So, as always, let's start with the finished product (for those of you who just want to see with picture, and not so much the lengthy how-to that follows)!
How it all came about after the break!
As I usually do when facing a concept I've never done before, I started with poking around online to see how others approached turning Spongebob into a cake. There were, of course, lots of cakes made with the pre-shaped Wilton pan (meh) and some sheet cakes with the plastic DecoPak kits (no offense to anyone, but that's totally cheating at cake decorating, I think).
A search on Pinterest yielded some promising ideas--no one stood out as THE design for me, though. What I ended up doing was pinning a few cakes where one or more elements caught my eye, and then worked to incorporate them all into my cake.
So, to start, I decided that I would feature Spongebob and Patrick as my two main pieces. While I would have loved to take a crack at some of the other characters for the fun of it, I just didn't have the time (or the fondant! I had just enough to made just what I needed--worked out pretty well, actually).
This blob of yellow is how Spongebob got started. I kneaded some regular yellow with just a touch of orange to get a color I was happy with, and formed it into a rough rectangle.
Once I had my rough shape, I broke out my lovely sharp knife (remember, from the Cricut post? My awesome knives from that Christmas are still going strong!) and my fondant smoother. I cut the shape down to give it a sharper, more defined shape. I used my fondant smoothers to help smooth it all out and flatten it down a bit.
Next, I broke out one of my fondant tools (you'd think, as a pro decorator, I'd know all the official names of them...not so much). I think this one is a modeling stick? Anyhow, what I wanted was the rounded end of it--something that could create the depressions to give Spongebob his sponge-y look.
And it worked perfectly! I tried to go for a variety of depths--some shallow, some deeper--and tried to be random about the placement, including on the corners and edges.
Next, it was time to get a start on Patrick, Spongebob's faithful BFF.
Yes, he looks a bit odd right now, I'll admit. To get his color, I did some soft pink with just a touch a peach--Patrick has a salmon color to him, and I thought that would get me close. I kneaded the color in until it was well-distributed and the fondant was smooth, and then formed this rough cone with my hands. The problem with fondant, though, is that it can be pretty sensitive to pressure, so I didn't want to keep using my hand to form the more refined cone shape I planned on using for Patrick's base.
What I ended up doing (and forgetting to take a photo of--whoops...) was taking my fondant smoother, holding it at an angle with one of the long, flat sides against my counter and rolling the cone back and forth to smooth it out and lengthen it a bit. Once I'd done that, I pinched the somewhat loose bits at the fat end together, and rubbed the smoother across to flatten it out and give Patrick a solid base to sit.
Next I worked on Spongebob's appendages--from what photos tell me, he's got pretty skinny arms and legs. I knew they'd need support not only to attach them to the main body (the arms, at least) but also some support within to avoid having them break under their own weight.
To start, I took some of my yellow (part of the stuff I cut off when refining the body), re-kneaded it to smooth it out, and then made a snake my rolling it between my palms and the counter. I tried to get it as even as possible (I really need a clay extruder--that would have been PERFECT for this).
Next, I trimmed pieces down and held them up to the main body to check to make sure the proportions looked OK to me. Once I got them to a length I was happy with, I went about adding my supports--toothpicks! I lightly wet one end, then carefully inserted it into the arm piece--the water breaks the fondant down a bit, making it sticky, which I wanted to help the toothpick stay in place. Don't use too much, though, or it'll keep breaking the fondant down rather then drying, making your piece unusable.
The basic arm! Once the toothpicks were in, I flattened the area I ended to turn into hands. I then used my X-acto knife to divide the flattened area into fingers.
If you look closely, you can see the slight difference here--the top hand is what it looked like right after I cut the fingers. More hand-like, but a little too jagged looking for my liking. The bottom hand is the result of me very gently pressing and rubbing the edges and corners to round them out to look more like little cartoon fingers.
Aaaaand, I forgot to take pictures of Patrick again. Oops. But here you can see our two guys and all their parts. I fashioned Patrick's arms and legs the same way I did his body--I formed smaller cones, then used the fondant smoother to roll them out and get them more cone-like. These also got the toothpick treatment for supportAnd Spongebob's legs were done just like his arms, but they got little bits of brown at the ends for his shoes..
This step-by-step thing is a work-in-progress ("It's a thing in progress! Respect the thing!"....anyone?). Just be proud of how many pictures I DID remember to take. :-)
I needed to let Spongebob and Patrick sit to start to dry before I handled them more, so I decided to work on some other elements for the cake. I wanted to have a couple of different things to help add to the seascape look, so I started with these tuber....thingies. I'm sure they have a much more official name, but I'm sticking with tubers, for now.
I rolled out some fondant snakes again, this time in some bright pink. I dipped a plain old straw into some powdered sugar then gently worked the tube of fondant onto it. You have to be gentle and patient--basically, the idea is to hollow out the middle while keeping the outside intact. Once you've gone through the entire bit of fondant, then you have to reverse direction and gently work the fondant back off the straw. And you should end up with a hollow tube!
Then I moved on to some coral:
This was one of the ideas I pulled off another cake I saw. I rolled out a rectangle of fondant, then used a piece of regular straw and a piece of boba tea straw (some places sell them as "milkshake straws") for the two sizes of cut-outs. I tried to be pretty random and liberal with the placement of the cut-outs, as you can see!
Once I finished cutting out my circles, I laid the piece out to dry. This part gave me a bit of trouble, trying to get it to look less geometric and a bit more organic. What finally made me happy was a combination of folding, stretching it a bit on the diagonal, and laying it on a bunched up washcloth to help give it some movement.
And, the last bit of extra--my favorite of these little touches, I think--the "wooden" sign!
I started with the edges--I used my X-Acto knife again to give the shorted sides a jagged look. I then used the knife tool from my fondant tool set and gently ran it across the piece length-wise to form the divisions between the "boards." I purposely didn't make them straight--I wanted a warped, weathered look to the sign. Lastly, I took the shell tool (I think that's it's name--it also looks like a shell) and ran it along the legnth of the piece in slightly wavy lines to give it a bit of a grain.
For my first attempt at mimicking wood with fondant, I was pretty happy with how it turned out!
Now time to finish off the our main characters!
I got started on Spongbob's face with a couple of eyes made out of white fondant cut out with a boba tea straw--I just used a teeny bit of water brushed on the back to adhere them. His nose was just a bit of yellow fondant mushed around a toothpick, which I then inserted into the face--the toothpick helps it stay put and keep from drooping.
When it came to his shirt, I decided the best/easiest way to do it would be in layers. The nice thing about Spongebob is he is so geometric, so I didn't have to worry too much about getting curves and whatnot just right. His shirt was just a simple rectangular strip of white fondant, which I wrapped around his body. I went ahead and put the seam in front, because I knew it would be covered later on with his tie.
Again, I just brushed a bit of water onto the back to get it sticky enough to adhere!
Patrick got some eyes, too, while I was at it! And I went ahead and attached both our fellows' arms. It was as simple as inserting the toothpick, and brushing the fondant (where the arm met up with the body) to help it stick).
Well, that's better. Patrick's shorts were a bit more difficult than I'd intended. I ended up doing them in two pieces: a front and a back. Both pieces are kind of semi-circles that I brushed with water before attaching. Once the pieces were on him, I used my fingers to stretch the fondant here and there where they didn't quite cover as they should, and used fondant tools to clean and straighten the edges.
Now for Spongebob!
Now that they're decently clothed, it was time to work on those faces.
I finished off their eyes by adding--for Spongebob--a blue iris and a pupil, and--for Patrick--his pupils.
And their mouths! Just black half-circles of fondant--with teeth for Spongebob (and a couple balls of yellow fondant for his chubby cheeks) and with a tongue for Patrick!
And don't forget Spongebob's collar and tie! Just some simple triangular shapes put together the right way, and voila!
The airbrushing really brought out the marbling in the wood--awesome!When I just need to dissolve extra powdered sugar and give things a bit of luster, I use a clear liquor--vodka is best (especially if you're giving this treatment to a cake, rather than sculpted pieces) because it leaves the least taste behind. All I had handy was some silver tequila--not ideal (as airbrushing with it was tantamount to spraying tequila-scented air freshener all over my kitchen), but it worked!
And liquor is preferable over water, as the alcohol content ensures it evaporates quickly. If you used straight water, you run the risk of the fondant getting all sticky. I've used water in a pinch, but prefer to use the alcohol when I have it! In either case, use light coats, allowing time to dry between each. if you saturate it too much, even with the liquor, it can get sticky or you get a really shiny, almost patent leather look. Which, if that's what you're going for, have at it!
When it came time to build the cake, I wanted a base that was a bit better than a plain old white or silver one. I went on over to Michael's and found a single charger plate in this gorgeous blue color--the only one I saw in that color, and for good reason apparently. It must have been a winter item, as it cost me a grand total of 19 cents. :-) Perfect!
The cake, itself, is a vanilla bean cake with a mango-passion fruit mousse and vanilla italian meringue buttercream. I tried a new vanilla cake recipe for this cake, and I really liked the texture and flavor of this one when I tried a bit after it cooled from the oven. But after having tasted it once the cake was cut into at the party, I think it would definitely need a little simple syrup to help it stay yummy. It was still tasty, but a bit more dry and crumbly than I'd like.
I tinted the frosting a blue color that came out a few shades lighter than the plate, but in the same color family. The base of each tier and the top got a coating of finely ground graham cracker crumbs for "sand."
Then it was time to add the decorative pieces from before--the coral, the tubers, and some little stars and seaweed I forgot to take pictures of making. Oops, again. And don't forget the very cool Happy Birthday sign!
But since I wanted a picture with them on it (and needed to make sure everything fit OK), I popped them on there for a bit for that final photo, and then it was time for delivery! Everything went off smoothly, and the birthday girl (and guests) loved it--success!