This graphical representation might look incredibly complicated and fairly daunting to anyone without children! Parenting is filled with ups and downs, good days and bad days! There are moments that you just want to scream (at the kids or other people) and moments you wish could last forever. You never get to stop worrying, you rarely feel well rested, and sometimes you don’t know how you can possibly handle it all! To a (good) parent, however, it isn’t all that complicated. Once you have kids, you rarely look at the world in terms of how it had been before kids. You do and deal with more than you ever thought possible but, never the less, you love them more every day. Any parent that looks at this chart will tell you that the only line that ever matters is the red one!
Once again, my son shines above all others with his ability to use one liners to make the masses (me wife, daughter and I) laugh. Sitting in his booster seat for breakfast, he informed us that he wanted more “juice” and immediately started to fake fuss. I’m sure you parents out there know exactly what I mean. Its somewhere between a cry and an awkward continuous moan coupled with an intentionally contorted face that ends up looking more like a constipated moose than it does a child in distress. Amused, my wife chuckled and said “you’re quite the little actor aren’t you?”. Immediately, my son’s less than genuine fussing stopped, he looked at my wife with a serious face, started shaking his head in disagreement and quipped “No…I a piece of work!”. I’m telling ya, this kid is going to be a politician…
On Sunday morning we were getting the kids ready to head out to the local fire company breakfast. Now, this is always a big deal to my kids. They love the monthly fire company breakfast, so they are always a little wild when we are getting ready to go. Eventually, my wife and I were forced to raise our voices which, of course, garnered one of those guilt inducing “why are you yelling at us” faces that makes the best of parents question both their strategy and sanity! Guilt or not, it worked and my son sat down on my wife’s lap for help with his shoes. Now, no one was angry, but the enthusiasm had definitely dried up just a bit. Then, my wife’s stomach let out a loud gurgle, and my son looked around confused and said “what that noise?”. My wife, using what adults know as a very common colloquialism, responded with “my stomach is growling, bud”. My son’s response diffused any tension almost immediately. He turned to my wife with a confused look and in a genuinely concerned voice asked “Is there a tiger in there?”. After we all finished laughing, we were good to go!
Over the past decade, Thomas the Tank Engine has become one of the most recognizable icons in childhood entertainment across the globe! He (and his show) have spent the 8 years in Google’s top 10 most searched in the kids TV category! Beaten only by Spongebob, Power Rangers, and sesame Street in terms of longevity. “The Cheeky One” certainly has founded a fairly formative following , and my son is, of course, a follower!! Oddly, he doesn’t typically watch Thomas on TV, but anytime he sees a toy in a store his excitement is palpable (holy Marketing)! So, when he saw his “number 1” favorite little engine as a wooden crate craft demo during a recent trip to our local A.C. Moore…well, he could barely contain himself. A sucker for crafts I offered to make one for him! Now, typically these demo crafts have instructions on the Projects section of the A.C. Moore website ( lots of cool ideas, check it out if you get a second). Unfortunately, this project didn’t make the list. So, while I can’t take credit for the concept (and I’d gladly give credit if I knew who to give it to), I did have to figure out the products, paints and techniques for getting Thomas chugging along. So, I decided to outline my efforts for those that may want to give it a whirl!
- 1 – 11″ x 5.5″ x 4.5″ Woodline Works Wood Crate (engine/body)
- 6 – 3″ flat wood circles (wheels)
- 4 – Jumbo (6″ x 3/4″) popsicle sticks (struts/wheel connectors)
- 1 – 3″ round wooden box w/Lid (head)
- 2 – 20 mm googly eyes (sold by the bag)
- 1 – smoke stack (see “Step 8: Smoke Stack” for more information)
- 1 – Red Foam Sheet (#1 background)
- 1 – Yellow Foam Sheet (#1 foreground)
- Acrylic Paints
- Bright Blue “My Studio” – large bottle (Let me know if you find a better Thomas color!!)
- Black – small bottle
- Silver/Grey – small bottle
- White – small bottle
- 1″ Foam Paint Brushes (at least 4, probably more)
- Metallic Silver Sharpie – fine tip (wheel decoration)
- Black Sharpie – fine tip (face and wheel decoration)
- Red Paint Marker – thick tip (tank engine outline)
- Wood Glue
- Tacky Glue
- Ruler/Yardstick/Straight Edge (for straight lines)
- Fine Sand Paper (Semi-optional)
- Power Drill (for smoke stack depending on your child!)
- 3/16, 1/4 and 5/16 wood drill bits (for smoke stack depending on your child!)
- 1 –2.5″ screw (for the smoke stack depending on your child!)
- This portion is semi-optional. I always sand wooden projects prior to painting, as even smooth wood will become rough as paint dries. The smoother your pieces going in, the smoother it will be after painting. If you are incredibly motivated, you can actually apply one coat of paint, sand and repaint for optimized smoothness (I’m typically not that motivated…).
- Using the fine sand paper, sand all wooden surfaces (Crate – inside and out, 3″ wood circles, Popsicle Sticks, Smoke Stack), until smooth to the touch. You can sand the round wooden box, but be careful as they tend to be thinner wood and prone to breakage.
- Tip: Always sand with the grain of the wood as cross grain sanding can lead to scratching
- Bright Blue “My Studio”:
- Crate -inside and out ensuring to hit between the slats on the bottom and side (I did the bottom as well)
- 3″ wood circles – paint both sides, as the back side will be visible between the side slats in the crate
- Popsicle sticks – I only painted one side of each (if you tend toward OCD…do both and spin around 3 times)
- Round wooden box (not lid). Side only (you don’t have to paint the bottom or inside)
- Smoke stack
- Silver/Grey (I used a metallic Silver pain):
- Box lid – Paint the top and sides only (you don’t have to pain the inside)
- 20 mm Googly Eyes:
- In both the lid and box there is a seam where the wood overlaps. This seam should be at the bottom of your face, so lay your lid face up and place the eyes ~ 1.25″ from top and move them out so they are equidistant from each side and each other (equal spacing is ~0.5″ from the sides and each another). See Picture on right.
- Once eyes are in place, trace around each lightly with a pencil (to mark location)
- Use Tacky Glue to glue eyes in place (using pencil markings as guide). Allow to dry
- Black Sharpie – Using a fine point black sharpie, draw in your face. Here is where I called in the wife! I would probably make the nose symmetrical if I had to do it over again (even easier). I can’t give you much in the way of drawing tips, but follow the basic lines from the picture on the right and I am SURE you can do it! (another pep talk…I should start charging!)
- Paint Mouth – Using White Acrylic Pain, carefully paint the mouth white. If you cover your sharpie mark you can touch it up after the paint dries….though going too far outside the lines can be a pain (re-painting silver and such)
- Glue Box Closed – Using your wood glue, glue the lid onto the box. Make sure to line up the seams before allowing to dry! You can do this prior to decorating the face if you prefer. If you do that, you can place a heavy (not to heavy!) on the lid to ensure good adhesion with the glue (hindsight…amiright??)
- Glue Head To Crate:
- Stand the crate upright and center the head on the top face from left to right (~1.25″ from both the left and right edge).
- Adjust the face from top to bottom however you would like. I have my Thomas’ face above center, closer to the top of the crate.
- Once you have it in position, mark it lightly around the base, add glue to the back of the head (bottom of the box) and using marks as a guide apply to crate. Allow to dry completely before turning the box!
- Struts (the black PopSicle stick cross pieces between the wheels)
- Using the fine tip metallic silver Sharpie, draw a circle at each end of the painted side of each Popsicle stick (or on one painted side depending on your level of OCD in a previous step!). Then using a ruler or other straight edge, draw two straight lines connecting the two circles (but parallel to one another). See picture to the right for Clarity.
- Wheels ( all six 3″ wooden circles):
- Black circular Outline – Using the fine tip black Sharpie draw a circle around the inside of each wheel with a slightly smaller circumference than the wheel itself (To achieve the uniform and clean outline I used….wait for it….a can of corn). Most vegetable cans are slightly less then 3″ in diameter, so I put a vegetable can on the 3″ in wooden circles, centered it as best I could and then carefully traced around the edge. Careful not to move the can of corn as you trace! (I’m sure a compass or some other high tech device would work, but can of corn suited my needs just fine!)
- Black Wedges are basically 8 equal, black, 45 ° wedges or more simply, 4 straight lines intersecting at the center of the circle. This is actually fairly easy to achieve (even simpler if you have a 3″ protractor…we did not). So, assuming you are also protractorly deficient, just follow these simple:
Step 1: Sanding (Semi-Optional)
Step 2: Painting
I did two coats of each paint as follows:
Allow all to dry completely for next steps.
Note: Steps 3 and 4 are completely inter-changeable, this is just the random order I decided to do things in…
Step 3: Face
The face is really the only thing that requires any artistic ability in my opinion (which is why I called in the wife on this one!). Though, in terms of drawing, its a series of well placed lines, so, I’m sure you can do it! (pep talk complete).
Step 4: Decorating Wheels and Struts:
- Trace one wheel (only need to do one) on a piece of paper.
- Cut out the circle (cut inside the line to ensure your paper is the same size as the wooden circle)
- Fold paper Circle in half, and then in half again to form a 90 ° wedge.
- align paper wedge’s rounded edge with the outer edge of the wooden circle and mark the wood at the point of the paper (this is the center!). This isn’t 100% necessary, but it is a good reference.
- unfold paper to half circle and again align the edges of the paper with the wooden circle (ensuring you are passing through the center point (if your paper isn’t perfect it may be slightly off, but if you bisect your center mark with each line you will be fine!).
- Using a fine tip black Sharpie and your paper as a straight edge, trace a line from one side of the inner black circle (that we drew around a can of corn) to the other (don’t go past the black inner circle we created before).
- Draw another black line perpendicular to the first, then do the same thing splitting two 90 ° sections in half, and one last time splitting the last two 90 ° sections. You should now have eight 45 ° wedges intersecting your center point and stopping at your outer circle. Follow the pictures below. I’ve colored the wedge so you can see it on the white paper circle, you do not need to do this obviously
- Silver Wedges were generated free hand (I’m sure you could tell) using a fine tip metallic silver Sharpie, and simply drawing the wedge shape inside each of the eight 45 ° black wedges. Just do your best not to run the silver into the black lines, and to keep the silver rounded on the outer edges.
Step 5: Gluing the Wheels and Struts in Place:
Lay the crate on one side so that the side you plan to work on is face up. Do not turn box until all parts are dried. After affixing the wheels and struts to one side, the second side will not lay completely flat when you turn it over, but it should be sufficient to work with.
- Back Wheel – Align one finished wheel so that the circle is barely hitting the back and bottom edge of the crate (as shown in picture to the right ). Turn the wheel so that the strut might cover any imperfection in the detailing in the next step. With this positioning in mind, add wood glue to the back of the wheel (bottom edge and very top edge only to avoid the wood clue from being visible between the slats). Press into place and dab visible glue away if needed.
- Front Wheel – Align another finished wheel in a similar fashion to the back wheel, but in alignment with the front edge and bottom (as shown in the picture fo the right. Follow the same gluing procedure as the back wheel.
- Middle Wheel – Align a third finished wheel with the bottom edge and equidistant from the front and back wheel (~1.25″ from both front and back wheels as shown in the picture above). Follow Same gluing procedure as above.
- After drying (I placed more veggie cans on each wheel for drying time to increase bond) , repeat process on opposite side with remaining 3 wheels (allow to dry completely).
- Back Strut – using wood glue, glue a decorated Popsicle stick from the back wheel to the middle wheel as shown above. The Popsicle stick should be centered in the back wheel, but the bottom edge of the stick should be just above center of the middle wheel.
- Front Strut – using wood glue, glue a decorated Popsicle stick from the middle wheel to the front wheel as shown above. The top edge of the Popsicle stick should be just below center in the middle wheel (just below and parallel to the back strut) and centered in the front wheel.
- After drying (yup, used the veggie cans to hold them down again! It’s important here because the it can be difficult to keep both ends of the stick down), repeat process on the opposite side.
Step 6: Red Outlining Above Wheels
- Use a yard stick or other straight edge and trace along the edge with your thick red paint marker (red sharpie doesnt show up as well)to generate the top red line. Try to keep it slightly below and parallel with the top edge of the crate and stop the line slightly before the front and back edges of the crate.
- Use the straight edge and red paint marker to draw two vertical lines (one on each side of the horizontal red line) forming two 90 ° angles
- Using your red paint marker, free hand a the line around and between the wheels connecting the vertical lines.
- Repeat process on opposite side
- See picture above in the wheels and strut section for visual guidance.
Step 7: Number Ones
- On your red foam sheet trace a “fancy” number 1 with a tooth pick (avoids visible lines but allows you to see your outline). Should be ~1″ high with a base of ~0.75″ wide. Cut out the red 1.
- On the red foam sheet, trace around the initial red 1 with a toothpick, and cut the second red 1 out.
- On the yellow foam sheet, trace around each of the red 1s (you can use a pen or pencil here). Then, with the tooth pick, draw a slightly smaller 1 with the same shape inside each outline. Cut out out both yellow (smaller) 1s.
- Apply a small amount of Tacky Glue to the the back of the yellow 1s and apply them to the red 1s with the yellow centered so you can see red on all edges.
- With Tack glue, paste them to the crate just above the middle wheel on each side with the red back down (should be obvious, but uh….well you never know!).
Step 8: Smoke Stack
I’ve saved this portion for last because it’s slightly less straight forward and based on preference. You could use a Large Wooden bead which would be very simple as you could add a good amount of wood glue and paste it in place. It would be less likely to fall off. I, of course, went the slightly more difficult route to improve (I believe anyway) the visual appeal of the piece. Unfortunately, I don’t know what to call the piece of wood I used. I bought it pre-made at A.C. Moore, however, it was symmetrical. Meaning, it had the tapered wooden head on both ends of the center cylinder (if you go to A.C. Moore and search their wooden crafts you will find it). So, if you’d prefer to use the wooden bead…just paint it black and paste it on. DONE. However, for those that like a challenge (or like the look of my smoke stack in the picture to the right, I will outline what I did:
- Using a hack Saw (actually just the blade) I removed one of the tapered heads. Safety Warning: This was NOT easy and for safety reasons, I would not advise trying this if you’re not skilled with a saw! Further, children should NEVER do this…I nearly cut myself several times and I’m well versed with the practice!!)
- I sanded (with the fine sandpaper) the cut edge until it was smooth and I could sit it on the cut edge and it remained upright (this way you know it wont be crooked).
- I painted the smoke stack black
- Attachment options: If you’re child is calm and easy going, and plays with toys carefully….well then Option 1 (my first try) will work for you. If, like my son, your child plays a bit ROUGHER with his “toys”, you might want to consider option 1 below because it will break off…or maybe you now want to go back to the bead idea!
- Option 1 (gentle) – Using wood glue, glue the stack in place in the center of the top front edge of the crate (above Thomas’ head) Centered (given the same wooden crate size as listed above) is ~2.75″ from either side. Make a mark, and glue the bottom (cut edge) of the cylinder to the crate so it is centered over the center mark.
- If you’re child is a gentle soul, well congrats you now have a Thomas Crate!
- Option 2 (rough):
- Using a power drill, and a 3/16 drill bit (for wood!) drill down through the top tapered head and through the cylinder itself. Careful to keep the bit straight, and go slow as to not split the wood.
- Now, using a 1/4 drill bit, drill half-way down through the cylinder (slowly!). Follow this with a 5/16 drill bit stopping at the same half-way mark. This is to “drill it out” and provide a recessed stopping point for a screw.
- Place the smoke stack on the 2.75″ center mark on the top edge of the crate (described in Option 1) and using the 3/16 bit drill down through the smock stack into the crate (keep the drill straight up and down and go slow!).
- Using a 2.5″ screw (2″ would probably work, but I didnt have one of them!), screw the smoke stack to the crate. Drive the screw slowly, and stop when you feel resistance (or the smoke stack is tight) as to avoid splitting the crate OR smoke stack.
- Congrats! You have a Thomas Crate!
So, that is “my easy” Thomas the Tank Engine Wooden Crate craft. It may not sound so simple, but how hard can it be if I did it? If you have any questions or comments, please let me know below!
If you are the originator of this concept please let me know and i will gladly give you credit where credit is due!
Finally, I am always looking for new ideas and/or challenges in terms of cakes, crafts, or projects. If you have any kid friendly ideas that you have an requests or want to put me to the test, please feel free to comment below and I’ll see what I can do! Thanks for reading!
The wife and I made this cake almost 2 years ago for my son’s first birthday party. At the time, he was very into Winnie The Pooh, and once again, there were no available, pre-formed pans. Did we let that stop us? Of course not! Did we sleep that night? OF COURSE NOT. I should make mention, that for each b-day party, we make 3 cakes. On a good year, all three are pre-formed pans. On a rough year…well this is what they get. Though tiring, it’s also extremely rewarding to give your kid something you’ve created! Even if he is one year old and has NO memory of this cakes existence going forward. Not to mention the satisfaction of the “ohs” and “ahhs” that you get (particularly from easily impressed family members)!
Step 1: Baking
Now, given that this was two years ago, I’m fairly hazy on the details, but I can offer a basic overview of the process. We started with Wilton’s 3-D Stand-Up Cuddly Bear Pan Set (available at Michael’s or A.C. Moore) and our trusty 1:1 mix of yellow and pound cake described in the Monsters Inc Sulley Cake Guide from this blog:
“1:1 mix of Betty Crocker’s “Super Moist Butter Recipe Yellow cake and Pound Cake mixes: In one bowl, combine the two dry cake mixes as well as all of the the required extra ingredients listed on BOTH cakes direction set. Mix all ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth. Split the batter in half and pour into two well greased 9 in round pans. We have found that Wilton’s Cake Release is the most reliable product for effortless cake removal! Simply coat the inside of the pan with Wilton’s Cake Release using a basting brush and if you don’t miss a spot, your cake is going to fall right out of the pan EVERY time!”
The directions come with the pan in terms of baking, removing from the pan and cooling. Just make sure you hit EVERY inch of the 3-D pan with Cake Release (or equivalent if you are brave). The first time we ever use this pan we just greased it with margarine or butter and we broke it to pieces trying to get it out (same with Pam)! With all of the nooks and crannies, good cake release and generous GENEROUS application to the pan, and both the inside and outside of the cone insert is priceless. If you have no idea what the cone insert is…you will if you buy the Cuddly Bear Pan Set. Just make sure you follow the baking directions because the cooling times are extremely important to anyone that doesn’t want thier cake to fall apart! Take it from someone that usually thinks instructions are for dummies (and learned from experience)! Similarly, with a 3-D cake like this, allow the cake to cool COMPLETELY before you try to carve and/or ice it. The cooler it gets the firmer it gets and given that its 3-D, icing has a habit of succumbing to gravity rather quickly if any heat is left in the cake. So, unless your cake is themed around the 1950’s cult classic, “The Blob”…you’re going to want to give the cake plenty of time to cool! In any case, if you follow all of the directions, your bear cake should turn out looking something like this:
Step 2: Sculpting/Carving
It’s a bear, but it doesn’t really look much like Winnie the Pooh. That being said, it’s a fantastic starting point for a wife variety of 3-D redesigns if you have a bit of vision, a lot of patience, a ton of time and a hint of carving capability! I pulled out one of my son’s Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals, and started sculpting (typically with a serrated kitchen knife). I can’t give you many pointers here. It’s basically taking your time and cutting away what doesn’t look like Winnie the Pooh in your head. I do have a bit of a knack for the three dimensional, so that helps a lot. I started with his head and worked my way down to ensure stability of the cake. Had to remove reshape and replace the ears (attached them with tooth picks), reshape the head, carve out the body, cut off reshape and reposition the legs….eventually, though I’m not sure quite how, I got to something that slightly resembled Winnie the Pooh. In my opinion, the hardest part of the process is learning when to call it quits. There will always be small imperfections, irregularities, dips, dents and asymmetry. Borrowing from one of my Dad’s construction expressions, you have to remember that icing will cover a multitude of sin! In other words, I rely on my wife to make me look good by covering up my mistakes with her icing! In any case, here’s how it turned out un-iced:
Of course, once I had Pooh Bear set, I realized, what is Winnie the Pooh with out a pot of honey?? So, for the honey pot, I used the same 1:1 cake mix as described above, and baked 4 x 4 in round cakes, cut the bottoms flat and stacked them with icing in between the layers. Then I carved out a basic honey pot shape, and pushed it between Pooh’s legs. For the top of the jar, I scraped out a bit of the top layer of cake, and inside I put an inverted the sliced off domed bottom from one of the 4 in cakes. Then I carefully hollowed out the center to give it depth. The end result looked like a “silly old bear” if I do say so myself! At this point, I handed the reins over to my wife confident she would make me look good once again!
Step 3: Icing
Right, so it was 2 years ago. I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast this morning….come to think of it, I may have forgotten to eat breakfast this morning… Anyway, as described in the Sulley Cake post, we use the Wilton butter cream frosting recipe and add milk and/or powdered sugar to get the right consistency and taste. From there, you color your frosting using Wilton Icing Colors . We used Red for Pooh’s shirt, Golden Yellow for Poohs body, and Sky Blue for the honey pot. The honey itself was actually Wilton’s pre-made Yellow Gel Icing. It’s important to remember that the amount of icing color you will need to add to your icing depends on the quantity of icing, color you’re adding and the intensity of that the color you’re looking for. Red, for example, require a LOT of icing color if you want to hit that deep dark red for Pooh’s shirt and deep yellow of his body. The unfortunate part, is that Red icing color brings with it a bitter taste, so you may want to used Wilton’s “no taste” red which will require even more color, but doesn’t carry with it a not so pleasant aftertaste. With that in mind, I will also share with you that black is notoriously difficult achieve if you’re using vanilla butter cream icing. It just sits as a grey color no matter how much you add. So, when making black icing, my wife uses Wilton’s chocolate butter cream frosting recipee, and then adds a bit more milk to ensure it can be piped from a bag. Then, tint the chocolate icing with the black icing color and you will easily achieve the deep black coloration!
As for the tip, she used Wilton’s #16 star tip for the majority of the icing work, and #3 round tip for the black line work. Click here for a link to Wilton’s tip section (you’ll understand the pun if you click it…..). The end result turned out well! Here are a few more pics. Enjoy!
Now, in my house, birthday parties are a BIG deal. We have a big family get together at our house, with TONS of homemade food! Usually, the lead up to the party consists of massive amounts of cleaning (we aren’t overly neat on a regular basis), food preparation and of course homemade cakes….or home baked and decorated. We usually end up using store bought cake mixes to cut down on time. For my daughter’s recent 6th birthday party, she requested a Monsters Inc. Sulley Cake. Well, in case you are currently looking, let me tell you now….they do NOT make a Wilton pan for Monsters Inc…… Did that stop us? Heck no! My kid wants a Sulley cake for her birthday, well my wife and I are going to do our best to oblige. Keep in mind, that cakes like this are a team effort. I do the sculpting, shaping, and layering, and my wife does makes, colors and applies the icing.
If you’re looking for step-by-step directions, or picture you’re going to be disappointed. We made this cake prior to my journey into the blogging world. Even so, most of this was based on shaping, reshaping, reshaping more and reshaping again until it looked decent….so there is no paint-by-number formula. However, I can give you the basics on how we did this. Or, maybe you’re looking at this like we looked at some Google images cakes while trying to get ideas and thinking…”that looks HORRIBLE, why would I copy it??). Either way, here I go. My first psuedo-how-to:
As I indicated above, we started with Google image searching. I highly, highly recommend that if you’re looking to make a cake (or anything creative) but have no idea where to start…well, start with Google Images (Pinterest is great, but Google will search that for you, plus everything else)! Great place to get ideas (or on some occasions directions). Google can make the least creative person appear brilliant! My wife and I found a Sulley cake from cakecentral.com that looked reasonable to accomplish and looked pretty darn good too! Unfortunately, there were no directions. So, with our inspiration in mind, we set out to make our own Sulley cake. I’ll make a list of products we used at the bottom for easy reference.
Step 1: Bake two 9 in round cakes
Whenever we plan to sculpt, modify or shape a cake, my wife and I always use a 1:1 mix of Betty Crocker’s “Super Moist Butter Recipe Yellow cake and Pound Cake mixes. In one bowl, combine the two dry cake mixes as well as all of the the required extra ingredients listed on BOTH cakes direction set. Mix all ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth. Split the batter in half and pour into two well greased 9 in round pans. We have found that Wilton’s Cake Release is the most reliable product for effortless cake removal! Simply coat the inside of the pan with Wilton’s Cake Release using a basting brush and if you don’t miss a spot, your cake is going to fall right out of the pan EVERY time!
Once your batter is in the pans, bake at 350 °F in a pre-heated oven until a toothpick (or knife) comes out clean. Baking times can be extremely long with the duel mix, but keep an eye on your cake. If its starting to look done, check it! The batter will rise significantly, and dome but thats good! After you get a clean toothpick check, allow your cakes to cool for ~15 minutes (so that they hold thier shape) and then, with a serrated knife, slice off the bulging middle section to give a nice flat surface for your cake to sit on. Go slow and don’t push, just use the serrated edge to cut through carefully. DO NOT DISCARD ANY CUT OFF CAKE…we use that for sculpting later. Once your bulge is removed, allow the cake to cool for another 5-10 minutes. In order to prevent breaking, put a cooling rack on top of the cake face down, grab the pan and rack and (smoothly) flip both upside down (both cakes, but one at a time!). If you used Wilton’s Cake Release, it should fall right out onto the cooling rack with minimal effort, but if you didn’t (or it doesn’t) gently twist the pan back and forth while lifting and hope for the best. Once the cake is out allow to cool for another hour. The cooler the cake, the easier it will be to sculpt, and fondant/icing requires completely cooled cakes. Once the cakes are sufficiently cooled, you want to move both cakes to your display board (whatever you want, though we use Wilton Cake Boards and Fanci-Foil Wrap to cover them). Be careful when moving to your display base, cracked cake is no fun after you waited a couple hours to get started. We use the cooling rack flip trick again, but then RE-flip onto the cake board.
Note: While you are free to use any cake mix or recipe you might prefer, some cake mixes are crumbly, spongy, soft or otherwise difficult to cut and sculpt.
Step 2: Shaping The Face
Now, I’m not going to lie…this is all feel. And, unfortunately, I didn’t take step by step pictures (though I have a few I will share). I’m not terribly talented, but I’m 3-D capable. So, I can’t really tell you exactly what to do here, but I can give pointers (though, I feel silly giving pointers when I’m basically a novice myself). You decide if you want my help with this or not…
I left one 9 in cake basically round but shaved off one side. The other, I made the shape more ovular, and cut a concave piece into the bottom edge so that it matched the convex arc of the first cakes shaved edge. Again DO NOT DISCARD CAKE PIECES and try to avoid cutting them into little pieces. The picture shows the BASIC shape of both pieces using a red line to show you where the two cakes are separated. See the shaved edge of the bottom cake and the concave shape of the ovular piece. Just make sure the top piece fits against the bottom piece and the top piece is narrower than the bottom. Cut a little bit at a time. It’s easier to take more away then add!
After you have the outline correct, then you can build in the 3-D elements using the cake you cut away (told you to save it!). Again, this is mostly feel and I am sure many many people can do a far better job than I!! Essentially, I first bevel the edges of the cake to give it a rounded feel. Then, I built up his lower chin using the bottom cut off piece of the top cake and matching it’s rounded edge, to the bottom cakes bottom, however I cut it in a wedge shape so that it sat with a grade towards his mouth (shown with red line). I then used extra cake to smooth out the gradation down to his mouth (blue line). Next I added a wedge shaped on top for the chin (shown with green line) Then, I put a thin layer of cake around the outline of the top cake to build up his brow a bit (purple line). Finally, I put two “eyebrow” pieces of cake on top of the brow (grey) and a piece of cake shooting up from his head to make hair. Everything was held in place with icing except the hair…had to use a triangle of tooth pics for that (just remember they are there for eating!). If you omit the hair, its more like a Monster’s Inc. Cake. With the hair, it’s more Monster’s University. The pictures below outline the not so obvious gradations.
That is really it for the build up, except the lips, which you have to do after the fondant. I know, its not really “how to” instructions, but it’s all I got for now! One note, after the fondant, I did add a ring around the mouth for lips, but honestly, I dont think it was worth it. We ended up having to make the lips too big just to cover it. Now, onto the fondant work….
Step 3: Fondant Fun!!
Now, if you’re looking for an expert, well, this was the first time I ever used fondant! It was…a learning experience. Now, you can search the internet or open a cook book and learn how to make fondant. I wanted to spend my time sculpting, not preparing, SO, once again we turned to Wilton for their Ready-To-Use Rolled Fondant (we used white and black with food color to get the rest). Fondant is essentially edible, quick-drying clay. You have to knead it, shape it and all that jazz, but it holds its shape! I can’t give you sculpting directions, but I looked at a picture and based everything off of that. The white parts are just straight up Wilton white fondant. The black mouth is Wilton black fondant. For the colored bits, we just used Wilton Icing Colors and a LOT of kneading and re-kneading to mix it to a solid color. The eyes are a mix of Royal Blue and Violet (more blue, less violet). The nose is a mix of Dolphinium Blue, Kelly Green and Teal (couldn’t even begin to tell you rations…just until it matched the picture fairly well). The horns are Ivory with a HINT of black.
I rolled the mouth out using a powdered sugared rolling pin and rolling mat, then cut out the shape I wanted. The eyes, nose, horns and teeth I just worked with till I got them right. The horns, I added rings to them using the back of a butter knife. I did learn a couple of tricks during my research phase. I read that you should make sure you put down a layer of icing before the fondant or it wont stay in place. Also, to get fondant to stick to fondant just use a HINT of water. Dip your finger, shake it off, touch the back of the fondant piece and put it in place. Takes some practice, but its not overly hard (unless you let it sit to long, then it gets REALLY hard). Sorry, that’s all the help I can give with fondant! Then, after the easy part is all done, I hand the cake off to my wife for the fancy icing process.
Step 4: Icing
Now, I know NOTHING about the icing process. I will warn you right up front. I can tell you that you should ALWAYS make your own icing. My wife makes unbelievable buttercream frosting (guess where she got the recipe…yup, WILTON). Follow those directions and add milk/sugar if needed to get the right consistency and taste. We generally make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge and sometimes even color it ahead of time (it keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge). You definitely want to chill it for some time before you use it or it might run after you put it on the cake. For Sulley’s fur color my wife used a mix of Royal Blue and Teal icing color (again not sure on the ratio…). For the eye brows and hair she used Royal Blue and Delphinium Blue on top of the standard Sulley color. I’m not sure you can see it, but there is also a little section of violet on top of his head. To actually create the fur she used the Wilton Icing Tip #233 (grass tip). The trick (or so my wife tells me) was to pipe the icing and prior to pulling the tip away, she held it for a second in the direction she wanted the fur to go. If she didn’t, it just flopped down and looked terrible. Also, it takes a long time because each little bit of fur is done separately! Again, I can’t be of much more assistance for this part of it! One thing to note, no matter HOW great or complicated the fondant work or sculpting…people will rave about the fur icing….trust me….
Here are a few more pictures of the end result. You can easily see that I should have rounded the top piece more on the left to even out the jaw, some of that is icing, but mostly my horrible sculpting ability. Also, as I noted above, the lops are a bit bigger than we would have liked because we had to cover the cake I put down. The crooked mouth and nose were intentional to give a crooked smile look that Sulley seems to give a lot. All in all, I think it turned out pretty well!
Lastly, while this post seems to be a walking add for Wilton, I am in NO way affiliated with Wilton, I don’t get paid by Wilton and Wilton has in no way endorsed our work! We just really like their products (and that’s mostly what you can buy at A.C. Moore and Michael’s!
So, eventually, I got back home. What a day it had been, but hey, at least it’s over! Or so I thought. Finally, the terrible parents we are, we started putting food on plates for dinner. Now, my son still eats his dinner in a booster seat with a tray, because if he was unrestrained, well, eating would be the last thing on his mind! So, my wife called out to him, “time to get in your chair, Buddy!” His response was fairly unexpected, “I not hungy”. Now, while he gets distracted if he’s not sitting in his seat, he is almost ALWAYS hungry. So, I walked out to the living room to find out what was going on. I find the little rascal laying on the couch and moaning. That’s when I suspected my night wasn’t over, but as my son is QUITE the actor, I assumed it was his attempt at being funny.
“What’s the matter, Pud?” I asked in a semi-amused voice. He then explained that his belly hurt, and that he wasn’t hungry because he already ate. Now, my son has a penchant for attempting to eat inedibles….so with brief hesitation I inquired as to what he had already eaten. “A triceratops” he moaned. A TRICERATOPS?? For a brief second, I thought he must be joking….and then I looked on the floor to see all of my daughter’s small plastic dinosaur figures spread out across the floor. That’s one of those panicky parenting moments where you are convinced you have to be wrong, but you know you probably are NOT. Long story short, apparently, he had picked up a triceratops before getting into the car to head to Target and, on the car ride…decided that he looked pretty delicious. Had he eaten it whole? Had he taken bites? Was it still in the car and he was making it up? My wife runs out to the car, and returns with a yellow triceratops figure….whew, he hadn’t really eaten it. Relief was short lived when we realized that this wasn’t a PLASTIC dino, it was a GROW dino…and the tail and back legs were missing. CRAP, is it toxic? How much will it grow? If it’s not an issue, WHY is he holding his stomach and moaning?? Time to call the emergency pediatrician line! After explaining the issue to the doctor, well my wife and son were off to the ER for X-rays… Why not me, you ask? I don’t do so well when one of my kids is sick. I’m not the strong, level headed kinda guy. I’m the “OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, what if, what if, what if….” kinda Dad. Not really helpful for anyone. Now, that leaves my poor daughter home with me yelling for no reason, which leads to her crying, which leads to me yelling more…bad cycle. Luckily, after about 5 minutes, I pulled it together, assured my daughter Zach was going to be fine, and sat down to wait. About 2 hours later, the X-rays came back clear, and my crazy kid and weary wife made their way home.
Funny side effect of all of this, is that my son feels compelled to shovel the snow. Apparently, while they were at the ER, the doctor asked Zach “if he was going to shovel all of the snow for Mommy and Daddy tomorrow” and my son apparently agreed that he would. He recounted the conversation to me immediately upon walking through the door and I think that he somehow believes that the shoveling was part of his treatment. So, for the past two days, whenever we are outside, my literal little guy had to have a shovel in his hand….pretty hilarious! Though, based on the picture below, I have to believe that Pud will think twice before eating another dino if the prescription will be shoveling snow…..
And that friends, was MY Wednesday….life is far more interesting than fiction!
After picking up the car, I was headed out for a “quick” trip to Target. With a storm coming there were a few random odds and ends we needed (nope, we were good on eggs, milk and bread!). The biggest reason for going out was to get a few little presents for the kiddos for Valentines day. So, off I went. It took me a LOT longer to get there than I anticipated, probably about 30 minutes. I should have known that two days before V-day the entire world would have been “getting a few odds and ends before the storm hit”. In any case, I made it there no problem, but the place was PACKED. There was a cart in every isle! I fought my way through the toy section, searching for the perfect gifts for each kid. After another 30 minutes, I had their V-day surprises in my cart and ready to go. Now, the last minute guy that I am, I needed a little something for the wife. Another 15 minutes and I was GOOD to go! So, I played a careful game of Frogger to the front of the store, waited in line for longer than my fading patience should have allowed. Then I reached in my back pocket for my wallet……and realized I had left it safely at home on the coffee table after paying to set up THIS BLOG.
Now, I had four viable options.
1) Put things back and head home empty handed, which in terms of blood pressure was probably not in my best interest.
2) Drive home, drive back, reload the cart and then pay with a less imaginary wallet (also blood pressure unfriendly).
3) Call the wife, and see if she was willing to drive the wallet TO me ( the “no school tomorrow” call had already been recieved).
4) Sit Indian style in the middle of the checkout lane, put my index finger between my lips and make a gentle humming sound.
With my sanity resting in the balance, I decided my best bet was option 3 (though option 4 was VERY tempting). So, I called my wife and, with a few expletives, I explained the situation. She, being completely awesome, packed up the kids and brought me my wallet. So, another 30 minutes went by, my wallet was delivered, I payed for the cart of goodies and headed home at 8:15….to EAT DINNER. Well, at least we had made pulled pork BBQ in the crock pot, and my wife was off from school. So, I figured we would eat, get the kids to bed, and maybe watch a few left over TV shows together. However, once again, the universe had a more interesting plan for the evening……