Sunday, June 28, 2009

Owen and The Gipper

My brother-in-law, Owen, has a 4th of July birthday. But not only is his birthday patriotic, so is he. He is a 100% pure blooded, flag waving patriot, Republican and Reagan lover. Serious Reagan fan. No really, I mean he worships the guy. His major in college was political science, so you can always count on an intense discussion about politics if you so wish to engage in one. Almost every year I make him a patriotic cake. Always something red white and blue to celebrate the day.

Owen and his wife, Cathy, are two of our very best friends in the entire world. We are in-laws (twice removed), but our kids think they are cousins. We have been "family" for over 20 years, and celebrate every major holiday and life event together. Our families are very close, and I cannot imagine my life without them in it.

Well, Owen turned 50 this year, and Cathy planned a huge surprise party for him. (Why I had to keep the cake secret because he might read here from time to time.) So when Cathy asked me to make the cake, I said of course! At first I thought I might just do a huge flat cake in a more simple design. But that didn't last too long. The idea came to me late one night while I was sleeping, I think. I don't remember exactly when it came to me, but as soon as it did, I knew I was in trouble. I knew it would be a challenge. Going places I had not gone in cake before. But just like all the other crazy ideas I get, I knew I had to try. I could not talk myself out of it. It became an obsession. It consumed my every waking thought for the better part of 2 weeks.

My idea was to incorporate a picture of Owen and Reagan side by side that I photo shopped into the cake. But not just a boring ole picture on the cake. No, not on my cake. It has to move! It has to pop up and down! It has to pop up and down on the lid of an Uncle Sam hat! Yes, that's it! Perfect! Awesome!

Now how in the heck was I going to do that? I didn't have one iota of an idea how to go about doing that. But I know someone who does! There was only one person to call in for back-up on this one.... my brother Michael. Michael is a genius (literally), an engineer, and he is a guru at all things mechanical, electrical and technological. He started taking things apart and rebuilding them when he was a little kid. He had a "lab" under our house growing up with all kinds of gadgets and goodies down there. ( He set boobie traps so my sisters and I could not get into it and mess it up, LOL.)

But Mike has always been my hero. When my other siblings were torturing me and making my life a living hell, he was always sweet and nice to me. If I had a broken toy or mechanical doll, I would go crying to him, and I knew he could always make it work again. And he always did. He always made it work. He is a friggin' genius. And my hero. And the nicest, sweetest guy on earth. So of course, he was happy to help me with my ambitious project.

So I tell Mike what I am trying to accomplish, and while he thought about what we needed to get to make this work, I got started on the cylinder of the hat so it would have ample time to dry:

Mike and I decided that we needed about an 8 inch diameter cylinder to make sure a motor would fit on the inside (to create the popping lid). So I took 2 eight inch cake dummies and stacked them together. Then I gave them a crumb coat of white chocolate and smoothed that out with my bench scraper as best as I could. After that dried, I literally sanded it with my sanding block to get the surface as smooth as possible. The dummy surfaces were rather irregular, and I needed the seem between them to be smoothed out too. It did not have to be perfect, just reasonably smooth. Much to my delight, this process worked quite well.

Then I covered the dummy with parchment paper, and wrapped it with gumpaste to form the hat cylinder. I used the exact same process I use when I make my gumpaste crowns. I let that sit for 2 or 3 days to firm up before I slid the gumpaste off the dummy. After I slid it off, I let it dry about a week before I touched it again.

When I was ready to start working with it, I spackled the seem (and some wrinkles) with more white chocolate.

At this point, everything is still nerve wracking. We were making this up as we went along, neither one of us being really sure if any of this was going to work. Poor Mike got a lot of nervous emails from me stressing over this and that. Worried if it would all work out or not. Because I wanted it to work so badly! No, I needed it to work! I was invested, obsessed, possessed...

The base of the cylinder was a 12 inch cake drum that I covered in red fondant. I knew it was going to need to be strong, in order to support all the weight of the finished hat (gumpaste, motor, supports, fondant, lid). I covered it on one side, let that dry firm a few days, and then flipped it over and covered the other side and sides with one smooth piece.

The top of the hat was one single cake cardboard covered on one side with red fondant. I needed to keep the lid as light as possible, because we did not know how much weight the motor would be able to handle.

The cylinder was glued to the hat brim with some chocolate on the inside.

You can also see in these photos that the gumpaste cylinder did wrinkle some over the 1.5 weeks it was drying. I assume it was from the sheer height and weight of it. Gravity just taking its toll. It was purely cosmetic, and did not affect its stability. I felt confident I would be able to cover all that when I decorated it. (Well, I hoped, anyway...)

We needed a very sturdy way to hinge the lid to the cylinder, so Mike put a strip of fomecore down the back of the hat. We glued it on with chocolate, and cut a hole in the bottom so the electrical wire for the motor could come out the back, later to be attached to the power supply. The hinge was attached to the fomecore with epoxy glue. (Really strong stuff!)

So what were we going to use to motorize this thing? I of course did not have a flipping clue. I had explained to Mike what I wanted to do, and he found two hobby motors on Amazon that he thought might work. He wasn't sure though, as there was not enough info in the product description for him to really know. We would not know until they came in: their size, if they were strong enough, would the gears have the proper height rotation, and their speed. Would they be too weak? Too fast? Too slow? I ordered them right away, and it was an absolutely excruciating week waiting for them to come in. Not knowing the fate of my idea! It was torture! I really wanted this cake to work, not just for myself and meeting the challenge, but I really wanted it to be special for Owen.

So the motors finally come in, and I open the boxes to find about 800 little plastic pieces in a bag. Ack! Obviously it was a model kit, and needed to be assembled. I rushed over to Mike's to deliver them so he could get started on assembly, and we made a date for him to cover over the next day to see how this was all going to work (or not.) Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. (again.)

So Mike came over the next day (and the next 2 days after that) to get this hat working. We glued fomecore to the hat brim to prop the motor up to the right height. Everything was glued down with melted chocolate and masking tape to get it as secure as possible. The wire ran from the motor, out the back of the hat, to the power source.

Mike attached an eye hook to the underside of the lid. Then I was able to glue on the photo. A thick copper wire went from the motor gear to the lid. As the motor ran, the gear would turn, making the wire go up and down. (We hoped!) The electrical thing on the left is his power supply unit he brought over to give it juice. Did it work? Did we fail? You will have to wait to find out....


In the midst of all of this I had even another idea. (Yes, a dangerous thing.) Wouldn't it be cool if I could incorporate some audio into the cake of Reagan wishing Owen a happy birthday? Oh yeah, that would be awesome! Surely there has to be a way to do that! Some hidden speakers or something. But the bigger problem was getting audio of Reagan's voice saying happy birthday. No way would I find that anywhere. Maybe I knew someone who could do an impersonation and record that. I really didn't have much hope that this would come to fruition, but it was a cool idea anyway.

So one evening, on a whim, I decided to do an internet search. Just to see what was out there. So I googled "Reagan audio saying happy birthday"....... and to my utter amazement, within 5 minutes I found it! An audio file from 1968 of Ronald Reagan wishing a newspaper mogul a happy 90th birthday. I jumped out my chair and howled with excitement! This was just what I needed! I could not believe I found it! It was surely a sign from God. This cake had to be made. I had to press on. I had to make it work!

I immediately emailed the link to my other hero, Todd, my video guy. I gave him a script of the words I wanted cut out from the clip. He edited it down to an appropriate message, and sent it back to me as an mp3 file. I then loaded it to a small stick mp3 player that had detached speakers on wires. Well, the speakers were not loud enough, so off Mike and I went on a mission to find amplified speakers that would fit into the mp3 adaptor. Two stops later we found just what we needed at Office Depot. Speakers with amplified volume control that could play nice and loud. YAY! One problem solved!

I did not want the mp3 player just hanging out on the cake board, so I built a little box to cover it out of fondant with tylose added. I made a hole in the cake board, and threaded the speaker wires under the cake board so they could not be seen. I made a small hole in the box right over the "play" button of the mp3 player. I put a large silver dragee into that hole, so when you pressed it, the "play" button was activated, and the audio played. It was too stinkin' cool! I listened to it over and over, and got a huge chuckle each time. (Lordy, I have no life.)


So then it was time to decorate the cake. The bottom layer was a 16 inch double layer round covered in white fondant. I put a very thin red overlay on the top. I did not worry about the cut being neat and clean, because I knew the blue swags would cover the seem.

The 50 was made from fondant with tylose added, and dried super firm. I made another disc of fondant with a hole cut out the center to let the light shine through from the rotating stand. The 50 was super-glued onto the white disc. The rotating, light up cake topper is made by Wilton, and battery operated. It was perfect for this use!

To support the hat, I used a stress free ring support with long legs. The legs went down into the blue tier (which was a single layer 13 inch round, filled), and extended above the cake to the desired height. Wilton plastic columns slipped right over the stress free legs to give the perfect presidential look to the cake!

Here is the cake set up at the party. Did everything work? Was it a success? Did Owen like it?

Watch this to find out:

(Now the cat is out of the bag. You are going to see how really messy I am.)

You can also view the video here.


So as you can see, much to my amazement and sheer jubilation, it all worked out and Owen loved it! He just went on and on about how incredible it was, and how much he loved it. It was also a huge hit with all the guests at the party. They could not believe it was a real cake. Everyone that knows Owen got a huge laugh out of it, because it was such a funny and appropriate theme for him.

I am tickled pink that my idea came to life, even though it was very nerve wracking! I could not have done it without my incredible brother Mike. The motor and all the electrical stuff was done by him. I felt bad that he got sucked into my black hole of craziness, but he said he enjoyed the project. And I believe him; he lives for this kind stuff!

The cake was fun, the party was fun, working with Mike was fun. I have such a great life. I am truly blessed.




PS. Tomorrow I will post about the saga of trying to get this entry up. I am too traumatized right now. It is now 2:43 AM. I was not going to bed until I go this thing done! :)


Destini said...

Now that well worth the wait. Awesome cake Sharon!!You truly are an incredible designer. Thank you for sharing!!

Rockysharon said...

GREAT CAKE SHARON! What a work of love! You and your brother did a wonderful job. Thank you for your kind heart of always sharing the details with everyone. You are appreciated!

Julie said...

Incredible! Sharon, you never cease to surprise me with your ideas and the precision with which you bring them to life....and this one definitely exceeded all my guesses:) Happy Independence Day!

Anonymous said...

Sharon this is marvelous!!
What a great job! You guys make such a fantastic team! :)

XOXO Val Cake 71

Mata Family said...

Awesome!! I knew you were going to make it work from the first time you told me the idea (and I knew there would be no talking you out of this one)! Great job!

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

OMG that is the best cake ever! Your brother in law sure is lucky! Seems like he married into a great family :P

Gayla said...

It was well worth the wait!!! WOW, what a great cake! I can see now why you were so nervous, you totally stepped out of your comfort zone and pulled off something truly amazing! Your family seems so supported, that's so wonderful, it takes a village you know. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us! Have a blessed 4th as well!

Bryna said...

That was an AMAZING cake! Well-worthy of any one of those cake challenges, but not made on stage in front of an audience.

Cassy said...

Sharon, I am at a lost for words. You just keep pusing the envelope and creating such genius. I really love the cake and I am so happy that your Brother loved it. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Janel Waters said...

That was beyond worth the wait! That is THE coolest cake I have ever seen!

I knew in the end - regardless of what you had planned - that you could pull it off.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us - I can't even count how many things I learned just from this post!

I'm so sorry that it was so difficult to get posted and now I will continue to stalk your blog until that post is up too!


Anonymous said...

Not just a cake! A real work of art!
You are truly the CAKE GODDESS!
Great Job!
Once again you have left me in awh.
B Martin

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Outstanding!! It's freakin' awesome!!

samele thorner said...

wow.. That cake is crazy cool! I knew he was going tolove it, just becasue you are fab.. But the motor, etc.. GO HEAD!

Vicki said...

WOW!!! Awesome cake by a great cake designer with a fun blog. Thank you for sharing all of your ideas. :)

Heidi said...

Great job! That cake is amazing. I'm so glad it worked out.

LadybugLuggage said...

Wonderwoman the Cake maker, amazing, I am speechless thank you for sharing

Grandma Tillie's Bakery said...

That is AMAZING! You are my cake heroine!!

Snooky doodle said...

wow that s amazing!

SharonG said...

OHHHH, my goodness lady!!! I'm gone 5 weeks and look at what you have been up to.

I have to say this is "OFF THE HOOK!", you really out did yourself on this AWESOME cake!

Move over Duff cause Sharon's taking your place LOL! I'll catch you later on my 5 weeks, till then...I wish you and those you hold dear to your heart "A very Happy & Safe 4th Of July!".

At this point I would bow to you, but, I am scare if I get down, I won't be able to get back up...Cha-Cha-Cha!

Ann (Miss Sweetstory) said...


Incredible work, and incredible family and friends... thank you so much for sharing all of it with us.

Heather said...

That is TOO awesome!! You go girl! I LOVE it!!

Carla said...

Wow Sharon.. your always outdoing yourself!!! I wish I had someone to make me such special cakes. Man you have great ideas


Aidan's mom said...

Sharon, you ROCK! That was an awesome cake! I love his reaction to it! :)

Anonymous said...

SHARON!! This cake is AMAZING!! Girl, you have gone and outdone your own self on this one! WOW!! This cake is funtastically wundulously terrific!!! You know, FANTASTIC, WONDERFUL, TERRIFIC, FABULOUS AND FUN!!! Happy Birthday Owen!!

Lea G. in Seabrook......who forgot her sign in password, AGAIN!

Suzycakes said...

Sharon - you rock girl!! That cake is totally way past amazing!! See - where the normal cake decorator thinks "Oh - I'll put a picture of Ron Reagen on the cake for his 50th to make it special -- you kick it up 200 notches above that!!! I so want to be your next door neighbor!!

Have a great 4th!! You are my hero!!!

Susan White - aka Suzycakes!

Shelly said...


You so.. so.. so.. inspire me.

Where there is a will there is a way..
When you need to "Call in the troops" that is even better. I know my family loves it when I call on them to help me with a cake even if it is just mixing up a batch of frosting or cutting a cake board or ideas. They are excited to be part of the "CAKE MAGIC" too. It really does take a village for some of our crazy great wonderful ideas AND YOURS WAS FANTASTOC!!
reading about all the thought and work but most of all LOVE you put into this cake for your Brother in law and then watching your great video.. made tears well up in my eyes too.. How lucky they are to have you and you to have them!.. HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO YOU ALL!

Adele said...

Holy mother of all patriotic cakes... I'm a staunch Democrat, but even I can't stop smiling at your Regan cake ROFL!!! Props to Mike, that is an amazing colaboration!

Suzie Q said...

OMG! Being a Reagan lover myself, hearing his voice at your cake presentation brought tears to my eyes and chills to my skin. Sharon - you are TRULY AMAZING. I wish I lived near you so that I could work with you and learn directly from the BEST. You are such an inspiration to so many cake decorators out here, and I cannot thank you enough for sharing your ideas, techiques and finished masterpieces with us. I feel blessed to be a part of this.

Beverly Anne said...

Unreal!!!! Great job Sharon; isn't there anything you can't do that is cake related? I want to be like you when I grow up :D. Thanks for sharing this wonderful cake.

fiddlesticks said...

SHARON!! This cake is AMAZING!!
What a work of love!
I have to say though Im so NOT surprised you pulled it off !
Relax and have a blessed 4th you so deserve it !

Nancy Smith said...


cindyS said...

wow, that was so fun to watch! i would have never thought of such a thing. i was so happy for you that it all worked out (didn't doubt if for a moment tho) congrats and thank you for sharing all the behind the scenes of your studio!!

Jayde said...

Awww Sharon, I think the best part of the whole video was watching Owen as he was seeing his cake and listening to it. He really seemed to love it! Congratulations to you on a cake well done!

dai said...

Yay! I'm so happy you finally got to put it up! That cake just leaves me speechless! You really outdid yourself! So much hard work!! You & your brother make a great team! I'm glad it all worked out for you...we all knew it would - you're so talented!!

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