Good Character-istics

27 Jul

*Note: Character pans can be purchased at *

Character cakes: love them or hate them? I used to think they were just for amateurs- you know, people who couldn’t think beyond the star tip. Then I got an order for one. Ugh. What to do? Since the client told me to “be creative, have fun” I decided to do just that and perhaps conquer my dislike once and for all. Since I had a prejudice against them, I thought y’all might have the same issue and would like to know how to move past your old ways and thoughts and move on to the new.

 To start, bake your cake as usual.

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Get it flipped out of the pan and cooled. Make sure all the pieces-parts are intact.

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Now, for the first special step that will make this cake go from “Ugh” to “Cool!”- torte the cake as shown in the previous post.

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Dam it, fill it, stack it. Take a break.

Go ahead and use a specialty filling instead of “Yawn” buttercream. This one is a banana cake with Twinkie filling. Yum!

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This step is something I missed the first time I made a character cake: crumb coat the cake. I know, I know- you’re afraid you won’t be able to see the cake and won’t know what to put where. Trust me, it will be okay. In a lil bit this won’t look like this anymore. Make sure you use a crusting buttercream recipe for this part because you’re gonna need it. See? Even before smoothing, you can still see some of the design. Not to worry, soon “all shall be revealed.” This step is important for several reasons and 2 in particular: crumb coating seals in the moisture. No more dry cake, thank you very much. The other reason is that if you simply go to town with the star tip without a crumb coat; not only will the cake be dry, this dryness will cause all those hard squeezed stars to dry out faster and fall off the cake. The horror! Carpal tunnel for nothing!

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Once the buttercream is crusted, use your favorite method and smooth the crumb coat. The Viva method is particularly useful here along with a small palette knife (the one with the pointed end, not rounded). Character cakes tend to have tiny corners that can be difficult to get into to get everything purty and the small palette knife helps a lot. Okay, so smooth, smooth, smooth. Pay attention to all the areas- where there’s too much, where’s there’s too little, and where all the little details are that you need to see are hiding. How’s that? Better? Not worried anymore, right? Mwah! Perfecto!

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Now that your mind is at ease about the crumb coat (told you so, told you so!), we can move on to the star tip-almost. First, we’re gonna need a map. Yes, even the cake dudes among us shall need a map. Why come this far and wing it? I decorated this cake differently than the instructions that came with pan called for, so I scanned the black and white picture included in the instructions, saved it on my computer, opened the picture, enlarged it, and printed several copies. Steal the crayons from the kids. (They’ll get over it. It’s not like you’re keeping them forever.) Color away. Color as many copies as you like until you are satisfied with your war plan. Yes, I know my map has another cake. Don’t worry about it. It’s got nothin’ to do with this here tutorial. I over-caked for the event. Yes, I regret it. No, I probably didn’t learn my lesson. No, I did not charge the client for my over-caking zeal. Yes, the extra cake can be frozen. Again, don’t worry about it.

 Got your map ready? Give the kiddos back the crayons so they’ll calm down, for goodness sakes, and let’s go back into the kitchen.

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Armed with your map (you did bring that along, didn’t you?), color all the frosting you’ll need. I suggest you use a recipe that’s not uber-crusting for this part, like I did. Really hard crusting frosting will crack on you- especially on the outline. Somewhat crusting is fine, hard crusting is not. Get several piping bags and star tips-plus one round tip, set up and ready to go. Fill ‘em up! One more thing before we tempt fate and carpal tunnel- is your board sturdy enough? Remember, this is not your usual ho-hum character cake. Pick it up and feel the weight. This sucker is heavy. Double, triple, quadruple board, or break out the plywood if necessary- just be sure your board is heavy enough to take the weight and won’t let the cake flex. Don’t forget to cover your board with pretty paper if it’s going to show. If your cake is going to be stacked on another cake, cover both sides of the board with plastic wrap, Press n Seal, or freezer paper so the grease from the frosting won’t weaken the board. Okay, you got all that? Are you ready to star tip ‘til you go mad? Let ‘er rip!

 Wait! Notice how I didn’t star tip the sides? You can do that if you like. However, to really set off the top of the cake and make it look almost like you carved it and didn’t use a character pan, leave the sides alone. No star tippy, por favor. It looks a bit funky at this point, doesn’t it? Have I taught you nothing? Do you still mistrust me? Harrumph! Read on, you doubters, you!

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Better? Happy now? Once the stars are on, outline the cake in a contrasting color so the details really pop. That’s where the round tip comes into play. I wish I had done a better job on the box, but in my defense, the box really stinks on this pan. A 3D box was a big mistake. Sorry, Wilton, but I stand by my opinion. I wanted to write a message on the box, but the client preferred dots to match the invites, so that’s what I did. We all live and learn, I guess. I still have a little finish work to do at this point, but I’m sure you get the idea. I’m lovin’ the Lion ‘Fro on this cutey, though! Raaawwwrrr!

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The finished product- complete with a bottom border. Even if you aren’t putting your cake on top of another cake, it needs a border. This one was done with a large basket weave tip with the toothed side pointed towards the cake so that the frosting is smooth on the border when piped. I piped, stopped, pushed, piped, stopped, pushed over and over and over again to get the ribboning effect. It’s really easy to do and it gives the eye a break from all those stars. Again, at this point, I still had a bit of straightening to do on the bottom décor, but it’s pretty much finished. What do you think? Not too shabby, huh? Not your run of the mill character cake even ol’ Aunt Tilly can make, is it? It’s character caking brought into the 21st century. Spectacular, if I do say do myself!

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For those of you who think this is a whole lotta trouble for one lil cake, here’s a side-by-side comparison. I apologize for the poor picture quality on good ol’ Marvin there. The pic was taken with a film camera many years ago and then scanned into my computer. Anyway, Marvin looks snazzy, but he also looks like he’s laying on a bed of grass. Either that or like he’s overweight and his blubber is still catching up to the front of him; which is really weird because look at how thin he looks when he’s not torted and filled. Poor Marvin! Hopefully, this convinces you to back off and leave that star tip away from the sides of the cake. Besides, why pipe more stars than you have to when you’re already piping bazillions of them?

Happy Caking! May the Kitchen Gremlins visit someone else’s house this week!

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