This week I made the most adorable alligator/swamp themed birthday cake and matching smash cake for a little boy who is celebrating his first birthday.
I tried some new techniques on this cake which were challenging, but well worth it! I’m very hesitant to use fondant because it’s very temperamental. One of my best friends also loves to bake, and whenever one of us is having a rough go with fondant, we’ll text each other, “Stupid fondant is on it’s period again!” Because that’s what it feels like; on one project, fondant is your BFF and smoother than a baby’s bottom and you think, ‘Awesome! I’ve finally mastered fondant!’, but then the next time you try to use it, fondant decides to crack even though you’re using the same recipe! , and you think, ‘Why you gotta do me like that, fondant!’ There’s no rhyme or reason. Fondant just decided to be a pain in the ass that day because fondant is on it’s period again.
Sorry–should probably stop talking about periods with this post being about a kid’s birthday cake and all. I just have a very complicated relationship with fondant.
But for this cake I really wanted to try to sculpt an alligator. The only time I’ve ever sculpted anything out of fondant was for my girls’ Frozen cake. But those were pine trees, which are a really basic shape. So even though there was a huge chance of me failing miserably at this and having to buy a toy alligator to put on top of the cake, I tried it anyways. Because if you never push yourself, you’ll never grow.
I am so glad that I took the plunge because my little alligator turned out so cute! The fondant that I made came out a little dry, but adding a bit of vegetable shortening made it usable. I didn’t mind the little wrinkles because I was going to add texture anyways (crocodile skin, anyone?). I followed this YouTube tutorial, but added little spike thingys on his back to make him look a bit more authentic (I also used their technical name, “spike thingys”, to emphasize that I know what I’m doing).
I added the texture to him differently then seen in the video, because I didn’t think that the toothpick method left a strong enough mark. So using a #12 Wilton tip, I made half circle imprints all over the alligator’s body. Then I attached the little spike thingys (which I molded by forming little balls of fondant into triangle shapes) with a little bit of water. I also made the executive decision to 86 the tongue because I felt that would make him look more snake-like instead of alligator.
I ended up using candy eyes instead of making my own out of fondant because…they were already made… So it turned out that I didn’t need the eye holes. I let him dry out with a paper towel in his mouth so that the weight of the fondant wouldn’t shut his mouth closed. No use spending 2 hours sculpting an alligator if you can’t see the teeth, because alligators are all about the teeth. I opted to pipe his teeth on using royal icing because it would have taken F O R E V E R to do them one by one out of fondant.
I didn’t want my cute little alligator to be all alone in his swamp, so I made him some lily pads using the opening of an icing tip as a cutter, flattening the rounds, and cutting out little triangles. Of course you can’t have lily pads sans pink flowers, so I colored some royal icing and used a drop flower icing tip to jazz them up (also so they wouldn’t be mistaken for green Pac-Man).
Along with my dry, shitty, cracked green fondant, I also made a batch of chocolate fondant. The chocolate fondant came out almost perfect; I think that one may have been just a touch too soft/tacky. Originally I had wanted to make tree stumps to add to the ambiance, but the soft fondant was having a hard time holding it’s shape. I was running super behind on this project; about a day behind my planned schedule, actually. So I didn’t have time to fuss with the stumps; I had to scrap them.
But I did have time to make the cattails. These were super easy: I just took a small amount of chocolate fondant, rolled it into a ball, then rolled that into a sort of corn dog shape, stuck it onto a toothpick, and laid them on a piece of parchment paper to dry out.
This cake was really all about the details, because without them it was just an alligator sitting on a brown rectangle. These cattails sold the environment. The cake would have been very blah without them.
I wanted the water in his swamp to have a more realistic look than just blue frosting dumped in a circle, so I tried out a new technique: piping gel. I found this article through Pinterest on how to make your own piping gel. Since I had to cover such a large area and I’m cheap, I figured making my own was the way to go. That way there was no risk of me running out. Plus the article said it was stupid easy. Too bad it took me 4 batches to get the consistency right. It turns out that piping gel overcooks really easily. As in, if you leave it in the microwave for 15 seconds too long, it’s ruined.
So although the stupid Pinterest article says to whisk it every minute “or so”, I found that the best way was to whisk every 30 seconds for the first minute, and every 15 seconds after that. 1:45 was the perfect total time in my microwave, unlike the 2-3 minutes that aforementioned stupid Pinterest article said. Once I figured out how to do it, it came out beautifully smooth and I absolutely love the effect it gave the water element of the cake.
I figured no one was actually going to want to eat piping gel because it’s kind of a unique consistency, so I cut out a piece of parchment paper in the shape of the swamp and put that down on the cake. Then I layered the piping gel on top of the parchment paper. That way when it was time to serve the cake, they could just remove the parchment paper with pretty much all of the piping gel. To cover up the seam of the swamp’s boarders, I added crushed Oreo “dirt”.
The final detail was the hand piped grass. This was just as essential as the cattails to really sell the environment, but it also served a very practical purpose of covering up the unsightly cake board.
I can’t express how much I love this cake. The seam between the “mud” on top (made out of my perfect chocolate marshmallow fluff frosting) and the “grass” on the sides could have been smoother, but I was rushed for time. Aside from that nit picky detail though, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this baby.
I wanted the smash cake to match the big cake, which was a little difficult because the big cake is really all about the fondant details. I didn’t want to put a bunch of things on the little guy’s cake that he couldn’t even eat though, so I had to think outside the box a bit. I used my marshmallow fluff frosting because it’s softer and oh-so-yummy. After crumb coating it with a regular crusting frosting (containing only vegetable shortening and no marshmallow fluff), I applied a thin layer of blue tinted marshmallow fluff frosting. After it firmed up in the fridge for 20 minutes, I then carefully applied a slightly thicker layer of green tinted marshmallow fluff frosting on top of the blue, covering it completely. I then let it firm up in the fridge for another 20 minutes, and then used a Wilton scraper thingy (I know, I’m blowing you away with all the technical terms; I’ll try to dumb it down for all you novices) to scrape away some of the green, revealing the blue underneath. I was hoping for a more even striped look. I guess I used the wrong serrated side of my scraper thingy. But I think it still has a cool effect; especially for an Earth Day cake (if people make cakes for Earth Day; personally, I’ll use any excuse to make a cake). My goal was to add some other colors in there so that it wasn’t monochromatic, and I accomplished that.
Once the sides were done, I carefully applied white marshmallow fluff frosting to the top of the cake so I would have a nice blank canvas to pipe my alligator on. I went for a more cartoon-y look for the alligator face, using a toothpick to sketch out the basic shape. Then with a #3 Wilton tip, I went over that outline with green frosting (a good, stiff buttercream; marshmallow fluff frosting does not pipe well). Using the same tip, I filled that outlined shape in. Then I took my handy dandy toddler knife (seriously, I have come to believe that every cake decorator should have one in their tool kit), and carefully smoothed his face out. I then piped the outline again, to give his cute little face definition. I gave him a little party hat using the same pink royal icing that I had used for my lily pad flowers, and gave him teeth using the same white royal icing that I used for the other gator’s teeth. Two candy eyes finished him off (I of course warned Mom to take the hard candy eyes off of the cake after snagging a picture so the birthday boy wouldn’t try to eat them with his 4 teeth).
I am realizing just now while looking at the picture that I neglected to give him nostrils. Oh well; I doubt the birthday boy noticed.
Don’t the cakes look great together?
I know what you’re thinking–how did you get this done with 3 kids? The answer: my kids are amazing and were really great about entertaining themselves. Well, except for Arya who snuck into every bowl of frosting any time I turned my back; she was awful, as usual. And Eowyn came in 999 times to ask random stuff like, “Mom, how do ghosts not have feet? Can I go play in the sub-zero weather? Are you done yet? How come Daleks aren’t robots if they have that armor on?” And Laurelyn did come into the kitchen with her pouty face on a bunch of times, only calming down when I picked her up. So then we took pouty face selfies, of course.
Basically what I’m saying is I have no idea how I managed to pull this off. I can only deduce that God had mercy on my pathetic soul.
Anywho, I’m off to enjoy this beautiful sub-zero Sunday hibernating with my girls, giving them the whole day with Mom’s undivided attention after leaving them to fend for themselves for 15 hours while I worked on this dynamic cake duo.