As I do every year for all of my nephews (on my husband's side, since my sister takes care of it for her own children), I agreed to make a cake for my nephew's three-year birthday party. Being a huge fan of cars and trucks of all sorts, (and of Disney's movie Cars), but most especially of firetrucks, M of course chose to have a Red cake. For those of you who are unaware, Red is a character from Cars who also happens to be a firetruck. Unfortunately, Red also happens to be a lesser character in the movie, as he has no lines. He never actually speaks, only cries quite loudly several times, then drives quickly away to hide. While appropriate for M's personality that Red would be his favorite, Red is apparently not otherwise a popular character. When I went searching for ideas for a Red cake, I found none. That's right, absolutely NO Red cakes anywhere on the internet that I could find. There are TONS of Lightening McQueen and Mater cakes out there. I even found a few Sally and Doc cakes, and a few cakes with multiple characters present. But no red cakes. Which left me to design a cake completely from scratch, something that rarely/never happens.
So, instead I thought about Red's character, and what aspects of that I could use in my design. Red, being the only firetruck in a small town, lives at City Hall. He appears to be the caretaker there, and loves to take care of the flowers around the monument of the town's founder. There was a thought. Flowers. Maybe I could make his flowers and put them on the cake somehow. I stored that tidbit away for further thought. I also thought about adding the monument of Stanley on there somehow, and/or the City Hall building. There was also the part in the movie where Red was hosing off the tower of tires for Luigi. Hmmm, that's a possibility. I could make Red, with a stream of water coming out of his hose, and a tower of tires.
Of course then I came to my senses and realized that I was once again thinking way over my head, and decided avoiding frustration and tears would be the better route. Besides that, this cake was for a three-year-old child. Chances are he wouldn't care what the rest looked like, as long as Red was present. So, I went back to the flowers idea. I decided to make flower planters as Red had in the movie, and put them on the four corners of the cake, then have Red (made of color flow), in the middle. The problem was I couldn't remember what the planter boxes looked like. I therefore convinced Sweetpea that her movie of the day should be Cars, since we haven't watched it in such a long time, having the ulterior motive of observing details. After much debate, and a bit of a guilt trip on my part, she agreed.
Turns out, Red doesn't use planter boxes. Red's flowers are planted in tires. Silly me, I should have figured that. After all, exactly which one of the cars would construct a planter box, anyway? So I decided fondant tires would do the trick. I then set out to find a decent picture of Red to use for my color flow pattern. Apparently Red is not only unpopular for cakes, but for images, too. And that includes coloring book images. Maybe kids don't even like to color him, I don't know. But it took FOR-EV-ER (enter image from "The Sandlot") to find something decent to use for Red. Once I found it, it occurred to me how often I make these things complicated for me. Well, I guess maybe I'm a glutton for punishment.
I also decided to use smaller tires around the outside of the cake. At some point I had the "brilliant" epiphany to make them white walls. How I was going to do that never crossed my mind. Remind me again how I get myself into these things? Anyway, here is the final result:
The cake was triple chocolate fudge, the icing was chocolate buttercream, and the filling was chocolate whipped cream with chocolate chips. I used ground up graham crackers on the top to simulate the sand around Radiator Springs (my favorite part, flavor-wise!) The flowers and leaves were fondant, decorated with Food Writer markers, and I used thin floral wire to make them stand up in the planters. The dirt in the planters was crumbled up chocolate cake, made from the shavings from when I leveled the cakes. Unfortunately, Red had an immediate mishap upon removal from the wax paper. Well, four immediate mishaps. I made two of him, mirror images, so that the cake could be viewed from both the front and the back. When I took him off of the wax paper, all four of the items across the top of his cab broke off on one image or the other. Thankfully, when I put the two images together back to back, I was able to "glue" the pieces back together with icing long enough to stand him up on the cake and get through the "ceremonies". Though it's a good thing he did not have to travel further than the kitchen counter to the dining room table. I don't think he would have stood up.
Despite the mishaps, and while the icing did not smooth as well as I hoped for, it didn't turn out too bad. Of course, it helped to have a good friend visiting who apparently has making round things with holes in the center in her blood. (Her grandpa used to own Karmel Korn in my home town, and I hear he made fantastic doughnuts!) She was a brilliant tire-maker, and I may put her on full time! (Though I may not be able to afford her...) Thanks again, Kel! So, without further adieu, here is my learned list:
1. No matter the size of the color flow piece, it will always break at narrow points. Making extra pieces doesn't necessarily help this, as chances are the same narrow points will break on the extras. That's just how it is. Learn to deal with it.
2. Royal icing works wonders for "gluing" broken color flow pieces back together.
3. Broken color flow pieces glued together with royal icing do not tolerate vibration well. It's best if travel of such pieces is limited to short distances. From counter top to tabletop may be too far.
4. Fine tip Food Writer markers are not quite fine enough. They do not do well in drawing in color flow outlines that have been partially covered by "pillowed" fill-in color flow, since these areas are actually crevices in the piece. Instead of drawing in the outline, the marker catches on the edges of the "pillows" and results in double outlines.
5. In response to #4 above, it is best to remember the rule: if it looks acceptable, leave it alone (a.k.a. if it ain't broke, don't fix it!)
6. Fondant tires are best made by someone with doughnut-making experience/heritage.
7. If you do not possess said experience/heritage yourself, it is most helpful to have a friend that does. It's better to have a childhood friend that does. It's optimal to have a childhood friend that does and will work for coffee and/or chocolate and good conversation.
8. Fondant icing writers are helpful in the making of "white wall" tires. So is a decorator's brush - which is just a fanciful name for a paintbrush.
9. Two coats of fondant icing is necessary to accomplish true "white walls". One coat only results in white washed tires instead.
10. Fondant die cut tools work splendidly for cutting out teeny, tiny flowers. However, getting those teeny, tiny fondant flowers out of the die cut tools without destroying them is another issue altogether.
11. Very thin (24 gauge or thinner) floral wire works well not only for flower stems but for shaping leaves as well. As a safety issue, one should always inform those consuming the cake that such flower and leaf stems are not edible.
12. Fondant tires, due to their necessary thickness, are quite heavy. Such weight causes the tires to slide down the sides of the cake, rather than stick in the frosting as intended, requiring the cake decorator to invent a way to defy gravity.
13. Strategically placed toothpicks are most helpful in defying gravity. As with flower stems, those consuming the cake should be informed that such items are present in the cake.