We love big cakes & we cannot lie! OK, Sir Mix-a-lot … I’m not, but we definitely Bake-a-lot, so it works… haha.
When making literally the biggest cake in our history, there were a few glitches along the way! They say to measure twice & cut once. Well, you can measure 50 times but if you don’t measure correctly, you’re still all messed up! But it wasn’t the cake that we didn’t measure correctly! Stay tuned for the drama that ensued.
Our wonderful client is heavily involved with a children’s charity & has dinner with the children from the home almost every week, & it just so happened that his 25th wedding anniversary fell on the same night as their traditional dinner, so he wanted to include the children in their celebration. He contacted us wanting the Cinderella Castle from Disney, which even in a ‘normal-sized’ cake is a CRAZY amount of work and detail. But he wanted a HUGE showstopper cake, as big as we could make it.
How to Engineer a Huge Cake
First, we had to determine how big we COULD make it & still get it out of the bakery. So our first step was to measure the doors, which were 35 inches. Therefore we felt we could size the board at 34 inches wide and still have room to squeeze it through. Then, we had the huge issue of how to refrigerate it, since this cake would literally take several days of work to create. Yes, DAYS.
I called the restaurant where the event was being held, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on 6th St, and we discussed the table it would be displayed on, because we wanted to be sure it was big enough! I told them the dimensions, and they said it would be easiest to bring it through the front door, as coming through their service entrance would be a long carry through a lot of twists and turns in the kitchen area. So we arranged to deliver in the front and they would have the tables ready for us.
We do not have a walk-in refrigerator, so cooling the entire cake wasn’t an option. Fortunately, the client only needed about 40 servings, meaning just a tiny portion of the entire cake needed to be real cake. If the whole thing was actual cake, on this scale, it would be well over 500 servings of cake, maybe more. That would be wasteful, costly, and unnecessary. After discussing it, the client and I agreed that just doing the top tier of real cake and the rest of it as dummy covered in all edible materials would be the best solution.
By doing most of the cake dummy, we’d be able to just leave it out in the bakery and work on it over several days. Then we could have the real cake ready to place as late in the process as possible, and add all the towers and details to it in the last phases of construction.
Blueprints Are An Artist’s Best Friend
The first step was to determine how big the cake could be to fit on the board, and to have the right proportions of the height and dimensions of all the towers and roofs. For any cake that needs to be as realistic of an object as possible, finding the most detailed specifications is essential. Fortunately for a building, it’s often possible to find detailed blueprints. We found the castle we wanted to emulate, and printed off the footprint and the elevations from all 4 sides. Then I headed to the office store to have them help me scale them up and print them out on their wide format printer–the same one used for architectural blueprints.
We had determined that if the top tier of the cake that was going to be real cake was 12 inches square, that would give us the best dimensions to create the biggest cake possible within our parameters. Basing the proportions off that, the footprint was fairly easy to size. The elevations, however, were not from the same source, so those had to be played with a bit to get them to match up. A big consideration was making sure the cake would not be too tall to fit in CC, our refrigerated van. Our vertical limit was 43 inches, and we wanted to have everything in place as much as possible, versus finishing a lot of the buildout on site.
What are the best building materials?
Just like with building anything, we had to determine what were the best materials to use to build the structure and finish out the walls, towers, and details. Since the entire bottom was going to be a dummy structure, the trick was figuring out how to make the walls follow the pattern exactly, and for it not to be too heavy or unwieldy.
Thank goodness my awesome manager and lead artist, Johanna (Jo), knew exactly what to do. She said it would basically be a big arts and crafts project, built out of cardboard, covered with sugar. And we knew we’d need big tubes for the towers, so I unwrapped all my Christmas wrapping paper at home and brought all the tubes I could find. Haha, but it still wasn’t enough. PVC pipe was great, and we also just made some of the lower towers out of cardboard ourselves, sized to what we needed, as they were much larger than most tubes.
We decided the best thing to use for the outside of the cake was a mixture of modeling chocolate and fondant. Since we needed a brick pattern on most of the walls, modeling chocolate holds the best impression, plus it doesn’t stretch like fondant, so is much easier to place large pieces without distortion. Another benefit of the modeling chocolate is that it’s very solid at room temp, and would provide additional structural support and stability. A mixture of the two provided the perfect consistency for what we needed.
Once the board was cut to its measurements of 50 x 34 inches, we traced the floor blueprint onto it as a guide. Jo started measuring, cutting, and piecing together the lower castle walls, securing them to the board with lots of hot glue. I started making the pounds and pounds of modeling chocolate we would need, and Viktoriia (Vika) started her magic on making incredible, tiny details.
Once the walls were built, we began covering them with the sugar mixture. We would roll out big thick pieces, then imprint them with the brick pattern. Each piece was cut and placed on the walls, section by section, and then the seams were blended together and the brick pattern hand tooled in so it all matched up.
We had a HUGE open area inside the walls that needed to be filled with something that would take up all that space and be plenty strong enough to stack the real cake on top and support it. My first thought was to fill it with styrofoam, but I didn’t have near enough and was about to go buy a bunch. Then Jo realized our big fondant buckets might work, and it was amazing. They were the perfect height, are super strong, lightweight, and fit perfectly, leaving just the central portion that needed to be filled with foam. Problem solved! Glad we keep the empty ones around to recycle or use for storage!
Details, details, and more details
Now the long, tedious part started. Making all the pieces and details that really make all the difference in the final product. Vika worked on the front door, towers, and rooflines. Jo built the additional pieces that were going to wrap the real cake on the second level once it was in place, and created an amazing amount of detail on the sides and back of the castle. We weren’t sure if it would be displayed against a wall or if the back would show, and the client stressed he wanted lots of details, so we wanted to be sure it looked great on all sides!
There are SO many towers! Making the tops of the turrets proved very challenging, and each one had to have every tile hand cut into it, as there was no impression mat that would work.
Adding the Real Cake
The real cake only needed to be about 40 servings, but to be in scale, ended up being about 140 servings! We needed it to be 12 x 12 inches and 10 inches tall. It was two cakes of the same size stacked together, which is called a ‘double barrel’ cake. It was huge and heavy! Our client requested a mix of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors, so we baked all 3 and assembled it in a Neapolitan manner, with one of each flavor in each cake, filled with our delicious Vanilla Ice Ice Baby buttercream, and coated on the exterior with a thick coat of chocolate ganache. The ganache was also a strategic move, as it’s very solid at room temperature, so would provide sturdy support for the cake while we worked on it, and the modeling chocolate panels would add even more strength.
Once the cake was stacked and iced with the ganache, and its sharp corners established, it got its walls of brick, with a recess carved in for the huge main tower. One thing about making buildings is they have to have exact measurements and sharp corners, and cake is squishy! It doesn’t like to be in right angles and sharp corners. There is no room for error. With an organic subject, like an animal or purse, a slight irregularity adds to the character and realism. With a building, it’s a glaring mistake.
With the real cake in place, it was time for all the finishing touches!
Towers, towers, and more towers!
Oh my goodness, so many little pieces and parts. I am condensing this part way down. The 3 of us worked all day every day for 4 whole days, plus part time over the weekend. Although we had another big event on the Sunday before this was due, so that did take some of our time. But other than that, this was our main focus for 6 whole days. I even took some supplies home and worked later into the night making trees and working on other parts of the project. There are really no shortcuts. You just have to do the work, and work as fast as you can, but it’s going to take as long as it takes. Quality is more important.
This was a very short notice order, giving us only had a week and a half to prepare. We would have loved to have more time so we could have made more ahead of time, and added even more detail.
Now the craziness starts
Time was getting short. We were working furiously, but the clock was working against us. Getting all the towers & their details in place took forever, and much longer than we hoped. That’s the way it works in cake. It almost ALWAYS takes way longer than you think it will. Finally, the towers were on and we were cutting it close. We only had a few minutes before we needed to leave for delivery, so we got the landscaping in place as fast as possible. But we got it all done, and were ready to go, right on time!
Here you can really see the size of the cake. Jo is 6’2″, for scale.
A little while before we finished, our friend Matt who works at the plumbing shop down the road came in to work on our sink where we were having issues with one of the drains. He was amazed at the cake, and was hanging out watching us finish. He asked how we were going to move it, and volunteered to help, yay!
Remember, we had measured our doors. The back door of the kitchen is 35 inches wide and leads out into our storage area which has a large rollup garage door, so no problem there. The 4 of us pick up the cake and head out to the waiting van (And of COURSE it’s raining. It has rained nonstop since October, so why stop now?)
As we start to go through the door, the board hits the door frame. What? Ugh! So at first we think it’s just slightly too wide, so I popped off the piece of the door frame that stuck out the most. We tried again. Nope. It was hitting the door on the other side, and was quite a bit too big. Then it hit me.
When I measured the doors to our bakery & sized the cake board to where we thought it would just fit through in a tight squeeze, I measured with the door closed. I TOTALLY failed to take into account that our swinging door kind of kicks back into the door space & considerably narrows it down by a good 2 or 3 inches! Oops!!! We literally couldn’t get it out the door!
Now we know to measure with the door OPEN! Ugh, yes probably should have known that already, but hey, we are cake artists, not building contractors. Lesson learned for the future!
It was miraculous that Matt was there … with his extensive tool box. We had to take that door down, & it had weird bolts of all sizes holding it on. We have some tools, but nothing like that. Fortunately, Matt had all the sizes of wrenches needed to get the bolts out, so after a brief struggle, the door was out of the way. Once it was, the board fit through exactly like we thought it would, and we loaded it in the van with no problem.
It Gets Crazier
Traffic was terrible, especially with the rain, but we finally made it to Ruth’s Chris restaurant safely. We pull up to the front and get out to scout out the situation. There are glass doors all the way across the front, so we thought we’d be in good shape, until we realized the horrible truth.
The glass doors were historical doors. They were 4 individual doors, and quite narrow, NOT big swinging double doors like we thought they were. No way it was coming in the front doors.
The event coordinator showed us where to go around to the service entrance and we scoped it out. We would have to go through the kitchen area; it was wide enough. There were two swinging doors out to the dining area, where we would have to go through to get to the private room. We were worried about those and sure enough, when we got the cake to the doors, it wouldn’t fit.
Now we were really worried. The coordinator was so nice and apologetic. I had told her how big the cake board was, but she thought the doors would be wide enough, and honestly just didn’t realize exactly how big I was talking about. We set the cake partially on a counter and tried to figure out what to do. Then one of the servers pointed at their other door and said “Look! The bottom of the door is wider than the top. Can you lower it down and come through the bottom of the door?” Sure, let’s try it. Their wonderful staff had already jumped in to help and the rest were gathering around watching, and having to wait since a giant cake was blocking their doorway!
Even at the bottom of the door, it still wouldn’t go through. At this point, we were about to despair. Suddenly, one of the servers helping us pointed at the bottom of the door hinge and showed us that it was about an inch off the ground. Our cake board was about 3/4 of an inch thick, including the feet it was sitting on. Our only hope was to slide it UNDER that hinge!
We started sliding it under, and it worked! Until, we realized the back of the castle was going to hit the door and possibly rip off some of the details. But the castle was set way back on the board to make room for the front driveway and landscaping, so it could definitely go through on the front side. We backed it up and carefully spun it around in the small vestibule. This time, it slowly slid through. Jo was pulling it from the front; our wonderful helper from Ruth’s Chris was pushing from the back; I was down in a frog-like squat helping scoot it from the side; and several servers were also helping us slide it through.
When the back of the cake cleared the door, the servers and the patrons who could see the spectacle erupted into cheers! Now we could pick it up and take it to its table! Yayyy!!!
All is well that ends well
The client was happy and the children lost their MINDS when they saw it! They were so happy and thrilled to see the huge castle cake there. The biggest challenge was keeping them from tearing it apart immediately! Haha! I’m sure they devoured it later.
Here is a video that really shows all the intricate details!
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