I am SO excited to share with you my latest cake!! SO excited!! This is my FAVORITE cake to date…oh my!!
“On the 7th Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…seven swans a swimming!” YES! It’s a Christmas Swan Cake!!
Can you find all seven swans?!??!
I was asked by my sweet friend and incredible cake artist, Shawna of McGreevy Cakes, to take part in a 12 “Cakes” of Christmas collaboration with some phenomenal artists. I was SO honored to be asked and yet extremely nervous because the talent in the group is ridiculously high!! See all the Cakes of Christmas on Shawna’s website HERE!! And, guess what I was given?? – you guessed it…”Seven Swans A Swimming” based on the “12 Days of Christmas” song.
SWANS!!!! Oh my!! There’s even a little video of all of us being incredibly silly HERE!!! – I’m a swimming swan princess!! hahaha!!
My favorite part of the cake was the magical book! It’s what triggered the whole design. It’s made of 7 layers of gumpaste all hand cut and space to create an altered book look! I’ll explain more about that later! The moon and the lake were painted with super pearl luster dust and there’s a tiny light in the back!! – but again…more about that later.
The other element I LOVE is the sweet little swan in the front and the crazy amounts of feathers I had to make for her!! She turned out SO realistic! I LOVE her!
I’ve got a little tutorial on these feathers for ya…keep scrolling!
Her head and neck is modeling chocolate. The orange bill is a thin layer of modeling chocolate and the black is hand painted. More about the head/neck texture and feathers later though! Are you putting your patient pants on??! teeheee!!
There was also a lot of “magic” involved in the cake! I LOVE the wizard’s wand precariously balanced on the edge of the book!! – Again…I’ll explain later…for now…you get to just enjoy the magic and wonder how I did it!! LOL!! There was a ring pop involved! Haha!!
And the last thing I want to show ya before I reveal all the secrets is the stump…the beautiful, old, twisted stump that set the background to my swans. I’ll show you how create this look…in a bit!
Notice the books?? – The 12 on the top gray book stands for the 12 Days of Christmas, and the 7 on the green book for the 7 Swans a Swimming.
So HOW did I come up with all this?? What in the world does it all mean?! – you’re probably asking. Yes…I’m a little crazy! But let me explain my process and the meaning behind the cake!!
I didn’t want to do a “normal” cake!! So, I began the google search for “swans” to find something crazy and fun and oh my goodness…there was a lot of fun inspiration!! I thought about making a swan tea set (which would have been awesome), a snow globe, a swan lamp (complete with a light), a swan holding a hand painted ornament in its mouth, a book with swans popping out of it…things a true love would give. I was sketching some things out and my husband walks by, saw the book sketch and randomly says, “What if the swans were flying out of the book and becoming 3D…like real swans?” – oh…sure!!!
But that got my wheels turning!! I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
As the book idea grew, the one thing I knew I wanted to do was something different…NOT your typical book! I wanted to do an altered book!
Have you seen those incredible altered books that are carved into beautiful designs and shapes? Like these?? They are AMAZING!! I told my husband I might have found a new hobby!!
As I kept sketching, the problem I had was if the swans were supposed to be coming out of the book, they need to be SWIMMING in something!! So, where is this book going to be so that when they come out, they can swim? Bathtub? Fountain?
That’s when the tree concept came into being…the book could sit on a tree stump by a lake. But then I thought…why would swans fly out of a book?? Why would the book be on the tree stump?? Who is making the swans fly out of the book?
See how my brain works…I’m seriously weird!! HAHA! I have to have a story!! I have to be inspired!!
So, here’s how the story evolved for my cake…
Once upon a time, deep in the woods, lived a wizard and his wife who were madly in love. They lived by a beautiful pond in a simple home. They enjoyed their quiet, peaceful life. The wife had a book that she loved to read over and over about a prince and a princess who became swans to escape the toils of kingdom life and lived happily ever after deep in the forest. It reminded her of her and her husband. Well, Christmas was approaching fast and the wizard didn’t have any stores close by to buy her expensive jewelry, so he thought, “What if I turn the swans from her book into real swans to live in our pond so that she can have a reminder of her favorite story all the time?” On Christmas Eve, he grabbed her book, turned invisible so he could sneak off quietly into the forest and next to the pond, on an old stump that his wife loved to sit on, he placed his magic books along with her swan book. He bellowed his magic words into the darkness and touched his beloved’s book with his magic wand. All of a sudden, the two swans from the book began jumping out of the book and turning into real life swans. He called for his wife who came running and as soon as she saw her book and the beautiful swans she figured out what he had done, wrapped her arms around him and whispered, I’ll love you forever!” The end!
HAHA!!! Got it?? – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Now…does it all make sense?? hehe!
So, here’s one of my final sketches…although, I flipped the book horizontal, the swans are in a slightly different position and I changed the fairy godmother-looking wand into a wizard’s wand (after I came up with the complete story, I realized the true love needed to be a guy giving his little lady the swans…and wizards don’t have stars on the ends of their wands – haha!).
Are you tired yet?? That’s how my poor husband feels! You can feel sorry for him. He has to live with this mind of mine…the craziness!!
Now that I’ve been inspired, the work begins!!!
I started small…one element at a time. I’m really trying to keep my family/home/life balanced these days and only work on cake stuff if/when the little one is in preschool…which doesn’t give me a lot of time…especially when kids are home sick. BUT, little by little, day by day things got done…inch by inch!! The tree was styrofoam inside (since I wasn’t going to be serving it to anyone) as was the inside of the gray and green books. Everything else was edible…either rice crispy treats, gumpaste, fondant or modeling chocolate. There was a wire inside the swan’s necks as well as inside the wand. But more about that later!
I’m going to do separate posts for all the parts/pieces because this post would be LOOOOOOOONG!! – and I don’t want to bore you…especially if you’re just here to stare at the cake!! BUT, if you want to know how to do one of these elements, check back in the next few days.
Due to always having to work super fast to get anything accomplished in two hours, I couldn’t stop and take a lot of pics. BUT, I will give you some commentary and you’ll get the general idea on how to build the elements of this cake!! Subscribe to my website above to get the updates and details. There will be four tutorials coming your way!! Here’s what they will be about…
I’ll be showing you how to make fondant grass and clump it together…
*By the way, the beautiful magical backdrop is a Bakedrop by Sugar High Inc. It’s the Bokeh #3. This cake was so huge I was only able to use part of it, but it’s gorgeous!
I’ll be showing you how to make a real life edible tree…
I’ll be showing you how to make the swans…
This is the smallest of the “real” swans…a pretty princess I named Odeliah, which means “Praise God”. For He helped me through every step of making this cake and gave me something beautiful to look at in the end. He is worthy of praise and I owe Him all the glory!
This is my prince…such a gentle spirit! I call him “Benaiah” because it means “Yahweh builds up”…and HE did help me with this BIG time!! – as did my husband Ben who gave me the idea of it coming to life!! – so he’s named after both my loves! Plus, naming them makes them so much more real!!
I’ll be showing you how to make the altered gumpaste book…
This was MY FAVORITE part of the whole cake!! I LOVED how it turned out. There were seven layers of gumpaste each spaced with additional layers of gumpaste. It was about 1.25″ thick…plus the front cover and back…1.5″ in total.
I even put a tiny LED light in it!! LOVE these little lights…you can find them HERE. They are meant to go inside paper lantern balloons but they worked perfect in my book behind the moon!
Sooo pretty and magical! I LOVE how this book turned out!! – although I took this lit up pic before the swan came popping out of the book in the front bottom left corner!! LOL!!! That little cut out is for the toothpick I pushed into the book to impale the first swan on!! We laugh about the word impale around here…like when my child starts running off with scissors…it’s one of our favorite lines from Frozen…”Haha! Look I’ve been impaled!” says Olaf! I know…we are weird…and gross at times! – but it’s funny if you’ve seen the movie!
For the water, I’m just going to tell you here real quick because there’s not much to say and no progress pics…sorry!
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is you should NEVER make a brand new home made piping gel recipe you got online and just pour it onto your cake board!!! Dumb dumb dumb dumb DUMB!! I was going to buy it, but thought, ahhh, I’ll make it!! Then I can post a recipe for you and help you all out! – well…this is NOT the recipe to use UNLESS you want FLAT mirror like water…it would be GREAT for that or a stained glass look…so, save it for that. This recipe leveled and would not allow me to manipulate it at all. Also, don’t try and pipe it vertically…it’ll just slide. It does “firm” up after a while…sorta, but more like those gel stickers you used to play with when you were a kid…you can press on it, and it moves, but then levels right back out again really slowly. It’s weird stuff!! I couldn’t make waves, ripples, etc….well…I could, but an hour later it was nice and flat again! – So, I was bummed that the tail of this swan looks like he’s just fishing around under the water and didn’t just jump in. Here‘s the recipe I used…the first one with the corn syrup (again, a great flat water look). But, I should have used THIS one for the effect I was trying to achieve with a few more ripples/waves!! Hindsight…20/20!!
The hand painted board:
One more lesson learned is I should have covered my big wood board with fondant before I did anything!! I actually attached the wire armature of the swans to the board, built up the swans with modeling chocolate and rice crispy treats, then added their feathers, the bank and tree then realized, whoops…how am I going to cover it in fondant now?!??! I should have covered it with fondant first!! So…if you’re making a real cake to give someone, and it has a lot of details on the board, cover it first with fondant!! THEN attach everything and then paint your fondant covered board and add your water. So, I decided to just painted the wood board!!
I added a lot of color variations to the board and really wish I would have taken pics before. I made the swirls in the water with shades of blues, whites and green. Up there by the grass, I painted various shades of green over the blue to look like the grass is reflecting in the water. The piping gel I used had a TINY bit of blue in it…so, all the color variations you see above is from the paint under the gel. The edges of the board were painted a darker blue and the areas by the swans were lighter…again, picking up on the fact that the white swans would be reflecting back in the water. Then, once I got the board all pretty, I poured the crazy piping gel on it!! :( Boohoo!
Now, the reason you see “ripples” in the water above is because I took these pictures outside! What’s weird about this recipe is that it “shrinks” a bit in the cold and if you blow on it, it makes ripples!! SO weird right?!?! So, when I got outside, all of a sudden, I got my ripples!! – but not what I wanted them to be…but hey…it still worked!! I’d love to know the science behind it.
Okay…that’s the water!!
How I made the snow:
I’ve never made snow before…I’m not Jack Frost. And there is VERY little out there for making it. In fact…I really never found how to make edible snow. So, all this was new to me and therefore I have another “lesson learned” for you because hindsight is 20/20…and experience is the BEST teacher! By the grace of God it all worked out though and for that I’m thankful!!
I put a 2″ high x 6″ round cake dummy under the tree to raise it up a bit, then filled in under and around it with rice crispy treats to create a bank. I know you’re probably thinking…how could she put the rice crispy treats right on the wood like that?!?! AH…the horror!!! Remember…this is just for fun. No one is going to eat it. If you are making this for a client…of course, cover your board with saran wrap, tin foil, wax paper, fondant…something so the treats don’t touch the “naked” wood! Phew! Just say’n…
Anyhoo…this is where it gets good. This is where I messed up!! I should have just ganached it and covered it in white fondant! – then added some sparkle dust for the snow. SO simple!! I don’t know WHAT I was thinking?!!?! – that would have been SO easy compared to what I did.
I decided I’d just use left over random colored fondant to seal up my rice crispy treats (and save money because I wouldn’t have to make ganache) thinking that I’ll just pour royal icing all over the fondant anyway it to get a smooth snow-like effect. I can just use what I have…left over fondant! WHY!?! I’m too cheap and frugal sometimes!! Where was my brain!? Sounds easy? – no…it was a nightmare! Check out those fondant COLORS!! HAHAHA!!! It was nice using up what I had though…but it was a lot more work.
So, after the fondant was on, I placed my grass with a little melted chocolate and poured on the royal icing. As it started to dry a little, I thought, I’ll dust it with sugar to give it that snowy/icy look. But, as I was looking for the sugar, I spotted the salt! – hey…it looks like sugar, I’ll just use that since I’m in a hurry, have a ton of it, and no one is going to eat it anyway – right?! Sure!! So, I dusted it with salt and loved how it looked! – then ran off and got my daughter from preschool. When I got home…this is what it looked like…a wet, soupy, drippy, uneven mess!!! WAAAAAAA!! My beautiful snow was literally melting before my eyes!!
I put a fan on it to dry up some of the water and called my friend Summer who is brilliant with chemistry and baking (if you haven’t seen her site, check it out!! Cake Paper Party)!! She was like, “Oh, yeah! – salt eats the protein in the egg whites used to make royal icing!” – DUH…of course! She’s SO smart…why wasn’t she here when I was looking for sugar and decided to grab salt?! So…it continued to eat my royal icing for the rest of the day and in the end left a whole bunch of tiny pock marks and cracks all over. I took some corn starch to it and filled in some of the holes and it worked great actually!! It added this fluffy look, but also had a melted icy look. A friend of mine, who was originally from Montana, came by to check out the cake when it was done and commented how realistic the snow looked!! HAHA!! If only she knew!! So…see, it all worked out! BUT, next time, just ganache your rice crispy treats and cover in fondant, dust it with some SUGAR, and save yourself HOURS of work and sweat!!! haha!
How I made the magic wizard’s wand:
Oh I wish I wasn’t in such a rush at times!! I wish I would have taken more pics on how I did this for you!! I’m sorry. I’ll just have to explain.
I knew I wanted a little jewel on the end of the handle of the wizard’s wand to make it look slightly more magical. I was going for a Harry Potter sort of wand with a thicker end and pointed tip. But I wanted it embellished a little more. So, to make things easy for me since I don’t work with sugar, I bought a ring pop!! You know…a glorified candy pacifier?! My kids love them!! haha!
I cut the plastic base off it with an exacto knife to prepare it for the top of the wand. I then went down to our local home improvement center and looked for some big wire that could hold some weight and not bend. I found 1/4″ copper wire that would work perfect!! I bought 16″ of it. 8″ would be used inside the wand, and 8″ inside the cake. I bent it slightly in the middle (about 120 degree angle) and laid a brown 50/50 fondant and modeling chocolate blend medium around the wire and started to roll it making a thicker end at one side and tiny at the end where the wire bended. Now…if this was for an actual person, you’d want to cover the copper wire with a little press n seal saran wrap type stuff. I then stuck the jewel in the fat end and worked up some of the brown modeling chocolate/fondant over it while making sure it was butted up against the copper wire.
I used my favorite color shapers to “carve” the wood grain into the main log section, then let the log rest a bit. Once it felt secure, I tipped it up and stuck the straight end into a foam dummy (see picture above) then started rolling smaller snakes to look like winding “branches” that traveled up along the side of the wand. Once I got it looking like I liked it, I took some brown gel color mixed with vodka and painted it a bit. That’s why I used 50/50 fondant and modeling chocolate…cuz I knew I wanted to paint it a bit and you can’t paint modeling chocolate very well with water based color…it just beads up on you. You need a little fondant mixed into it. If you want to use straight modeling chocolate, then just use dry petal dusts!! That works great too!! I didn’t have any brown or black petal dust so I went with the blend.
At this point my beloved husband and 9 year old walk into the kitchen and say, “It’s upside down mom!” What??!! No…if it was a wizard’s STAFF then the jeweled end would be at the top and used to point magic at people/things because that’s where the power is from. But in a small WAND, the pointy tip is where the magic comes from…the big end is the handle!! But, to be sure, I called a few of my personal cake counselors, my friends Jenni, Alice and Summer and asked them about the green jewel and the wand…maybe it was too “bright” and confusing. They all agreed that it looked fine, but if I painted the jewel it might be more subtle…and this is the final version. I used straight navy blue gel color and just kept painting it until it stuck on there!! Haha! I loved how it turned out!!
This is the HANDLE side! In case you were confused!! LOL!!
Once it was done and the paint was dry, I slid the wand into the straw I had placed inside the book and down through the other two books and log. It held it beautifully! I then found some really cool plastic star stickers at a hobby store, stuck them on the tip of some sewing needles I had, bent them a bit and placed them coming out of the book. It added a fun magical effect that I LOVED! – it was my husband’s idea and I am SOOOO glad he said something!! I felt the magical stars centered the cake a bit too. He was ON it with this cake!!! I LOVED it!
And here’s a silly photo of me and the cake so you can see the size. The smallest swan was about 10″ tall.
That’s pretty much it!!
Make sure to check back here over the next few days to find out how I made all the different elements of this cake.
Thanks for looking!
I wish you and your family a VERY Merry Christmas!! xo!
Check out all my favorite tools HERE
Check out my online cake classes with Craftsy and snag some DEEP discounts HERE. This link also includes other class discounts so you don’t want to miss out!!
OH, and here’s a cheeeesy video of the cake I made to explain everything. Sorry it’s vertical…I ALWAYS forget!! And, just after I took this video, I dismantled the cake a bit to take some tutorial shots I forgot to get. So…I can’t re-film. BUT, you get the idea!!