This cake was born of my daughter’s request for a Tiana birthday cake and the decision to do a joint party with another girl turning 4 whose mom wanted to do cupcakes.  We wanted each girl to have a cake with a candle to blow out, but we didn’t need a surplus of cake…so I decided to try my hand at an ice cream cake with candy clay (similar to fondant) as a decoration.  After persuing picture after picture of doll skirt cakes and reading numerous online write-ups of similar cakes I formulated my plan and jumped in!

Bowl and candy clay prep: 3 days before party

To maximize efficiency and minimize stress, I tried to anticipate every possible problem with ice cream – melting during decorating, difficulty of unmolding the cake, getting the right height for the doll, finding something the right size to make a hole during the ice cream freezing. I spent weeks planning how I would attack this cake. I started by finding a stainless steel bowl with a diameter just under 9 inches so the 9 inch cake round would make a decent base.  Luckily the height of the bowl plus the cake pan was just about the height of the legs, so it worked.

I took a used paper towel tube and cut it to the appropriate length – after making sure it fit (it was the exact diameter of the hips). I then filled it with aluminum foil so the ice cream wouldn’t collapse the tube.  I lined the outside of the tube and the inside of the bowl with plastic wrap and stood the tube up in the middle. I also made the candy clay by melting bags of Wilton Candy Melts in the microwave (no more than 1 minute, stopping to stir every 20 sec.) and then adding 1/2 cup of light corn syrup.  Mix it together, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit at least an hour. I found that it was still a little soft after an hour, so letting it sit overnight was even better.  I did white, green and yellow candy melts, though I probably could have tinted some of the white…but I didn’t want to make extra work for myself beyond what I had already taken on!

Cake and ice cream creation: 2 days before party

I baked a 9 inch strawberry cake (at my daughter’s request) and we decided on layers of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. I also like my ice cream with the gooey stuff, so I found a jar of sea salt caramel fudge (really, it’s not even fair to put that much deliciousness into ONE product!!!) to go between the layers. To make sure the ice cream was spreadable, I let each container sit out for a little until I could stir it pretty easily but tried not to let too much melting occur to avoid crystallization (yuck).  I first put the strawberry layer into the bowl, keeping the tube upright in the middle, then spread it as evenly as possible.  Then I drizzled some of the fudge on top of the ice cream and returned the cake to the freezer for 30 min.

Next I did the chocolate layer and drizzled the fudge on top. Back in the freezer for 30 min. Finally I did the vanilla layer and put it back in the freezer for 30 min. The cake layer was cooled by this time and I cut a hole in the middle. When the cake was good and frozen I took out the tube from the middle, making sure all of the plastic wrap came out intact. I did a layer of fudge on the cake, then stood the bowl upside down on the cake matching the tube with the hole. I cut around the edge of the bowl to trim the cake to fit. After having a few minutes to warm up, the bowl slid off and I took off the plastic wrap from the outside…and there was the “skirt” portion. It went back in the freezer to wait for the next day’s decorating.

Ice cream skirt with strawberry cake base
Ice cream skirt with strawberry cake base

Doll prep and candy clay test: 2 days before party

I was curious to see how the candy clay would hold up after time in the freezer, so I did Tiana’s gloves, crown and flower for the skirt early to do an overnight test and allow time for problem solving if it dried up or fell apart. The clay needed a little kneading but was easy to roll out using lots of powdered sugar. I hate fondant and I don’t decorate with it because I don’t like how it tastes. The candy clay tastes just like the white chocolate candy melts with a little extra sweetness from the corn syrup. I had to hide it from my 4 year-old who kept sneaking tastes when I wasn’t looking, so I was confident the party goers would enjoy it.

She helped with putting on her gloves – we rolled out thin green sheets of the clay, then wrapped them around her arms and hands, pinched the edges together, cut around the fingertips with little scissors and used a toothpick to press in finger indentations. That all sounds much easier than it really was. It was a pain – the clay doesn’t stick to the plastic, so we had to get it soft enough to stick to itself, then mold it on her arms, smooth it out, then continually pinch more of it off and re-smooth it so it didn’t look all lumpy and weird. But, it worked, and I stuck the 4 candle in between her fingers on one side. I did a necklace – easy – and the doll was done.

For the crown and the flower, since candy clay isn’t as stiff as fondant I wasn’t sure how I would get the curved contours I needed, but I eventually found that egg carton sections were just the right size. I used the scissors to cut the flower shape, then gently pressed it into the bottom of the egg carton section. I rolled a ball for the middle of the flower, then stuck in the pearl flower stamens (from the cake decorating aisle at Michael’s!). I rolled a long skinny section of green for the crown base and measured it to her head, then formed it on the outside of an egg carton section.  I cut the white petals out and used water and pressure to seal them to the crown.

Gravity was the big challenge here as the petals weighed more than the crown base – this part also took forever and after a few disastrous attempts, the crown was together. I stuck some of the flower stamens in and transferred the crown to her head…amazingly only minimal repairs were required after the move. l put the doll and the flower back in the freezer to wait overnight and see what happened.

Gloved and crowned, ready for a night in the freezer
Gloved and crowned, ready for a night in the freezer

Assembly and decorating: 1 day before party

The candy clay held up just fine in the freezer, and stiffened up nicely. I found that once I took it out, it beaded up with moisture pretty quickly, though, so I tried to work fast. I first put the doll into the hole in the ice cream cake and it fit pretty well with only a little smooshing required. I used yellow clay for the bottom layer of the skirt. I used parchment paper to make “patterns” for cutting using the bowl as my model to avoid having the ice cream out of the freezer for a long time. I rolled and cut out a big section of yellow and draped it around the cake to make the lowest layer. The beauty of draping candy clay to make a dress is that fabric doesn’t have to lay perfectly smooth. The challenge of the ice cream cake is that the clay stiffened immediately on contact with the ice cream! Luckily the lowest layer was mostly covered by everything else, so it didn’t have to look perfect and I could patch as needed up higher.

I also made another layer that made a smooth line from the waist to the skirt. Back in the freezer – it was starting to drip a bit. The next layer was white, with a petal design along the bottom. I did another pattern, cut it out, pulled out the cake and quickly layered it on. I had also cut some individual petals for the bodice and put those on to cover the chest. I made vertical lines with a toothpick in the middle of the petals. Back in the freezer! I cut a few large green sections for the top layer of the dress and had to do a little smoothing once it was on to get it to cover everything. Since there were a few layers of clay now over the ice cream, it didn’t stiffen quite as fast, so it worked. Back in the freezer. Finally I stuck the flower on over a layer of piped leaves and piped the vines falling down and the words with green icing. I mopped up the little drips of ice cream that were making their way to the bottom of the skirt…and back in the freezer one last time overnight.

Finished cake, the night before
Finished cake, the night before

Party day: reveal, transport and demolish!

When I showed my daughter the cake the morning of the party, she was speechless. She just jumped up and down with a huge smile on her face and eventually squealed something about “Tiana” and “cake.” She was very proud to have helped with the gloves and loved how it had turned out. The challenge was that the party was at an indoor playground at a rec center…in late August. Why an ice cream cake seemed like a good choice I still wonder, but we made it work!  I had borrowed a huge cooler that was, miraculously, just barely tall enough to hold the cake. I filled it with frozen ice packs and bags of ice, and drove it to the party. Luckily they had an industrial sized freezer where we could store the cake until it was time to bring it out.

All of the kids loved seeing the cake, and I would have had a hard time cutting into it if it wasn’t for the fact that after sitting out for pictures, singing Happy Birthday and blowing out candles it was starting to drip a little, it would have been very difficult to watch its destruction. However, it was just soft enough to make cutting it easy, and it paired nicely with the chocolate cupcakes. I had brought an ice cream scoop that worked well for the middle. The caramel sea salt fudge was delicious hidden in all of the ice cream, and though I much prefer cake to ice cream, it was pretty darn good.

Blowing out the candle
Blowing out the candle