TBT: Baking Cakes Ain’t Like Dusting Crops, Boy!

A cake decorated to look like the Millennium Falcon, resting on a bed of brown sugar and surrounded by Star Wars action figures.
Yes, it is a crappy quality picture. It was 2010 and I took it with my OG Motorola Droid phone. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Out of all the cakes I’ve baked for the kids, this is still my favorite. Originally published April 25, 2010 on my old A Frayed Knot Knits blog. Also, this has been sitting as a draft on this blog since 2015, idk why.  But it’s Thursday, and reading through this I was proud of myself all over again, and it’s still my favorite cake I’ve ever decorated, so:

Somehow, my daughter has become a huge Star Wars fan. I know, right, how could this possibly have happened? She has recently:

  • cried when watching Darth Vader’s body burned on a pyre at the end of Jedi
  • told me that I shouldn’t be watching Fanboys because “We don’t watch other Star Wars movies! Only Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi!
  • declared that she wants Darth Vader to be her father instead of Luke’s because “Luke is a bad boy and doesn’t deserve him.”
  • announced that she wants to be Han Solo when she grows up
  • requested demanded a Millennium Falcon cake for her 4th birthday, with Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, but not Luke, “because Luke is too whiny.” Because I’m a sucker for the Millennium Falcon, and a challenge, and my little girl, I said, “Sure! How hard can it be?” And then I found out:

The party was Saturday at 4pm. Giant props to Kit for handling every detail of the party, from scheduling the space (Build-A-Bear) to taking care of the invites to greeting the parents and filming the party, leaving me free to concentrate fully on the cake.

I had originally thought to do gum-paste figures, but the tiny little sane part of my brain said, “Hey, dummy — they make perfectly good action figures, and then the kid will have a bonus birthday present, too!” So I went out and got everything but a Leia (because the Toys’R’Us I was at didn’t have one, but she was not terribly missed, so it’s okay). I had already ordered the most awesomest birthday candle EVAH for her: Darth Vader holding as his lightsaber a red candle.

After some hemming and hawing, Becky settled on both chocolate and vanilla for the actual cake. I do not particularly enjoy actually baking cakes, which means I don’t do it often enough to get really good at it, which means I bought mixes. My mom’s in town (hi, Mom!) and she helped me get the mixes all mixed and into the oven. One large (13×9) chocolate rectangle for the bottom, and two 9″ vanilla circles for the top + accessories. They came out fine, and we were ready to carve them Friday.

Now that I think about it, perhaps “ready” isn’t the right word…I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of carving cake, and got pretty frustrated, especially with the cockpit. I finally ended up with something I thought would work, but it was clearly unstable and would need to be attached just prior to putting the fondant on, which I had planned for Saturday morning. Here’s what it looked like Friday night when I was done:

Bright and early Saturday, Kit took the kids for a walk, and I started putting it together and getting it ready for frosting. I had done the carving on a board, but wanted to transfer it to the actual presentation board before frosting. This necessitated planning the layout, so we opened up all the action figures and the candle, which promptly broke at the ankles. All attempts to repair it failed, and actually broke the base even further. Lacking the time to panic, I decided to just set it aside and deal with it later.

We decided where the ship should be on the board, and I commenced frosting it (in case you’ve never worked with fondant before, you put a thin layer of regular frosting on to “glue” the fondant). This meant it was time to attach the cockpit, which promptly disintegrated. You can see in the picture above that I had originally carved the cockpit piece out of the vanilla cake, and as it turns out, the chocolate cake holds together a little better. So I quickly re-carved it out of a piece of chocolate cake that was in my big bowl o’ cake scraps, and skewered it on. And then the bottom fell off, and I panicked.

While part of my brain was panicking, the other part was applying frosting and considering the situation. I finally came to the conclusion that the solution was to cheat. So I went upstairs and got some styrofoam and carved my third cockpit. This one didn’t fall apart, and I moved on to the actually fondanting.

There were a couple of tricky things about applying the fondant, mostly because the shape has a lot of nooks and crannys and this is only the second time I’ve ever used fondant, so I’m not particularly well-versed in manupulating it. But I got it on the cake with no real problems, and despite some cutting errors and a little bunching on the back, I thought it looked pretty good. It was, at the very least, the right shape:

Oh! Before I did the big fondanting bit, I decided it would be a good idea to practice a little and remind myself of how the fondant moves and acts. So I built the sensor dish, which ended up being my favorite part of the cake:

Now that I had the fondant on, it was time for the decorating. I cut out the dots that are a recognizable part of the top of the MF, with the plan of spray painting them with the black frosting I’d purchased for the dual purposes of painting said dots and also dirtying up the finished ship. It turns out that the “black” spray frosting is really more of a “light silver gray,” even after several applications. So it was off to Michael’s for emergency black frosting coloring…and where I found food-safe markers, including black. Win!

Back home, I set Mom to the task of coloring the dots, while I began applying the details with white piping. Then I changed my mind and decided most of the lines should be scored, with a very few details sticking up. So I scraped it down and started over, and let the sane part of my brain convince the panicky part that we had plenty of time as long as we didn’t get too carried away. Applying the blue of the engines to the back was considerably less stressful than I had thought it was going to be, and it improved the lines of the back of the cake quite a lot.

Now, Becky had specifically requested that we included the red/rust detailing — it’s on the real thing, and it’s on one of her toys but not the other — so I used the red marker to color that in, and then went back and piped in a few details here and there, using her two MF toys for reference (incidentally, I highly recommend having a 3D model on hand when doing something like this — much better than trying to find pictures with the right angles on the internet). I redid the cockpit a couple of times, and never was quite happy with it, but finally I had to declare it finished. I took it outside and gave it a quick spritzing with the “black” spray frosting, just to scunge it up a little.

I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the end result. It’s not the best looking Millennium Falcon cake I’ve ever seen, but I think I did a pretty good job for someone who doesn’t really decorate cakes:

I was a little annoyed about only having the foil for it to sit on, but then I had an idea while I was in the shower (yes, I finished in enough time that I was able to shower and even iron my skirt before we had to leave for the party!)…on the way I grabbed a couple bags of brown sugar and when we set the cake up, I think it looked a lot like it was parked on the sands at Mos Eisley:

And look! I solved the Darth Vader problem and the gun turret problem (at some point I realized that I should have guns up there and I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to do) in one fell swoop! Yay me!

Next time, I’m going to make someone else cut the cake — it was a lot harder emotionally than I expected it to be. It took about 5 minutes to go from the above to this, and I really felt like I needed a good lie-down afterwards:

(Incidentally, when you stack cakes on top of one another, don’t forget to put a layer of frosting in there — you’ll thank yourself when it’s time to serve.)

I have to give tremendous thanks to Kit and Grandma Tedi for all their help and encouragement and keeping the kids out of the kitchen/dining room/my way. And especially thank you to Becky, who told me at every stage how awesome her Millennium Falcon cake looked, and made me remember why I was doing this even when I was so frustrated with the cockpit that I was seriously considering sending Kit to the A&P for a plain old sheet cake. Love you all!

Forever Young

It occurs to me that I somehow have not shown you the majestic costume I put together for Becky’s 5th grade Explorer Museum project. I say “put together” rather than “designed” because truthfully, she did all the research and all the designing. I just made the patterns and sewed the thing together.

Her school does this neat project where each kid picks an explorer and then does a whole living museum exhibit kind of thing (I think it would be even more cool if they did this with a group that wasn’t largely European dudes who were responsible for an awful lot of mass genocide and slavery but I digress). They put together reports and “artifacts” and journals, and then the parents show up and the kids all have to tell us about their explorers. It’s very involved.

Ponce de Leon, proud member of the Ministry of Silly Hats.

Becky decided to be Ponce de León. I may have strongly suggested ol’ Ponce because I was under the misconception that he had the cool hat and 1/2 cape outfit. Not true. His hat is totally dumb, and no cape at all (okay, he’s wearing a cape in this picture, but in most renderings there’s no cape). I don’t know who I was thinking of, but it sure wasn’t Ponce de León. There’s a fairly ubiquitous rendering of the man wearing a chest plate with a fancy slash-sleeve shirt underneath. Several statues of him also show him wearing matching shorts. That Florida heat, I guess.

So we went to the fabric store and picked out a heavy blue-gray upholstery fabric for the tunic/armor, and yellow and red fabric for the sleeves. The kid’s a stickler for accuracy. We got home and I started planning this thing out, and I quickly realized that I had never done slash sleeves before. A quick whirl around Pinterest and I was all set with a nifty tutorial for Snow White sleeves.

We had already decided that the sleeves would be connected to the “armor” rather than part of an undershirt, and after some discussion we decided to go with short sleeves rather than long.  We rounded up a pair of plain black boots (her feet are almost as big as mine already!!!) and I whipped up a quick crocheted beard. I am super, super pleased at how it came out. But more importantly, Becky was really happy with it, which was the goal.

I give you: Juan Becky Ponce de León!

I was later informed that the scowl was because Juan was always in a bad mood and she was trying to be realistic. I told you, stickler.

A couple more shots:

Almost Summer

I had strawberry shortcake for breakfast today. I’m not super proud of it, but I wanted to blog about strawberry shortcake and the other day when I made it for me and the kids, I made these gorgeous, decadent towers that fell over long before I had a chance to capture their majesty.

So I had just enough cake left for one​ more go, and I thought to myself, 

The very empty can of Redi-Whip. Breakfast was delayed for a few minutes while I went and had a very calm (okay, it wasn’t particularly calm but I didn’t completely lose my shit on her, either) discussion with my 10 year old about a) not eating whipped cream straight out of the can and b) more importantly, not putting empty containers back in the fridge so that people would get two-thirds of the way to a delicious breakfast and then discover they’re missing a key ingredient.

I dimly recalled buying some “shelf stable” cream from Trader Joe’s to make ice cream with, and it turned out I still had a box, so the 10 year old gets to live. I whipped it up, threw some sugar and vanilla in, and called it a day. You’ll see in the pic that it could have used more whipping, but I was about to starve at that point and still had to take the photos so I just served it up. Still delicious.

The strawberries were the big disappointment: they looked so pretty and juicy, but they were just kind of flavorless. I can hardly wait until we get the fresh-off-the-vine strawberries we pick ourselves…that’s when I’ll know it’s really summer.


That thing that comes to town once a year


We were walking home from the town fair and, as is our tradition, stopped for ice cream at the truck on the way out. I mentioned to the kids that when I was little, the first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was an ice cream man.

We crossed the street and the kids started stuffing ice cream in their faces, and suddenly Zack said, “Wait a minute, Mom — you couldn’t be an ice cream man! You’re a GIRL! You’d be an ice cream WOMAN!” And Becky chimed in with, “Or ice cream PERSON.” So I explained that back in the olden days when I was wee, the distinction wasn’t really made all that often — it was still fireman, policeman, chairman, and so on, no matter what gender the person doing the job actually was.

Then Zack asked the question that started the conversation that gave me one of those super-proud-mom moments, wherein it is demonstrated that my children do indeed think critically about the world around them and want to change it for the better: “Is that because they didn’t respect women as much?” I answered that yes, that was pretty much the reason, and he said he was sure glad it had changed. So I told him that yeah, it’s changed a lot, but that kind of disrespect is still there. Then I mentioned the wage gap and he stopped dead in his tracks: “Mom, that’s just not right! I wish I was a lawyer, because I would pass laws so that wouldn’t happen anymore.”

I explained that there are some laws for that, but that they’re really hard to enforce, and that’s why it’s so important for us to always do our best to make sure we’re doing the right thing and not just following along because it’s convenient. I also talked a little bit about how important it is for those who are in the “respected” class to be advocates for the people who are being disrespected. He nodded, and held my hand as we walked along.

Then the gloaming was upon us and there were fireflies to chase. So he ran off, and I thought about how proud I am that he has noticed that women are often disrespected but even more, that he feels the wrongness of it and wants to rectify that. He’s a good kid, and conversations like that give me a glimmer of the good man he’s growing up to be.