Introduction: "The Thing" Cake
For my significant other's birthday, I asked what type of cake he wanted... super tasty? beautiful? weird and awesome? To my glee, he picked the latter. With his love of '80s sci-fi and horror, I nabbed an image from John Carpenter's 1984 version of "The Thing" and went to town. Even though I'd never made something like this before, I was armed with my sculpture tools, some YouTubes and an appreciation for the grotesque, so I felt pretty good about the prospects.
Yes, yes, this cake is wholly unappetizing, but that is pretty much the point.
Step 1: Fondant
The majority of this project is sculpting with Fondant. A few things I learned along the way:
- Water is super glue for fondant. A little bit means the pieces are stuck for life, but a little too much and nothing sticks together but your fingers.
- A little water on a paint brush can also make a high gloss finish that sticks around for about 12 hours.
- Dry powdered sugar on a brush will remove a gloss finish and make it matte
- Be careful about painting. The more water you add, the more the fondant will become flat over time. I painted one section and it looked great, and then five minutes later it had leveled out flat and lost the details of the sculpt.
There are lots of Instructables for fondant, so I won't get too detailed here. I made my own fondant using marshmallows and powdered sugar and used more sugar than most recipes recommend so that it could hold up to the sculpting.
What I did (over and over and over)
1. Melted about 8oz of mini marshmallows in the microwave for a minute.
2. Stirred for a few seconds until it was smooth.
3. Then I added powdered sugar through a sifter until I couldn't stir anymore. Usually because it was all stuck to the spatula lollipop style. If I didn't sift it in, it just took longer to knead out the little pockets of powdered sugar.
4. Dusted a large counter sized cutting board and my hands with powdered sugar and kneading the dough until was smooth and no longer sticky. It look about 2-5 minutes.
5. I alternated adding food coloring and kneading in two or three steps so it wouldn't break through the dough before it was mixed in.
Step 2: Rice Crispy Foundation
Since the front of the faces have the greatest amount of detail, I wanted to build them onto a rice crispy foundation. I also wanted to have an extra day to work on the sculpt without the actual cake sitting on the counter for 8 hours underneath. I heated the marshmallows for about a minute in the microwave and added as much cereal as I thought it could take without starting to break apart then immediately started to lay them down.
I found the key to sculpting with the Rice Crispy treats is to have a bowl of water to keep your hands lightly wet. The marshmallow won't stick, but it's not enough liquid to start to dissolve the sugar or cereal. After you have it down, it's basically styrofoam and can be easily smooshed into the right forms.
Step 3: Fondant Sculpt
Now that you have the basic shapes built out, roll out a 1/4" sheet of fondant and lay it over top. I used a brush to push it down into the cracks and crevices. I then took a dark brown fondant I'd made and put it into the mouth where the darkest areas are. Next I added the eyeballs which are just round balls of, you guessed it, fondant.
My biggest mistake was not making enough fondant to start so I had two colors going into the face. At first I thought it made sense, but the more I worked on it, I realized it should be one color so the paint goes on more evenly in the end.
Step 4: Teeth
The one thing I sculpted before putting it on the head were the teeth. I figured out a decent way of doing it by rolling out the pink and yellow into 1/4" ribbons, using water to glue them together, and then cutting the teeth out of the white. Then, using a third piece of fondant, I created the gum by using a pen cap to cut half circles on the edge where the bottom of the teeth would show. It worked pretty well and prevented me from having to sculpt each tooth individually.
Step 5: Paint the Faces
I did all of the painting with water and gel food coloring I got from the supermarket. It's basically like watercolor. Straight red and blue make black, but when you start to add water it's purple. For the face, I used a small cup of water with about 5:1 ratio if red food coloring to blue to do the highlights on the skin. I used a 2:1 mixture for the wrinkles and crevices.
Step 6: Cake!
Ok, so then I made two sheet cakes, actually two. I think you all can figure out how to do that bit. I also made some peanut butter buttercream frosting to go between the cake and fondant. I put down the first layer of cake and cut it into the right shape. I then frosted it with the buttercream and added another layer on top of that. I frosted the whole thing again and popped it in the freezer for an hour to stiffen up.
When it came out I took another rolled piece of fondant and covered the cake. Then, gently, I placed the rice crispy treat faces onto the top of the cake and pushed down any edges to match better with the bottom cake portion.
Step 7: Sculpting and Painting the Sides
After I put the heads on top, I needed to fill in some gaps between the top and bottom with fondant and then I started in on the sculpt. I used lots of strips to get the pulled skin texture and used built up the other side like rock. I just attached mid sized nubs of fondant and then went in with paper thin pieces to give it texture. I needed to do a bit of work on the face to help blend the edge a bit, but was happy enough with the way the top and bottom came together.
With the same color scheme, I painted the sides and did some touch up paining on the face. I also went in to do the detailing on the face like veins, the iris of the eye, feckles and a few other things to break up the large portions of skin.
Step 8: Eat!
We tore into at the party and the aftermath was pretty disgusting. But the cake was delicious, so it all works out in the end. Yes, the birthday boy got to eat the eyeball.