Posted by dsgran
A Long Explanation of a Short Idea That I Eventually Bring Back to Art Education
I can't believe that its been a year, but we've just celebrated Amaya's first birthday. Sometime over the course of the last year, I caught a few minutes of some cooking show in which they were making these ridiculously elaborate sculpted cakes. Ever since then, I'd been anxious to put together a special cake for a special girl on a special day.
The process itself was - let's say, a good learning experience. Cake isn't the easiest medium to work with, and being neither a sculptor nor a baker, this whole project was one narrowly averted disaster after another- and it was a heck of a lot of fun.
To begin, I found inspiration in the form of this Yoda Head Cake Instructable. I didn't seek out a Star Wars cake as inspiration, although you'd be forgiven for making that assumption. To be honest, the idea of cutting into Yoda's head is a bit disturbing- especially so since the artist used red velvet cake for the interior. This instructable doesn't provide a step-by-step process, but it does explain the basics of how to carve the basic shape and cover it with Fondant (which, if you're not a baker either, is a marshmellow 'skin' that goes over the cake). I found a great recipe for the fondant here. The fondant was messy, but in the end has a consistency similar to sculpy.
I decided to make her a panda bear cake, since we live in China and her nickname is "The Bear". I baked two round cakes and cut them in half, took the four halves and piled them on top of each other. I then froze the cake overnight and then carved out the basic shape of the bear. Then I rolled out the fondant and draped it over the cake- it shaped pretty easily to the basic shape. The fondant skin was pliable and I found I could heal it pretty well by rubbing it with some water where it tore a little bit. After I had the basic shape, I put on some black food coloring and had myself a little cake-panda! So far so good.
Then disaster struck.
Instead of leaving the cake out, I put it back in the freezer. I wouldn't know of my mistake until the day of the party.
With the Panda done, I had a bunch of Fondant left over. Since it seemed to work a bit like sculpy, I made these two little characters for the front of the cake by painting them with a little food coloring. The tiger and the rabbit are Kim and my Chinese zodiac symbols.
The night before the party I set out to finish the cake, and this is where things began to fall apart. For the base of the cake, I grabbed what I thought was a box of chocolate cake mix, and only after struggling to figure out why the cake was so 'bouncy' realized that I had two boxes of muffin mix instead. So I had a giant chocolate muffin. Under most circumstances that would be a good thing. Not this one. Luckily, I had a few boxes of brownie mix. I made two batches of brownies (three if you include the one that I mixed improperly thanks to trying to follow the directions on the leftover muffin box for the brownies) - and after the base was assembled... I realized that the Panda was too big! It wouldn't fit on the layer of cake I'd made as a base. Luckily, I'd saved the giant chocolate muffin (and really, what is a muffin other than 'breakfast cake'?), which I cut up and used to extend the second layer a bit.
Then the real disaster struck. I took the Panda from the freezer and placed it on its pedestal of chocolately goodness. As I was making the green icing, Kim asked me if the color on the cake was supposed to be 'running like that'. I looked over and my black and white Panda was quickly becoming a grey Koala. The black food coloring was running down all over. That's when I went back to the instructions and found out that you are not supposed to freeze fondanted-cakes. The condensation destroys them. So did the unthinkable- I ripped off all the Panda's skin and re-fondanted it about an hour before the party.
Finally the cake was finished. The birthday girl, as it turns out, didn't have much of a sweet tooth, but she smiled at the cake a lot. The dad was happy.
Here's what I learned and where I bring this back to the theme of this blog.
1. Always read the directions carefully, and when your students don't, remind them that not reading directions isn't exactly a shortcut. At the same time, remember that when they don't follow directions, its a forgivable offense.
2. The process is more important than the product. This is something that I talk about in my class a great deal- but this reminded me of something that often gets lost whenever IB and AP classes start their juggernaut roll towards exam time. I'm happy the cake turned out well (although I wouldn't give it a high score on my IB rubric) but I loved making it. That brings me to the next point -
3. Find your muse. I had a personally meaningful goal in mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning something new. If only every art class could capture that idea.
4. Find your own answers - and questions. This one I feel like I do quite often in class, but its worth reiterating. Its a great idea to have students find and bookmark a bunch of go-to websites that they prefer (like Instructables for how-to, or Drawn! for inspiration). Students have a lot of questions. I don't have all the answers, but I do have the google.
5. Marshmellow Sculpy. Hmmm.... I think I have a good idea for a final art project this year...