Tom is a little gifted boy with an intense interest in the Titanic. He is in my son’s class, so when we got the birthday invitation, it clearly stated the theme was the Titanic. Tom’s mom said that he will have to settle for a cake with a picture of the Titanic on it. Knowing how fanatical he is about this subject, I offered to make him a 3D Titanic. The toy model Tom build of the Titanic was send to school for me to collect so I will have something to work from. When I had a good look at it I thought to myself that this is going to be a titanic project. And with him being pedantic and perfectionistic, I knew I had a mammoth task ahead of me. When Tom handed it to me, he explained every little detail that I had to make. I did say to him that this is cake and some of the things would be difficult. You could see on his little face that he was really not too impressed with my remark. I decided there and then, that I would make the best replica possible. I started working out and measuring to make it on a scale of 2:1. The end result was a 1.4m long cake. All good and well, but now I need a cake board that this titanic ship will fit on. So, I went to buy a piece of shelving to make sure it will be strong enough to hold the cake without breaking. So with all the logistics worked out, I set off planning the ingredients and how I would be able to make it so that it is completely edible. Every single piece of it.
I decided all the fine detail that has to go on the decks and the mast poles will be made from modelling chocolate. I could not find that in our local stores and realised that I will have to make it myself. So onto youtube then. I searched “how not to make modelling chocolate” so I knew from the onset where people go wrong. Tried it, and it came out perfectly. So I started measuring every single piece in millimetres, doubled it, and started making the different shapes needed. What a job. It took me three days!
Once this was done, I realised that I need a dense cake to be able to hold all the items to be placed on deck if I don’t want the cake to start sagging. I then decided, with the mother’s permission, to make chocolate mud cake. The front and back end of the ship was done with rice crispy treats (also made it myself after I discovered a recipe for it). So after all the layers of cake was baked, I stacked the layers one on top of the other with butter cream icing. And then the shaping started. What a mission this was. I realised that you really have to have a good eye for it not to be scew.
With the shaping done, I started working with fondant to cover the cake. The bottom was wrapped with black and the top with white. What a mission. It had to be a strip of 1.4 metres long. And both the black and white had to be of the same thickness. Well, I rolled and rolled and rolled. It took me close to two hours to get it perfect. Fine, now that I have the 1.4m long strip, I need to get it wrapped and the black line has to be perfectly straight as the white will go directly attached to the top of it. Once again I realised you need a good eye. And I had to work quickly because I was afraid the fondant might start showing cracks. I mean really, as an amateur what do I do to be able to work with the fondant longer so it does not show cracks so soon. And time to do an internet search once again, did not exist. I had to get this cake finished. There is so much work still to be done and the party is in a couple of hours. I eventually put it on baking paper, rolled it up and had my mom hold the one end a bit higher than where the line is suppose to be and I started sticking it. With great success at the end of the day. No cracks. Yippee!!! I did the same with the white piece of fondant that had to be put on. Once the two colours were on, it actually started looking like a ship. I was quite pleased.
But now we needed all the portholes. Oh golly gosh, what to do. I cut out card, made it into a tubular square, dipped it in black food colouring gel and started doing the imprints on the side to resemble the windows. Here I needed a steady hand and straight eye. I was so thankful that I didn’t have the “shivers” as I was extremely nervous doing it. Because it is black marks on white fondant, you would be able to see the mistake and how on earth would I correct it. There is just no time for mistakes. If anything goes wrong at this point, I know a little boy who will not have a birthday cake.
With that done, it was time to start the final touches. Put all the small modelling chocolate decorations on. How enjoyable that was! With every piece I put up, it felt more like a ship and I felt better. I just saw this little boys face in front of me. I only wanted him to be happy and the centre of attention on his party. And I would do whatever I could to make that happen.
Now the Titanic was decorated and looked good. Or that is what I thought. Not too bad for an amateur with no training. Only gut feeling. I was quite impressed with myself. Then after that brief second of satisfaction, I realised we need a sea and we need icebergs. What is the Titanic without an iceberg? So on to the internet and an old cookbook that I inherited from my mom.
I found a recipe for piping jelly. What a job. Third time lucky as they say. I eventually got it right. I used food colouring gel to colour it and make it look like a stormy sea colour. Now the other big challenge. Icebergs!
First I thought of making Turkish Delight and shaping them into a form that might seem like an iceberg. Once I read the recipe, I realised, nope, no time and it will be the same issues as I had with the piping jelly. Maybe have a look at marshmallows. And off it is back to the old trusted cookbook. The marshmallows came out perfectly. I coloured it with blue food colouring jelly and added a few drops of bubblegum flavouring. The tasted delicious. Now it was to try and form a substance that is a bit runny and don’t really want to stay in position. I eventually got it right. Not perfect icebergs, but at least it looked liked it.
I spread the piping jelly around the Titanic, put the icebergs in place and it looked good. I then took one of the lifeboats and put it in the sea with a small little man sitting in it. I took another plastic little man and stationed it on the front deck of the Titanic, with his one hand raised, as to resemble the person who warned of the iceberg ahead. There were a few little men left and I randomly put them around the ship at various spots. And I thought to myself “a week ago you never thought it would look like this but you can actually do it” Once again I had a reality check as I stood back looking at the Titanic. Something is missing! Oh no! I never made the funnels! The cake is being picked up in an hour and there are no funnels……
How could I have forgotten about it? I have asked the parents to get some ice to make the funnels smoke, and they confirmed the previous day that they were able to source some, how could I not have remembered. Think, think, think. Okay, cardboard for the oval shape, lined with alluminium foil for the ice, cover with fondant icing. And so I got to work with the speed of lighting. And all did not go well. As I rolled the fondant around the funnel shape, it got fingermarks in it. So, try again. Fingermarks, try again. On the 5th attempt I realised I shouldn’t try to roll it in my hands but on a flat surface. Eureka! it worked. Next problem, the funnel would not stand up straight on the deck. Because it is on an angle, it keeps falling over. Yeah, clever me for not being able to foresee that. This is what stressing about getting it done does to you. You don’t plan and you don’t think. So, off with the fondant icing around the shape. Put a toothpick in, stick it to the card on the back side of the funnel, and start the wrapping process all over. Thank goodness that worked. I finished the cake literally 2 minutes before Tom’s dad rang the bell to collect the cake.
The reaction….well, I never. I expected Tom to criticise and see all the faults. But this little boy was in awe. I could feel the tears come to my eyes, my heart warming. There are no words that can ever describe the reaction I got from Tom. At that exact moment I realised all the stress, thinking, planning, thinking, planning, searching, stress was all worth it. No amount of money a baker asks to make a cake like this, could ever replace the prize he gave me that morning. He was going through a rough time just before his birthday and all I wanted to do was put a smile on his face and a hop in his step on the day of his party. But I did a lot more than that.
I got so many compliments at the birthday party it was unbelievable. Everybody said I should do it professionally. But I can’t. This is a creative process that I really enjoy and love and I don’t want to feel obliged and forced to do this. I want to do it out of love for the people who matter to me. If I cannot put my all in it, I don’t want to do it. And my everything went in to this cake. No money can buy the emotions, love, etc. that I put in to making every single little piece and the hours I sat thinking of this little gifted boy who is so often misunderstood. And my biggest thought was that every one deserves a place in the sun and children should be happy and playful and not sad.
The smoking of the funnels worked perfectly with the ice. And the kids really liked it. We sang happy birthday with Tom protecting his possession. No child was allowed to take anything off the cake. Well, what an issue when the cake had to be cut. Tom cut it exactly where the Titanic broke and on his instructions mom had to whisk it away before anyone could have a piece. No one was allowed to have any. No one was allowed to break his Titanic. Needless to say, mom brought out other cakes to be eaten by the party guests.
The Saturday afternoon after the party, Tom’s dad planned to take them to a sport game. Well, Tom refused to go. He and mom stayed at home. Mom says they discussed every bit of the cake and sat there looking at it all Saturday afternoon. Tom thought it was the best thing ever. And he also reckoned it would look fabulous in his room. If he left it long enough, the fondant would go hard and he can play with it. His words to me was “who needs anything if you have a cake like this!” How awesome is it to hear that.
Tom and his mom had a lunch date and she had to draw the Titanic cake for the people at the restaurant they went to. Tom told everyone, who was willing to listen in the restaurant, about his fabulous Titanic birthday cake
The cake is still on their dining room table. Untouched. Tom’s mom said that they have to disgard the cake but they can keep the rice crispy ends and all the other small chocolate things. But now it is going to be an issue to get Tom to part with his Titanic.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that the cake would have such an impact. I made a little boy very happy and I am extremely grateful that I could be part of that process. A big thank you from me to Tom’s mom for allowing me in sharing in something so special.