Monday, 8 November 2010

A Birthday Bulldog

My man Grant loves dogs. He is particularly obsessed with fat and/or ugly ones (an obsession I suspect has its nexus in his parents breeding Shar Peis... and before anyone thinks the Sheean clan may be at all offended by my referring to the breed as either fat or ugly, "fat" and "ugly" are good things in Grant's book, at least when it comes to dogs!), and his very favourite fat and ugly dog is the bulldog.

Quite a while ago, Grant announced that he would like a cake shaped like a bulldog for his birthday, and me, being a bit of a baker, rose to the challenge.

As it turns out, though, I'm not much of a sculptor. I suppose anyone who ever sat through an art or pottery class with me would know exactly how indirect a relationship there is between what I see in my head and what actuates from my two hands in front of me, so I shouldn't really expect this to improve without a substantial amount of practice. I always stood by the fact that I can make things taste fantasic but damned if I can make them look presentable, which I was hoping to change by attending a cake decorating course, only, because I'm up at Koondrook for work, I can't go to the course. Boo.

So all there was for me to do with my exceptionally limited pool of talent was do as much research as possible, and then practice. The former wasn't at all easy. I had hoped that, somewhere in this wild and whacky web (that's what www stands for, isnt it?) of ours, that some other freakazoid would have attempted to create a three-dimensional bulldog cake.

After some light pseudo-stalking of people who had posted the same question on various baking message boards (by which I mean, I emailed them asking if they'd found any success) and finding zero success, I happened across a link from's Sunday Sweets (this part of the site features really, really awesome cakes, unlike the Wrecktacular ones featured from Monday through Saturday). Purely by chance, I scrolled through the gallery of a particular bakery whose cakes I really liked - Cakes To Remember, in Massechusetts - and found A BULLDOG CAKE!!!

My next step was to email the baker, Ellen Bartlett, and beg her for help. Ellen had the wonderful good grace and generosity to email me back almost immediately and give me basic instructions, which helped a great deal with the process, but which, at the end of the day, were never going to make me a better sculptor. But without her, any form of canine-like cake would never have happened.

This is what the cake was supposed to look like...

view cakes
(hello, puppy! So lifelike! So much expression in those buttercream jowels and brow! What a talented lady)

And this is what my practice attempt looked like...
( oh, my... what a nice, pixellated, car crash victim kind of doggie! (note to self - using buttercream coloured with cocoa isn't as easy as Ellen made it look)) 

And this is what the final product looked like...
 (Puppy has an oddly crazed look about him, but at least he looks like a dog now! Sort of...)

I can see it now - tears of laughter are streaming down your faces. But if that's what it takes for the next freakazoid whose boyfriend wants a bulldog cake for his birthday to find a little guidance, then so be it! I also happen to think it looks like another breed of dog - the name escapes me, but one of those smallish dogs - so at least it resembles a dog, if not the dog I wanted it to.

Thanks to Ellen's instructions, without which I would have been quite lost, this is how I arrived at a dog-shaped final product - two oblong tins, one round, and baked two cakes in each (I think she had more layers in her instructions and suspect this involved splitting the cakes and glueing them with MORE delicious buttercream, but I'm lazy). For each set of three differently-sized cakes, I used two cake mixes (industrial, mind you, not supermarket!), which means that there were four cake mixes used in total for this cake. I then glued them together with buttercream, including dowels and cardboard to support every second layer.
 (If I've learned one thing out of this, it's that I'd probably make a decent bricklayer - my grouting work was quite good!)

Froze it to make it easier to carve.
(make sure you've got room in your freezer before you even think about this step!)

Carved it.
 (This step results in much delicousness, and also made me realise that I should have made the cardboard supports much smaller than the actual layer to allow for sculpting. I had to do this retrospectively - once the cake was actually glued together - with a Stanley knife, and it almost ended badly!)

Put a crumb coat of buttercream on it, added two more layers of buttercream and decorated it.
(I'm not sure if he's laughing or wants to take a piece out of me... eeeeeeeeasy, boy...)

Oh and the ears are made of sugarpaste, which I shaped and then dried over a little rolled piece of paper towel covered in baking paper, then, once dried, smeared with buttercream.

Have I mentioned how much I love buttercream??

So there you have it. It's not really a bulldog, but Grant loved it, and I personally think I get bonus points for effort!

Is Nessie ever going to be a professional baker? Probably not. But I think I might give some of those kids' birthday cakes from the AWW birthday cake book that EVERYONE's mum has a whirl. They're a heck of a lot simpler, and come with patterns. How unlike me to want to run before I can walk.

But just think - if one practice attempt brought me from this level...
to this standard...

(*shudders slightly less violently*)

...then imagine what further practice could do!

PS - even though I loved playing, I quite the piano because I didn't like to practice... this doesn't bode well for my bulldog cakes, does it...