Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy 65th Maria!

We were invited to a wonderful surprise 65th birthday party for a friend who is a big movie and theater buff, so I thought "why not make a cake that looks like a movie theater marquee?"  Here's how it turned out:

If I posted that correctly, it's a video and you can hit the play button on the left to watch the lights move...(and I'll be VERY proud of myself if it works!)  The film quality is a little rough, so here's a finished pic:
and now for the fun construction part.  This cake is a doozie, so I apologize in advance for the long post.  I made a cake with rope lighting about a year and a half ago for my husband's birthday (it's in my Flickr feed) so I'd done it once before AND I happened to already have rope lighting.  

As always, I started with a rough sketch (don't laugh):
as I constructed, I obviously strayed a little, ditched the doors, added embelishments, etc.

I had a couple of stock photos from the internet I used for reference:

and then I began.

The rope lighting you can purchase online in whatever color and whatever length you choose.  I did this because I wanted the lights to chase (vs regular rope lights you'd find in the hardware store, which are static). So mine came with a little device that allowed me to change the flashing setting (that's the little black box).  But you could use regular rope lighting if you don't have the time to wait for a delivery, or if you don't want the added expense.  I believe this piece cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $30.  I think this was the company I used

I also got a piece of pegboard and a handful of 4 inch bolts and nuts to create a "track" of sorts in the pegboard in order to run the lights into the shape I wanted:

Next, I knew I needed to create a hole in the pegboard in order to thread the rope light down to connect to the little black box, and ultimately the plug in the wall.  So, grab your keyhole saw...
and cut a hole just big enough for your rope light.  Cutting between the tiny pegboard holes is a pain, so the smaller your saw, the less unhappy you will be. 

The important thing to do once you've laid your track is to make sure you cover all of your bolts with Saran Wrap and tape.  You don't want any cake to touch the metal and add an unfortunate flavor, so wrap those bad boys up!

and cover your pegboard with cake board wrap, or whatever you normally use to cover a cake surface.  I know some people like to use wrapping paper, but I don't find that it's slippery enough to actually remove the cake, and sometimes a patterned wrapping paper can impart itself onto your cake.  So, I usually play it safe and buy a wrapped board, or wrap with cake foil.

It's a little ripped and wonky, but it's the best I could do with so many bolts in my way, and let's face it, it WILL be covered by the cake.  Which brings me to my next step, which is very scary. 

You have to GET the cake impailed onto the bolts.

There's really no good way to do this.  You hold your breath, flip the cake out of the pan quickly, jam it onto the bolts, and pat down anything that didn't quite make it.

It was at about this point that I realized that I didn't have enough cake and stopped to bake another one so I could add the cake at the top.  I realized I had nothing except marquee space and no room for building or embellishment above the marquee...oops.

 Then I covered the bottom layer with frosting.  I used the icing bag with no tip, so it was evenly applied and didn't require me dragging a spatula across the surface (especially where the cake was chewed up from positioning itself around the bolts).  Then the top layer of cake is impailed...and the frosting applied...and then I noticed my next big oops.  Can you spot it?

Far more room on the right side after the bolts than the left side.  My cake needed a haircut of a couple of inches.

My husband is a fan of these mistakes that generate random cake at least someone was happy at this point. :)

So, back to the project, all fixed and all frosted.
I  realized that I needed to build up a significantly taller section around the bolts in order to hide the rope lighting.  In retrospect, I probably should have added another layer of cake, but the best idea at the time seemed to be throwing another inch of frosting into that section!
I took to my handy Viva paper towel technique (in previous post) to smooth the frosting.

Then I used one of my impression mats to make the brick pattern of the building.  This is the same technique I used with Tony's birthday cake (see previous post of chocolate cake), so I learned from that attempt to SPRAY THE TEMPLATE first.  It worked pretty well.  I added some impression mats to my online store in case you decide you can't live without them: 
They're technically for making impressions on fondant, but I hate fondant and I got them to try for regular frosting applications and I think as long as you spray them with non-stick coating and use very light pressure, it does the trick well enough.

This is a little hard to see, but I just continued pressing in the mat until the pattern was all around the marquee space.  Then I hit it with some red food coloring with my handy dandy Kopycake sprayer!

Then I decided to let it dry.  I wanted to give the brick some more dimension and kick it with a little brown and even a red/black combo...but best to let the first coat dry.  In the meantime, I made some marquee letters.  Whip up a batch of royal icing (Wilton recipe works fine) and use a number 2 tip.  

You want to pipe out more letters than you actually need, and make sure you have a piece of waxed paper down on your surface first so you stand half a chance of getting them off when they dry.  I wanted royal icing letters because I thought it'd look more like an actual marquee where they have to manually change the letters for each new film.

So, it looks a little ridiculous, but it did the trick.  I could tell while I was piping some letter that they were a little flimsy in some spots (T's and I's were particularly tender) so I made as many extras as I thought I needed.  Then let those dry, I went with overnight, for good measure.  The party wasn't until the evening of the next day, so I had some time to get it worked out.

Here's the cake after I hit it again with some darker red and created some aged spots on the wall (also helps hide the areas where the impression mat might not have been lined up perfectly...not that any of those places existed ;) )  You can also see the I'd stuffed some Saran Wrap under the sides to protect my cake board while I was spraying.  I learned that the hard way too.  Sure, you can wipe off the color when your done, but it'll also wipe off the gold from your foil wrap!  So, Saran Wrap and do yourself a favor.

So next, it's time to get the lighting installed into the cake.  This is another moment where you kind of hold your breath and hope for the best.  The first problem to consider is what surface to use in order to make sure there's room UNDER your cake for the cord to hang down. I was fortunate enough to have 2 benches, so I put them side by side and let the cord dangle between them.

Remember that hole you sawed into the pegboard earlier, well, it's time to locate that on the underside of the board and thread your rope light though it.  Don't forget, you're still holding your breath, maybe even breaking a sweat.

and thread it through...until you have enough of it to thread through your track (sorry about the wonky camera angles, I'm right handed and was trying to take the picture with my left without dropping my rope light!).

The problem you're then left with is a major hole where you just pulled the rope light through.
But hey!  Remember that extra cake I cut off when I realized it was too big on one side?  
Well, I made a cake plug!
Worked like a charm. I suppose if I didn't have leftover cake, I would have just filled it with more frosting, but I was running very low on frosting after having underestimated how much I'd need to build up the marquee.  Speaking of which, time to hide some of the rope light in more frosting:
I wanted to cover up as many of the bolts as I could, and I wish the edges of the marquee were square instead of round, but alas, with rope light, you take the edge you can get, and there's no way it was getting any more angular than that.  So, I smoothed it out, and sprayed it black.  I added some embellishments on the corners to hide the fact that they were really really round, and then made another boo-boo. 

I sprayed the blobs on the corner (and the mdidle) with some dark gold.  I thought it'd make them look less yellow and more ornate.  I was wrong:
So, scrape it off and do-over...and then leave it alone and stop being a stress-case.  It's just a cake.

 Time to make sure your letters are dry.  I have the best luck removing them from waxed paper with my frosting spatula.  Very slowly...very carefully. 

 And then apply with some tweezers (buy some new tweezers, please don't use the ones from your bathroom.  Do I need to post a link to cheap tweezers? Because I will if I have to...)
Obviously, I went back in and added a little blue and some dots (and you can see the clean yellow blobs that are no longer trying to look like metal are fine).
And finally, call ahead to make sure there's a space at the party for the cord to dangle through the table!  If you've got a table leaf, you're in business.  We used a saw horse-type bench since it also has a nice wide opening in the middle.  It's wonderful what kind of stuff you can hide with a table cloth.  Anyway, it was a success, no cake tasted like metal, nobody was injured by electrified cake, and best of all, the birthday girl was surprised and happy!  We love you, Maria!  Happy Birthday!