Another over-the-top edible creation was a huge success! This was the 11th cake I have made for my friend’s daughter’s birthday, and this year the theme was pirates but for tween girls, so my concept was “pirate bling” spilling out of an open treasure chest on a sandy beach, with as much completely edible as possible. I keep calling it a “cake” but the quotes are because there was no actual cake used in this project!
This year was extra challenging since we had extra relatives for Thanksgiving, so I wasn’t staying at my parents’ house with the use of my mom’s kitchen with all her supplies and tools. Since the birthday family had already said they preferred the rice cereal treats to actual cake, I took them at their word since I could complete the cereal treat island base before I left home for my long Thanksgiving weekend. All the other parts had to be made well ahead anyway, since they all had various sculpting, drying then painting times, taking close to 20 hours of work including final assembly. This is the first “cake” where I haven’t even done a complete assembly dry-run, since too much of the jewelry would suffer from takedown and repacking, so after an hour of assembly onsite, those were the only photos of the finished “cake”!
Making of the Pirate Treasure Chest ‘Cake’
I started before Halloween when I was testing food-grade silicone moldmaking supplies for Mojitoes, so when I had some extra goop, I would throw it into some foil and stick a few plastic coins or some costume jewelry to see how it would turn out. The molds worked really well, but I would recommend the silicone putty moldmaking kits now available at craft stores as easier to make push molds, since you don’t have to set up a mold box to contain the orange liquid silicone I was using.
I used a whole 7oz batch of dark modeling chocolate, and a little of a batch of white modeling chocolate (recipes here but I just melt in the microwave), to sculpt & mold the accessories. For the molds for the coins and the jewelry, pushing a larger blob of modeling chocolate in so that there was excess was easier to remove from the mold, then I trimmed the excess with a sharp paring knife. I didn’t worry about the back side of the coins. The lock, latch & “leather” straps for the chest were all sculpted free-hand or rolled & trimmed. The white chocolate tiara was sculpted free-hand then placed over a plastic jar to stabilize the curve when drying. I used the handle of a small paintbrush to recess the channel for the edible pearls.
I had bought a bunch of candy necklaces on sale, but they were a bit chalky, so I wanted to supplement them with shinier beads. I bought a box of Sugar Babies, but they cracked & squished trying to make a hole for string. I heated up a metal skewer in a candle flame, then it was easier to push through the candy. To thread all the Sugar Baby beads into an “amber” necklace, I used a large yarn needle with dental floss so it wouldn’t stick. The effect worked & was nice textural variety in the mix, but since I had to reheat the skewer for each bead, plus pierce from the back as well, this took a couple hours, and I never plan to do it again!
I had planned on using gum paste for the curved lid, since it is the most lightweight and sturdy of my edible arsenal, but it isn’t very tasty, just neutral, so I was hoping to use something else for the chest walls. I had a box close enough size so I cut that down to size, then cut a curved lid to match and covered it with foil. Using an entire pre-mixed bag of gum paste, I rolled the gum paste thick enough to be sturdy and added the sides, molded over the foil-covered form. I had tested planks of rice cereal treats for the treasure chest walls, but they would just sag instead of staying vertical, so I baked gingerbread walls instead and covered them with white marshmallow fondant so they would match the gum paste color for painting the woodgrain effect. Before the gum paste or fondant dried, I etched the planks and woodgrain pattern with a toothpick, since when using a knife the grooves were just sealing up again.
While I was rolling fondant (boy were my shoulders sore the next day!), I rolled the treasure map from a separate batch of marshmallow fondant that I tinted with cocoa powder for a parchment look. I left the cracked edges that just happened naturally when rolling, then added some more rips & tears until I was happy with the shape. First I dusted the edges with more cocoa powder while the fondant was still tacky, but after it dried I didn’t think that was dark enough aging, so I shaded more by painting with brown food coloring.
This actually is a really good skin color technique too, since as long as you are adding in your original kneading so you can leave out some powdered sugar to compensate, you can add more cocoa powder for darker skin tones. Since this fondant keeps many months if wrapped & refrigerated well, I’m thinking the rest might get used for some people or faces…hmm…
After the modeling chocolate was dry, I gilded the pieces with luster dust mixed with water. The luster dust doesn’t stick as well to the chocolate since it is waxy, so it needs two coats. Even then still some chocolate shows through, which is why I used dark chocolate since that was instant grime & age. I also tried dusting the dry powder onto the fresh chocolate while it was still tacky, but it still needed a second coat of gilding. I decided I liked the rusty look for the chest hardware better, so those got a coat of dry cocoa powder while the luster dust was still damp. The white chocolate tiara also was coated with gold luster dust, but the white chocolate color behind gave it a different look. After the tiara gilding was dry, I used clear piping gel in the channel then carefully placed each edible pearl individually.
After the chest pieces were all dry, several coats of watered-down brown food coloring created the woodgrain effect. Each piece took long enough that by the time I got back to the first piece I had painted, I went over again with a slightly darker wash of brown. Building up the layers of color gave it a more realistic wood effect. The food coloring pooled into the etched grooves, which also helped the illusion of wood. After overnight drying, I assembled the sides with royal icing, then when that was dry, I added modeling chocolate “leather” strips, using a small lid to emboss the “brass studs” then used luster dust to gild them.
Monday night was island night! I made two double-batches of rice cereal treats into the island shape and the treasure chest filler. I found a box that fit inside the treasure chest dimensions, lined it with foil, sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, then crammed the cereal treats in, mushing into a rough shape on top. While it was still warm, I pressed gold sugar into the top, so it would sparkle a little if the rest of the bling didn’t cover completely. The rest was molded on the foiled cake board into the island shape, including an indentation so the chest would angle forward for the contents to spill out. While the cereal treats were cooling I made the buttercream frosting, then I frosted quickly then pressed graham cracker crumbs everywhere before the frosting set. Once the frosting was set I shook the board a bit and brushed away loose crumbs, then I made the hard candy recipe out of the blue raspberry cotton candy sugar I had, and poured that around the island. The hard candy cools off quickly, so I made separate 1 cup batches and was still running out of time for each. I had foil completely under the cake board since I knew there would be blue candy overflow, but once it was cool, it broke off by carefully using a large knife right at the edge.
I still hadn’t decided on the legend on the map, so that was as much as I could do in advance! The cake board was intentionally the same size as the Chicken Choir Cake, and I had kept the box I used for that. I packed everything else very carefully, nesting the chest in foil & bubble wrap in a close-fitting box, the filler in foil inside, the rounded lid in bubble wrap above, foil-wrapped chocolate pieces above that, the tiara still on its jar inside bubble wrap, and the fondant map still on its separate foil, all in one box! Another box held the necklaces & ring pops, chocolate pebbles, royal icing, extra buttercream, extra graham cracker crumbs & extra modeling chocolate just in case. My teal mobile food decor kit came too, with the food coloring pens, brushes, luster dust, food coloring & tips, so I was prepared for just about anything…which was why it was all fine, of course! Since it was wedged in the trunk so well, it stayed this way for the 3-hour drive to Sacramento, 200 miles around town for 3 days, then 30 miles to Davis!
Friday night I finally figured out how to combine a pirate treasure map with a birthday message, and thankfully the food coloring pens worked perfectly on the fondant map, not tearing it at all. I had sketched the map first on scratch paper, so it went smoothly, and I really like how it turned out! The photos were taken when the lettering was still wet, hence the reflections. Yes, there are exactly 12 paces on the map, one for each candle.
I arrived at the party a full hour early, since I had to assemble the cake & take photos, plus change into my own pirate costume. It took the full hour just to assemble the cake, but it was nice to have all that time since I added all the chocolate pebbles and arranged everything just so…and took LOTS of photos, since that was my only chance! You can see that after candles and serving “slices of shore” it was demolished afterwards!