Pretty Bakes Blog

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

Archive of ‘Green’ category

How to make a fondant owl cake


Photo by Jennifer Melo

I had a hoot making this owl cake for my niece Aliya. Tee hee! ūüôā Dare I say I’m getting the knack of working with fondant? This cake came together relatively quickly and easily.

Secrets to easy owl cake creation revealed!

This time, my secrets to success are fondant molds and an¬†owl toy. It can’t get much easier than that to pull this off, my friends. I mean, you could spend hours modelling an owl out of fondant and that’s incredibly cool if you’re so inclined. Or you can raid your niece’s toy box, grab her favourite Littlest Pet Shop owl, throughly clean it, stick on the cake and call it a day. Guess which option I chose?

Fondant mold, a newbie cake decorator’s best friend

To make pretty tree branches, leaves, cherry blossoms and birds, I used Wilton’s “Nature Designs” fondant and gum paste mold.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Just coat the cavities with vegetable shortening to prevent sticking, use a fondant smoother to press fondant into the mold, trim excess fondant and then bend the mold and call on your friend gravity to release your fondant shapes.

I managed to add another homemade touch, though. Yep, I got a little crafty by creating a personalized pennant topper for Aliya. More on that later.

It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

One mishap arose when I made this cake. Short on patience, I rushed the assembly part. I stacked three layers of cake and buttercream but I think those layers weren’t quite completely cooled. Under its own weight, the cake threatened to collapse and it bulged at the sides.

Oh no you di-in’t!

I quickly moved the cake to the refrigerator to help firm things up. That did the trick to prevent further distortion but I had to use a serrated knife to carefully trim some of the sides of the fragile cake for a smooth finish before applying the fondant.

Lesson learned: Cool cake layers completely before stacking them.

Owl cake: Mission complete

Without further ado, here’s my finished owl cake:


Photo by Jennifer Melo

Wanna know how I made Aliya’s bunting banner/pennant cake topper? Check out my next post, coming right up! (Er tomorrow, OK?)

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 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.


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.

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:


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?


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?

My third failed attempt to make macarons

I really hoped the third time I made macarons, I’d have learned from my mistakes and mastered the French dessert, no problem. Sadly, that was not the case.

I was close to getting it right this time, but cracking and cooking time were big bullies.

I used Martha Stewart’s Parisian Macarons recipe again. I figured that it’s better to stick to a familiar recipe and gain experience with it rather than trying a new one. Everything was going so well.

The egg whites were nice and foamy…

Foamy egg whites, beaten

Foamy egg whites. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The egg whites and sugar whipped to a stiff peak stage like this…

stiff peak meringue

Stiff peak stage. Stop here. Photo by Jennifer Melo

But then I doubted myself and thought I needed to keep beating the meringue so I think I took it past stiff-peak stage…

overbeaten meringue

Mixture is just starting to separate. Photo by Jennifer Melo

So I stopped here (uh oh! Did I go too far?) and then I folded in the dry ingredients until the batter mixed to a soft oatmeal consistency, like this…

Macaron batter consistency

Soft oatmeal consistency Photo by Jennifer Melo

When I piped shells, I thought I had achieved the right batter consistency. It was soft enough to lose any peaks and settle into an even circle after tapping the cookie sheet on the counter a few times.

piping green macarons

Piping green macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo

But the drying time took WAY longer than expected. The recipe suggested leaving the macarons out to dry for about 15 minutes. But after three hours on a humid summer day, my macarons were still wet and they didn’t pass the “touch test”.

The touch test is when you lightly touch the macaron — if the batter doesn’t stick to your finger, the macarons are dry and ready for the oven.

So I left them out to dry  overnight and baked them the next day. I lined one cookie sheet with parchment paper and the other with a silicone baking mat.

piped macarons on a baking mat

Dry macarons on a baking mat. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Dry macarons on parchment paper. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Dry macarons on parchment paper. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I saw better cooking results with the baking mat but those macarons cracked. The macarons on the parchment paper didn’t crack but they were overcooked, flat and footless.

The bottom of a macaron should have a ruffled edge, called “feet.”

The recipe calls for a baking time of 15 minutes. Because I piped the macarons a little larger this time, I experimented with cooking time, leaving the parchment-paper-lined sheet in the oven for 17 minutes and the baking-mat-lined sheet baked for exactly 15 minutes.

Cracked macarons with three intact macaroons

Cracked macarons with three survivors. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I got decent results with the 15 minute-cooking time but I think some shells were undercooked because they stuck to the mat.

17 minutes was a tad too long because the macarons on the parchment paper were slightly overcooked.

macaron baked on parchment paper vs. baking mat

Parchment paper (left) vs. baking mat (right). Photo by Jennifer Melo

But both were cooked through. See?

Macaron cooking time test

Macaron cooking time tested. Photo by Jennifer Melo

So once again, this batch of macarons was plagued with inconsistent results. There were a few good shells but the rest were cracked or flat and footless. Boo! Hiss.

Remember when I mentioned in my last post that this recipe instructs to leave your oven door ajar? Here’s how “ajar” my oven door was while baking and now I think it’s probably too wide open. The hinge on my oven door doesn’t stop short of this width on its own. ¬†A recipe reviewer mentioned using a mixing spoon to prop the door open just a crack. I hadn’t thought of that. But maybe that would’ve been just the trick I needed to keep the macarons from sticking to the baking mat.

Oven jar too ajar

Oven jar too ajar for this recipe? Photo by Jennifer Melo

I’m thinking of jumping back over to the original recipe I started my macaron-making adventures with. I seemed to be closer to achieving good results with it and now that I’ve gained experience and learned some lessons, I just might master macaron-making next time. Wishful thinking?

A Wiggles cake for Ella’s birthday party

Wiggles cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

When my precious niece Ella asked if I’d make a Wiggles cake for her birthday, I happily agreed. Then I secretly thought, How the hell am I going to make a Wiggles cake?

So I was beyond thrilled when my sister-in-law (a.k.a. Ella’s mom) pulled out a sugar transfer sheet to make easy work of this cake. Yes!

She ordered the design online and it was mailed to her. How civilized! So all I had to do was bake a large rectangular cake, whip up a few batches of buttercream, ice the cake and stick the transfer on top using fondant smoothers.

I used a cake comb to add texture to the sides of the cake and I piped a pearl border at the seams. Then I piped rosettes as a border on top, around the edges of the sugar transfer, and I added rainbow sprinkles for a finishing touch.

Combed cake close-up. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Combed cake close-up. Photo by Jennifer Melo

3 things I learned while making my Wiggles cake

1. Apply a thick layer of buttercream on the cake before combing it. I mean A LOT. I had to tell my inner perfectionist to get lost but I believe I would’ve achieved smoother results if I had applied a thicker layer of buttercream.

2. I need more practice piping pearl borders. See how some of the pearls have little peaks on ’em? They shouldn’t be there. Gotta work on timing the release of pressure on the piping bag and remember to hold the piping tip at a 45 degree angle. I made two attempts at piping a border around the sugar transfer after I was unhappy with the first attempt.

3. Add sprinkles when the buttercream is fresh. I waited too long, the buttercream crusted and the sprinkles bounced around and made a big mess.

The cake was delicious. I used Betty Crocker’s Super Moist rainbox bit cake mix and Wilton’s buttercream icing recipe.

Wanna see inside? Of course you do! Here’s a peek.

Inside a rainbow bit cake

Photo by Jennifer Melo

What do you think of my Wiggles cake?