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How to make a fondant piano cake in 5 easy steps

My favourite teenager turned 15 and to celebrate her birthday, I decided to acknowledge another milestone in her life. My niece Mikaela learned to play the piano in the past year and to honour this accomplishment — and her birthday — I made a piano cake.

I’m happy to report that this cake came together easily and with no hiccups along the way. The fondant was smooth, and the decorations were easy to cut and draw.

Here’s how I made this fondant piano cake.

1. Bake, stack and ice cake

Bake a 9″ round, 3-layer cake. Fill and frost cooled cakes with buttercream icing.

Roll white fondant to at least 3/4″ and no thinner. Cover cake in white fondant, smooth fondant and trim excess.

2. Make your marks

Press a ruler's edge into your fondant to make clear indentations. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Press a ruler’s edge into your fondant to make clear indentations.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Use a ruler to gently push vertical indentations into the sides of the cake. Be sure not to push too hard or you’ll cut right through the fondant. Now do you understand why I recommended at least a  3/4″ layer of fondant?

3. Add piano keys; chill out

Black bars of fondant make great piano keys.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Black bars of fondant make great piano keys.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Attach black “keys”of fondant. Refrigerate cake, uncovered.

4. Make a fondant music sheet and folder

Roll a few paper-thin pieces of white fondant. Trim those pieces to music-folder and music-sheet shapes. Allow these pieces to air dry at room temperature overnight.

Cake-decorating tip: Place your fondant to dry on strategically placed drinking straws. This gives your music folder/sheets natural bends, waves and curls and keep them from looking flat.

When fondant is dry, use a fine-tip, food-colouring marker and a ruler to draw music staffs (five lines, four spaces). Draw musical symbols: bars, clefs, notes and other symbols I’m clueless about.

Food colouring markers make cake-decorating easy.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Food colouring markers make cake-decorating easy.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Cake-decorating tip: Use a “Happy Birthday” song sheet to help you draw this song onto your birthday cake decorations.

If you can draw circles and lines, you can draw this. Really. Forget perfection. They’ll get the gist.

5. Attach decorations and finishing touches

Top your cake with your music sheet decorations.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Top your cake with your music sheet decorations.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

I chose to keep the cake clean, with no border. This cake is the first I’ve been able to go borderless with. Most often, I need a border to conceal any imperfections. Luckily, this cake had few flaws to hide.

Fondant piano cake complete! Photo by Jennifer Melo

Fondant piano cake complete!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Want to see how this cake came together? Vine time!

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

 

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?

Masquerade birthday cake

Black diamonds add drama to this masquerade cake

Black diamonds add drama to this masquerade cake

While plans are underway to make my niece Aliya’s unicorn birthday cake, I thought I’d show you what I made for last year’s creation.

It was a masquerade-themed party so I was excited about the opportunity to get creative. I volunteered to make the cake and when I asked my sister Suzy about the colour scheme for the party, she said there’d be all sorts of colours so I was free to choose a colour palette at whim.

Masquerade parties are fun!

I got some inspiration from masquerade masks and opted for jewel tones. I bought some peacock and pheasant feathers at Walmart and the cheapest plastic mask I could use as a form at the dollar store.

I was super excited to go a little nuts with design but I wasn’t too happy with the fondant I used for this cake. It was a new brand (sorry, I can’t remember which one) and it wasn’t as stretchy as other fondants I’ve used. And see the cracks in the purple fondant? I probably should’ve kneaded it more before rolling it out because it looks too dry.

Making a fondant mask

I used a cat-eye mask template I found online to make the fondant mask. I cut the fondant to the shape of the template and to give it the dimension of a real mask, I lay it on the mask I bought at the dollar store, lined with plastic wrap to keep the fondant clean. Like so:

masquerade-cake-mask

I wanted the fondant to dry a bit so the mask would hold its shape but I’d later learn that was a bad idea and I should’ve wrapped it tightly with plastic wrap.

Because when fondant dries, it’s fragile and prone to cracks.

When I got to Suzy’s house, I was happy to see that she went all out with the decorations (so fun!) and my cake looked like it fit right in with party decor. See?

masquerade-cake1

I stacked the cakes and went to work on adding the finishing touches: the teal mask and the feathers. But when I picked up the fondant mask and tried to attach it to the cake, it cracked right in half along the nose bridge.

Luckily, I brought some extra fondant and put it to use by adding an extra piece of it to cover the crack and extend up, sticking the mask to the cake.

What do you think? Would you have known that middle nose piece wasn’t part of the original design if I hadn’t spilled the beans?

Alice in Wonderland topsy turvy cake

Topsy turvy cake, boxed and ready to go

Topsy turvy cake, boxed and ready to go

WARNING: Topsy turvy cakes are not for the faint of heart.

The visual trickery accomplished with a topsy turvy cake is impressive but the optical illusion can turn into a headache because the cake’s stability is compromised by carving and by its top-heavy design.

Venturing into topsy turvy cake territory

When tackling my first topsy turvy cake, I did a lot of research and read many accounts of collapsed, crumbled cakes. Apparently, these cakes are notorious for disasters.

Connie, a friend and super easygoing customer, requested a topsy turvy cake for a bridal shower, inspired by the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. To keep my cake layers soft and moist, I opted out of using a pound cake recipe in favour of a modified cake mix recipe and I’d later regret that choice.

Although the cake seemed structurally sound by the time it was stacked and picked up for delivery, it leaned overnight. Connie smartly improvised by using a teapot to support the cake’s weight and keep it from toppling over.

Unleashing creativity with cake decorations

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I had lots of fun creating the White Rabbit and Alice figures out of gum paste and fondant and I positioned the figures to look as if they were climbing into the cake. I used a grass tip to add some texture to the white rabbit’s tail.

Painting the roses red was a fun task too, simply achieved by mixing red food colouring gel with a bit of vodka and then applying it with a food-safe brush. The playing cards are made of gum paste and I used an edible-ink marker to draw on the clubs and numbers.

Edible gold shimmer dust helped bring the stopwatch to life and a large gum paste teapot tops the cake. I stenciled some designs onto the teapot to give it some flair and although the pot slouched a bit while drying, I think its imperfect appearance works well with the Mad Hatter theme. It’s a forgiving theme if ever there was one.

When fondant’s really an F-word

I faced major challenges with fondant while working on this cake. Because the larger cake was 6” tall with a 9” diameter, I needed a very large piece of fondant of at least 22” round. Kneading and then rolling a huge hunk of fondant proves difficult for me with my skinny twig arms. But it’s a terrific workout.

I started out using a silicone rolling pin but later found it was much easier to use a traditional wooden rolling pin that allows me put more of my weight into its handles, stretching the fondant more quickly.

But the fondant just wasn’t cooperating. I rolled a piece out six times before covering the top cake with it. First it was too dry. Then it was too soft and stuck to the counter. Then it was too thin and tore. Then it was too thick. You get the gist. Fondant wasn’t my friend that day.

So I used plenty of fondant decorations to cover up the cracks, rips and bumpy areas where I couldn’t work out the fondant’s pleats.

This project was another fine reminder that when cake-decorating problems happen, strategic placement of decorations works wonders.


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