Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Birthday Cake Fitting My Entomologist Son...Complete with Gum Paste Bugs

When I asked my budding entomologist what kind of cake he wanted this year, he said that he'd like something to do with insects.  Last year, his party was centered more around arachnids, so I wanted to do something totally different.  Even before I asked him, I knew he would lean toward this theme, so I had already been contemplating it for some time.  I was thinking that it would be so cool to make a cake that looked like an insect collection and create edible insects to go inside.  I enjoy the fun, detailed part of the cakes much more than the making, baking, and, I was way excited to get to look up some insects and see if I could replicate them.
I bought some fondant, gum paste, and assorted colors in anticipation.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to ice the cake and leave it that way, or put fondant over the entire thing and make it look all glossy.  My main focus was the insects....  :)
The first thing I did was to get all the insect reference books out and make a list of the insects I was interested in making and those that Malachi wanted.  Next, I divided the gum paste into balls and tinted them with the colors I would need.
The Ladybug was first on my list....I wanted to start with something small and see how it would come together.  It was so fun!!  I moved on to a Honeybee, Deer Fly, Longhorn Beetle, a green Click Beetle (which I have since forgotten the name of), Blue Morpho Butterfly, Dragonfly, Fire Ant, Beetle, Click Beetle, Stag Beetle, Tiger Beetle, Swallowtail, Orb Weaver Spider, and one of those little bluish-purple butterflies that you see in the spring...  :D  I thoroughly enjoyed looking the insects up and trying to make a gum paste copy of them.  The legs on the beetles did give me some problems.  In the beginning, I thought I could use the gum paste to make them, make an indention in the side of the insects, and stick them in.  This didn't work because the gum paste just crumbled.  Then I bought some licorice and tried to cut small pieces to fit into indentations...this worked, but the legs looked too stiff.  When I was near the end, I had a Eureka! moment and decided to make legs and put them on the underside of the insect's body by using a bit of water as an adhesive.  I didn't like the way the Orb Weaver spider turned out, so I didn't use it on the cake.  The legs were made of licorice and too flimsy.  In hindsight, the gum paste attached to the underside of the body and dried into place at an arch would have worked out perfectly.  (I think,)
This is a picture of the first insects I made...  as you can see, the legs on the Longhorn Beetle, Fire Ant, and beetle were made of licorice and just looked too stiff.  Originally (in the picture, the Swallowtail's antennae were made of wire....later, I changed them to gum paste.)

This picture includes the (green) Tiger Beetle and Stag Beetle.  Their legs were made form gum paste so they have more "bend" to them.  They are my favorites...  well, I like the Blue Morpho, too.  :)  Okay...and the Deer Fly.....and.....nevermind...  haha.  I like the way the body of the Orb Weaver Spider turned out, but the flimsy, licorice legs just were not substantial enough.  They would have looked awesome with some dried-into-arched-place gum paste legs... maybe next time. 

Close up of the Stag and Tiger beetles...

This is a picture of the finished cake.  I cut out about 1/2" deep from the middle of the cake to make the "box".  Instead of covering the entire thing with fondant like I had contemplated, I decided to just ice it with chocolate icing.  I cut out a piece of white fondant and placed it in the center.  I thought about putting pins (ones that hadn't yet been used on insects...LOL) in the insects, but the insects were pretty hard and I didn't want to risk splitting any of them.  I put a little water on the fondant and stuck them on.  You can see down at the bottom of the box, under the ant, where the fondant looks shiny...this could be avoided by putting the water on the insect - as opposed to the fondant.  I didn't notice this until it was too late.  And it does show up worse in the picture than it did in reality, so it wasn't a huge deal.
Yay!!!   The cake is finished!   (If you notice in the background, there is the breakfast table loaded down with mason jars....the entomologist's mason jars....which means there are countless cocoons and a couple of chrysalises.  We are so hoping that after the overwinter thing, they will open up in the spring.  I'm not sure if the indoor climate will affect them or not.  Malachi is currently the only one who will eat at that table....the rest of us use the dining room table.  :D  )
Another view of the cake...

The really cool thing about this day every year, is that Malachi and I share a birthday!!  So, I am blessed with the gift that keeps on giving... <3


  1. My son wants a bug birthday too. Do you have any pictures of the bugs in the making, step by step, so I can attempt it? Please help:)

  2. I don't know that I have pictures of them in the making. I will look. Basically, what i did was make several little balls of assorted colors, get out his insect books, and try to fashion the ones he liked best.

    The blue morpho butterfly was made with a fondant/gumpaste combination for the wings and just black fondant for the body. I shaped it and then made the veins with a black food marker.

    The beetles were made with black fondant and the other colors and then detailed with a fine point food marker.

    I'll have to remember in the future to include how to's as I make them.

    Good luck with yours. If you have any specific questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them for you! I would love to see your finished cake!!