The scene: A dappled sun filled park with pavilion, playground, fields, and a pond.
The players: One happy four year boy, one excited younger brother, one beautiful baby princess, a dozen friends and their various guardians.
The plot: A Thomas the Train birthday party.
Me: "Can I make the birthday cake?!?!?"
B: "OMG, are you nuts? I would so rather have you make something than buy something from a store!"
Me: "Consider it done."
The plan: A sculpted Thomas the Train with three additional box cars, or tenders as I have learned. That equals four cars, numbered 1-4, for four year old Ethan's b-day. Place on a liquorish/pretzel track with graham cracker and coconut landscaping.
Four weeks before the party I made a test cake; it was a fish with a Canadian flag, made for the hubby's work trip to said Can-aid-ia. It was my first try at fondant. I figured if I watched enough 'Ace of Cakes' I'd get the general idea. I learned a lot about what not to do. Don't let it dry out. Don't add too much milk. Don't roll it out too thin. Don't use too much frosting. Don't rush. Do not use liquid coloring for red, it turns out pink. I highly recommend doing a small practice cake with sculpting if you are planning on trying this.
Two days before the big party I started prepping the butter cream frosting. I made a double batch, guessing on the amount based on mr. fish. The day before I got all my cakes baked, carved, butter creamed, and covered with the mass amounts of fondant I also made that day. I made way too much! Better more, than not enough. I started with the easiest shape first, the boxcar, and worked my way up to the more difficult pieces. Painting the face on Thomas was my favorite part. Just add a smidge of vodka to coloring gel to make a paint consistency; don't worry the alcohol will evaporate, 'Ace of Cakes' said so.
The morning of, I literally had to drag myself out of bed from a Saturday night GNO and start doing the final decorations. A little detail here, a little frosting piping there. Opps! missed the 'h' in birthday. Redo.
Carefully transferred the cakes onto the large decorated tag board with crushed graham crakers and green colored coconut for grass. Nervously drove to the park. Why are there so many bumps and turns in the road? I've never even noticed how many potholes and hills there are. Worst case disasters are going through my head at this point. All the cars piled up in a cakey-messy heap in the back seat. Thomas' face fallen and smashed on the tracks. No fix if that happens.
After a slight miscommunication in location we made it to the park. The party was great! Kids running around in semi-organized fun, a nice spread of pasta salads, sandwiches, and chips, an absolutely perfect sunny day. The cake was a big hit. When it came time to dish it out (after a impromptu game of hide-and-go-seek with the birthday boy) all the kids screamed for Thomas. They wanted a piece of that train. Poor Thomas, he never saw it coming. At one point I looked over to see Ethan devouring the face with help from dad, so happy.
Use box cakes, do not make your own. There is a science to this and they have it down.
Cook to instructions and let cool completely. For box cars and Thomas cut in half and reattach layers with medium consistency icing (this way the inside will have frosting too) I used one bread pan for each of the cars and two for Thomas to have enough height and extra pieces for carving.
Square off sides with serrated knife (bread knife) or carve to correct shape for Thomas. (In the coal car I also made an indent on the top which later was filled with smashed oreo cookies for coal)
Cover final shape with frosting and let sit in refrigerator for at least 2 hrs to chill or overnight. Roll out colored fondant and cover shapes, taking care to not rip the fondant (just past back together with water if you do) Layer any colors, attaching with water to stick. Cut out shapes and place for more decorating with a sharp knife. Let chill again for at least 2 hrs or overnight.
Place onto final serving tray. With thin consistency frosting, decorate the cars and fill in any breaks. Be sure to do this as your last step and either keep in a cool location or serve within the next couple of hours as the frosting will dry out or things may melt if the weather is too warm (just like any cake :) )
Thomas Face Instructions:
Roll out a sheet of white fondant and cut into a round shape, the size that you will need to fill in your sculpted cake (make sure to measure) Using coloring gel, water down with some Vodka (it will evaporate, don't worry) paint the circle to resemble Thomas' face. Let dry out over night, may need to help it along by placing in a 200 degree oven to dry out. Do this slowly, allowing for a lot of time because it will crack if you go too face or still be wet if you don't let it dry out completely. I suggest cutting out a back up just in case and practicing on paper before you paint if you are not comfortable.
Alternitive is to scan out edible paper and attach to the cake or non edible attached to cardboard and just don't let anyone eat it.
(most can be found at a grocery store or in the cake specialist isle at a craft store like Michael's)
1 Tbsp of unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup of cold water
1 tsp of almond extract
1/2 cup of light corn syrup (If a corn syrup is not available, you can substitute it with a sugar syrup made with 1-1/4 cups sugar and 1/3 cup water, boiled together until syrupy)
1 Tbsp of glycerin (some recipes say it’s optional, believe me, it’s a must)
2 lbs confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp of white vegetable shortening
Sprinkle the gelatin over cold water in a small bowl and let it rest for 2 minutes to soften
Place the bowl in a microwave for 30 seconds on High, until the gelatin dissolves
Add the Almond extract
Add the corn syrup and the glycerin and stir until the mixture is smooth and clear (if the mixture is not turning smooth and clear, microwave it for an additional 15 to 20 seconds on high and stir again)
Sift 1 1/2 pounds of the sugar into a large bowl
Make a hole in the sugar and pour the liquid mixture to it
Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes sticky
Sift some of the remaining 1/2 pound of sugar onto a smooth work surface and add as much of the remaining sugar as the mixture will take
Knead the fondant, adding a little more sugar if necessary, to form a smooth, pliable mass
Rub the vegetable shortening on your thumbs and knead it into the fondant
Wrap the fondant in plastic wrap and place it in a tightly sealed container to prevent it from drying out
If the icing dries out and harden it can often be revived by popping it into a microwave oven for a few seconds and then kneading it back to life
TIP: use coloring Gel, not drops and the color will be truer (especially for red and black) To make white add 1/4 tsp of Cream of Tartar
Butter Cream Icing Instructions:
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons milk
Makes: About 3 cups of icing.
I used a triple batch with different colors and some left over. Make a large batch and color as needed.
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla.
Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry.
Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.
For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.
For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter; substitute an additional 1/2 cup shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.