This girl loves her some cake.
A few months ago, I asked my daughter what she wanted for her third birthday – fully aware, of course, that she was going to change her mind approximately 1,352,534 times before the day actually arrived.
“Moana cake,” she said. Like, immediately. With zero pause for contemplation. Then she thought for a moment, and added, “And candy.”
A month or so later, I asked her again. “Honey, have you thought about what you want for your birthday?”
“Moana cake. With sprinkles.”
And then, last week: “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want for your birthday? Just Moana cake?”
“I’m going to have a Moana cake and I’m going to EAT IT.”
I think it’s safe to say there was a little bit of pressure associated with this cake. Kendrick gently suggested that I defer to the experts over at Dairy Queen, who certainly have fielded countless requests for Moana cake over the months since the movie was released, but my daughter had told me that the one thing that she wanted on the day she turned three was a Moana cake, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to make the thing myself.
So I ordered a box of fondant off of Amazon, ransacked my daughter’s toy drawer for a Moana figurine, begged my friend Erin to come over and sit at my kitchen table and help me figure out how to make a fondant pig, and got cracking. The end result?
HOW-TO: MOANA CAKE
Important note: My feeling is that if you’re going to be hand-painting sugar hibiscus flowers, you get to cut corners wherever possible. And for me, that corner-cutting comes in the form of boxed Funfetti cake mix and Betty Crocker frosting, because excuse me, boxed Funfetti cake mix and Betty Crocker frosting are delicious, and I needed to focus on the important part, like not crushing my daughter’s Moana cake dreams.
What You Need:
- 2 boxes Funfetti cake mix (and additional ingredients listed on the back of the box – basically eggs and oil)
- 2 cans vanilla frosting
- 1 2-lb container of white fondant
- Gel food coloring in primary colors
- Liquid food coloring in primary colors (you definitely need blue, green and red)
- 1 cup brown sugar or crushed graham crackers
- Optional but obviously recommended: Small Moana figurine and plastic palm tree (I used one of these cupcake toppers, which I also used on my Desert Island Cupcakes – recipe coming up 🙂 ).
What You Do:
OK, first: Plan ahead. You should aim to make the cake at least a day or two before you plan to decorate it, because a frozen cake will be far easier to level.
To make the cake itself, first grease three 9″ cake pans, dust them with flour, and cut out parchment paper rounds to cover the bottoms. Combine both boxes of cake mix (and the other ingredients listed on the back of the boxes) into a single large bowl, mix according to package instructions, and then evenly divide the finished batter between the three cake pans. Once the cakes have finished baking, place them on a rack to cool. When completely cool, wrap them tightly in Saran Wrap (as pictured above) and put them in the freezer.
Seriously, is there anything better than Funfetti?
When you’re ready to begin decorating, remove the cakes from the freezer. Working one cake at a time, use a rotating platter (a flat cake plate works just fine) and a large serrated knife to carefully level the top and the bottom of each cake. (If you’ve never done this before, this YouTube video should help.)
In a large bowl, combine the two tubs of frosting and as much blue food coloring (either gel or liquid is fine for this) as you want – I wanted a pale blue and didn’t mix it super thoroughly so that it’d have a swirly ocean effect, but you do you. Thinly ice the cake all over and in between the layers.
This is called “a spectacularly bad frosting job.” Fortunately, it didn’t matter, because I wasn’t trying to create a perfectly smooth surface.
Excellent news: for this particular design, there is no need to be persnickety about your frosting, because you’re not going to have to lay over a smooth sheet of fondant (which is the hardest part); you’re just covering most of the visible surface with little fondant creations. WHEW. (But if you still want to lay over a sheet for some reason, this video shows you how to do that.)
Next, let’s make that driftwood. Dust a clean, dry surface with powdered sugar, and divide up the fondant into six more or less equally-sized balls (one of these is going to be your extra piece, in case you mess up somewhere along the way and feel the need to start part of the process over).
Take the first three fondant balls – these are going to be used to create your driftwood. Leave one of the balls white. Make the second ball light brown by adding red and yellow food gel food coloring in a 1:10 ratio, and kneading until thoroughly combined. The third ball you’ll want to be darker brown, so start with the 1:10 ratio of red and yellow, then add 1 drop of blue. If it’s still not dark enough, another drop of blue can be added. Roll all three balls into logs, then combine them into one large log, and twist gently until they form what looks kind of like a large brown candy cane. (I am so sorry I didn’t take a photograph of this step. But really: just twist them together; you’ll be fine.)
Now take your enormous brown candy cane-thing and roll it flat.
That’s your driftwood. Measure the height of your cake, and slice enough little pieces of “wood” to cover the sides.
Using a sharp paring knife, make little lines on your planks to create an even more realistic wood effect. Let them dry a bit (you can put them in an oven that has been preheated to 200F and then turned off for a few minutes to speed up the process), and then stick them to the icing all around the outside of the cake.
Like that. (The little bumps are because they weren’t quiiiiite dry enough to stay perfectly straight. Ah well.)
Now, the hibiscus flowers. These are less tricky than they look, I promise – but it did take Erin and I a few tries to get the effect we wanted.
Here’s what we ended up doing: using red gel food coloring to make one of the balls of fondant a medium-pink, then rolling it flat and cutting out five-petal flower shapes by hand (a cookie cutter would be nice, but I don’t have one). Then we used the end of a straw to sort of rough up the edges of the flower…
And then flipped it over.
On the smooth side, we used a small paintbrush and liquid red food coloring (not gel) to paint on the little veins that you see in hibiscus flowers.
To get them to hold a hibiscus-ish shape, we tucked them into an empty egg carton as shown above, and then let them dry (again, this process can be speeded up by placing them in an oven that has been preheated at the lowest setting and then turned off).
For the leaves, use green gel food coloring to turn one of the remaining fondant balls a nice bright green, then roll it flat and cut out leaf shapes. We discovered that pressing your fingernail into the edges of the leaves gives them a nice, natural effect.
Use a small paintbrush and some liquid green food coloring to paint on the veins in the leaves.
Now that you have gotten out all your latent artistic impulses in fondant form, just arrange the flowers and leaves along the top edge of the cake however you like. Fill in the hole in the center with some brown sugar or crushed graham crackers (a.k.a. sand), and arrange Moana next to her palm tree.
Last, but not least: I’m so sorry to break this to you, but you’re going to have to make a pig. Sure, you could just buy a little plastic pig, but come on. You just made a Moana cake. Make the pig.
OK, now you’re done.