Yesterday was Mila’s second birthday. For her actual birth day, I had created a card. For her first birthday, Kim and I made her a busy board. For her second birthday, I wanted to create something again.
About ten years ago, I decorated cupcakes for the first time. I enjoyed working with fondant, and got it in my head that I could make something fun for Mila. The theme was easily chosen: she loves Shaun the Sheep, a cartoon by the creators of Wallace and Gromit that we’ve also been enjoying. When she just started watching TV, she was hooked on Cocomelon, but there’s only so many nursery rhymes, and poor music production a parent can take. We went cold turkey on Cocomelon and went full-on Shaun the Sheep instead. A choice we haven’t regretted.
It was ten years ago since I decorated cupcakes, since the first time was also the only time. Luckily, YouTube and Kim helped a lot. Here are a few of the things I learnt along the way.
Buy fondant, don’t make it. For some reason, I thought we’d have to make the fondant, and that was something I wasn’t looking forward to. It turns out, you just buy it at a baking shop.
Use rice crispy treat as the base (and pin skewer sticks in them for more stability). Kim made rice crispy treat and moulded into what would become the base of the cake topping and the log. This allowed me to build the figurines around the skewers, and it gave them more stability.
Make your 3D characters sit. Several examples I reviewed, had a standing Shaun. I luckily clicked beforehand that I am too unskilled to pull off stability with such a fragile structure, so decided to let the characters sit. A log created a nice extra option to add some texture to the whole.
Rolling fondant is hard. Kim had heard that corn flour was a good way to roll fondant without it being sticky. However, you constantly have to balance off using enough for it not to be sticky, and not using too much, so it becomes dry and crackled. Especially for the thin arms of the figurines, I failed at rolling it densely enough to not have cracks.
Baking glue is amazing. When we went to the cake shop, the salesperson also recommended us to get some baking glue. None of the YouTube videos of making Shaun I had watched included that, but it turns out that those YouTubers are just a lot faster than me, and they can assemble the figurines before they get too dry. I couldn’t. It took me over four hours to make the topping and would’ve failed miserably without the glue. Warning: if you use too much glue, it’ll show on the sides and the glue dries with a shine that contrasts the matt of the fondant.
Dye is tricky. We bought white fondant, so I had to dye it to get the right colours. Dying the fondant is such a messy business. I can’t begin to count how often I washed my hands, but I was still left with the marks of the process, and we’re now five days later.
Tie it together. Kim had the great idea to use some flags to tie the whole together. Without it, it would’ve looked a lot more open-ended. The bunting framed the figurines nicely.
Put the candle in first. We had forgotten to put the candle in before mounting the (hard) top on the (much softer) cake. As a result, as soon as we tried to push the candle in the rice crispy treat, the cake started to collapse. We ended up having to cut off the candle’s pin and use frosting to glue the candle on.
Make it early. Fondant lasts for ages, so there’s no need to wait until the very last minute to make it. I made the cake topping on the Thursday evening — Mila’s birthday was on the Monday — and it was more than fine.
You don’t need fancy tools. The cake shop had a fancy tool set to carve the figurines. Since I wasn’t convinced I would do this type of decoration again, I didn’t want to spend money on it. I raided our kitchen drawers for tools that could help me in the process. In the end, the tools I used mostly were: a simple sharp knife, tooth picks, and a cuticle tool. That latter one was Kim’s suggestion, and worked amazingly. Don’t worry, I thoroughly washed it beforehand. Fancier tools would’ve probably made it easier, but I would suggest to only spend the money if you know you’ll do it again.
YouTube is your friend. I watched several YouTube videos beforehand: how to dye fondant, how to roll fondant, how to create a Bitzer figurine, etc. There’s so much help out there, and I don’t think I could’ve pulled it off without YouTube. Especially the Bitzer tutorial was invaluable for learning some shaping techniques.
Kim made icing, and was able to match the green tint of the fondant almost perfectly. When we put it together, she handled most of the assembly. With the leftover green fondant, I had rolled grass tufts and that helped to bring the final result together.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to look at all the things that could still be better, but eventually, we ended up with a personalised cake that Mila loved. Her pointing at the cake multiple times, and saying “Shaun” over and over again. Seeing the delight on her face. It’s all the reward one needs.