Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Caricature + Cake = Cake-icature?

I love cake. There, I said it. You love cake too. Who doesn't love cake? Seriously, tell me who doesn't love cake, so I can put them on my list of people who are liars. Cake is lovely.

I have been a little bit of a hobbyist baker for some time now. In fact, waaaaay back in the stone age, at my very first job (at Baskin Robbins), my boss immediately put me to use drawing things for cakes once it became known that I had some drawing ability. Between scooping ice cream and mopping floors, I functioned as a minimum-wage source of clip art. They just had me draw various things that were requested by customers ("Hey, Celeste, I need you to draw a drum set today! And a unicorn! Once you're done mopping!"). Then the boss would put plastic wrap over the drawing, trace it with black frosting, fill in with colored frosting, then set the plastic wrap in the freezer and flip it onto an ice cream cake once it firmed up. I was always kind of bummed that he got to do all the fun parts, playing with frosting and cake, and I just got to draw. Ho hum . . .

These days, having three stepkids who all have the annoying habit of turning a year older every 365 days provided me an opportunity to really dive into cakery--try out different birthday cake ideas, learn how to make fondant, buy little cake-making gadgets, all that fun stuff! Plus it was nice to have an audience who never ever complained! The other 364 days of the year we served up vegetables, but on birthdays I made cake. And, having always enjoyed sculpting, it wasn't long before the standard circular or boxy cakes got a little boring. 
Gotta catch 'em all!
I have always liked things that are more than they appear to be. The flowerpot "dirt" cake was a great little experience: we ate dinner with it in the center of the table, no one the wiser, then for dessert I ripped out the artificial flowers and used a trowel to scoop "dirt" onto each kid's plate as they stared at me like I had finally gone insane. One of the first "interactive" birthday cakes I made was a pudgy Pikachu for Mikayla's 6th birthday. I took a hint from Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food and had engineered a little blood compartment (made of food coloring, corn syrup, and grenadine). Let's just say the cake cutting was a grisly but fun surprise. I made Alex, the oldest, a cake shaped like a cell phone for his 15th. He was really hoping for a real cell phone, so the cake seemed like a cruel trick at first. When it came time for the traditional birthday wish, he said "I wish this was a real cell phone," closed his eyes, and blew out the candles. Then the cake started ringing. Alex was a very surprised and very happy teenager. I had hidden his new cell phone in a ziploc baggie in the cake before I frosted it, and I had dialed his phone number and hit "call" just as he blew out the candles. He dug into that fondant super quickly to extract his electronic gift.

Years and years of cakes.
Anyone remember Charlie's delicious death scene in LOST?
Other, less noisy cakes followed, and it was a kick trying to figure out what cake would be perfect for each kid as their birthdays approached. It was a long haul, as I typically started once the kids got to sleep and worked for at least three hours on a cake that I then tried to hide in the back of the fridge until the party the next day. So I was always hitting the hay around 2 a.m. on the night before birthdays--but it was worth it! I also made a few cakes for friends. We went through a pirate ship cake, a killer robot cake (with Kit-Kat treads and a laser pointer weapon), a violin-shaped cake, a Bakugon cake, a fancy painted anime cake, a chess-themed cake, a sushi-roll cake, a director's clapper cake, a pair of roller skates, and a "LOST" themed cake for a finale-watching party. I'm probably forgetting a few, but oh well.

Besides, this is a caricature blog, so I want to get to the caricature cakes. I am an avid reader of CakeWrecks.com, but I have yet to see them devote a post specifically to caricature cakes, so it looks like I get to scoop them on that. Take that, Cake Wreckers!

Might be hard to do these at a party!
So let's look at caricature cakes! I've certainly not made a career out of them, but I've tried my hand. And I tip my hat to the folks who have pulled off some really amazing edible faces. I started with something relatively easy--drawing with melted chocolate. One year as Christmas treats, I made my fellow retail artists large rice crispy treats with their faces on them: you can do this too, just make a big honkin' rice crispy treat and then melt some chocolate chips, then use a ziploc bag with the end cut off as a disposable squeezy tool and draw whatever you want. There's not a lot of control, but hey--if you mess one up it's still delicious.

I did experiment with various ways to immortalize the birthday kid in the cake (or non-cake birthday item). I found it easier to go minimalist, representing Patrick's hair and glasses with dark fondant . . . which requires a lot of black food coloring and will stain your hands a weird purpley-pink for a long time--so wear gloves if you want to keep your fingers their usual skin tone. These past years I've moved away from cake for the kids and experimented with carving watermelon (which made for a fun way to represent Alex's poofy hair) and putting together vegetable bentos. There are huge arrays of foods that can be used, and even several books on how to make unique bento art creations. Plus you don't have to feel the guilt you'd get from feeding kids high-calorie cake and frosting!
Let them eat cake! And fruit! And vegetables! 

While I have never seriously thought about doing cakes professionally (it would take a ton of time, effort, and require that I get the health department out to inspect my kitchen regularly--which ain't happening), a few years ago I did take on a challenge from a friend of mine who needed a groom's cake. The couple had spent countless hours on World of Warcraft and she wondered if I could immortalize their game characters and the groom's favorite weapon. I sculpted the topper out of sculpey so that it could be a keepsake, and the axe was made of rice crispy treat covered in fondant. It was a big hit, and my friend reported that it made the groom cry when he saw it.

Episode 19: The Gang Decapitates Frank
Now, I've never had reason to make a celebrity caricature cake, but I came across an amazing Danny DeVito cake on Reddit, created by a talented university student in Nottinghamshire named Mary Goddard. She made it for her 17-year-old sister, who apparently has an unhealthy fixation on Mr. DeVito (I guess Always Sunny in Philadelphia plays in the UK as well!). What a great caricature cake. His smile, the perfect roundness of his face, the little off-white teeth, the Pepto-Bismal pink folds of his chubby chin . . . my hat's off to Mary, and I thank her for kindly letting me use the image for this  blog. I think she may have started a trend. Because I kind of want to make a Danny DeVito cake now.

Maybe Danny DeVito will become the next Tom Selleck of cakes. That's right: Tom Selleck cakes are a thing. I had no idea how much of a thing they were until I googled some images. I must warn you, do NOT scroll down if you are averse to seeing moustaches and chest hair on cakes.

 . . . . . . seriously . . . there's a LOT of moustaches and chest hair . . .

. . . . see, there are dozens and dozens of Tom Selleck cakes out there on the interwebs, but hardly any of them had clothes on . . .

. . . well all right then, I warned you . . .

. . . feast your eyes, you perv . . .

One Tom, two Toms, Hairy Toms, nude Toms . . . 
So there's your Tom Selleck cakes. The lure of Mr. Selleck is apparently strong enough to make bakers of all levels try their hand at caricature. I'm not sure I understand it, but something about this guy makes people want to put his hirsute physique and steely blue eyes on birthday cakes.

What about someone more famous than even Misters DeVito or Selleck . . . how about the leader of the free world? There are some interesting edible caricatures of him floating around. The Obama cakes I found ranged from awfully amateur to a few really good likenesses. The airbrush artist who did the one on the top right (from CoutureCakesbyNika.com) may very well have been employed by Fasen or Richmond at some point, who knows? The one that impressed me the most was an immense cake sculpture (bottom right) reminiscent of the "Spitting Image" puppets done by Fluck & Law in the 1980s and 90s. I tried to find a bakery name so I could credit that one, but wasn't able to ferret that out of Google images. If anyone knows, comment below and I'll add that to the caption.

And does anyone remember the delectable caricature of Obama that made a splash in the news in March? While it's not actually cake, but gingerbread, this not-quite-elegantly-drawn cookie of President Obama was presented to him as a gift by the Kingdom of Belgium. While the cookie itself was apropos in many ways--the region is famous for spicy gingerbread biscuits, known as speculaas in Holland and Belgium, and the artist, Ronny Demedts, is actually a "famous cookie artist" (I didn't realize one could become a famous cookie artist . . . I think I want to change my profession now)--the likeness did not get a lot of accolades by the media and public. Some thought it wildly inappropriate, others called racism, and most agreed it was not a politically correct choice. I don't exactly see racism going on here, just poor drawing ability. Really, really poor drawing ability. Kudos to Obama, in every photo I saw of him with the cookie he is smiling graciously. But dang it, Belgian leaders! You could have gotten any member of the Op de Beeck family to caricature you an AMAZING cookie! You guys seriously dropped the speculaas on this one.

Now THESE cookies are fit for a president
  (Clinton would have loved them, I bet).
I made these for a friend who had, ahem,
an elective surgical procedure.
Well, that about wraps up my delicious tour of confectionary caricature. I'm off now, gotta run to the store and buy a few buckets of chocolate sprinkles and some pink food coloring so I can finish this life-sized cake of Tom Selleck making out with Danny DeVito. See you next Tuesday!

And P.S.: If anyone wants to see a very young Mikayla and her brothers reacting to poor little Pikachu bleeding out on the table, here's a video!

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