Hot Air Balloons

Hot air balloon fullI was determined to take some time off from decorating.   My birthday was coming up and graduation time was right around the corner and my eldest child was graduating from high school.  I wanted to be SURE that her graduation and her party had my full and undivided attention.  That is, until my mom called me and asked if I could make a baby shower cake for a special woman in her church.  “Sure mom.  When did you want the cake?”  She told me the date…she needed the cake on my birthday.  WHA??  “Mom, really? That day?  Yes…I’d be happy to do it.”  (What else can you say to your mom?  Especially one who had given selflessly of herself to me and to anyone else around her for her entire life?  Of COURSE I said, yes.)  Here’s the funny part.  As always, she said, “You can just make it something simple.”  Now if you’ve been decorating for ANY length of time, you know, as a decorator, that we…just…can’t…do…”simple”.  So, I came up with this after seeing a few cakes online and some scrapbooking paper that I thought was super cute.

Here’s some tips on how I made the cake.  I wanted the balloon to be gravity-defying.  That meant that I needed it to be lightweight…Styrofoam.  I used a 4″ Styrofoam ball and covered it in modeling chocolate.  I could’ve covered it in fondant, but I wanted extra time to manipulate the balloon if I needed to (which I did). Hot Air Balloon

Once the ball was covered in modeling chocolate, I let it sit upright on a Styrofoam block to harden up a bit since I wanted to paint the balloon (hence, the toothpicks at the bottom of the balloon in the picture above.

Next, I needed the clouds.  Again, Styrofoam since I knew that the clouds would not be eaten.  I used a square cutter to give me a guide of where to place the clouds, then adhered them together with melted chocolate.  Then covered everything in fondant.

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Once my tiers were covered, the balloon was made, and the clouds were finished, I could add the height measurements up to know how long of a threaded rod was needed.  The picture below was the cake drum with the threaded rod AFTER my mom had returned it to me.  I forgot to take pictures of the base before I assembled everything…sorry.  However, you can still see the threaded rod and washers/nuts that were used to help hold the rod steady as well as elevate the balloon.  Be sure to make your threaded rod food safe.  As well as washing the rod with warm soapy water, I poured white vinegar over it to kill any germs.  I then wrapped it in aluminum foil, and finally covered the foil in plastic wrap.  At no point, should your rod touch the actual cake without being covered.

Hot Air Balloon Base

Hot Air Balloon with photobomb

Gumpaste Letters

Mr and Mrs finished

I received an email one day from a previous customer telling me that her son was going to propose to his girlfriend the next day.  This was great news, except, he moved his original proposal date.  His mom had been planning a party for the celebration and suddenly had one day to plan the party versus the two weeks that she’d originally thought she had.   Her email asked if there was ANY way I could make a cake for the next day.  Usually, I would have to decline because either my calendar is full with cakes, or I have activities, sports, or field trips planned with my little people (aka, my kids).  It just so happened that I had extra cake and extra Italian Meringue buttercream in my freezer as well as a few hours of extra time on my hands.  Being that she had so much on her mind with the party and upcoming engagement, her mind was reeling with ideas, but her ideas were scattered in multiple directions.  In the end, she said, “I’m sure I’ll love whatever you come up with” and left the design up to me.  But I didn’t want to make a cake that I loved.  I wanted to make a cake that she loved.  Even though her ideas seemed scattered to her, I wrote them down and mulled them over in my mind.

That night, with the cake stacked and in my refrigerator, and having multiple ideas swirling around in my head, I decided it was getting late and I had to get some rest.  I had to go to sleep and try to figure something out that she would like and that fit the occasion by morning.  The biggest problem was my time constraint.   I’ve found that when I’m either sleeping or nodding off to sleep, that’s when I come up with most of my ideas.  I don’t know why…it’s just how I’m wired.

From my conversation with her, I knew:

1) she wanted it to read, “Mr & Mrs”

2) she mentioned Valentine’s day was coming up

3) she preferred something with a vintage feel (but not shabby chic); and lastly,

4) she mentioned a cake that she’d seen with some balloons on it.

When I woke up, I went to the computer and looked up “Mr & Mrs” signs.  I found two that I liked and I thought that they would be pretty in gold.  Oh, and like any girl, I love things that sparkle!  So I decided that disco dust was best.

I printed out the Mr & Mrs signs that I liked.  There were two and I just couldn’t decide for a while.  I chose the lettering that I used on the cake because I thought it had more of a vintage feel to it.  Dunno…again, something with my brain wiring.

Mr and Mrs cutout

I colored some gum paste yellow and rolled it out.  I placed the Mr & Mrs sign on top of the gum paste, then used a dull pencil to trace the outline.  You can see it in this picture.  It’s hard to see it, but it’s there.

Mr and Mrs trace

I found that the Exacto knife cut did not pull on the gum paste if I put a small layer of shortening on the surface of the gum paste.  And, it did not make my gum paste stick together like water would do.  I use water to clean my knife when I’m cutting out fondant.  But the water caused my gum paste to try to meld together while I was cutting out the remaining part of each letter.  Shortening allowed my knife to cut through without melting my gum paste as well as keeping my gum paste from pulling and puckering.

I could’ve used modeling chocolate for this project, but I did not have any chocolate on hand…again, time constraint.  And, I needed some stiffness, so I did not want to use fondant.  I could’ve written Mr & Mrs by hand by piping it onto the cake, but writing on cakes is not my favorite thing to do.  And, I wanted it to shimmer and sparkle.

After the letters were cut out, I placed them onto a piece of parchment paper and left them to dry for about 30 minutes while I covered the cake in icing.

I brushed piping gel onto each letter, then sprinkled them generously with disco dust.  I only had a few hours for them to dry before the cake was being picked up.  Usually, I would allow them to dry overnight, but I did not have that luxury this time.  And, man, oh man, I sure was wishing that I owned a fondant dryer.  But I don’t, so there’s no use wishing about it.

Mr and Mrs disco dust

I felt that I had the vintage feel with the lettering, but I needed something more.  Ah! Balloons! And, Valentine’s Day!  She mentioned balloons and Valentine’s Day!  So I decided to make some balloons that were heart-shaped and varying sizes.  Some were covered in disco dust, but very few.  I also gave some depth to them by folding some of the balloons and used royal icing to attach them.

Hearts picFinally, I finished the cake off with a ribbon.  Even though it was a rushed cake, I was pleased.  Have a lovely day and happy caking!

Mr and Mrs finished

Color Blending

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I love color the decorations on my cakes. No matter what the decoration, I just have to add some color to it. I have a lot of colors between my pedal dusts and my luster dusts. The problem is, although I have a lot of colors, sometimes I don’t have the exact color that I am looking for in my box.  I usually end up blending some of the colors together.

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You will usually see decorators mixing colors together on paper towels. I have used a lot of paper towels over the years mixing colors together. The paper towel allows you to blend your colors without getting too much dust onto your brush. If you apply too much dust to your brush, not only will you breath in a puff of luster/pedal dust – giving you odd colors in your Kleenex next time you blow your nose, but the color will not apply evenly to your decoration. (Can you tell that I still have young boys in my house since I’m talking about blowing your nose?)  Worst of all, your colors will look harsh instead of natural once applied to your decoration.

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One day I needed to blend some colors, but I was out of paper towels. I thought to myself, “What??? Now what do I do?” I quickly took an inventory of various items in my kitchen and decided to use a coffee filter. After that time, I was hooked! Not only are coffee filters cheap, but they allowed me to blend my colors, load my brush and best of all, I didn’t feel like I was wasting paper towels. See, when I would blend my colors into my paper towels, it allowed me to blend my colors and load my brush, BUT, I also felt that a lot of color was wasted because my dusts adhered to the paper towel and I could not salvage any color once my project was finished. With the coffee filters, I could keep my colors separated or blend them, load my brush with just the right amount of dust, then save whatever color dusts were left once my project was finished.

 

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Best of all, I have learned that I like to keep my blended colors available until my cake goes out the door or is delivered. I’ve had instances where my project needed to be touched up; or worse yet, where I broke a decoration and needed to make another. If I had to re-blend my colors, odds are very good that the new colors would not match the original mixed colors. So I keep them handy until I know for sure that I can put them away. With the coffee filters, I can stack up my various mixed colors and set them aside. The colors stay separate and because the coffee filter sides are in a bowl-shape, the colors do not spill over. Not so with paper towels.

Next time you need to use your dusts, try a coffee filter. And while you’re at it, make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Happy Caking,
Joy

Making this year a very Merry Christmas

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It’s that time of year where our schedules are overflowing and we are running around with the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Making gift lists, finishing up with decorating just in time to race to the kids’ schools for their Christmas programs, making food for my husband’s work luncheon, trying to find a spare hour or two to wrap gifts. I’m out of breath just thinking about everything that I must do. The list can go on and on. Each year, I find that I’m busier between Thanksgiving and Christmas than I was during the previous year. And I am always in a last-minute panic wondering whether or not I am ready. Did each child get about the same amount of presents? Did I remember Great Grandmother? I can’t forget her. (I actually did forget her one year).

On top of my yearly Christmas sprint of trying to make each year more memorable for my family than the year before, I am usually swamped with customer orders of cookies, cupcakes and cakes. However, last year, I realized that I was making a terrible mistake with my time management. More importantly, I was focusing on the wrong things. In my heart, I meant well. I wanted Christmas to be special for everyone. My family, my friends, my customers…everyone. But trying to please everyone also meant that I was stressed out which is never a pretty sight. lol.
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My kids wanted to decorate gingerbread houses WITH ME. Not near me, but WITH me. Last year, I worked in the kitchen on customers’ cookies while they decorated gingerbread houses. They had fun, but let’s face it, I missed a special moment that I cannot have back. I was mad that I’d missed out on something so fun with my kids. They, all four of them, are growing so fast and I have not figured out how to make the clock stop. So this year, I took the month of December off from cakes and the business side. We decorated gingerbread houses together as a family. I’d show you pictures of the houses, but the kids devoured them within minutes of putting them together. I don’t think the royal icing had even crusted over before they started tearing the walls down on the houses. But I didn’t care. We laughed as the dragees went rolling across the kitchen floor, trying to get away from little fingers that chased after them. I attended school functions without having my mind wander off with thoughts of what I needed to work on as soon as I returned home.
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There’s something so sweet about watching my kids use their minds and their hands to create. In keeping with their creativity, I completely “let go” of our tree. Meaning, I didn’t move a single decoration from where it was originally placed. See, each year, we cut down our Christmas tree and we pull out the box of ornaments. These ornaments are not like any other ornaments. Most of our ornaments were made by our four children over the years and I have saved as many as I possibly could. My handsome husband and I sit on the couch with the box of ornaments, a fire in the fireplace and Christmas music in the background as we watch our kids. They each grab an ornament that they like or created and hang it on the tree. For years, I would move the hand-made ornaments around after the kids went to sleep to ensure that they were dispersed evenly. Come on, I know I’m preaching to the choir. I’m not the only control freak when it comes to the Christmas decorations. But this year was different, I decided not to move a single thing on the tree because I realized through “Mama eyes” that it was beautiful and perfect just the way they decorated it. To change anything just seemed wrong.
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More importantly this year, I realized that my focus over the years was on getting things done, being organized or trying to make Christmas perfect for everyone through gifts, functions, parties, food, or decorating. My focus was on the wrong things. My focus should’ve been on WHY we celebrate Christmas and more importantly, WHO we celebrate. It’s not about the presents, it’s not about decorating the house, it’s not about making my kids and my husband happy (although I do my best to make sure they are all feeling happy and loved). It’s about Jesus and the honor of being able to celebrate His birthday. Many babies have grown up to be kings, but only one King came down to be a baby. A baby who never sinned, a baby who would grow to be a man and pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem and laid in a feeding trough. Why a feeding trough? That’s what the animals used to eat and drink when they were hungry or thirsty. Did you know the literal meaning of Bethlehem? “House of Bread”. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.'” John 6:35 When we are hungry/thirsty, when we feel like all hope is lost and when we are unsatisfied, the only real way to fill that void is to rely on Jesus.

I pray that your Christmas season is filled with love, laughter and most of all, Jesus.

Christmas Tree Cupcakes

Christmas Tree Cupcake

My eldest is a senior in high school this year.  Her graduating class is roughly 100 students.  Each month, the parents chip in and provide a themed, pot luck luncheon for the seniors and their teachers.  I always sign up for desserts (which is funny, because I love to eat savory).  Since I’m a Pintrest fanatic, there are always fun and whimsical holiday desserts which I’m dying to try.

This months’ theme was Christmas.  I’d seen these cupcakes on Pintrest in a blog, “Just a Taste”.  I thought they were cute, quick, and easy…right up my alley.  I changed a few things, based upon what ingredients I had on hand, then put together a quick tutorial to show you what I did to create these cute little cupcakes.

SUPPLIES:

  1. Cooked Cupcakes
  2. Angled Spatula or a knife
  3. Icing to cover the cupcakes (whatever icing you prefer)
  4. White Sanding Sugar (for the snow effect)
  5. Pretzel sticks
  6. 1 bag of green Candy Melts – Makes 24 trees (found at your local craft store or Walmart)
  7. Muli-colored dragees (or another preferred decoration for the branches)
  8. Size #6, gold dragees
  9. Parchment paper
  10. Ziplock sandwich bags
  11. Scissors
  12. Triangle template, Christmas Tree Outline

Christmas Tree cc1

STEP 1:

Place about 1/2 cup of  your sanding sugar in a bowl and set aside.

Using an angled spatula or knife, ice your cupcakes with white icing.

Dip the cupcake into the bowl of sanding sugar. Set aside.

STEP 2:

Place you triangle guideline/template on a flat surface such as a baking sheet or a table.  (Here’s the link for the triangle template sheet in case you need it.  Christmas Tree Outline ).  Next, lay out your parchment paper on top of your your triangle template.  You should be able to see your template through the parchment paper.  The template will be a guideline and will help you keep your Christmas trees roughly the same size.

Put your sprinkles/dragees into small bowls for easy access.  Keep them close by your project.

STEP 3:

Once your template and parchment paper are ready, place a pretzel stick at the base of each triangle.  Be sure to extend one end of the pretzel stick at least an inch into the center of the triangle (see the picture below).  This way when you pour your chocolate onto the triangle, it encapsulates the pretzel stick and makes it a sturdy “trunk” for your tree.

Christmas Tree cc2

STEP 4:

Melt your Candy Melts according to the package directions.   Pour your Candy Melts into your Ziplock plastic bag. In the picture, I have a disposable icing bag pictured.  I used the disposable icing bag for one set of trees, then quickly switched over to plastic sandwich bags for the remainder of my project.  I’ll explain why in the next step.

STEP 5:

Once your Candy Melts are poured into your plastic bag, cut the tip off.  I found that a tiny hole worked best.  The larger holes allowed too much chocolate to flow out of the bag and onto the parchment paper.  Smaller holes allowed me to manipulate the Candy Melts where I needed it most.  Best of all, small holes gave the trees a more realistic look.

Squeeze the Candy Melts out of the bag in a zig-zag manner (side-to-side) onto the parchment paper, being sure to stay within the triangle guidelines.  If you stay within the triangles, your trees will all be the same approximate size.

STEP 6:

Immediately after you finish zig-sagging your trees onto the parchment paper, sprinkle each tree with your multi-colored dragees.  Then, place the #6 gold dragee at the top for your star.

Allow the trees ample time to harden (10-15 min).  They will easily lift off of the parchment paper.  However,  I suggest peeling the parchment from the tree vs. pulling the tree off of the parchment paper.

This is where I switched from my disposable decorating bag to a simple plastic sandwich bag.  I used two templates under my parchment paper which allowed me to make 10 trees at a time.  (I needed to make 4 dozen.)  After making each set of trees, whatever chocolate was left over in my bag would harden.  Since sandwich bags are cheap, I would simply wait until it hardened, cut the bag open, peel out the chocolate of the bag and drop it into my original bowl of Candy Melts.  Then I would re-melt the Candy Melts when I needed it for my next batch of trees.

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STEP 7:

At this time, the trees are finished and when you are ready to serve them, simply poke one of your tree trunks (the pretzel-end of your tree) into the center of your cupcake.

Christmas Tree Cupcake

VARIATIONS:

There are so many changes or variations that you can do to this project to make it something special or something different.

  1. You could add some white royal icing or white Candy Melts to the edges to look like snow.
  2. You could add some disco dust to make it sparkle (I added both royal icing and disco dust for my final cupcakes).
  3. You could use a small star punch to cut out a fondant star for the top of the tree instead of the gold dragees
  4. Instead of multi-colored sprinkles/dragees, you could use small gold or silver dragees to look like sparkling lights
  5. Add some black or gray Candy Melts to half of your green to give your tree more color/depth of field.

Send me pics of your creations!  I’d love to see what you come up with. Happy Caking!

Parchment Liners

If you are like me, you are constantly pulling out the box of parchment paper and cutting out parchment rounds.  Some like to use the leftover parchment from their butter sticks, some like to purchase the rounds pre-cut and some, like me, cut out my own.  Although I like the leftover parchment from my sticks of butter, I can never seem to get them to stay in the right place to cover the bottom of my pan completely.  I’ve purchased them pre-cut which is convenient, but costly.  And, if you are like most cakers, you want to cut costs where you can since we all undervalue our time.  At least that’s what I do.

Parchment Rounds 1

I’ve tried halving, then quartering, then folding again, measuring the parchment along the bottom of the pan, cutting, then unfolding the parchment as shown by so many, but I seem to always make the circle too large or too small and have to shave it down or start all over again.  In the end, it was just easier for me to do it the old-fashioned way.  So, for years I have been pulling out pans for which I’m needing a parchment round, pulling out a pencil, tracing the bottom of the pan with a pencil, then cutting out the circle with a pair of scissors.  But each time, I would think, “There’s got to be an easier way.”   And there is!!

Martha Stewart Circle Cutter

I love to use foam core cake boards for any cake that is going to be stacked.  But I was thinking that I might be able to make my own if I bought a nice circle cutter and a sheet of foam core.  I purchased a Martha Stewart Large Circle Cutter in the scrap booking section.  I quickly found out that the blades were not long enough to cut all the way through the foam core.  I was disappointed and was going to return it, but I had some baking to do before leaving, so I figured I’d bake first, then go to the craft store while my cakes cooled.  As usual, I brought out the parchment paper, then it hit me, “I wonder if I can use the circle cutter for my parchment rounds?”  It worked like a charm and I was so delighted.  Finally!  Something that would save me time without costing me a lot of money!!

It’s easy to use, only cost me around $12 with my 50% off coupon for the craft store, and comes with replacement blades.  I can cut a perfect circle anywhere from 4″ to 12″.  I simply slide the measurement knob to what size circle I need, place it on the folded paper and hold the large button down and cut away!   I have found that I can cut multiple rounds at once.  I pull out a long piece of parchment and fold it, accordion style.  I lay the parchment on a hard surface such as a cutting board or a self-healing mat.

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It takes seconds.  And, I use the leftover parchment to cut smaller circles to keep on hand for future baking.

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Lace Wrap Tutorial

Cake Lace Overlay

Anyone who’s talked “cake” with me knows that I love two things more than anything. The first being Disco Dust.  Anything that glitters just makes me smile. The second is edible lace. I love the versatility that it offers and I love the look that it gives a cake. Most of all, I love how easy it is to use.

For this cake, I used a CK impression mat and laid it on a large piece of parchment paper. I then spread a thin coat of the gold Claire Bowman Cake Lace over the impression mat using a small spatula. You could use the spreader that’s sold wherever you purchase your lace, but I don’t have one. It’s just one more piece of cake equipment for which to find yet another storage spot. I then used a plastic bench scraper to ensure that I’d spread the lace into every nook and cranny of the mat.
Overlay 1st color
Allow the mat to sit out at room temperature overnight. Depending on the humidity, it may take an additional day of drying. If the lace is tacky, it needs more drying time. If it is dry to the touch, you are ready for the next step. Once the first color is dry, I applied an even coat of the white pearlized lace overtop of the dry gold lace. Keep in mind, do not remove the gold lace from the mat. You put the white over the gold, which will give it the “overlay” look once it’s removed from the mat.
Overlay 2nd color

Let the mat set out at room temperature again; but this time, it will need to set up for 2-3 days. Once dry to the touch, flip the mat over and gently pull the mat away from the overlay. It might break on some of the corners, but that’s ok, because most likely, you will need to cut the dried overlay to the size of your cake. I also did my best to line up my pattern. The part that did not line up, I put my flowers over top to cover the seam as best as I could.
Overlay Cut

I only had 1 mat, so each completed overlay took me 3-4 days. This is something to keep in mind if you decide to use this process. Either, 1) purchase additional mats so that you can dry multiples at once; or, 2) plan way in advance. I stored my completed mats in gallon-sized Ziplock bags and put a piece of parchment paper between each layer.

Once your mats are dry, cut to size and ready to apply to your cake, you are on easy street. I used piping gel to adhere my lace overlays. I found that it allowed me ample time to move the lace around without breaking it. Water dissolves the lace too quickly and the overlay was too thick for shortening to adhere the lace. It didn’t have that “glue” kind of feel to it. But piping gel worked perfectly.
Cake Lace Overlay

You could use this technique in so many ways, with so many mats, in so many colors. Happy caking!

Sweet Art

Hanging Poppy

I saw a cake posted on Facebook earlier this year by “The Sweet Life by Julie”. It caught my attention immediately because it was a white picture frame with a hanging cake covered in red poppies. You know how sometimes you see something and you instantly know, “Ohhh, I love that! I have GOT to make something like that…soon!!” At least, that’s how I feel when I see something that I love, and my mind thinks of cake. So, for the NCACS (National Capitol Area Cake Show) in Virginia this past weekend, that’s exactly what I did. I set out to replicate the idea of a cake hanging inside of a picture frame. I ran to Michaels Craft store as fast as my minivan could take me, with my weekly coupons in-hand. I found a beautiful picture frame back in the clearance section for $8. SOLD!! Then, I went to Lowes and Ace to get the necessary wood and hardware. I used a 1/2″ thick wooden board since I wanted to ensure that my frame was attached securely onto the board. I also needed the picture frame to stand up at a 90 degree angle, so I decided to use “L” brackets for the back of each side of the picture frame. Mine were 3″ on each angle and I found them at my local hardware store for $2 each. Your brackets and your frame need to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of a cake hanging on the frame. I screwed the “L” brackets into both the back of the frame as well as into the wooded cake board. I also decided to use a small 1/2″ x 1.5″ “L” bracket on the bottom, center of the frame just to ensure that it was sturdy. After attaching the frame, I covered the hardware with black felt by using a glue stick. I only needed it to hold for the weekend, so hot glue seemed like overkill.
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Of course, the kids just HAD to help. :)
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Now that the frame was attached, I just had to cover the board. I decided to use red fondant and to let it drape loosely on the board.

The hardware for the cake itself was simple. I needed an eye hook, a coupler, a threaded rod, some bolts and a washer. I washed all of my parts in soapy water and dried them. I measured the cake once it was stacked and covered. I figured out how tall I needed the threaded rod and cut it to size. Be sure to take into consideration the length of the eye bolt plus the coupler in addition to your threaded rod. To keep the hardware food safe, be sure to cover it with aluminum foil. I also covered mine in white chocolate to ensure that the customer would feel safe with the hardware inside of their cake. Measure the center of your cake. This is important to ensure that your cake hangs straight down and does not lean to one side or the other. If your cake leans, eventually it will fall apart and you’ll have a big pile of cake at the bottom of your picture frame. Not cool at all!! Once you can cleanly insert your covered rod through your cake, use the washer at the base of the cake board and put a nut on it to keep it from slipping off. I did not want my bolt to show, so I used a boring drill to bore out a hole the size of my washer. I only bored through 3/4 of the cake board. I then covered the bottom of the cake board with fondant so that it appeared to be fondant all the way around the cake. I printed out an edible image onto icing sheets from Icing Images and adhered them to the cake.
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Lastly, I went to the hardware store and purchased some pretty white chain to hang the cake in the frame. It cost me a whopping $.27. There are so many ways that you can use this idea. I’d love to see how you alter it using your creative cake imagination.