Episode 44 – Becca Makris

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Lunar Surface Effect on Cookies


Do you need some easy, fast, inexpensive moon cookies for an event, party, or school bake sale? No time to go shopping for moulds or spend hours doing multiple layers of piping? Well I’ve got you covered!

moon cookies

Step 1: bake some round cookies. Use whatever recipe you like and make whatever sizes you need. In the photos here I’ve used my regular go-to sugar cookie recipe by The Pink Whisk because it’s written for UK flour and butter (US flour and butter are different than UK stuff so recipes tailored to your local ingredients will get you better results), and because no chilling is required so I can get a batch of these mixed and baked very quickly with consistent and delicious results.

Step 2: make some homemade sanding sugar. Store-bought sanding sugars are more evenly-coloured and sometimes fancier, but in this case making your own is cheaper, faster (unless you already have grey sanding sugar on hand and I bet you don’t!), and the variations in colour will make these cookies look more rocky.

I used to make my homemade sanding sugar in a plastic baggie using Sweet Sugarbelle’s method but I’m working to reduce single-use plastics, so now I do it in a washable tub with my fingertips. You can use granulated sugar for big sparkles or caster sugar for a finer texture. In this case I used caster. US folks: you can make caster sugar by putting regular granulated sugar in your food processor for a bit of a whiz until it’s ground as fine as you’d like.

Put about a half cup of sugar in a tub and add a drop of Americolor Super Black (or other highly concentrated black food gel). Then quickly massage that drop into the sugar, constantly bringing in more sugar so the initial goopy stuff gets distributed and dries out over the whole amount.

grey sanding sugar

I could have kept mixing this further to get it more evenly distributed but I wanted this more natural, rocky look.

Step 3: make some grey royal icing. The photo at the top of this post shows three different tones of grey plus some white ones as well. The white ones just have plain caster sugar on them and are sparkly but less moon-ish. So you can make multiple tones of grey if you want, or pick a shade you like and go with that.

Step 4: decorate!

You will do this in a bit of an assembly line so have everything ready to go.

mise en place

Some of the sanding sugar in a bowl suitable for dipping, light grey royal icing in a bag with a tiny snipped tip (you can use a piping tip if you want but it’s not necessary), and my first two experimental cookies on the board shown as an example. All of my other cookies are on a tray next to me just out of the photo, and on the other side are trays ready to take cookies as they’re done so they can dry safely.

Flood a cookie with the grey royal icing.

flooded cookie

See you don’t even have to mix your grey royal 100% evenly because it’s going to be covered and multiple tones just add to the effect anyway. And I didn’t bother making perfectly round edges on any of these because there’s no need.

Then either dip the cookie into the sanding sugar or if you feel too fumble-fingered or worry your royal is too runny to do that, sprinkle the sanding sugar over top. Both methods work. Dipping will give you a nice, flat surface but you’re going to deliberately mess with that in the next step anyway so the only benefit to dipping versus sprinkling is a bit less mess. Go with whatever works for you.

sanding sugar on cookie

Dip or sprinkle, whichever you prefer.

Wait about 5-10 minutes, depending on your icing consistency and room humidity, for the royal icing to start to set up. You don’t want it fully set, but just enough that you can push the sanding sugar through a drying surface to make craters. So really, just keep flooding and dipping/sprinkling a bunch of cookies and then come back for the next step when the first ones are setting up.

Then take any rounded tool you have (I used the back end of my cheap needle tool because it was right there but probably if I had to do a lot of these I’d use a ball tool or Sugar Shaper) and simply go around making dents in the icing.

making craters

Start by gently indenting part of the surface with the round tool.

making craters

There’s the first indentation, not too deep but starting the texturing. Here it’s a bit wetter than I’d like because I didn’t wait long enough, but it still works.

craters

Keep going around making indentations until you’re happy with the result, then stop.

Here’s a video of mediocre quality because I came up with this whole technique while decorating cookies with other people in the room and decided to take a video on the spur of the moment:

Then just let them dry hard like any other royal iced cookie.

Voila, easy peasy lunar surfaces!

moon cookie

The random ridges and craters are really effective.

moon cookie

Same cookie as above but held up so the light highlights the texture more.

darker cookie

A bigger cookie with a darker grey flood, but again from the side you can really see how rocky it looks.

If you make some, post them in the comments below. This is also a fun activity to do with kids as part of a science module or just for space-loving lulz on a rainy day.

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Podcast Episode 42 – Thomas Blake Hogan


Click here for the show page where you can listen and find links to the cakes and cookies mentioned!

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Episode 41 of the Podcast – Julia Usher

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Episode 39 of the Podcast


Featuring Heather Campbell Brookshire. Visit the show notes page to listen now!

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Episode 38 and a GIVEAWAY!


Episode 38 of the podcast features a great interview with Anna Astashkina plus a giveaway! Head over to the show page to find out all about it.

me holding a PME Geometric Multicutter

WIN THIS PME CUTTER!
Follow the directions on the show page to win!

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Episode 37 of the Podcast

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Da Vinci’s Wild Austin Adventure


For this year’s That Takes the Cake! show in Austin, TX – which had a theme of The Science of Cake – I decided to make a cookie version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Aerial Screw, sometimes called Da Vinci’s helicopter. Da Vinci drew this concept but never built it, and even if he had it never would have actually flown. But it was a very interesting concept for his day and part of his artistic contributions to science, so I thought it would be a great way to pay homage to the concept of science and art coming together.

da vinci helicopter in gingerbread

The finished piece but before final assembly at the show.

I found a museum model kit made out of wood and cloth that comes together to make a working model of the Aerial Screw, and decided I’d make a cookie version of that entire thing. I’d long wanted to see if it was possible to make gears in gingerbread, and in fact my next choice of a Da Vinci homage would have been his Self-Propelled Cart, but I decided that would be less aesthetically interesting since it was flatter and many of the elements were hidden under each other.

The subject of making edible gears poses many challenging problems. First of all, gears need to be strong enough to push against each other under whatever weight they’re bearing, and edible media is generally very fragile, especially in small pieces. Secondly, gears require precision that is difficult to achieve in media that spread as they bake or shrink as they dry. If a gear train is even slightly off somewhere along the line, the entire thing can seize, slip, or otherwise fail.

So by having this wooden, working model to base everything on, I figured as long as I checked at every step to ensure my cookie pieces were precisely aligned with the wooden ones, it would work. And it did…mostly. Because things dried about a millimeter off in one piece, there’s a slip in the mechanism so it only works in reverse; as in, the top turns the handle and the slip fixes itself that way, but the handle doesn’t turn the top because then the slip turns into a sticking point. That goes to show just how difficult edible-media gears are! So if you’re going to attempt something like this, make sure you have tons of time to make and possibly re-make pieces, because as I learned the hard way, messing with semi-dried pieces will go badly for you, some things will need sanding, adjustment, or remaking, and it’s all very fiddly on a very fine level. It’s an exciting thing to attempt, but it’s not for a rush job!

Because I’d used Julia Usher’s “construction gingerbread” recipe from her book “Cookie Swap” for my sewing machine 3D cookie construction the year before, I knew I could use that again for the “wood” parts, and I considered using pastillage for the sails. I knew I could make a drying rig that would dry pastillage nice and flat as the taut cloth would look on the model. But I decided no, this is a cookie entry, so I should make as many elements out of cookies as possible. I’d seen Julia Usher’s videos about using tuile dough, and I knew fortune cookie dough is basically the same thing, so I found a UK recipe for fortune cookie dough (because as mentioned in other posts, UK plain flour is softer than US all-purpose flour, so it’s important when spread and strength are key to ensure your recipe matches your local ingredients). I made some actual fortune cookies for a Christmas event so that gave me a feel for how that dough spread, how to shape it, and most importantly how it performed for weeks afterwards. I saved two of the fortune cookies and placed one in a dry part of the house and the other in a humid part of the house, and every week or so I’d go check them for mould and poke them. I wanted to know how that dough held up after a long time out and exposed. But it grew no mould and stayed surprisingly hard, even in humidity, so I knew it was up to a week of construction, a flight, and then the actual show.

After a careful accounting of how all of the wooden kit’s parts went together, what was needed for where, and how I’d be translating all of that to cookie, I then realized that not only would I have to take this in two halves to be assembled in the US, but that one of the halves as per the kit would be slightly too tall to fit under an airline seat, which is where I’d need to put it on the flight to ensure nobody else smashed or crushed it. So I did a bunch of math to calculate where I could shave off a bit of width and height to keep the proportions of the outer bits but still keep the inner gears exactly sized to the model kit, because again, you can’t just shrink or expand gears without messing up the timing and then they won’t work.

In particular, I knew the length of the poles holding the sails needed to come in a bit, and I was dubious about being able to make the sails in two pieces as per the kit. So I decided to get the sail frame built first, then take its exact measurements, and then tailor the sails as needed to fit.

I also decided that since the rules for this category just said, “All types of cookies are allowed including 3-D designs. Any combination of techniques and/or media may be used,” that I didn’t have to cover everything with icing, so wherever possible I decided to keep the beautiful golden-brown hues of the gingerbread exposed. Da Vinci’s science art was frequently utilitarian in an age when many other things were heavily decorated, so I decided it was in keeping with Da Vinci’s spirit to concentrate on the beauty of the mechanism, not excessive decoration.

I initially used royal icing to affix pieces together, but soon found that the Renshaw premade royal icing I was using was just not setting up hard between the cookies as I needed (I have found this problem consistently and would never use this product again for anything, to be honest). So instead I looked around for a colour mix to make gingerbread-coloured gumpaste, but stumbled on some “Teddy Bear Brown” Squire’s Kitchen modelling paste I had because it came in one month’s Cake Bag. When I took it out and compared it to the gingerbread, I realized it was already an excellent match and that meant I could buy more and not have to worry about colour matching. I ended up using about a pack and a half in the end, so that was a good choice!

In fact at the show after judging, Mike McCarey asked me how I’d made the “paste” because he thought I’d ground up gingerbread and turned it into a matching paste of some kind. I told him it’s just regular Squire’s Kitchen modelling paste and he was surprised! I guess that means the colour really did match well.

I also decided that while 100% edibility would be great, there was just no way any edible medium at this scale was going to be hard enough to turn as gears without breaking. So I decided on pastillage over round cocktail sticks (toothpicks) for the gear bits, and pastillage on bamboo barbecue skewers for the sail poles.

Ultimately, this piece used 47 cookies, plus Polo candies (hard, dry white mints with holes in the middle, similar to Lifesavers mints for anyone looking for a US version), about 300 grams of modelling paste, a small amount of royal icing, and a small amount of pastillage.

Here’s a list of where all the cookies went:

Museum Model Rotating Assembly

Baseboard – 1 cookie

2 Narrow Pillars – 2 cookies each, affixed together with royal icing with exposed edges covered in modeling paste – 4 cookies total

2 Wide Pillars – 2 cookies each, affixed together with royal icing holding a Polo mint candy embedded between, with exposed edges covered in modeling paste – 4 cookies total

Horizontal Gear Mechanism – 1 end cap cookie covered in modeling paste, 1 large gear cookie embedded with pastillage-covered toothpicks held in place with modeling paste and covered with the same on the back, 1 spacer cookie covered in paste, and a handle comprised of 2 cookies held together and covered in modeling paste – 5 cookies total

Vertical Gear Mechanism – 2 Polo candies covered in modeling paste, 2 cookies embedded with pastillage-covered toothpicks held in place with modeling paste and covered with the same on the top of one – 2 cookies total

Top Platform for the base – 1 cookie

Total: 17 cookies

Aerial Screw Components

Support Disc – 1 cookie

Mast Base – 3 cookies held together with royal icing and covered in modeling paste

Central Mast – 15 very small cookies, some interspersed with pieces of Polo candies to facilitate strong holes, held together and covered with modeling paste, with pastillage-covered skewers affixed into the holes with modeling paste

Mast to Arm Support Ring – 1 cookie, covered in modeling paste

3 Angled Arms – 2 cookies each, held together with royal icing and covered in modeling paste – 6 cookies total

Base Ring – 1 cookie, covered in modeling paste

Sails – 3 fortune cookies

Total: 30 cookies

GRAND TOTAL: 47 cookies

Below are many photos showing how it came together and how I kept comparing it to the model to maintain the gear precision as much as possible.

First I rolled the gingerbread out to the same thickness as the wooden pieces, and then rolled once more gently to make them slightly thinner so they’d hopefully bake to about the right thickness (I also did the “ironing” method on each cookie as they came of the oven, which is taking a metal fondant smoother over the hot cookies gently but firmly to squish out any unwanted puffs). I cut a circle to the same size as the gear (erring on the slightly smaller side when matching to my circle cutters, again because of anticipated expanding during baking) I put the wooden gear right on top of the dough and used my needle tool to poke the location of every hole, making several pokes so I could clearly see where the hole was.

making gingerbread gears

I used a tiny little round cutter I have that’s bigger than the hole I needed because I knew they’d partially bake closed. The paintbrush was to pop the gingerbread out of the tiny cutter.

But I quickly realized that the very act of cutting the holes was pushing the dough out of shape ever so slightly, so I put the round cutter back around the dough to act as a support as I did the cutting.

using a cutter as a support collar while cutting

Manipulating the tiny circle cutter inside the big one while keeping everything straight is exactly as tedious as you’re guessing it to be.

I did likewise with the smaller gear cookies, and then after baking placed them on the actual wooden model (with the wooden gears pushed down so their rods poked up to test the cookies on) to make sure everything lined up.

comparing wooden and cookie models

I did this sort of comparison/checking constantly throughout this piece, always adjusting as necessary to try to preserve the ratio for the gear train.

sizing gears

To ensure the large gear wheel was precisely aligned for every spoke, I had to carefully file out holes until I could slip it onto the wooden model with spokes in place.

testing on wooden kit

And then testing and re-testing to make sure it all lined up as per the wooden kit.

For the inner mast, at first I tried to make it in all one piece. It was a challenge from the start to make holes that went crosswise through the dough because each new hole through wrecked previous ones. And then, as I pretty much expected, it didn’t cook well so not only did the holes bake closed, but the whole stick was split inside and along part of the outside.

baking liner on foil frame

I made a supportive rig of foil with a baking liner curved to hopefully keep the rounded stick shape. That aspect worked, but little else did.

cracks in mast

Here you can see how the stick has cracked along one side and throughout the middle.

wonky holes

The holes shifted and closed during baking, and even if I could drill them back out, the dough inside was no longer stable enough to support weight.

baking round cookies

So then I made a bunch of equal-sized little round cookies instead for stacking later.

many cookies

Gradually I started amassing a pile of cookie parts.

wooden parts

The equivalent pile of wooden parts.

base cookie

The base was baked as one very large single cookie. I made it slightly larger than I wanted it to be so I would have plenty of room to file the sides to make them straight. The holes were lined up with the original wooden board as much as possible before baking and then filed a bit more as needed after the cookie cooled.

filing cookie edges

Once the base was cooled and had been re-measured to the holes, I drew lines with an edible marker to mark the sides (you can see the red line at the bottom of this photo), and used a microplane grater to gently file the edges down to a sharp, straight corner on all sides. I propped it up on cutting boards over another cutting board so I could hang just an edge over, keeping the rest safe and stable to reduce the risk of breakage.

cookie gear box

Getting back to the gears, I covered some toothpicks with pastillage and let them dry, all precisely sized to the wooden sticks from the kit. When the gear cookies had all been filed on their edges and inside their holes as needed, I pushed wet blobs of the Teddy Bear Brown modelling paste into the holes and then pushed the pastillage sticks into that goo. I used a brush and a Sugar Shaper to carefully smooth the bits that would be seen inside the gear cage, but didn’t worry about the bottom and top because one would be hidden and the other would be covered later.

For all four side supports on the base, I made two cookies each that would be glued together back to back for maximum flat surface matching. To provide strength inside for a rotating shaft, I reinforced these supports with a Polo candy embedded in the middle. This meant I had to carve out space for the candy to be embedded in between but still allow the cookie surfaces to come together flush.

making embedded candy

I didn’t file the cookies’ sides yet because the important part here was to match each pair accurately around the Polo candy, make them even around the edge, and then make sure each unit matched the others.

To start, I made sure the pre-baked hole was filed out to be smooth and clean. Then I traced a Polo candy around it with the tip of an x-acto knife.

scraping hole

Next, I used the knife to carefully scrape away some cookie within that border, taking great care not to crack the cookie.

candy in hole

I kept testing the Polo candy in the depth to ensure it fit.

assembling units

And once the two halves could sit together with the candy in the middle and minimal separation between, that part was done and ready to be glued together.

Filing straight edges is fairly easy, as long as you take care to go slowly and evenly and are protecting the cookie against any stress that could break it. Filing perfect curved edges is not so easy, so given that I was making this piece to replicate wooden counterparts, I used those wooden parts to help me get a perfect edge.

filing circle

By sandwiching the gingerbread ring between the actual wooden ring and a matched wooden base, I was able to keep the gingerbread ring fully protected and use the wooden edges as a guide. Obviously I didn’t go right up to the edge and risk wood shavings or damage to my microplane grater, but this really helped me get a lovely, clean, even curved edge around the outside. This of course didn’t work for filing the inside edge, which was just done very carefully and slowly without a guide.

Turning my attention back to the central mast, I needed to have a very strong way of supporting the arms for the sails that could also have a shaft going down into the gear assembly. Since the Polo candies had worked so well for the side supports of the gear mechanism, I decided to make them work for me in the mast as well. It wasn’t going to be stable to use them on their sides to use their actual holes, though, and they were slightly too wide compared to the cookies I’d made to stack in the mast, so I decided to cut each Polo candy in half and then file the cut edge down so they’d make a supportive insert on either side of the gaps between cookies, thus giving a lot of hard strength to the mast while still being edible and really within the spirit of gingerbread, which often comes with candies stuck onto it anyway.

filing candies

Here you can see the original wooden mast, which has alternating holes through which the pegs that hold the sail are meant to go. These pegs are very long relative to the mast, meaning there will be a lot of force applied in the small part of each peg within the mast. Wood can handle that but edible media are softer and more fragile. So here you can see that I’ve been filing down the halves of the hard Polo candies to make them fit the small, round cookies I’ll later stack. I also used the corner of the microplane grater to carve a bit of a curve into the top and bottom of each facing little cookie, so together a layer of cookie with a top trench, two filed halves of a Polo, and then a cookie with a bottom trench came together to form one hole.

shaping the mast

I then stacked the cookies and sliced/filed Polo candies in sections that formed the cross-ways holes. I did them in small sections to dry at first because this whole thing got very soft with the wet modelling paste needed to join it all together. By working in segments held securely in the underside of a Wilton flower former, they could dry hard and then be attached and dried again.

test assembly of mast

Once the mast was fully dried and hard, I tested it in the loosely-assembled rig made out of other cookies. Here you can see the ring support arms are partially covered in modelling paste but not yet fully, as there too I let each bit dry as needed before putting on the next bit. But by constantly doing these loose test assemblies, I was able to ensure everything was coming together as intended and correct for any errors as I went.

Once that mast was definitely together, dried, and as needed, I filed it as a whole with the grater to smooth the sides, and covered it with the modelling paste. Filing the candies and the cookies at the same time was a bit tricky because of the different hardness between them, but I went slowly and carefully. This is pretty much why I listen to so many podcasts while I make my sugar art! (If you need one to listen to, start here!)

covered mast

I also mounted it to the thicker base that had a hole through it for the bottom gear shaft to stick into. Here you can also see more covering going on the ring support arms.

model coming together

Meanwhile I kept assembling the base, having filed down the side supports to be all even and equal in height. This was about when I realized the royal icing wasn’t drying, though, so soon after this I had to cover the sides of those supports with the modelling paste.

testing skewers

I covered larger skewers in pastillage, dried them, and set them up in the holes of the mast loosely for one final measurement of the total width to ensure it would fit in the space needed for my airline box.

Once all of these bits were covered and tested, it was time to actually commit to assembling them!

I filled each mast hole with very wet modelling paste, then poked a hole through that was smaller than the pastillage covered skewer. Then I put the skewer in and used my thumb on the back of each hole to smooth off any excess that came through and ensure I could feel that peg almost all of the way through. With measurements calculated down to millimeters, it was important to ensure everything was lined up where it needed to be. I also checked many, many times to ensure I’d put the right length of stick in the right hole in the right circular order count. I also mounted the support ring at this time, fusing it to the mast with modelling paste and having already put some modelling paste on its sides to dry as surfaces for all of the attached bits to cling to without putting too much stress on the cookie inside.

fitting arms

I ran one last test of the ring support arms with their carved-out notches for the ring, ensuring they all sat exactly where they needed to be on this ring and the bottom ring they’d be attached to. All of the weight of that big bottom ring would be suspended from these funny little bent arms, so it had to be strong and precise.

marking pieces with numbers

Once that final test was done, I marked each arm 1, 2, or 3, and made corresponding marks to the mast ring and the bottom ring. This would ensure that if there were any small differences in fit, that the right piece would go on the end result as it had fit in testing.

assembling mast

I finally mounted all of these pieces together (with another cookie under the mast assembly to hold it up during drying). I ran a ribbon of the modelling paste around the mast ring’s edge, and then used wet modelling paste smushed into each join to make it strong, smooth, and aesthetically pleasing. I also made small holes in the mast base for where the handles would go, as Da Vinci originally drew people standing in there and turning that mast by hand.

Finally it was time to make the sails.

tracing sails on paper

First I took the actual cloth sails from the wood kit and traced them out on paper. I knew mine would be slightly smaller, but I wanted to start with the actual kit size and work down as per my version.

testing paper sail

Even though the kit had the sails in two pieces, I adjusted the overall paper version to be three that lined up on the supports as I needed. I tested them taped together on the actual model.

sail 3 under liner

Then I cut the three segments apart and used them under a non-stick baking tray liner as a guide.

fortune cookie dough on template

That way I could put the liquid fortune cookie dough down exactly as the template needed. I kept the edges in very slightly because I knew it would spread a bit, but I also knew I planned to file the edges so I didn’t hold it back too much.

cookie on rig

As soon as the cookie came out of the oven, I placed it on the rig and held it with my fingers (and yes, it’s HOT!) until it cooled into the right curve. Actually, the one in this photo I decided wasn’t wide enough and I ended up making another one, but I didn’t take a photo of the replacement on its own.

cookie edges

Once each cookie had been baked, cooled, and filed, I glued them all in place with liquified pastillage as glue. This photo shows the lower cookie sails glued in place with the last one sitting loosely on top to test placement. I then took that one off and filed its edge before gluing it down. But this photo shows the difference between the filed edge (bottom) and unfiled (top).

adding cake lace

Once it was all dry and firm, I cut some decorative bits of cake lace from a sample I had laying around from a previous show and stuck them on to cover the joins. I also cut some straight bits of cake lace and anchored those from the poles to the lower ring. It was very, very difficult to get them taut without breaking.

I mounted the base/gear box unit on a thin cakeboard, glued a ribbon around it all, and then it was done pending final assembly in Austin. The photo and video at the top of this post show it sitting in place but not actually glued together. Here are some more photos from that shoot:

gears

The gear assembly without the top on.

final piece from side

final piece from above

Of course, then I needed to actually transport the thing in a cab, on a bus, on a 10-hour plane ride, and then in Kyla’s car to her house and then the actual venue. I know from past experience that my cabin bag fits under the seat in front of me on the plane, so at first I considered trying to build some kind of container within that bag, because it would also give me rain protection and handles, but as I worked on the piece it became clear that while the halves would actually fit in my bag, I wouldn’t be able to get them both in the narrow opening of my bag. So I decided to build a box instead, partially using some instructions shared with me from ICES friends, but tailored to materials available in the UK.

I bought some A3 sheets of 5mm foam core, measured out a base board that would fit both pieces including all of their bits sticking off to the side, and a cardboard one as well to be glued on the bottom as additional support. I placed the actual pieces on before cutting to be extra sure there was ample room. Then I cut a piece sized to the baseboard less 5mm on all sides to accommodate side walls, and placed the gingerbread pieces on that one to trace out their bases. I cut out their bases from this second piece and glued it down onto the baseboard. This gave me a perfect custom-fit recess into which each piece could sit, reducing the chance of them sliding around inside the box, as well as perfect grooves to line up the side walls.

floor of box with holes cut

You can see the top bit of foam core has an arrow in one corner. That told me to point the anchor point for the lowest corner of the sail there, because I traced the piece in that position so I knew that would be the precise fit given that the circle wasn’t a perfect circle. That meant it would slide right into that hole snugly with no stress points. It also meant I’d accounted for overhang on all sides with that orientation. Likewise the pencil line on the outside of the square is reminding me that that’s where the big turning knob cookie will overhang.

I then measured the height of the pieces on that baseboard inside those recesses. The maximum height was 21.5cm, and I knew the official clearance for the under-seat carryon was 25cm, so to be sure of clearance on both sides I measured side walls to a total height (including the base board) of 23 cm. I knew I was going to be using a plexiglass lid, which would be less than 1 cm, so it would still come in under 24 cm total. I also cut a middle wall that was 5mm shorter than the side walls because it was to sit on top of the inner board with the recessed holes, but for strength I did not cut a recess for that middle wall.

Then I grabbed the old plexiglass I had on hand from my 2016 entry, which had actually ended up damaged on one corner in my kitchen so it was no longer useful as a full piece. I cut a lid to fit the outer dimensions of the box, and rounded the corners because plexiglass corners can be sharp and I didn’t want anyone to be hurt, including myself, or for airport security to have an issue with it. I then did a second one since I had enough spare plexiglass and mounted that to the bottom (on the cardboard under the foam core) as extra protection against water and to make it easier to slide on the carpet under the seat.

box pieces

All of the pieces cut and laid out.

After assembling the first two walls, I took the taller piece and tested it, just to be sure that it would indeed have sufficient height clearance for the lid.

testing cookie in box

I had to be very careful doing this, because the top piece was otherwise sitting on that cookie you can see below for support, prior to assembly when a shaft from the gear train below would be up into the middle bit to hold it up. This meant that every time I moved this top bit off of that other cookie, the stresses on the ring support cookies were very high because that inner mast is floating about a cm over nothing in this photo.

I knew I’d be using rolled-over packing tape under the cardboard baseboard under the base/gear box cookie unit to affix it down into the box, but I couldn’t tape the upper unit because tape doesn’t stick to the cookie at all, and I also was wary of damage anyway. So as I built the box, I cut scraps of foam core to make corner-strengthening units inside (taking care that they’d be nowhere near any elements protruding out beyond the boundaries of the recessed holes), and as I glued them into place I also glued in lengths of cheap but strong curling ribbon.

ribbon seat belts

These bits of ribbon would be made to function as a sort of seatbelt for each half.

Then as I put the pieces in, I pulled those ribbons flat and taut over the base of each half and glued it down into the opposite corner on diagonals.

ribbon seat belts on base

The base unit was fairly sturdy and taped down under the board anyway, but I still did the seat belts just in case. It was very tricky to get the ribbons through the gears without touching any.

seat belt ribbons on top piece

For the top piece, these ribbon seat belts would be the only thing holding it in case the box was tipped, so they were very important. They also had to not be anywhere close to the fragile cake lace. Here you can see that supportive cookie is back under the mast to reduce stress points during transport. You can also see how I’ve lined it up with the arrow I drew on the bottom of the box, and an arrow I drew on a side wall to ensure I didn’t put cut box pieces in the wrong place. I find it’s generally safest to assume I’ll forget things and make marks rather than puzzle things out later.

This created a very strong way of tying the cookies down in the box without actually touching them very much; it would stop them from going anywhere if the box was tipped, but it wasn’t putting any constant pressure on the cookies at all. It was a fail-safe that wasn’t needed, but it was very comforting during some of the bouncier bits of the journey to know that it was there. Plus, last year Heathrow security turned my bag with my sewing machine entry on its side to go through the x-ray, so even though this year I had the box exposed and asked that it not be turned (after all, it was built to the height clearance so it shouldn’t need it), if someone had turned it the pieces would probably be okay. They didn’t tip it, but having the extra security built in eased my mind throughout the trip.

Once I had the pieces in and strapped down, I was ready to add the final wall in place. But I also realized I didn’t like how much the gear mechanism was rattling around. I knew it would probably be fine to rattle but figured more security would be better, and I still had foam core scraps left. So I measured and cut an additional piece to slide down just above the base’s top, not touching it, but with a hole fairly narrow for that mast pole so it could only move by a few millimeters instead of jiggling widely.

adding extra support

The extra bit to hold the gear shaft from rattling. I also tucked an Amazon package air cushion into the back as extra insurance against moving.

I realized that in my cold kitchen, the hot glue was going to start setting up as I tried to cover all of the edges needed for the front panel to go on, so I started by putting down a large bead of the glue for the bottom edge. Then I could put that edge on and it would stay warm enough while I quickly put some hot glue up the three walls and the two angled supports I had in place. I didn’t worry about perfect coverage, because I also knew I’d be taping all of the seams; I went for careful speed instead of perfection at this point.

I then taped in some spare airbags around so they weren’t touching the entry, but once again would give an added fail-safe in the event of any other point of failure. I also had purchased some bags of silica desiccant, and taped in some of those around where they wouldn’t be at risk of damaging anything.

Next I glued on the plexiglass lid, and then ran clear packing tape around all edges. Once it was all secure, I compared it to the height of my regular carryon bag which I know fits under the British Airways seats.

comparing to bag

I stuffed a blanket into the bag to check the height. I figured as long as the box was smaller than the bag, it should fit.

I made signs for the two long sides of the box explaining the fragility and contents so the various transport staff would understand what was going on with this weirdness, and I taped that on running the tape all the way around the box in two stripes, giving added security to the entire construction. Finally, I used a long big of wire-edged ribbon leftover from a previous cake board and wrapped that around the entire box, taping it down separately so that if airport security had an issue with the wire, I would be able to remove the handle without taking the rest of the box apart. Again, they didn’t have an issue with it, but it’s always best to plan to be very accommodating of airport security!

box with label

testing handle

I tested the lifting capacity of the handle to make sure it was very secure. I also jiggled it a bit to ensure nothing inside was moving.

box in a plastic bag

I tested the handle with a plastic bag over the whole thing to keep out rain and to ensure any judges I was travelling with (because I knew at least two were on my flight) would not have their judging compromised by accidentally seeing an entry beforehand. This is done to protect judges from accusations of favouritism.

It all worked! Here it is under the seat in front (well actually the middle seat’s spot, because nobody was in the middle seat and the man on the aisle seat was happy for me to use that entire space):

box under airline seat

Because I was able to use the middle seat’s space, that meant I could keep my regular carryon with me as well instead of having to put it overhead.

And here it is cut open at Kyla’s house, all intact!

box opened

I cut the box open carefully all around, not trying to preserve the box in any way. Although it did get repurposed by a friend to take the cake she made in a class home on her own short domestic flight, so that’s good re-using!

The severe humidity we had at the show impacted a lot of pieces, including mine. The cookies got so soft inside – almost sponge-like – that the mechanism never did work very well. It looked good on the first day and worked enough that the judges could see that, barring such horrible humidity, it would have worked better. The wet winds blowing as I took the piece into the hall made the cake lace blow and stretch slightly, so what had been taut was now slack, which really bugged me. But I didn’t want to risk taking anything apart to repair, so I marked it as DAMAGED IN TRANSIT on the entry form and that, along with the sheets of in-progress photos I put beside the entry, had to suffice to show the judges that it had been fine before the weather got to it.

at the show 1

at the show 2

And the judges did like it! It won a Gold as an overall grade, and placed Second in Masters: Cookies. It also won Second place in the overall show award for matching the theme of science.

medals

How cool are these medals?! From the moment I saw them being designed I said, “I WANT ONE!” and I’m thrilled to have won two!

And then at the very end, since I couldn’t bring the assembled piece home, we decided to SMASH IT. Tien Bui recorded me dropping it, but because of the humidity and how much moisture the cookies had absorbed, it didn’t shatter so much as fwopped as it landed. If you listen in the video, it makes a wet-thunk noise, and the only breakage was the sails popping off and going flying.

So that was it for my experimental gear-based moving cookie. It was a fun challenge to make, and now let’s never do that again wheeeeeee….

Posted in 3D Cookies, Cake Decorating, Cookies, Experimental Techniques, Prize Winners, Severe Nerdery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Episode 35 of the Podcast is Up


Go to the show page for the full episode and lots of photos showing how bad knockoffs can be.

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Podcast Episode – Cake International 2018


Head on over to the podcast page for this informative and heartwarming episode full of cake stars!

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