If you’ve got a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan with a birthday coming up, this Magrathea whale cake is easy to make, even if you don’t have much cake decorating experience. Don’t panic!
- royal icing
- yellow candy melts
- Wilton tip #225 (with frosting bag and coupler, of course)
- Wilton gel colors Ivory, Cornflower, and Rose
- a 12″ round cake (any flavor)
- a loaf cake (any flavor)
- mini muffin pan
- 1 chocolate mini-muffin
- 6 waffle cones
- wax paper
You can easily make your own fondant with marshmallows and powdered sugar. The benefit to this type, commonly called marshmallow fondant (or MMF in web forums), is that people will eat it. You can also try your hand at making regular fondant, which takes a little more work. Store-bought fondant is often not very tasty, and most people will peel it off and throw it away. But I won’t blame you for printing a coupon to your local craft store and buying a box. Or, if you want to spend some money and get tasty fondant in a variety of colors, try finding Satin Ice. If you have a local baking supply store, you’ll probably find it there, or you can order it online.
If you need a buttercream recipe, you’ll find plenty of them online along with extensive debate about butter vs. shortening. But if you’re not interested in the finer distinctions of fats, you’ll get good results by whipping together a cup of each with a splash of vanilla extract, then adding powdered sugar until you reach a spreadable and delicious consistency.
Most royal icing recipes you find will make quite a bit, and for this project, you need only a little. Mix 1 tablespoon of meringue powder, 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water. It may take more water, but it’s better to add more as you need it than end up with a runny mess. Tint it with the rose gel color. This recipe will still make far more than you need, so go ahead and make dozens of flowers. Practice using all your tips. Things made of royal icing will keep nearly indefinitely if you store them in a dry place, and they’re nice to have around next time you want a little something extra on a boring cake.
The base cake
- Crush the waffles cones until they resemble a landscape “now barren of all vegetation and covered with a layer of dust about an inch thick.” You don’t even chopping gadgets. Just break a cone up in your hand, put the pieces between two sheets of wax paper, and use a rolling pin. Or a hammer if you’re having a bad day–crushing things is very cathartic.
- Tint your buttercream with ivory gel color until it’s about the color of the waffle cones.
- Frost a 12″ round cake with the ivory buttercream. That’s a big cake, I admit. But you need that much room to hold up the whale. I suggest making it chocolate–read on to the part about making the petunias to see why.
- Make that barren landscape over the top of the cake with the crushed waffle cones. Leave a roughly loaf-sized dent where your whale will go.
- Bake your favorite cake in a loaf pan. It doesn’t have to be as heavy as a pound cake, but it should be a dense enough cake to carve and then hold up the fondant. Avoid things like devil’s food or angel food cake.
- After it cools, use a sharp knife to carve the loaf into the shape of the whale’s body. Shave off the edges of the long sides to smooth them and round off the corners. At the head end, slightly angle the short end of the loaf towards the bottom. Narrow the body somewhat towards the tail, but not much. Most of the tail will be fondant. Make one long side angle in towards the tail to help the whale’s tail curve toward its body.(See picture above.)
- Tint a softball-sized amount of fondant with cornflower gel color.
- Sculpt two small fins. Carefully insert a toothpick at each end of the side that will attach to the whale. Set them aside.
- Roll the fondant out flat in a rectangle, roughly 12″x18″ and 1/4″ thick.
- Drape the fondant over the whale. Make sure there’s enough at the head end to cover the end of the loaf, then leave the majority of the excess towards the tail.
- Smooth the fondant down over the sides, trimming any excess 1/2″ from the bottom edge of the loaf cake. Tuck the edges of the fondant under the loaf. If you anticipate that your guests will play with their food before eating it, perhaps even re-enacting the whale-falling scene, you may choose to cover the bottom of the whale with fondant as well, in which case, you’ll need to start with a larger rectangle. You may also consider covering your floor in plastic before they come over.
- Use the fondant trimmings to sculpt a cone shape for the tail. It doesn’t need to be perfectly shaped–it’s just going to prop up the fondant that extends beyond the cake.
- Put the cone at the tail end of the cake under the fondant. Wrap the fondant under the cone and shape the tail. Curve it in a bit so that the whale isn’t lying perfectly straight.
- Flatten out the end of the tail into a triangular shape for the fluke and carve in the notch between the lobes.
- Use the toothpicks you inserted in the fins to attach them to the whale’s sides.
- Gently use a dull knife or other non-sharp tool to make impressions in the sides of the face for closed eyes and a mouth. Be careful not to cut all the way through the fondant.
- Turn a mini-muffin pan upside down. Grease the outside of one of the cups very well, or if you want to be absolutely certain the pot will release, cover the cup with wax paper and tape it down. The inside of your pot won’t be perfectly smooth if you use wax paper, but you’re going to break it apart anyway.
- Melt four yellow candy melts in a microwave-safe cup following the instructions on the package.
- Coat the outside of the muffin cup with melted candy melt to make a flower pot.
- You need one chocolate mini-muffin. I suggest making the 12″ round cake chocolate and using a bit of that batter to make the mini-muffin. I also recommend making two mini-muffins so that you get to taste the cake when it comes out of the oven. I do that for every cake I bake, regardless of whether I need a mini-muffin!
- Use Wilton tip #225 to make tiny drop flowers with the royal icing on wax paper. Put the tip perpendicular to the paper. Squeeze, twist, and lift the bag in a single, smooth move.
- Rewarm the leftover bits of yellow candy melts. (Usually reheating them won’t work very well, but you’re only using a tiny bit.) Once the flowers have hardened, use a toothpick to dot the centers of each one with the candy melts.
Assembling the cake
- Place your whale in the spot you made for it on the main cake.
- After your candy flower pot cools, remove it from the muffin tin and break it apart into several pieces. Keep the pieces together so that you can place them on the cake as if it had fallen from the sky and broken there.
- Place the broken flower pot pieces in front of the whale.
- After the mini-muffin cools, crumble it in your hand. Not too much–flower pot dirt tends to clump. In fact, if you overbake this piece just a bit, it will help the crumbling to be clumpier.
- Place the crumbled “dirt” in the broken pot.
- Scatter several of the finished petunias over the broken pot of dirt.
- Edge the bottom of the cake with more crushed waffle cones.
Now all that’s left is to serve the poor, confused, dead whale to your delighted guests. Enjoy!
By day, Ruth Suehle helps upstream open source software communities and tells people how to build fun things with a Raspberry Pi. By night, she fights crimes against craftiness. No, that's not true. She just makes things, which means her husband and kids know to watch out for stray pins and to ask before eating anything made of fondant. (Follow her on Twitter at @suehle.)