The Michelle Appreciation Cake

Eve calls me up one day and says ‘Jen, I want to throw an appreciation party for our friend Michelle – she is always doing great things for everyone and it is so hard to surprise her, she won’t suspect a thing 6 months before her birthday!’

Designing this cake was especially fun because Eve and her husband Matt came by for dinner and we chose photographs and listed items that would be on the cake. I wanted to create a miniature Michelle out of cake that would pop out of a box surrounded by photos of Michelle and her friends.

While I was actually creating the cake I was giggling to myself about all the things that could have made it on the cake – and wrote a short speech for Michelle, including the Top Ten Things that did not make it on the Michelle Appreciation Cake. Including Any Cats, Clay Aiken, A Cigarette… and a few other things that made some people laugh – and others give me blank stares – guess I might have taken the ‘Roast’ concept a little far.

Maybe there was an omen… It was rather late the night before the cake was due when things started to go a little off. First of all, it was a simple cake, 10X10X2 yet I over baked it. It wasn’t rising properly because I wanted to make Michelle out of cake and use my 4, 3, and 2 inch round mini wedding cake pans to make her body, head and neck – these had to come out of the oven after 30, 20, and 15 minutes respectively – but I now know what happens to a cake that does not reach its minimum bake time should the door be opened earlier… they fall flat. So I mistook my un-risen 10 inch to be undercooked and left it in the oven a total of 1h45 minutes! I carved away an inch all around when it finally cooled, the inside was a bit more dry than usual, but it still tasted fine.

I used a cheesecake flavoured buttercream, making the two cups of sugar version (I realize I now consider the batch size of my buttercream by number of cups of sugar it requires – one batch, two cups, is just enough for a 4X10X10 cake (or two 2X10X10 inch cake to make one layer).

I did not tort the Michelle cakes, they were each two inches high but I didn’t want to see the layers sliding about when I tried to carve them as I’d learned doing my mom’s potted tulip cake – so I simply stacked them and carved away. I at first tried to carve out a nose, but nicked it by accident and it fell off. I crumb coated the body and head, recorded a hilarious video and popped her into the fridge.

Covering Michelle was interesting – I started by mixing pink and ivory gumpaste colours to get a skin tone, wrapping a sheet around her shoulders, another for her chest and neck – realizing I could simply wet my spatula and blend the seams together. I made Michelle’s face rather thick, thinking I could press into it to make the eyes and pinch it to make a nose – I was wrong, but the face was already blended into the neck, and very front heavy by then – it was very difficult to work with the face as it was drying and wrinkling (and Michelle is only 29 – no wrinkles on the real thing!).

Eventually I gave up and made a little button nose that I stuck on with my spatula but she forever had a Michael Jackson expression after that. The lips were an exaggerated version of the real thing – her best feature, and her eyes were hand painted with what I finally found to be  just the right combination of gin and food colour gel.

I blended a few colours for her hair, not fully blending though so it would look rather streaked. I placed my first attempt at the hair on the figure, but it was the wrong size – I carefully peeled it off and tried to roll it out thinner – the gumpaste was cracking and then I heard ‘splat!’. Michelle had toppled head over waist off the countertop onto the floor! I screamed, the cat jumped, Dany came running in – and I carefully picked her up off the floor – she was completely intact, no damage whatsoever (I was pretty lucky). Thankfully the cat had licked the floor clean earlier, and she was constructed well enough to withstand the shock. I’m kidding about the cat of course – the board of health better not come knocking.

At about 4 am, I was finally finished painting gold dust on the necklace and decided to place Michelle on her cake. Surely due to my lack of sleep and overdosing on Guru, I completely forgot the most basic rule of cake construction: support. I did not make a cake board for Michelle, I used two wooden skewers to hold Michelle in place instead, oh genius that I am.

I placed all the other items on the cake, added the photographs (non-edible), and took a few photos.

The next morning Michelle looked just like the Red Bull Cake the morning after it was made : sunken in and leaning way too far to one side. She had begun to sink into the cake. Her black shirt was cracking and her sea monkey was no longer sitting against her. In another panic, I propped her up with solid gumpaste flower petals and we drove her to Hurleys very carefully.

The cake was a success – we received a lot of compliments on it – and it tasted alright after all.

Lessons Learned:

–       Support support support!

–       Use waxed paper to determine the ‘Pattern’ for piecework sculpture covering

–       Only drops of gin are needed to dilute food colours

–       Model a face on a round surface and then apply it to the cake

–       Dany makes an amazing homemade gumpaste from glucose, gum-tex, icing sugar, and water – wow

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