Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

Dora the Explorer cake with fondant and buttercream in 4 easy steps

When I usually set out to decorate a cake, I have a pretty good idea of the look I’m going for. But for my niece Ella’s Dora the Explorer cake I didn’t have a solid cake design in mind.

I knew I wanted a big Dora head on top of the cake but I was weighing my options right until the last second.

Fondant or buttercream?

Fondant and buttercream?

Mostly buttercream and just a fondant Dora?

Gah! I was indecisive and didn’t have a lot of time to ponder options. So I sort of winged it and set to work on a Dora the Explorer cake for my sweet Ella.

Step 1. Make Dora look like Dora

Character cakes can go horribly wrong and the big challenge for this cake is Dora. I knew that if I didn’t get her right, this cake would be a total flop. So it was parchment paper templates and the Internet to the rescue! I found this simple Dora the Explorer image at funnycoloring.com and it was the perfect size for my 13 x 9″ cake.

I simply traced a Dora face, hair and facial features and then I cut template pieces to assemble her face and hair.

Dora-the-Explorer-template

Tracing and cutting and assembling.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Once I had Dora looking decent and not deformed (I did it! Yay!), I relaxed and focused on the rest of the cake decorating.

Step 2. Ice the cake

I applied a thin crumb coat to the sides of the cake and then iced and smoothed the top with blue buttercream. I went easy on the icing to avoid having globs of buttercream oozing out between the fondant decorations.

Step 3. Decorate the sides

For the sides of the cake, I opted for wide stripes of green and pink fondant pieces.

Green fondant strips, marked for cutting.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Green fondant strips, marked for cutting.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

I simply rolled and cut 1-inch wide strips, and then I attached them to the sides of the cake by lightly brushing them with water and pushing them into place. I trimmed most pieces before I attached them but you could also line them up with the top edge of the cake and then run a pizza wheel along the bottom edge to trim the excess. Then I used a fondant smoother to smooth and gently press the pieces into place.

Steps 4. Add accents and finishing touches

I used my trusty leaf cutter set to cut large and small leaves and then I used a small spatula to press veiny indentations into the leaves for detail.

Fondant leaves Photo by Jennifer Melo

Fondant leaves
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Leafy cake corners. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Leafy cake corners.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Finally, I added a map and hand-wrote a happy birthday message for Ella using a black food colouring marker.

I'm the map. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I’m the map.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

For finishing touches, I randomly placed leaves around the cake until I was happy with the design. I had to restrain myself from getting too detailed.

I fought the urge to quickly make Backpack and add Dora’s torso; and tri-toned leaves for extra dimension would’ve been nice but before I knew it, I was out of time — and fondant — so I quit while I was ahead. Sometimes good enough is good enough, right?

Here’s a Vine clip that shows the cake coming together like magic…

Ella was super excited when she saw her birthday cake. With an enthusiastic: “YOU MADE MY CAKE? I LOVE IT!” every second I spent on this cake was very much worth it. Mission accomplished.

Dora the Explorer cake finished!  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Dora the Explorer cake finished!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

That’s it, that’s all. I hope you have a fun day filled with Dora-inspired adventures.

White fondant confirmation cake

Time flies when you’re having fun and it must’ve hit turbo speed while I was baking because my eldest niece Mikaela is now 14 years old and recently celebrated her confirmation. She’s grown from a lovely girl into a lovely young lady and I had the honour of serving as her sponsor. My heart swells with love and pride. But about the baking…

confirmation cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Sister makes it better

I had a fine scullery maid in my sister Nel, who helped by washing up, making it quick and easy to pull off this confirmation cake. Nel helped by cutting flowers, holding them in place when I needed extra hands to keep them securely fastened to the cake.

Stress less with store-bought stuff

I used a boxed cake mix and split the batter into three 8″ pans. That delivered the perfect height for each cake layer with no need for cutting or levelling. Yay! Rather than make fondant and buttercream from scratch I bought these ingredients from Bulk Barn.

One large tub of buttercream was enough to fill and ice the entire cake and it tasted good, too. Going the store-bought route freed up time for last-minute shopping in preparation for the confirmation. No need for a three-day cake-making project.

The order of things: time management

I baked the cake layers, allowed them to cool, wrapped them with plastic wrap and refrigerated them overnight. Next, I cut a strip of fondant and used a cake pan to shaped it to cake’s form. I’d use that ribbon to include a personalized message.

Tip: For a smooth finish, let fondant dry for at least eight hours before writing on it with a food-colouring marker.

The next morning, I iced and stacked the cake layers, applied a crumb coat and covered the cake with fondant. Then I cut fondant flowers using my daisy cookie cutters in three sizes, secured them to the cake in a swoosh-like pattern that wound its way across and over the cake. I aimed for an asymmetrical design with small blooms trailing off at either end of a large cluster of flowers.

Piping, beads and blooms

I squeezed a buttercream bead in the center of the large daisies and  applied a dragée (silver sugar pearl). Then I used my silicone fondant mold to make a pearl border and attached that with a light brushing of water. I wrote my message on the ribbon, taking care to not apply too much pressure and risk cracking the dry fondant.

fondant cross

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Using a cookie cutter, I made a fondant cross and piped a lattice-like pattern on it, finishing it with a piped pearl border.

Piping continues to challenge me so I practised on another cross cut-out before settling on the finished one and was quite pleased with how it turned out.

And ta-da! Before I knew it, this confirmation cake was complete by noon. Woohoo! :)

 

 

Pink and black fondant birthday cake

Ladies and gents, I’m pleased to present my niece Lauren’s birthday cake. She turned 10 and that’s a whole decade of loving sweetness packed into one special girl. I love her to pieces and was happy to receive an email from her about a month ago. In it, she asked if I’d make her cake — absolutely! She spelled out — and illustrated via a sketch — the design she wanted for her cake.

pink and black cake

Sketch by Lauren. Photo by Jennifer Melo

It’s a bling thing

She requested “bling” (her word. Not mine. I can’t make this stuff up). I couldn’t find a giant number 10 so I bought a 10-pack of silver candles and Lauren’s wish is sure to come true because she extinguished them all with one blow.

I bought the black cake boards and black fondant at Bulk Barn. And I made the pink fondant with my standby marshmallow fondant recipe. I rolled black and pink fondant, cut the fondant into 2 x 8″ strips, rolled each piece on its vertical axis to its halfway point and applied it to the cake. I wish I had taken a photo of that last step but I had to move quickly to keep the fondant from drying.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Don’t make marshmallow fondant with hard marshmallows

By the time the bottom layer was done, I ran out of pink fondant and I encountered a mishap when I made another batch of pink fondant. I don’t know what went wrong but I ended up with hard, plasticky fondant.

I blame hardened marshmallows. I thought they’d soften when melted and they did, but when they cooled, I was dealing with a bad situation. That fondant was so tough, I couldn’t knead it and roll it out so it ended up in the trash. And I almost — aaalmost — ended up in tears. Frustration + exhaustion = my tear-triggers.

Tomorrow’s another day

But I held it together, called it a night and went to bed, knowing it’s better to start fresh after a good night’s sleep. The next morning, I made another batch of fondant for the top tier and finished decorating it in time for the party. Everything started coming together nicely at the end. Yay!

Pink and black fondant cake with a rose topper

Photo by Jennifer Melo

The fondant pieces pile into a heap at the top of the cake so to cover the unsightly connecting points, I improvised by making and placing a fondant rose on top.

I also created the ribbon banner the night before, allowing it to dry overnight, and I wrote Lauren’s name on it with my trusty black food-colouring marker.

Bring on the bling!

Rhinestone ribbon

Photo by Jennifer Melo

To finish the cake and bring on the “bling”, I bought sparkly rhinestrone strips from the dollar store. I cut the rhinestone strips into rows of three and two, leaving their clear backing intact. Then I wrapped it around the bottom of each tier and set it in place with double-sided tape. I also bought a bunch of candy ring pops to dress the table and they were a hit with the kids.

Wanna see how I put this cake together? Check out my Vine clip and see it action.

And then there’s this clip too.

Tips for making this cake:

  • Cracked fondant sucks so aim for soft and malleable fondant (knead it well, add a few drops of water if needed, and use vegetable shortening to lock in the moisture. Resist using too much icing sugar or cornstarch to keep it from sticking to the counter.)
  • Roll the strips thinly. The thinner the strips, the easier they are to roll without cracking.
  • Cover the fondant strips with plastic wrap when not in use. Air dries fondant. Dry fondant cracks.

Are you getting a sense of what my biggest challenge was while decorating this cake? Did I mention that cracked fondant sucks?

By party time, no one noticed any cracks in the fondant, Lauren loved her cake and it got rave reviews. Phew! Er, um, ta daaa!

Pink and black fondant birthday cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

 

Pastel Easter sugar cookies, a new job and a pesky cold

In the past four months, I’ve been settling into my new role at Edelman as the community manager for their client, Kraft Canada. That means I get to further indulge my love affair with food, recipes and social media. Check out the Kraft what’s cooking Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean. Fun, exciting times!

But no matter what I bake, make and write, please know that all of my thoughts and opinions shared here at prettybakesblog.com are my own and not my employer’s or their clients’. Get it? Got it? Good.

Let’s chat Easter cookies, shall we?

Easter egg cookies

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Baking project

I wanted to make simple, pretty, customized cookies for my family this Easter and I really should’ve referred to my royal icing consistency problems post before starting this cookie-decorating project. But I was feeling rushed and sick, so, nope! I skipped the research and went straight to mixing, baking and decorating. Bad idea.

I didn’t take my own advice. I should’ve tested the royal icing’s consistency. Results?

My flooding consistency was too thick and my piping consistency was too thin. So I ended up with lumpy surfaces and only one or two smooth surfaces. Boo! Hiss. Some day I’ll learn. Regardless, something tells me I need lots more practice with royal icing.

Cutting corners = execution #fail

Instead of using a piping tip and bag, I used a zip-top bag with a tiny snip cut out of the corner. That worked well for outlining and it would’ve worked well for flooding if my icing had been thinner. But I found that the thin plastic didn’t shield the warmth from my hands enough so the icing melted too much. And that made things extra difficult for a piping-challenged girl like me to pipe borders and letters.

Easter egg cookie for Suzy

Photo by Jennifer Melo

 

A hurried, sick baker = doom

I must confess I was feeling rushed and quite sickly throughout this baking project. I’ve come down with a nasty cold so my heart wasn’t fully into it as my bed and the couch called out to me. I fought fatigue, sore throat and a runny nose, with enough hand-washing to leave my hands red, rough and raw. Way to kill my baking buzz, yucky germs! Pthttt :P

Did I also mention I was babysitting two adorable nieces and had a meeting with an accountant?

Me: Where did I put those tax receipts?

Bed: Wouldn’t you feel better if you just lay down for a while?

Couch: No, pick me! I’ve got the better TV-viewing angles.

Cookies: Decorate me! Decorate me!

Germs: Paaartay! *shimmy, shimmy, shimmy*

In hindsight, I think bit off more than I could chew this long weekend. But on the plus side, the cookies are sooooo delicious. They’re crumbly, buttery sweet goodness. So I’ll happily chew on that.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Want the recipe? I decided to try some kraftcanada.com recipes and am delighted to report easy and tasty results.

I made:

Easy-Mix Cookies – Basic Batter recipe, with a variation: I added 1 tsp of vanilla extract and mixed it in with the butter right from the start.

Royal Icing - I’d definitely try this recipe again. The icing was fluffy and light. Next time, I’ll test the consistency and I’ll be sure to sift the icing sugar.

Next week: I’ll be baking and decorating a 2-tiered fondant cake for my niece Lauren’s 10th birthday. Now if only this cold would bugger off. The party’s over, germs, so get lost.

Whether you’re keeping close to — or keeping away from — your couch this weekend, I hope you have a fabulous time. Have a wonderful Easter!

Hand-painted leopard print on a fondant cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

My eldest niece recently turned 14 and I wanted to give her a cake that was super cool, like her. I was thrilled to discover the joy of hand-painting a cake and now I think I’m hooked. I never developed much skill with a paintbrush since the days of kindergarten so I was surprised to find how easily I achieved a pretty design. Yay! And for this particular cake, painting was faster decorating technique than making fondant decorations. Double yay!

I really couldn’t have done this without this YouTube video How To Hand-Paint Leopard Print On a Cake. Subscribe to Laura’s channel and give her video a thumbs up if you, too, find it helpful and inspirational.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Here’s how to paint leopard print on fondant:

  • In separate shallow bowls, dilute black and brown food colouring with vodka. Nope, you won’t have a bunch of drunk kids at the party — the alcohol evaporates by the time the food colouring dries.
  • With a brush, paint a small brown oval onto your cake.
  • Use another brush to outline the brown spots with some black food colouring. I used the brush with the widest bristles in my Wilton brush set. You can paint all around the brown spot with an O shape. You can paint ¾ of the way around the brown spot to make a C shape. And you can paint two disconnected arches to form brackets/parentheses around the spot.
  • For an imperfectly perfect leopard print, mix up your spot sizes (small, medium, large) and use short, tapping/dabbing motions for fuzzy, ragged edges. Fill in sparse areas with black spots.

Can’t quite picture what I mean? Here’s a gif to show you the way.

painted-leopard-spot-gif

 

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I wrapped my gift box cake with a fondant ribbon and bow, added a fondant gift tag after writing my niece’s name on it with a black food-colouring pen and ta da! We’re done.

What do you think of my leopard-print cake?


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