Saturday, August 9, 2014

How to Make a “Frozen” Cake, No Artistic Talent Required


I, much like my mother, have zero artistic talent whatsoever. But I, also like my mother, for some unknown reason, feel a pressing need to make artistic (or at least, “themed”) birthday cakes for my children while they’re young. Last year, when my daughter turned 2, she was all about dolls and Barbies, so of course, I made her a Barbie doll cake. I ordered a mold and a creepy legless Barbie doll on Amazon.com, picked up a couple of cake mixes, a tub of pre-made frosting, and some decorator frosting-in-a-can at my local supermarket, and went to town. And I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the result.


The best thing about this cake, for me, was that it was completely free-form. It pretty much had to be pink and be generally recognizable as a dress, but other than that, I could do whatever I wanted. And I did.

But this year, 2014…when you have a 3- (or 4-, or 5-, or 6-, or – well, you get the idea) year-old daughter, 2014 is the year of Frozen. It is the year of Anna and Elsa and Olaf and Kristoff and Sven and Hans and the trolls. It is the year of “Let It Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “In Summer.” Honestly, the only choice I had this year regarding the cake was whether it would Anna or Elsa. (Olaf and Sven were absolutely out of the equation, and Kristoff and Hans were only options if they were willing to wear ball gowns). So I checked out their various dresses, and since Elsa spent a great deal of the movie (the coolest part of the movie, ahem, so to speak) wearing a blue gown decorated only with spangles, it wasn’t that difficult of a choice to make. 

(I’m rather partial to redheads, but Anna is a little too fond of complicated embroidery in multiple colors. White snowflakes I can handle; elaborate tole painting designs, not so much.)

So I gathered my supplies: I dug out last year’s cake mold from the back of the shelf (after searching for it in 16 other places), a cake plate on a stand, some white and silver decorator sugar I had bought to sugar the rim of cocktail glasses a few years back, and a bottle of blue food coloring that I’m pretty sure I bought in 1993. I went to Target and picked up the cheapest blond Barbie I could find (yet another reason Elsa was the better choice – no way could I have found a red-haired Barbie for 6 bucks on short notice). She came with a pink tiara but my husband had bought me a woman’s silver and rhinestone ring shaped like a tiara which happened to be exactly cheap-Barbie-doll-head-sized. And a final grocery store run yielded a couple of yellow cake mixes, a tub of white frosting, and a can of decorator icing, also in white. I poured myself a glass of wine, and I was ready to begin!

Step 1, rather obviously, is to bake the cake. The doll mold looks deceptively small, but I discovered last year that it takes two whole cake mixes to fill the mold!

It’s the TARDIS of cake pans: much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

I discovered this year that this year's brand of cake mix was just enough bigger that the mold overflowed when it baked, but I was fortunate enough to notice it early and lined the bottom of the oven with tin foil to catch the drips. This resulted in a sample that was perfectly baked when I checked on the baking halfway through.

Once the cake is in the oven, you can move on to Step 2: Doll Preparation and Insertion. If you are using a normal doll pick, there really isn’t much to this step. If, however, you are using a cheap Barbie doll that is intended to represent a recognizable character, there’s some work to be done here. In this case, Elsa needs her trademark side braid and her tiara. So first, you’ll need to braid her hair. Her shiny, very shiny, oh-so-shiny hair. Do you know what hair feels like when it is shiny, very shiny, oh-so-shiny? It feels slippery. Very slippery. Oh, so slippery. Which means that a) it is extremely difficult to braid the wee little 3-inch length of it, and b) a tiara will not stay on. Luckily, my daughter also has about 3 wee little inches of slippery hair, so I have some degree of practice, as well as access to teeny-tiny hair elastics. Also luckily, I am a seamstress and therefore did not hesitate to stitch that little tiara right onto Elsa’s hair. Well, mostly her hair. Possibly her head a little bit. But mostly her hair. I'm not a monster here, people.


Now that Barbie has been transformed into Elsa, it’s time to cool and unmold the cake and put Elsa’s dress on her. The doll I used last year was technically a “pick,” which meant that instead of having legs, the torso stopped abruptly at the waist and there was a single spike projecting downwards. It was a bit disturbing, but it did hold the doll in place quite snugly.

This year, since I was using an actual doll with all the usual appendages, I had to cram the legs into the cake. This was extra complicated because this particular doll had one knee permanently bent, but I managed to get her in there relatively solidly. 

The final part of the Doll Preparation step is to make sure that a) no frosting gets into the hair, and b) no hair gets into the frosting. The easiest, if not the least creepy, method is to wrap the doll’s head in plastic wrap and tie it tightly.

Much like the weird stuff they often put on your head at the hairdresser,
it feels stupid but the final results are worth it.

Step 3 is Plating the Cake. This is a somewhat precarious step. Before I attempt it, I am very careful to gather all the needed materials: the plate, a knife, a sketch of my planned decorations, and a glass of wine. (The latter is the most important.)


You don’t want your doll to wobble on the plate, so before you move it, be sure to color your frosting to your desired shade and spread a nice, thick blob of it on the plate to act as cement.



Then all you have to do is knock back some of the wine, take a deep breath, grab the cake gently but firmly with both hands, say a quick prayer, and slap that baby onto her pedestal.


Once she’s centered and firmly attached, you can begin Step 4: Frosting and Decorating. If you want to be really fancy and professional about it, you can start by doing a rough “crumb coat” and letting it set in the refrigerator before neatly applying a smooth, final coat. Yeah, ain’t nobody got time for that. I brush off the crumbs and slap on one really thick layer of frosting (partly so the crumbs don’t show but mostly because, let’s be honest, the frosting is the whole reason we eat the cake, right?). I use the smooth edge of a butter knife to roughly spread large globs of the frosting on the center of the cake, then go back and neatly (well, sort of) fill in the top and bottom edges.


Luckily, even cheap Barbies have articulated arms, so I swiveled them up in the air to get them out of the way. It made her look like she was screaming for help and trying to rip off the plastic wrap, but I told her she was making a sacrifice for her art and just kept frosting. 

Since my doll already had a white, painted-on bodice, I only had to pull the frosting up high enough to cover the pink, but if you need to create a shirt, it’s much easier to use decorator frosting and a star tip than to try and create a decent-looking shirt out of regular frosting. At least, it is if you have the kind of fine motor skills and artistic eye (by which I mean a complete lack thereof) that I do.

Once you have a smooth coat of frosting, you need to move quickly to add the fine details. For this cake, the only tools I needed were a can of white decorator icing with a star tip and my fancy sugars.


Elsa’s gown is covered with icy sparkles, so I started to sprinkle the sugar down her gown, reaching close to her body to avoid ending up with dull spots. I started with the white glitter, then attempted to add some silver but it just bounced off instead of sticking to the frosting. Eh, all white is good. Snow and ice are white, right? Who needs silver, anyway.

As you may have guessed from the sketch in one of the above photos, I had originally intended to add some swirls and snowflakes with the decorator icing, but given a) how pretty the dress looked with sugar alone, and b) the fact that when I tried the icing using the smallest tip, it looked like snowman poop rather than delicate snowflakes, I opted to leave off the fancy work.

I did need something to finish the dress at the bottom, since it’s hard to get the bottom edge of the frosting to look smooth. So after wiping the excess frosting off the plate with my finger a damp paper towel, I added a row of fat white stars to edge the gown. I always practice one on a paper towel before starting on the cake, and then throw it away. This is always the most perfect star of the whole batch. 


Which is why I always start at the back, because by the time I’m halfway around, the quality of my stars has finally started to approach the perfection of that first one.



Once that final detail has been added, it’s time to free Elsa from her plastic wrap bonds! Be careful not to accidentally pull her out of the cake or dislodge her hair elastic, especially the latter, as it’s likely to take you less time to re-bake and re-decorate a whole cake than it is to re-braid that bloody shiny hair.

And voila! Princess Elsa!


This cake isn’t going to win any awards, but it IS going to make a certain little princess in my house very, very happy!

And there's both wine and frosting left over, which is going to make a certain big princess in my house very, very happy, too. 

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