I was so excited when a friend asked me to make a cake for her son’s birthday! After a quick planning session I decided that the only way to make Mushu stand out was to make a figurine. This was the first time that I had worked with sculpting rice crispies and fondant so I wasn’t too sure about how it would work out. I was pretty nervous that it wouldn’t turn out at all, in fact. Over all however, I would say that it turned out pretty good in the end.
As is my ongoing challenge with blogging I became so immersed in what I was doing it didn’t even occur to me to take pictures until I had finished completely. So I will try my best to describe how I accomplished the finished product. I hope that all of you who have interest in learning how to sculpt cakes give it a try. It is pretty easy actually, I did encounter a few of the kinds of mistakes made by beginners. I will point out how to avoid those mistakes and with those out-of-the-way you should have and excellent head start into rice crispy and fondant sculpting.
First things first I started off with store-bought pre-made rice crispies because I am terrible at making rice crispy squares. I find it funny that I am able to make most things well but when it comes to rice crispy squares they are barely edible when I make them. Ironically my rice crispy squares would have been far superior in this instance too! Store bought rice crispies never dry out. It’s a little creepy. I made the structure to this figure about three weeks before the party in hopes that he would harden like rock and stand strong for me. By week two it was pretty apparent that he was never going to dry out so I actually covered him in fondant in hopes that the fondant would harden and then he would stand strong; this did work (thank God!).
Let me begin here by saying that it is almost physically painful for me to follow instructions. I hate it! Even when I have the best of intentions and start out vowing to follow the instructions by the end I always have to commit some sort of rebellious act. This creates all sorts of problems for me in my life, that we won’t get into here, but I will say that it really comes out when I’m trying to do simple things like make rice crispies. When I make rice crispies I always add extra butter in hopes of the butter making the square softer and gooey. This always has the opposite effect and then I think ‘next time I’m just going to add more butter!’ until finally the last time I made them they were so rock hard I couldn’t cut them, well, not without hurting myself anyway. Then I realized ‘hey, butter must make these things extra hard’. The next time I have a rice crispy sculpture to make I plan to make “my” extra butter/extra crisp rice crispy squares and see what happens.
Then next step was to add fondant. I’m going to stop right here and say that I have NO experience with fondant. Absolutely read up on fondant from other sources before you tackle your first fondant project. What I do know is this: never let fondant dry out. If you are not directly working with it cover it with plastic or even better close it in a Ziploc bag. If it dries out at all you will get cracks and wrinkles in your finished product.
The second thing I found with fondant, because I bought white and colored it myself for any of the colors I used other than red and black ( bought those ones pre-colored), is that if it gets too gooey from adding color to it all you need to do is add the tiniest bit of vegetable shortening to it and it will pull right back to its original consistency. Shortening is a life saver white it comes to fondant. Shortening can also help smooth out the cracks on the finished product if you rub it in a little.
How do I “glue” fondant pieces together? This was the question that I was the most concerned about when I first started. What I did was took a little gin or vodka in a shot glass added to a little orange juice and drank that while I did a search for something to glue it together with…Just kidding. I actually used gin in a shot glass with a tiny paint brush and painted a little gin onto each surface that I wanted stuck together. You can use glucose syrup, sugar-water or even just plain water but I think that alcohol is best because it evaporates faster than anything else and that helps to avoid wet fondant.
For the yellow part of his belly I ran out of fondant so I did that part with gum paste instead. In the future I think I would do the entire figure in gum paste. Gum paste dries WAY harder than fondant and would definitely give added strength to a structure that is meant to stand. I actually had to “drill” into the dried gum paste with the tooth pick in order to get the tooth pick through to attach his arms and legs.
As for the cookies I ordered the edible images from Etsy. I didn’t actually taste one so I’m not sure how it was in it’s finished form, but for those of us who grew up Catholic the edible paper by its self kind of reminded me of the Eucharist wafers.
For the crickets I glued two jelly beans together with the same color royal icing. On a side note most bulk places have gloves available if you are going to be picking through the bins for individual colors and candies. I learned this the hard way. Just ask for a glove. This will save you from having to act all sneaky and possibly from the awkward conversation you will inevitably end up having with the bulk barn staff when the catch you pilfering the bin for purple jelly beans. If there are no gloves just put your hand inside a plastic bag. I held each cricket together for about a minute before propping it up to dry the rest of the way. I then used royal icing to add on all the little details. You will want to be sure that the royal icing doesn’t get too thin. I follow a rule of thumb that if it’s dripping out of the tip it’s too thin.
For the cookies I followed my cookie on a stick recipe which is a double recipe and was enough for the cookies on a stick and the cricket cages. I cut out round cookies and then pressed the pretzel sticks around the edges of the cookie to make an indent that the pretzel would fit into when it came to the building process. When I took the cookies out of the oven I re-indented all of the holes and made them just a little bit bigger to accommodate the candy coating as well.
I used a fondant circle cutting set to get the sizes on the circles for building the top of the cage. As I learned right when I first started experimenting with backing really small cookies: no matter the size of cookie it always bakes for the same amount of time. I found this really weird when I first realized it, but a tiny cookie also bakes for 8-10 mins with out over cooking.
When I used my candy melts I tried to mix yellow and orange together to create more of a “golden” color. Don’t do that. What I ended up with was more of a processed cheese spread color. When I think of gold and wealth, pretty much the last thing on my mind is processed cheese spread. I don’t care how good it tastes on celery! In the future I would just use plain yellow.
I simply melted the candy melts, and then dipped the cookies into them. Feel free to use the candy melts to glue the roof together at this time. I didn’t because I was worried about it being too heavy for building. It made no difference what so ever. Just make sure that when you are gluing the roof together that the holes you poked are facing down. One thing that I wish I had done here was find six pretzel sticks that were the same height for each cage. I didn’t think of it until my last two cages because I happened to pull out pretzel sticks that were really mis-matched this made it difficult to assemble them.
Glue the bottom sticks on first and them place the top onto them. It is really hard to line up the holes. Just try your best. It’s a little awkward putting the cages together. just do your best and remember that they’re just cookies. They don’t have to be perfect. I don’t think any one will care about their structural integrity just so long as they hold together long enough to be eaten. Lastly I dry painted gold dust all over them to give the golden sheen. I have found dry painting with dusts so much better than painting with gin.
There you have it. I hope you experiment with a few of these tricks on your own!