Tutorial Alert!! Today I get to share with you a FREE tree cake tutorial!! Yippie!!!
I had the pleasure of making this “Seven Swans A Swimming” Christmas cake for a 12 Days of Christmas Cake collaboration. And, for this post, I’m going to show you how I made the beautiful tree you see holding the magical books!!!! If you want to check out the original post where I talk about what this whole thing means, and how I came up with all the elements, and why there is a wand, and swans, and a book and more, click HERE.
Stay tuned for all the tutorials on this cake here on my site by subscribing on the side bar above. I’ll be releasing tutorials on how to do the swans and the book within the next week or so! Here is a link over to the tutorial I did earlier in the week on how to do the grass…click HERE.
Onto the tree cake tutorial!!! The beautiful tree!!
The first thing I did was grab a 6″ round x 6″ tall cake. For this cake, I used a styrofoam dummy because it was a show piece and wasn’t going to be eaten. Make sure to crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of ganache, then apply a circular piece of fondant to the top of it. I then went back and added more ganache to the sides of the top fondant piece so you wouldn’t see any white along the sides…through the “bark”.
Then, I placed the cake onto a foam core base I had cut to look like there would be roots coming out from the base of the tree. From there, I began adding ganache to build up the base of the tree and give it some thickness. I had to throw it in the fridge to get some of the ganache to set up before continuing to add more.
At this point, here is another option for you quick cake makers!!! JUST use ganache for your bark. I wanted to show you how if you add a lot of ganache and use a small palette knife (see my favorite tools HERE) you can create a very rustic bark effect with deep dips in the ganache and messing work of the palette knife. At this point, you can even let the ganache set up and paint it!! I did that to show it can be done and looks pretty cool…but I wanted a VERY realistic effect so didn’t leave it this way.
Now the fun (and time consuming) part begins!! This is when I called in the cavalry…my kids!! I had them grab my brown fondant/modeling chocolate mix (I used 50/50 here but you can use straight one or the other) and start rolling all kinds of uneven ropes (or as my son called it, “poop”! – got to love the mind of a 7 year old boy!). But…he’s right…it does look like poop!! LOL!!! The more dried out and ugly your fondant looks the better!! You could even leave it out a while before starting this project…it looks more realistic that way. And, I loved that my kids were doing it because they couldn’t roll a straight rope to save their lives…so, it worked in my favor!! haha!! Anyhooo…roll ropes…LOTS of them!! You want to make them narrow at the top and the bottom and sorta fat in the middle. Now, start squishing them together on your tree…in no particular order!!
I worked in 2-3″ wide sections at a time. When I got the look I liked, before it got too firm, I used my color shapers (LOVE these…thanks Shawna with McGreevy Cakes for introducing me to them!!) to distress the ropes and make them look like bark (see pic below). I grooved lines all over them and also pushed some of the points at the tips of the ropes together to make them look like they grew together.
When I finished “grooving” the tree (like a dance!), then I used my scalpel to cut off the overhang of the ropes and my color shapers again to smooth out the base of the roots. They come in a big set, so you get lots of color shapers with different heads to play with and use in different applications. They’re wonderful!! The ones I’m using are the size 6 seen HERE. Recently, the amazing Kaysie Lackey has come out with her own line of color shapers with Innovative Sugar works…and they are GORGEOUS!! See them HERE. I have a set and love them, but they are quite a bit bigger than these. With the right cake project (something a bit bigger than this) they would be amazing to use!!
Now, for the top, you’ll do the same thing. Let the ropes overlap so you get a lot of variation with them and after a few inches, go around and trim the top along the fondant edge with a scalpel or another sharp knife. Then, again, use your color shapers to smooth out the top edge of the bark and even it up with the white fondant top.
Now it’s time to paint!!
First off..I’m sorry there’s really no progress pictures!! I was in a HURRY due to kids schedules and just didn’t stop to do it. BUT, I can explain. It’s all about layering!! But, I show how to create bark and a cut wood effect in my newest Craftsy class, “The Clean & Simple Collection: Playful Techniques” so you can see me create bark (a little differently than I’ve done here), paint it with layers of color and also do the cut wood top!! Here’s the $20 off link…click HERE.
But, let me try and explain what I did…
I began with straight brown gel and a little vodka. I painted the darker color in all the cracks and where the ropes connect. I smoothed it into the center of the ropes a bit, but left the darker color in the cracks. I then added a little white to my brown gel color and dipped a dry bristle brush in it just a TAD and started poking the cake everywhere to created lighter bristle marks. Then, I took a dry paper towel and started to dab and rub slightly to wipe off some of the white, but leave light “patches” around the tree…see below left bark. The right bark was made using gray ropes and black and brown and white paint. It’s a really cool fantasy style tree bark, but for this cake, I liked the brown better.
BUT, that being said, before you begin painting, do a mock up like I did here below. Take some ropes and put them together and throw some paint on it to see how to get the look your after. The more uneven and crazy, the better it will look!! Just keep it darker in the cracks and create some lighter “patches” like bark. Have fun bringing out that inner artist!!
The picture below shows how I built it up on a 2″ x 6″ round cake dummy then squished a lot of rice crispy treats all around the base to fill it in and stabilize the roots that stuck out from the cake dummy. The right side of the cake wasn’t completed yet so it appears to be floating! Haha! Again, to find out more about the bank, the board and the idea behind the theme, click the main post HERE.
For the ring-like cut wood texture you see on the top of the tree stump, I painted it with brown gel color mixed with vodka then while it was wet took a course brush and while spinning the cake allowed the brush strokes to take off some of the brown gel. If it started to get “sticky” then I spritzed it with a little more water and kept spinning and brushing. Then I went back over it with a dry fan brush dipped lightly in straight brown gel to give it some darker rings. The sap crack at the top was just painted with dark brown gel color and a paint brush. I pried open two of the fondant ropes to make it look like the tree had cracked there. Super simple! If you want to see me do this in action, check out my newest Craftsy class, “The Clean & Simple Collection: Playful Techniques“. I show how to handsculpt tree bark (even easier than what you see here) as well as how to make the cut wood!! And that link gives you $20 off that class!! Yippie!!
That’s it!! I hope you enjoyed the little “how to” on achieving a realistic tree bark effect without using a mold!!!
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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!!