the top, I really didn’t take one photo of the top tier on its own. You can see that I tried to make a uniformed snake to then wrap around the outside of the explosion piece so that it wouldn’t look so surgical. I also brushed the inside of the explosion with silver lustre dust. It was fairly subtle and you could only see it when the light hit it just in the right spot.

For the 2 and 1 I found a font I liked, took a screen capture of the numbers at the size I wanted (9cm or there abouts) and then printed it out. Then I cut out the paper numbers, then traced that onto thin cardboard and cut that out, then finally used that as a template on the rolled out modelling chocolate. The night I did this the 2 wouldn’t stand on its own. I had inserted cut toothpicks in preparation for being able to stand the numbers up on the cake. I wasn’t convinced it would work, in fact I didn’t think it would work because the two gave no clue that it would hold its weight. But by the next morning it was all good and I was a happy person. I’d also been making those little grey and red stars over a few nights, as well as the bigger stars for the explosion. I already had the 3 sized stars made from fondant which I’d sprayed in lustre dust the previous weekend.

Originally the plan had been to carry over the modelling chocolate stripes onto the top of the 10” cake, but when the cake turned out to be 5.5inches tall (rather than the 4inches I had planned), I knew I didn’t have the length on the strips to achieve that, so plan B was to use the stars. I think they worked pretty well.

I’d achieved more than I had planned by the end of Friday evening which meant I could have a bit of a sleep in (for me) on Saturday. I was confident that I’d get the 10” cake finished by lunchtime. That meant we had time to do the grocery shopping, delayed from Friday night, and time to still get to the venue for 4pm which was the earliest we could get in.

lining up the stripes

One other thing that had been causing my brain to work overtime was how I would cover all 4 sides, and whether it would be possible to line up the stripes. And I found that it was actually really simple. I had to first make another template of sorts of the first side so that I could lay out the stripes in the same angle. And I got there without it doing my head in too much at the time.

Initially we had planned to take the 10” cake at 4pm and then would arrive with the 8” cake around 7pm to then get it assembled.

Mr Fussy was confident that, with the new non-slip mats stuff I’d bought, we’d get both cakes to the venue in one trip.

First I had to insert the dowels so that the top tier would be properly supported. I told Mr Fussy that his little hacksaw in the garden shed would not do, that I needed something food safe. During the week I popped into Bunnings and bought ratchet secateurs. I left them on the kitchen bench handy for when I needed them. But my MIL saw them and when my girlfriend arrived to do some gardening for us on Thursday, my MIL gave them to her. I’ll be honest, I was pretty unimpressed but I totally understand why a pair of secateurs would be destined for gardening use. Mr Fussy bought another pair for me Friday evening on his way home. Problem solved.

Adding support

The ratchet secateurs made a pretty easy job of cutting through the dowels. I’d made a less than 8” square from baking paper to act as the template to help me ensure the dowels were positioned inside the side of the cake.

Mr Fussy was very good driving to the venue. After his convincing me that we could take both cakes at once, and me saying he was being pretty casual about something I’d spent so much time working on, that I didn’t want his assuredness to be the undoing of my work, we made it without any cakes being rocked out of their place. I didn’t even hold onto the top of the big cake which was on my lap like I was expecting. I have to say that cake was very heavy, but I could still see it shooting straight up and off the board.

At the venue I got to work with cutting out a circle from the centre of the small cake so that I could put a small plastic pottle in there. The purpose was to put fondant in the pottle so that the wires of the stars would be in something that wasn’t intended to be eaten. The ganache was so thick. The circle cutter pulled away the ganache and the cake under it cleanly and Caitlin was the happy recipient of that surprise gift.

After making the insertion I covered over the top with a circle of black fondant. We got the top tier placed on the 10” cake and then it was a matter of cutting the wired stars to height – Mr Fussy took on that role – and then placing them in to look random but ordered (I can’t help myself!). I sprinkled over the stars in the “ledge” left between the 8” and 10” cake and then scattered more into the centre of the 8” cake so that it wasn’t quite so crude looking where the wires were poking out of the cake.

All up it looked really good. Logan’s Mum thought the bottom cake was a box, so I guess it looked exactly as we had hoped it would.

Natalie had put on such a huge spread that by the time it came for sweets, hardly any of the cake was eaten. There was an awful lot left over, and somehow we’ve managed to come home with a 1/4 of the 10” cake (Mr Fussy is taking it to work tomorrow).

Depsite the many things that didn’t quite turn out as well as I hoped, a lot of things did. I wont be put off using fondant to cover a cake, in some ways it’s made me more determined to master it (at least improve).

I’m so glad I had the chance to make the cake for Natalie, and Cameron. Everyone was really happy with it and thought it looked great.

Of course my next one will be a LOT smaller. My next one might be for my birthday in a couple of weeks, but then we’ll be holidaying in Nelson and no where near all my bits and bobs for cake decorating. I might be having a belated birthday cake, if at all.


2 thoughts on “Decorating Cameron’s 21st cake

  1. Good on you – looks good! Fondant can be stressful to use, especially on larger cakes. You did a great job! With every cake, there are lessons to be learnt from the experience huh. Good work, looks awesome, well done.

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