I'm going to teach you the basics to polymer clay cake making, and a few ideas to decorate them. I'm uploading some of my best cakes for inspiration, but going to your favorite cake store is also highly recommended. This is a very addictive activity, I hope you'll enjoy it and if you need tips please let me know! I'm always glad to help.
This instructable will cover:
- How to get a realistic translucent cake. Not opaque or chalky.
- How to make a realistic cake texture.
- How to decorate your cake with fondant, icing, etc.
- How to pipe polymer clay.
Step 1: Clay and Tools
- Translucent clay. I use Sculpey III Translucent No. 010
- Pale yellow clay. I use Sculpey III Sunshine No. 1274 *
- Clay in many colors for fondant, icing, decorations, etc.
- Translucent Liquid Sculpey (TLS).
- Sculpey Clay Softener (not pictured). If you're going to pipe the clay, softener makes it easier.
- A rolling pin or pasta machine.
- A round cutter. Mine's diameter is 4 cm.
- Blades. For cakes I like to use a tissue blade, razor blade and straight utility knife blade.
- Toothpicks and needles. Look for pointy ones! Pointy needles and toothpicks achieve a better texture.
- (Not pictured) Icing nozzles. I buy icing nozzles from my cooking store because they're cheap and easy to use, some people prefer to use a clay extruder... but in my opinion, what better way to make realistic pipping than with a real icing nozzle?
Step 2: Mixing the Cake Color
If you're using the clays I listed, mix 20 parts of Translucent and 1 part of Sunshine to get a pale, translucent yellow. I've tested many rations and this is the one that gives me perfect results every time.
If you're using other clays, mix a pale yellow first (white+yellow). Remember that adding too much colored clay will make the mix opaque, and opaque clay makes chalky looking cakes. You want to add a lot of translucent clay.
Also, keep in mind that translucent clay always gets darker when it's baked, so mix a lighter yellow than you think you will need. Bake test a small piece before you waste a lot of clay and work.
Step 3: Cut the Cake
Quick tip: If you don't have a pasta machine, you can stack and glue pieces of cardboard to make guides for your rolling pin. This way you can get evenly flat clay! It's a very handy and quick fix.
Roll some of your clay, I stacked 2 pieces of 2 mm cardboard and made a piece of clay 4 mm thick. Now cut the clay with your circle cutter. Mine's diameter is 4 cm. This will give you a cake in 1:7 scale, but you can make them bigger or smaller to suit your taste. Use the conversion table I provided if you don't know how to convert between scales.
Step 4: Slice the Cake
Next, cut the cake slices. I made this template to cut my clay in perfect slices and save time, please download the pdf from the first step and print it. It makes cutting the slices so much easier and it will help you get perfect slices everytime!
Place your clay circle above the template and center it to the closest circle or scale, and use a straight blade to cut it following the guides. I like to cut my cakes in eight slices, but some people prefer six. You can do either with the guides.
For this step I recommend using a tissue blade because it's thinner and it will distort the clay less. If you don't have one, you can also freeze the clay for 10 minutes and cut with any straight blade you have, a utility knife blade works just as good.
Step 5: Texturing the Cake
First take a toothpick and scratch the surface in any random motion. We're making a rough pre-texture, so it doesn't need to be perfect. Next, use a needle and gently scratch the surface in small circles, this will achieve the cake texture. Don't stab it! Holes don't look natural. Get rid of hard scratches and anything that looks weird.
- Texturing is very time consuming. Some crafters only use a needle, but it's so thin that it takes a long time to texture all the surface. I found that if you use the toothpick first, it cuts the texturing time in half (sometimes less!).
- I've found that there's really no way to over do it, actually, it looks better the more you texture it. But don't texture too deep! You want to texture only the very surface, be gentle. If you're getting chunks out of your clay, you're texturing too deep.
- It really pays to learn how to very gently hold the slices. I no longer need to freeze the slices when I'm holding them, and I can ow hold anything without squishing it.
- This technique is easily mastered after a few tries, so don't give up! Keep practicing.
- Use pointy needles and toothpicks, anything blunt will not work as good.
Step 6: First Pre-baking
Now bake the slices, but only for 5 minutes. If you bake translucent clay for too long it will get too dark, sometimes even a little gray. We want to harden them a bit so we don't loose the texture, but we don't bake them completely just yet. We will finish the baking process at the end.
You should have a pretty pile of perfectly textured slices! Rejoice, enjoy, show off, whatever. But don't eat them!
At this point I like to store them in a baggie for later use. When I feel the inspiration to make a cake design, I just take out a couple and start crafting. Very convenient so you don't have to repeat all the previous steps every time you want to make a cake.
Step 7: Making the Frosting
Frosting is basically polymer clay and Translucent Liquid Sculpey (TLS) mixed. If you plan to make a lot of cakes or miniature food, it's convenient that you know how to properly store and prepare it.
First condition your clay by kneading it a couple of minutes in your hands, and break it into tiny pieces. Tiny pieces of well conditioned clay are easier to mix with the TLS, it will save you a lot of time and it will avoid getting a chunky frosting.
Next, squirt some TLS or other kind of liquid polymer clay and mix them together. Use anything you have around: a chopstick, a toothpick, a pen, etc. Make sure you get a spreadable consistency, if it's too thin add more clay, and viceversa. It can take several minutes of mixing, but be patient.
I use these small jars (first photo) to make and store my vanilla and chocolate frosting, as I use them the most. They're very cute, only 4 cm (1.5") tall. They came in a jam sampler that I bought because I wanted the jars... it's glass, so I can keep the polymer clay forever without spoiling*.
I also use the small containers shown in the second photo, to prepare and store smaller amounts of frosting. They're the things contact lenses come in, so I just ask my siblings to save them for me and after a few months, I have a big pile of them for free! They're stackable too, so they're a real space saver.
Spoiling: Polymer clay has plasticizers to make it soft and pliable like a clay. Plasticizers can leech to other plastics they're in contact with, and the clay sort of "melts" into the other plastic. Knowing how to store your clay is very important, basically:
SAFE - Glass, metals, polypropylene, some kinds of polyethylene (baggies are safe to store your clay).
NOT SAFE - Polystyrene. Don't try it, it will make you cry.
Step 8: Filling the Cakes
First, if you're making charms I recommend that you bend an eyepin, put some frosting, stick the eyepin and cover it with some more frosting. The bend will act as a hook and secure your eyepins, so they will never fall again!
If you want to add fruit slices or sprinkles, I recommend that you first put the frosting and gently press the second slice; let the frosting ooze just a little, it makes it look more realistic and yummy. Then, I use tweezers to put the strawberry bits in place. It's easier that way.
Fill the cakes with a color that will compliment the color of the fondant or frosting. This is the fun part, let your creative juices flow!
Step 9: Second Pre-bake
Now bake your cakes for 5 minutes again to harden the filling. The filling is delicate too, and tilting your cake the wrong way or pressing it too hard can ruin all your hard work. Bake it so you can continue working without worrying about it.
Step 10: Fondant and Frosting
Now you want to put something on your awkwardly naked cake. Fondant and frosting are a couple of the most popular and basic, but there's so many options to choose from: fruit slices, nuts, chocolate shavings, glaze, etc. I will explain that in another instructable I plan to make.
For frosting, use the same frosting you prepared in the step 8 and cover your cake. Make sure you don't cover the eyepin with the frosting.
For a fondant-like cover, roll a think piece of clay, press the cake so it sticks (you can use some TLS for good measure) and cut on both sides of the slice; pick it up, fold the clay to cover the side of the cake and cut again. If you are using eyepins, make sure that you cut a small slit for the eyepin.
Step 11: Polymer Clay Pipping
I've experimented with any technique I could imagine. Many artists don't want to share their technique saying it's a trade secret, but I was so excited about this that I had to share it! This is what has worked best for me so far.
This is a great way to use your soft clay. Add a few drops of clay softener until your clay is very soft, but stop before it gets sticky and mushy. Softness makes it easier to pipe, mushiness makes it impossible to manipulate.
If you don't have clay softener, you can try using cooking or mineral oil. Don't bother using liquid polymer clay, it will make it sticky and difficult to manipulate. Don't make the same mistakes I did.
Now load the star nozzle with the softened clay and push the clay with a brush, pen or chopstick. It will come out easily and neatly if the clay is properly softened. If it's too hard to push or if it breaks and tears, you need to soften it a bit more.
Once you've pipped enough clay, hold a section and carefully twist it. This will make it look more interesting and as it were made with a pipping bag. Use it to decorate your cakes or to place fruits, there's a lot of fun ways to use this!
Note: If you have a clay extruder, you can adapt the icing nozzle to the extruder. If you don't want to use a nozzle, use a triangle or star from your extruder... but in my opinion, nothing looks better than using a real nozzle.
Step 12: Last Baking
So far we've only made quick pre-bakes. Now you have to bake the slice for the full time, as if it were a solid piece of polymer clay. Follow the instructions carefully, if you don't bake the clay long enough after a couple of years the clay will become crumbly and tear apart, if you bake it too long the translucent clay can get too dark.
You can add gloss to it if you want to, some people prefer it so it looks more like a jewel. Personally, I think that it looks a bit fake, so I only glaze fruits and anything that is liquid, like syrups and jams. You can also add a layer of matte glaze for extra protection, but cakes are very durable.
I hope this tutorial helped you, please consider voting for me if you liked it. I tried to share the basics about making cakes, now you have to use your creativity to decorate them and make all kinds of deliciously looking miniatures. Thank you for reading, and have fun with your clay!
First Prize in the
Play with Clay Challenge