December 7, 2012 by another1bitesthecrust
For my dad’s birthday this year, I decided to make him something more exciting than a standard birthday cake. And since only little kids get the cool cakes with characters and scenery on them, I decided to surprise him with a pirate cake!
When it comes to fondant, I quickly learned that black and red fondant is just not something I want to begin to mess with, so it’s worth it for me to go purchase pre-colored black and red fondant from Michael’s.
I looked up a few images of pirate cakes to get some ideas and sketched out a rough image of what I wanted the cake to look like. I opted for a two tier cake with a skull and crossbones on the top, black and white stripes on the bottom and a red top tier.
When it comes to making a dessert where the focus of the project is the decorating, I opt to use boxed cake mix just to make things easier.
I made an 8″ and 10″ cake for the two tiers. Then I rolled out the black fondant and used a knife to cut it into about 1.5″ strips and let them sit a bit to harden. I find that freshly worked fondant is a bit too soft to work with if you want it to keep its shape. I let it harden up a bit before I work with it.
I picked up a package of alphabet cut outs, which I used to spell out “H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-R-R-T-H-D-A-Y- D-A-D-D-Y”. I also let those firm up.
Then I cut out a circle of the black fondant to use as the “background” for my skull and crossbones. I actually wanted this one to really harden, I figured the “medallion” at the top of the cake needed to be pretty sturdy. I left this out overnight to pretty much solidify.
I rolled out some white fondant and with a pencil, very lightly drew the shape of the two crossed bones and the skull. I wish I had already bought a fondant/gum paste tool set (which after this project I promptly purchased…next time it will be easier!) so instead I used the tip of a paring knife to then trace out the shapes and the cutouts on the skull. I also wanted this part to be nice and solid instead of malleable, so I let it harden overnight, too.
While the fondant was hardening, I took a cake leveler and cut both tiers in half so that I could fill them with icing. To do this, put the bottom half of the bottom tier on a cake round, then put the cake round onto a rotating cake stand. Slide some parchment paper under the edges of the cake so that you don’t have to worry about making a mess on the cake round. Drop a hearty amount of icing onto the top surface of the cake and spread it around. Carefully place the top half of the bottom tier onto the iced bottom half, ensuring that they’re lined up. Again, place a large amount of icing onto the top and spread it around.
To ice the outside of the cake takes practice. Take a large, flat icing spatula and with the spatula pointed straight down, perpendicular to the counter top, spread a large amount of icing about an inch or two around the side of the cake. Put more icing on the spatula and repeat until the entire perimeter of the cake is iced. It shouldn’t be smoothed out yet, and it will feel like a lot of icing.
Then, with the spatula still perpendicular to the counter top but at a slight angle to the cake, press it gently against the cake while rotating the stand slowly. After about an inch or two, scrape the icing off that you’ve removed and repeat. This smooths out the icing but be careful not to remove too much icing. No big deal if you, you can just add it back on.
Once you’ve gone all the way around, it will have made a little “lip” of icing over the top edge. Gently drag the spatula (parallel to the counter and at an angle to the cake) over the edge and towards the center of the cake to round out the edges. Smooth out the icing on the top of the cake. This seriously takes a lot of practice and it’s important to make sure the icing isn’t too thick or you will just drag crumbs with you as you go. To thin it out, just add about a TB of water at a time. My icing was actually thicker than I realized so a few crumbs got mixed into the icing. Boo.
I repeated this with the top, 8″ tier, then rolled out the red fondant and immediately draped it over the cake while it was still nice and malleable. I think I rolled it a bit too thin, though, one part ripped a bit and I had to do some reconstructive surgery to fix it. Looked pretty messy but not a big deal, I knew it wouldn’t be a focal point.
Then I laid the strips of black fondant across the bottom tier about 1-2 inches apart. They created a big lump in the middle where they all overlapped but since I was putting the smaller cake on top of it, it wasn’t a problem.
I carefully placed the top tier on the bottom tier, then “glued” the black circle to the top tier with some icing. Again, I “glued” the skull and the cross bones onto the black circle with icing.
There was still some freshly rolled out red fondant that was still really soft, so I cut out a semi circle to create the bandanna and pressed two little pieces into an almond shape to create the ties, and “glued” them onto the skull. I cut out an eye patch shape from some leftover black fondant and a thin strip to make the strap.
Now, while this all sounds great, I had a big problem. Fondant gets sticky when you’re rolling it out and working with it, so you need some flour (or powdered sugar). White flour…black fondant…not good. I tried just wiping it off with a paper towel but it didn’t help, so I resorted to my good friend, Google. I read multiple suggestions and almost all of them suggested brushing vodka over the fondant. Not only does it get rid of the flour but it gives the fondant a nice, shiny finish. I figured, hey, worst case my dad gets a vodka soaked cake. I KNOW he wouldn’t see a problem with that!
I poured a little bit of vodka into a small bowl and took a small paintbrush and started brushing the fondant. Holy smokes, it seriously works! I brushed the entire cake down with vodka. It makes the fondant a little bit sticky temporarily, so I decided to try to use it to adhere the letters to the side of the top tier. It totally worked. I pushed them in a bit to really get them to stick, worked like a charm!
I’m really pleased with how this one turned out and my dad really loved it. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing your work has brought someone joy 🙂