For the Birds

by Rachel Bruce
(Canton, OH)

My little fondant bird family

My little fondant bird family

My cake drama

This cake was not one of my best cakes, it actually was my worst cake disaster. (not visible in the "before" photo) but I also learned a lot from it.

The baby shower that I made it for had to be postponed as my friends' little bundle of joy decided to arrive early. When I got the news I stuck the cake I had baked back in the freezer, something I had done before but not for a tiered cake.

When a few weeks later we had the shower I pulled it out and thawed the layers, leaving them wrapped in the plastic wrap I'd frozen them in. I believe that this was part of the cause of my problems later. I now recommend thawing them wrapped but then unwrapping them and letting them dry out a bit before icing them. Extra moisture is not always a good thing!

Icing and Stacking

I iced the tiers and then stacked them. Dowel rods are VERY important here. If you don't provide proper support your cake may very well do what mine did. I did know about dowels but apparently did not use enough.

I cut my dowel rods to the same height as the bottom and middle tiers and inserted them in a circle under where the next tier would rest. Then I stacked the cakes and gently drove a sharpened dowel rod down through all three tiers.
The first dowel rods are to support the weight of the top tiers so the cake doesn't smash itself, the long dowel is to keep the top tiers from shifting (as you will later hear, it didn't succeed).


Then came what is always my favorite part, the decorating! Using a small round tip I outlined and filled in the tree and branches. I then was able to use a spatula to carefully smooth it out. When necessary I dipped my spatula in hot water before smoothing the next part. (make sure not to leave your spatula dripping wet, you will just make a mess of your icing)
With different colors of icing I did the same this to make the leaves and flowers. I also added a pink bead border.

I had previously made the birds for the topper. This is how I made them: first I made my marshmallow fondant (mmf), credit goes to "Bunnywoman" from the Wilton forums for the recipe. I then added some of Wilton's gum paste powdered mix to the fondant. This helps give it strength and helps it to dry harder and faster than it would with just the marshmallow recipe alone. I colored the fondant by kneading in a small amount of food coloring.

Only do this with bare hands if you don't mind stained hands, otherwise use gloves. I formed the birds bodies and then formed and attached their wings. A little bit of some kind of liquid (I typically use clear vanilla) brushed on with a food only paintbrush will adhere the parts.
I inserted a bit of spaghetti into the neck area to help the head stay on. (A toothpick would work too, but this way I only used edible materials.) Then I formed and attached the head. The baby bird was made in the same way and it's color was made by combining the colors of the parent birds.

I made the nest by rolling tiny "snakes" of varying shades of brown and building one on another in a gradually expanding circular pattern, again using vanilla to adhere. Then I just added the "worm" to the mother's beak, put the baby in the nest and let them dry. As little as a day should be enough drying time but in my case they dried for weeks.

Make sure to keep them out of the direct sunlight, as they fade easily.
I added the birds to the top with a little fresh icing to stick them in place. At this point my cake looked great. I was very happy every aspect of it. Little did I know...

Transportation Nightmare

When it was time I loaded it up into my car, putting it on a no slip mat on the floor of the passenger side where I could keep an eye on it. Only a few minutes into the drive I notice that the area of the border between the bottom and middle tiers was separating slightly. With every bump I grew more nervous.

Then I slowed down to make left turn and it happened, crash! The top two tiers fell to side and lay resting partially on the car door and partially on the floor. I immediately pulled off and had a mini meltdown. Tears flowing my frustration mounted, I hurled a random object that was in my car into the back seat in my anger.

I only gave in to my emotions momentarily as I reminded myself that this wouldn't help anything. As gently as I could, I lifted the cake back into place. Surprisingly, it wasn't damaged too badly. (My icing crusts, so I wasn't putting my hands into a sticky mess, though I did leave indentations where my fingers went) The bottom tier was what had partially given way. I suspect that I didn't have enough dowel rods in the overly moist cake. I called my friends and told them that I was running behind and that the cake had had an accident but it was mostly salvageable. They were very nice and understanding. I drove as carefully as possible from there, every bump and hill seeming MUCH larger than they really were. The cake held together until... I turned into their allotment.

CRASH! The same thing happened again! Oh no! Less anger but just as much frustration boiled up again. I righted it and carried it up to my friend's house with the tears running down my face. Again, somehow the cake avoided too extreme of damage, and after adjusting the supports we still displayed it and later ate it and I regained my sanity. My loving friends were all more concerned about me then they were about the cake. I'm so thankful that this happened to a cake for friends than one for strangers!

Wisdom gained

I have learned that a cake can be too moist and to make sure that you have enough dowel rods if you must transport a cake in it's tiered setup. I have not transported any more than two tiers set up since then and when I dowel these I've used three long dowels and plenty of short ones. (Which is probably more than necessary, I'm just playing it safe)
Another thing I learned is that I have wonderful friends. I already knew that but it was a great reminder. :-)

Comments for For the Birds

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Aug 05, 2011
Sorry to hear about your cake
by: Shari Manis

Your cake is beautiful and I am so sorry to hear about what happened, but glad everything worked out. Thank you for posting this it is very helpful.

Sep 05, 2011
for the birds
by: cake lover

Though all the set backs could've made this cake truly for the birds, it ended up beautiful

Sep 05, 2011
Fun and Creative
by: Kelly Darlin

I love this cake! It is so fun and creative! It took time, thought, and ingenuity! It reminds me of the current popularity of retro web and print designs with birds and trees, which I love! I really appreciate the way you were able to pull it together to overcome your so-called disaster! The show must go on! This is the sign of a truly dedicated artist!

A friend of mine was playing the lead in a big production of Macbeth and fell from an 8ft ledge, and busted his forehead open. Thankfully it was fairly near the end of the show anyway, but anyone else would have wanted to at least get cleaned up, if not put it on ice and head to the hospital. But he would have none of that. He completed the show with blood gushing down his face! Kind of a graphic illustration, I know, but I am just trying to show that it took the same amount of guts and determination for you to pull the cake together and finish the "show"! You did awesome!

Sep 05, 2011
by: Cindy Julius

I really like the tree shape and the way it went up the tiers.

Sep 05, 2011
Great Cake
by: Nancy J

Rachel, your cake is beautiful and how wonderful your talent in crafting the birds with the colors. So sorry about the disaster in transporting!!

Sep 06, 2011
great title
by: janice

beautiful cake as always

Sep 09, 2011
Fun and Whimsical
by: Karla Gotch

Such a fun and whimsical cake! So enjoyed all the beautiful colors and the curly Q branches on the tree...

Sep 12, 2011
Lovely cake!!
by: Minnie M.

In spite of all you went through it sounds like it worked out in the end...
Your cake is beautiful and I'm sure you did the best you could to repair the damage that occurred in delivery. It happens to all of us sooner or later and we just have to pick up our tools and get to work repairing!! Great cake!

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