I want to share with you this cake I made for my son’s high school graduation. I was very pressed for time in getting it done, as well as preparing for the big party we threw for him, so this is not a high quality professional photo tutorial by any means.
It is more of an explanation of how I created the cake with a few craptastic photos that I took added in. This in no way represents the quality of tutorials I deliver in my online cake decorating school, LOL.
The method that I used would not apply to every letter of the alphabet, but hopefully you will be able to take away some techniques from this tutorial that you can apply to other cakes. So here we go!
(click to enlarge:)
The diagram above basically shows how the cake was constructed. The very bottom portion was Styrofoam cut from a 2 inch thick sheet cake dummy. Because the bottom of the letter has those cut angles on each side, I wanted to be sure that the base was strong enough to support the weight of the tall side of the J. I put a piece of regular cake cardboard on top of the Styrofoam for food safety reasons. Then I built the cake above that. This cake was about 17 inches tall, and after it was ganached and covered in modeling chocolate it was about 3 inches deep, (front to back). So it was basically a very tall and skinny cake. (caps and I would say it served 15 – 20).
I baked 2 inch high dense chocolate cakes in two pans: a 9 x 13 and a 12 x 18. I overfilled the pans so the cakes would bake over the top, so that when I leveled the cakes they would be as close to 2 inches tall as possible. I then cut pieces from those sheet cakes as I built the cake.
I used ¼ inch foam core to support the “tiers” of the cake. I did not want to go any higher than 6 inches of cake without internal support. I used bubble tea straws for support as indicated in the diagram above.
NOTE: I built the cake while it was actually lying flat on its back on a big board. Then I ganached it, partially covered it in modeling chocolate. And not until then did I stand it up, secure to the base board and finish it. You will see more of this process in the photos that follow.
I made a paper template in the actual size I wanted the finished cake to be. (photo above). I then used this as a guide to to make the foamcore ganache templates, and also used this as a guide to build the cake.
The photo above shows the section of Styrofoam cut out for the bottom of the cake. IMPORTANT: the size of this Styrofoam base is about a1/4 -1/2 inch smaller all the way around than the paper template itself.
The reason for that is that there has to be enough room around the cake, once built, to apply a thick layer of ganache. If you cut this Styrofoam piece exactly the same size as the template, and build the rest of the cake to the exact measurements of your paper template, you will have no room for ganache later when you use the cardboard templates.
Above you see two templates made from one quarter inch foam core. These were my ganache boards. These were covered in press and seal plastic wrap, and used as the guide for the bench scraper to ganache the cake after it was built.
This next portion I am going to explain, I do not have process photos of:
I built the cake lying flat on the bottom foamcore template. I had the entire thing lying on the larger foamcore board (that you see in the photo below). Once the cake was all “stacked” and built, I then put a layer of ganache on the entire top surface of the cake. While the ganache was still very soft, I put the top foamcore template (covered in press and seal) on it and pressed firmly down. I used a level while pressing down on the top template to get it as level as possible. I then left it alone for a while so the ganache would firm up. Then I took a larger foamcore board and put it on top of the entire cake and flipped the entire project over. I removed the previously bottom, but now on top, foamcore template. Repeated the process of applying a layer of ganache, putting the (press and seal covered) template board back on, pressing firmly and getting it level. I left that to set up until firm.
Then I ganached the sides of the cake and used the edges of the two templates on the top and bottom of the cake to guide my bench scraper, to give me the sharp outline of the letter. (We have instructional videos in our online school on making spreadable ganache, as well as using two template boards like this to create a perfect shell.)
I put a very thick layer of ganache on all sides of the cake, because I wanted it to be super stable once I stood it up. I wasn’t sure how the cake was going to react to standing up straight, so I went really heavy with the coating of ganache. (You can see here why it is important that the Styrofoam base and the entire cake once built, was smaller than the actual template boards. It left space for ganache to be applied around the outer perimeter of the cake.)
Remember that the top and bottom templates are covered in press and seal plastic wrap. The smooth sides of the plastic wrapped templates are against the ganache. Once the whole cake was covered in ganache, (as you see in the photo above), I left it overnight to totally set up. The next day, the templates popped right off and I repaired any divots in the surface of the ganache with some fresh ganache and let that set up totally before starting to cover the cake.
Next came the covering of the cake. I decided to use modeling chocolate so that I would have more workability time and be able to blend seams and such better than if I had used fondant. In retrospect, I’m not sure I would do that again. The modeling chocolate showed a lot of blemishes and was rather “delicate”. I wonder if I could have gotten a cleaner looking surface using fondant with tylose. (I realize that these photos do not show the imperfections in the surface of the cake, but there were many.)
Back to the covering of the cake: I first covered the sides of the letter. I rolled out strips of modeling chocolate and wrapped them around the sides of the cake. I did not cover the whole perimeter of the cake in one strip of modeling chocolate. I did it in sections and placed the seams in the inside corners of the letter as indicated in the photo above. Next, I covered the top surface with modeling chocolate, trimmed it, and blended the seems joining the side strips to the top piece with my finger.
Note: notice in the photo above that I did not cover the Styrofoam at the base of the cake. I did not want to stand the cake up onto modeling chocolate, because the weight of the cake would have caused it to squoosh out the bottom and not given a clean look.
Then it was time to stand the cake up. I slid the cake a bit so that the bottom edge of the Styrofoam was even with the bottom of the rectangular cardboard you see in the picture above. Then I put my hand under that cardboard and used that to stand the cake straight up onto the wood grain fondant covered baseboard. I put some melted white chocolate on the cake board where the bottom of the J would be standing on it.
Here is the back of the letter, right after the cake was stood up onto the board. Two wooden dowels were then driven through the cake and down into the baseboard as indicated above. I decided not to put a long wooden dowel down the tall side of the J because I was not traveling with this cake. If I were going to have to bring it to another venue, I would recommend doweling that side too. That being said, the cake was pretty stable once it was all assembled. I think the ginormous amount of ganache surrounding the cake made it very stable.
To cover the back of the cake: I rolled out modeling chocolate onto a piece of foam core, popped that into the freezer for about 10 min., then cut out the letter shape using my paper template. I popped that back into the freezer for another 7 min. or so to get it super firm. I used shortening, applied liberally, (as you can see in the photo above), as the glue to hold the back panel on. The back panel was very firm from being in the freezer, so I just stood it up and attached it to the back of the cake, being careful not to put too much pressure onto the precariously standing cake. I then used my fingers to smooth the seam where the back panel and the side strips of modeling chocolate met.
Here is a photo of the cake after it is standing up and doweled into the baseboard. The holes on the top of the cake created from the wooden dowels were plugged with little pieces of modeling chocolate and blended in as well as possible. (However, they were visible.)
NOTE: I wanted the front of the cake to have some dimension and have that “collegiate font” look. So I actually created another panel with red modeling chocolate in the shape of the J, but made it a bit smaller then the front of the cake. I applied that to the front of the cake, then I outlined that with black fondant using the semicircle disc of my clay gun.
NOTE: the woodgrain fondant board was made by putting fondant onto a cake drum. I scored it to create planks, used a wood grain impression mat, and painted it with airbrush color diluted with vodka. Once that was dry, I dusted it with brown petal dusts to give it more dimension. Glued a 5/8 inch black ribbon around the side of the board. (We have video tutorials on woodgrain boards as well in our online school. Shameless plug #2, LOL)
This photo shows the (broken) tassel laying on the board after we cut the cake. The tassel was made using a clay gun. I built it on an 18 gauge wire in the shape of an upside down L. That allowed me to insert the wire into the front of the cake, to give the illusion that the tassel was actually dangling in front of the cake. ( The wire was coated in white chocolate before being inserted into the cake.)
The bulldog was simply an edible image applied to a piece of fondant, and allowed to dry to create a plaque.
Now to cutting and serving:
The first piece was cut where indicated.
Then cut horizontally right along the top of the ¼ foamcore board that was holding up the top portion of the cake.
Continued to serve the top portion.
Then after the top foam core support board was removed, I just cut across to create pieces from the tall side of the cake. You can see the wooden dowel sticking out on the shorter side. All the cake has been served on that shorter side and right under that little bit of brown is the Styrofoam.
(I call this an action shot. I was moving so fast, the camera couldn’t keep up with me!) Terribly blurry picture, but you can see me removing a bubble tea straw as I came across it while serving.
Cake to ganache ratio is ridiculous. I did have emergency syringes of insulin on standby.
And in case that wasn’t enough sugar, I served it with whipped cream and caramel sauce 🙂 I had 911 on speed dial.
If you look close enough, you can see the patch on the top of the modeling chocolate where the other wooden dowel was inserted. They were visible and it did bug me LOL. The way to avoid that would have been to stand up the cake and dowel it to the baseboard before any modeling chocolate was applied. But I did not want to cover the entire cake with modeling chocolate in the standing position, so I chose the lesser of two evils. (But the patches still bugged me, LOL)
And so that is it! I hope that this gave you enough information to help you to try to create your own tall, skinny standing cake.
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Carmen Quinquilla says
Thanks for share your amazing work….excuse my ignorance, what is fomecore board?
Sharon Zambito says
Carmen here is a link to fomecore: http://www.dickblick.com/products/blick-foamboard/ 🙂
Marianna Pool says
Thanks for this great tutorial. As usual, your explanations are so crystal clear and “do-able” that you make me want to go out and try this cake TODAY! My credit card was hacked and I’m in the process of getting another one, but as soon as I do, I’ll be seeing you at the Sugar Art School.
thank you for the kind words and can’t wait to see you there!
Thank you so much for posting great details. I have a grandson whose name starts with J and will be graduating in 3 weeks and he likes the colors red and black for AZTEC RUGBY CLUB San Diego.
I am seriously thinking of trying this. I just finished a 6 layer stacked cake for his birthday a few weeks ago. I had a couple of ‘oopsies’ but it was okay with him and all the other teenagers who dived into it.
This will be fun. Thanks again.
have fun with it!
I have to say I happened on this page by chance, but,boy am I glad I did!! I’ve been racking my brain thinking of an epic cake to make for my partners birthday in a couple of months and now I definately want to try this.
I’ve got to admit I am a little scared as I want to spell out 5 letters, but I’m sure it’ll be fine (I hope).
As I’ll be transporting the cakes the night before to the actual venue, would you suggest I stand the cakes up there rather than prior to transportation?
Ooo I’m so excited, also can I just say how talented and amazing your cakes are!! =)
Thank you so much for the kind words! I guess you could stand up once you get there, but it might be, far to cover the whole cake while it’s laying down. 🙂
you could stand them up once u get there, sure. 🙂
How would you do the letter ‘X’? Is there a video tutorial offered?
no video, sorry. I think an x could be done with the part below the cross as styro 🙂
jessica Orengo says
This is so amazing!!! I had a question… How would I do a k and a n???
it might not work for all letters that have suspended parts. You would need to do those portions in all styro 🙂