Last weekend I made a birthday cake for my son’s friend’s birthday. In a moment of insanity, I agreed to a Super Mario themed cake. I have to say it was challenging and a lot of work. But really, the looks on the little faces made it all worthwhile. Happy 8th birthday Anthony!
I thought I would take you through how I did it step by step, in the event you have a Mario and Luigi obsessed young’un in your midst.
Here are some key pieces of advice up front:
- Be prepared to give up a fair bit of your time to do this. All up, the searching and shopping for ingredients and decorations, practicing and making the decorations, and baking the cake was done over a week. I practiced some of the decorations a few days before.
- Start making the decorations the day before, but don’t make them any further in advance than that, as they will dry out and the colour will fade and bleed.
- If you’re not used to baking and decorating cakes, I would really recommend buying an un-iced cake to decorate. Having to make the cake after spending a day and a half on the decorations nearly tipped me over the edge especially as the first cake failed and I had to start again from scratch.
- Don’t attempt the decorations on a hot day in an un-airconditioned room. The paste will melt in your hands as you’re working with it, and will be hard to set.
- Don’t buy expensive cake decorating utensils – you can usually improvise with things in your home already. I did however buy a $10 pottery/clay tool kit from the craft section of an Asian import store, and it does most of the jobs of the stuff from kitchen supply stores at a fraction of the price.
- Cut your fingernails short or use latex gloves.
- Enlist grown up help. Get children involved in some way by all means, they will love it, but not for the whole task. You’ll end up killing each other. Another set of adult hands will be invaluable for cleaning up and assisting however. I could not have done this without my very helpful assistant and Super Mario officionado – thanks Adam!
- Make the decorations in the day if you can. At night, you can’t see the icing colours so well. I learned this the hard way.
What you will need:
- Cake decorator icing/modelling paste (from a cake supply shop). There is a confusing array of cake decorating products out there. You don’t want marzipan, or fondant, but a paste or icing. Don’t get anything that is already hard. Soft icing can have icing sugar added to it to make it firmer, but I found it hard to soften anything that had already hardened. If in doubt, tell them at the store what you want it for and they will advise you.
- 1 kg icing sugar – for thickening the paste up and making the frosting.
- Food colour gel pastes – I use Wilton pastes, they are so much better than the cheap and nasty liquid stuff
- Fudge for the mushroom stalks
- Nigella (black sesame) seeds for the eyes
- Mario & Luigi figurines
- A tube to shape the pipes around – I used the tube of a turkey baster
- A small sharp knife
- A small firm spatula or flat knife
- Lid of a texta, for the mushroom spots
- Rolling pin
- Egg white for gluing
- Toothpicks to hold the mushrooms in place
- A very small paintbrush, for the egg white
- Baking paper, as a work surface
- Clean tweezers, for the eyes
- A cake
- Butter for the frosting
To make the mushrooms:
Get the paste/icing to the right consistency – it should be a little like cookie dough but not as moist. It needs to be thick and dry enough so it doesn’t stick to your hands, but still pliable.
You’ll need about a third of a cup for the red and about half a cup for the green, for the pipes as well. Do the red first. Put the icing/paste in a bowl and begin to add the colour, mixing until you get the right colour.
Be patient. Getting the mixture to the right colour and consistency is more time consuming than you would think.
When its right, roll little balls to your desired size in the palm of your hands. I used an image I googled on the computer as a guide. Make a little indentation with your thumb in the bottom of the mushroom, where the stalk will go.
When finished, set aside. I made four red and four green.
To make the spots: roll out a white piece of the icing very thin. Cut out spots using the lid of a child’s texta – I found them to be the perfect size. They are a little difficult to get out of the lid, I tapped them against the rolling pin. You’ll need 5 spots per mushroom. This will take time. Paint spots with a dab of egg white and fix on the mushrooms in the appropriate place.
Make the stalks. Take a piece of fudge and cut it to the right size – this is just guesswork so do your best. Roll it out on a work surface until its cylindrical.
Dab a little egg white where the eyes will go, and using tweezers, press two nigella seeds into the stalk, using your image as a guide.
Set aside on a plate covered in baking paper in the fridge. Don’t assemble the mushrooms on top of the stalks just yet.
Now do all this again for the green mushrooms.
Make the tubes. Using the leftover green paste from the mushrooms, measure out the size you will need – by width to hold your figurines, and lengthwise, about 8 cm. If they are too long they will not stand up, as the icing will begin to soften out of the fridge.
Roll out the piece of green icing until its about half a cm thick. Get the tube shaped object you are using to make the tube (eg turkey baster) and spray it with olive oil spray. Drape the icing around it to fashion a tube then slide the object out. Cut it to shape.
Roll another long thin piece out to make the lip of the tube, and fix it to one end with a little egg white.
Smooth out any cracks, bumps or seams with a tiny bit of water on your fingertips. Take care as the icing can crumble, and don’t worry if you have a few fails here and have to start again, I did. You’ll get there! Keep the tube upside down so the top heavy end doesn’t put too much weight on the pipe.
Make two of these and put in the fridge.
Now make the stars. Draw the shape of the star onto a piece of baking paper and cut out. Make up a small amount of yellow paste and roll out. Use the star paper as a guide to cut the shape out. Make another star that is slightly smaller and sit it on the top, to give it that 3d look. Use a small knife or scraper to smooth it all out and shape it into the star. Add the nigella seed eyes with a dab of egg.
Put in the fridge on baking paper with all the other decorations.
Make or buy the cake now. I used Nigella’s old fashioned chocolate cake recipe – http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/old-fashioned-chocolate-cake-119 For the icing – I used Martha Stewart’s butter cream frosting, http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/basic-buttercream-recipe?backto=true , which I added the food colouring to.
Place the cake on a piece of baking paper and start to cover with the frosting. Smooth it out as you go. Using a flat metal knife or spatula, smooth the surface as best you can. Add the decorations, using toothpicks to the hold the mushrooms in place on the top. I used a little edible glitter to create starlight shimmers off the stars, and just sprinkled clear sparkles over the whole thing to give a bit of a shimmer.
When ready, transfer the cake to the plate or board you are presenting it on, sliding out the baking paper. Keep the cake refrigerated right up until you are ready to bring it out. If you let it sit out for long, the decorations will start to soften and anything could happen then!
Now pour yourself a well-earned glass of champagne, or make a cup of tea, and sit back and enjoy the priceless looks on the children’s faces.
Stores I use for cake making supplies:
Key Ingredient, Clifton Hill
Matchbox, Victoria Gardens
Cake Deco, Flinders Street
Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market