“Dad, I’d like you to make me a rock climbing cake for my birthday” said my 6 year old son and the game was afoot. What has become a tradition since it began a couple years back is slow turning into an mission. How big, how intricate, how creative, how far can I go? At the end of the day, this is my fourth cake. I’m a novice cake maker at best but this proves anything is possible.
This cake began with lots of research, first looking online for examples of rock climbing cakes and then searching for rock climbing photos for inspiration. Ultimately, I settled on making a cake modeled after El Capitan in Yosemite. This cake is homemade. In total, six 9×13 sheets of Pillsbury yellow cake mix were used. Everything on it is edible. There is no fondant, only colored frosting, candy and rice crispy treats. This is not a technical cake. In fact, you will find it’s very straight forward and easy to build.
The entire cake sits on a 14 x 21 cardboard cake platter (from Party City) which is on top of a sheet of ply wood to support the weight and allow it to be easily moved. I started with two 9×13 cakes laid side by side on the cardboard cake platter. A third cake is added on one side directly atop one of the sheets with some Pillsbury vanilla frosting between the two to act as glue. One side will be the field at the base of the mountain, the other side (with two sheet cakes) will be the foothill on which El Capitan will sit. I then used a serrated bread knife to trim the edges to create the slope. To finish the base, I cut five plastic cake dowels (bought at Michaels) to support the mountain.
The dowels are cut so they are even with the top of the cake. I was told by a couple of folks that cake dowels are essential for tall cakes. The dowels support the lower layers so they are not crushed by the weight of the cake above, they also stop the cake from leaning or sliding off to one side. The base was frosted with brown colored frosting to look like dirt. I then built the rock (a.k.a. El Capitan) separately. I stacked four 9×13 sheet cakes on top of each other to form the rock.
The first sheet cake was trimmed down with a knife and placed on a separate cake board which was cut to the exact size of the sheet cake. I then I placed another sheet cake on top, spread frosting between the two to act as glue and then placed five plastic dowels cut to the exact height of the cake. I then took another sheet cake, trimmed it down further and placed on another cake board also cut to the exact size. I then placed the fourth and last sheet cake on top with frosting in between the two. At this point, it was time to combine the two stacks.
I placed the smaller set of cakes on top of the first two. The top two layers sit right on top of the dowels that were cut to the exact height of the cake. I then trimmed it down a bit more to shape the rock and added a small sliver of left over cake to the very top to make a ridge. The entire rock was frosted with grey colored frosting to look like a granite rock. The next step was to combine the two by placing the rock directly on top of the base where the dowels were placed. The photos show the fully assembled cake along with the decorations. You will notice that I used candy chocolate boulders which really do make it look authentic.
I also used green sprinkles for grass and added a river with blue decorating frosting which can be bought in tubes. When I arrived at the party, I added the final touches. You will see from the photos that there are many trees and bushes along with some additional decorations. The trees were made earlier from rice crispy treats and colored green with the food coloring spray. Rather than making the treats, I used the individual packaged squares and cut them into triangles. I made these with my son and had a ball. Some were rolled, some were cut and some squashed to make bushes. In fact, he made most of them himself.
We also added animal cookies to the cake so there would be animals grazing in the grass field. The little people are sour patch kids. I used toothpicks to anchor them in place. A couple kids are fishing and others are climbing the rock. There is a piece of rope licorice was used for the climbing rope. That’s it! The cake was a big hit. Lots of oohh’s and aahh’s from all the kids and the parents. It was tasty too.