As cake artists, we all have a cake bucket list. The cakes we want to make, because they are so cool, or mean something to us personally, or for many other reasons. That’s one reason why my first ever sculpted cake was a horse. I used to be one horse-crazy chick & was Miss Rodeo Georgia 1988! (Yes, I’m telling my age!)
So why are these cakes on a ‘cake bucket list’, instead of just making them? Lots of reasons—lack of time being number one. No, cake competitions shows aren’t ‘reality’ TV, & no we can’t magically throw together a cake in a few hours with all the stuff needed wondrously appearing in our kitchen, for free of course. We have tons of client cakes, are booked to the eyeballs every week, & need to pay the rent, payroll, ingredients, etc etc. It’s really hard to throw in a cake that takes several days to accomplish because of the opportunity cost of not using that time for paying customers instead.
Lack of funds is number two. Not only are they time-consuming to make, they are usually quite expensive. So we are stuck hoping that unicorn customer will come along with the vision that aligns with our own, willing & able to meet the budget needed to make it a reality. Almost any cake vision can be created, IF the budget is there to make it.
Lack of an occasion is number 3. Many, many of the amazing cakes you see on Pinterest are donated to a cause like Icing Smiles, or a fundraiser, or the artist created them for someone very special to them–usually their own children. The occasion has to match the bucket list item for it to work. Obviously, most clients pick the theme they want, so it’s not my choice. Even when I do Icing Smiles cakes, the child gets to request the cake THEY want, so again I’m crossing my fingers that it will be an opportunity to check one off the list.
But I found my unicorn!!!
I got a call from a fabulous couple getting married, & the groom has an awesome Fender Stratocaster guitar, autographed by tons of famous guitarists. He requested a replica of his personal guitar, minus the autographs. It’s a lovely ivory & white color scheme, with a natural wood neck.
He requested a dark chocolate cake with raspberry filling. That worked well because my chocolate cake is excellent for carving, along with tasting so rich & decadent. There are only certain types of cakes that carve well, so the cake itself is a big consideration.
Research, research, & MORE research!
When creating a cake that you want to look like the real thing, much research is required. Organic shapes like animals are easier than something VERY precise like this guitar, because cake is squishy & soft, & it doesn’t like to be precise at all! You have to bend it to your will & force it to behave. A square is MUCH harder to accomplish than a shape with soft lines.
With a sculpted cake, often the best thing you can have in your possession—other than the actual object—is literal blueprints, spec sheets, etc just as if you were going to build the real thing. You need all angles, measurements, how it looks from all sides, aerial views, side views, etc. I didn’t think it would be that hard to find online, but after hours and hours of searching, I came up with—squat. Nothing was really what I needed. *note: there may very well be info out there, but I’m good with sugar, not computers! And I couldn’t find it.
It Takes A Village, aka There is No “I” in Cake
So I figured what I needed was a real guitar. Since I am not close personal friends with Slash, or Neil Schon, or Eddie Van Halen, or pretty much anyone like that, I was out of luck. Fortunately, the Guitar Center is very close to my kitchen. So I headed over there with a big piece of posterboard in hand, hoping they would let me use one of their real guitars as a pattern.
I walked in and told the first gentleman I saw that I had a very strange request. He laughed & said that’s all they get every day is strange requests! So when I explained what I was doing, he thought it was super cool (& yes, it was even stranger than most requests!) & said I was welcome to check out their real Strats. So he called another fellow over who took me into the guitar room & pulled down a real Strat very close to the one I was making. I got down on the floor, laid it down on the posterboard, & tried to trace it the best I could. They aren’t flat. So tracing it was basically trying to get the outline to work with most of it not actually touching the paper. I took tons of pics from every angle to get the details of the screws, frets, bridge, & all the other little pieces of which I have NO idea of the technical names.
The actual cake part turned out great. I had no trouble creating a template & carving it exactly to scale, just from my tracing from the real guitar. The neck was where I ran into trouble. It’s impossible to trace the neck exactly, & it had to be EXACTLY precise or the strings & all that would be wonky. I worked & worked on it, until my brain was ready to explode. All the searching in the world didn’t give me what I needed. And I hadn’t thought to take all those tiny little measurements I needed when I traced it. Doh!
So back to the Guitar Center I went. This time I met a wonderful fellow named Adeel Rajwani, who really went out of his way to help me! I told him my frustration with the neck, & he said ‘oh I can help you with that’. And he pulled up some blueprints on his phone that saved my life on the actual body of the guitar, & texted me a screenshot. As far as the neck went, even though there weren’t really blueprints, he actually knew how to build them, & explained the measurements, & angles, & how to look for the cues to placement of all the tiny accessory pieces. This time I was smart enough to bring a tape measure & ruler. He got down on the floor with me & helped me get pics with the tape measure & ruler.
So then I had to get the blueprint printed out from a screenshot to exactly the right size on the specs. I needed some other supplies at Office Depot, so I went over there. While checking out, I looked over at their print department & saw a wide format printer….hmmmmmmm…maybe they could help? I hadn’t had much luck in other stores, but I thought I would ask. There happened to be an angel on duty named Michaela. She took my screen shot from my phone & sized it to THE EXACT MILLIMETER that I needed! (You know how you think what I do with cakes is magic? Well, that’s how I feel about computers & software. I have zero clue. I’m doing great to even manage to write this blog. Wizardry, I tell you!) She also helped me on the spot with ANOTHER groom’s cake I was working on. So big, huge shout out to Michaela!
Now armed with all my great info, I created the neck as a completely separate piece. Since the finished guitar was going to be 39 inches long, I couldn’t fit it in my ‘fondant’ refrigerator. The big walk-in at the kitchen is waaaayyyy too humid for fondant cakes. It will turn the fondant to sticky goo. So I wanted to piece it together at the last possible minute for transport purposes, to keep the cake part as cold as possible.
I cut the neck out of foam board, & had to keep in mind that the fondant would add bulk & size to it, so I had to figure out how to make it the right size so when the fondant was added that it would conform to the exact measurements I needed. It took a couple of tries, and a little cussing (OK, OK, a LOT!) , but finally I nailed it! It fit perfectly onto the body & into the face plate. I hand-painted the fondant to be as close to the wood on the real guitar as possible, using a combination of airbrush food colors. It had to dry for at least a day to even touch it again. It’s JUUUUUUUSSSST a bit humid here in Texas.
We started making the tiny little detail pieces several days in advance. I worked on part of them, & my awesome Cake Minion Aarti did the rest. She has tremendous modeling skills & is excellent with tiny little fiddly pieces that my big ‘man-hands’ don’t fare well with. My favorite parts are the tuning & volume knobs. Those were made from white chocolate covered mini Reeses’ cups! Ha! They are perfect! And when I told the groom that’s what they were, he claimed that piece as his very own! (The way to men’s hearts at a wedding is Reeses. Trust me!) I used edible images I printed from the pictures I took at the Guitar Center & set them on those for the numbers & placed them on top for the ‘Tune’ & ‘Volume’ words. And since I used white chocolate to make the face plate on the guitar, they matched perfectly!
My other Cake Minions Desere & Stephanie helped me finish it out, because it took two sets of hands to hold it in place & set the supports, strings, etc. The whole guitar had to be completely assembled & decorated before we could attach the strings, because they went on top of everything else!
I used stretchy jewelry cord for the strings. I tied them to toothpicks & set them down into the bridge. No, they aren’t edible, but the effect is perfect & they are relatively non-stressful to attach. And easy to remove so no danger of someone eating a string. Who would eat them anyway? We then pulled them up to the pins, which were silver push pins! Perfect! And strong enough to hold the tension of the strings.
The neck was attached to the body with some melted white chocolate, so it would just pop off easily when the cake was served. The head was supported with a small wooden dowel hot glued in place on the back & the board.
The greatest satisfaction we get as cake artists is for our clients to be absolutely blown away by the cake when we deliver it. Exceeding expectations is our ultimate goal! This wedding was a lovely affair in the back yard of the couple’s home, which is a gorgeous oasis complete with pool & pool house. The groom was standing in the yard when I walked in & his reaction was priceless! He hollered “#$%^&*!!!! Let’s plug that thing up and play it! It looks REAL!!!” He was so happy!
And so was I! Take THAT bucket list!
Overall, not counting research, I estimate there are 25-30 hours in the cake itself. Plus all the research hours. Fortunately, if I ever get to do another one, at least the research part is done! Whew! But there’s really no shortcuts on the creation of a cake. You have to ‘Just Do It’, for DAYS!!!