As previously mentioned, I’m in the UK for a year so I don’t have most of my cake decorating tools. In fact I typed this paragraph while attempting again to stack ganached cake layers for Peo’s birthday cake since the previous attempt fell over in the fridge because I don’t have any wooden stakes to hold tiers together and it turns out the fridge here has sloping shelves.
I brought only what I needed for a small entry in the Birmingham cake show in November. So when another cake show popped up on my radar for early October, I was glad I was too late to sign up to enter the contest. But then I noticed that Renshaw Baking had a Modelling Magic contest where folks could make a Halloween cake topper with 200g or less of their sugarpaste, send in a photo, and then possibly be invited to bring the piece in for judging. 200g is a very small amount and I had brought my new PME mini modelling tools with me, so I decided to give it a go.
I wasn’t sure by the contest description if interior supports were allowed or not, since it said it had to be 100% sugarpaste. I usually use a lot of foil and toothpicks in my figures, so I decided it’d be a fun self-challenge to make something with lots of small features that had no internal supports whatsoever. I made a little board out of scrap cardboard with foil over it as a base, but otherwise used no toothpicks or anything else other than fondant inside the piece.
I also knew I had to get the piece from Cambridge to London on a bus, then a train, and then the jostly London Underground through to the show. That meant the design needed to be bottom-heavy, well-supported, humidity-proof, and any thin bits would need to be supported by design.
My first idea was to have a cute little pale witch or goblin decorating a Jack-O-Lantern, but I quickly realized I’d have unsupported arms doing that. I pondered various options until I came up with the notion of many tiny Jack-O-Lanters in a pile, some lit and others dark, and have a wee little Halloween fairy lighting them, positioning her so that all of her limbs would be supported. I knew that would give me the opportunity to try to make tiny little delicate wings, something I hoped would impress the judges.
Well it must have worked, because I won first place during the Saturday contest and got a bag full of goodies!
I took photos as I worked – albeit a few hasty and thus blurry or poorly lit ones, sorry – to show you how I made the piece so you can go forth to make your own.
I started by making several small balls of black and yellow as the inner cores of the pumpkins, and I let those dry overnight. Well, they were dry enough in the morning, but I actually left them for a couple of days because I’m a busy homeschooling mom in a foreign country running around to see castles and museums and whatnot all the time, battling transportation woes and occasional sharknados.
So when I next had time, I took a bit of orange and made a partial pinch pot like so:
I very lightly dampened the inside of the pinch pot and rolled it around the inner core, moving the outside around as gently as possible to make it even and seam-free. This was my first time using Renshaw paste and I must say, it did a very nice job of self-seaming.
Then I used one of the PME tools (I think each tool has a name but I’m too self-trained to know the proper names for all of these things, sorry) to make indentations as shown below. Of course then handling the tiny things often munged those indentations out and I’d have to redo them, but I found it helpful to at least start with them.
Next I carved eyes. The PME set has a little half-circle tool that was just right for cutting our round eyes, but for triangle ones I’d just use one of the sharper pick style tools to pick out a bit of the orange and then poke into three corners to form little triangles. There’s no set rule to this stage other than to remove a bit of material down to the inner colour and then try to make symmetrical eye-like shapes.
Next I’d make the nose as per the triangle eyes method mentioned above. Then I’d do the mouth, which was tricky to do without munging the other features. I poked the smile corners where I wanted them to be, then lightly traced lines for the mouth I wanted, including any built-in teeth. Then I picked out orange from inside the lines carefully, gently removing or folding back any spurs that stuck out. This is one of those things that takes some practice and familiarity with the medium.
If I’d had my mini circle cutters available, I’d have tapped one against the top to make a round indentation. But those are back in storage in Austin, so instead I grabbed the closest PME mini tool and hacked out a little circular shape on the top. Then I used one of the conical tools to make an indentation in the middle.
My first attempt at covering a black interior with orange went horribly wrong, so I’d mashed it together in a marbled ball. I then used bits of that marbled stuff to make tiny stems. I shaped a little stick, dampened the hole, and stuck it in.
The procedure for a “lit” pumpkin is exactly the same as an “unlit” one, just using a yellow ball instead of a black one. You can vary faces as suits your whims.
I let all of the pumpkins dry at least overnight (since it took me several late night post-baby-bedtime sessions to make them) so they were nice and firm. Somewhere along the line I also covered the mini board with a thin layer of green fondant and let it dry as well.
To stack them, I arranged them all in front of me and decided first which one was the weakest, because that could go in the middle. Yes, the mostly-hidden pumpkin in the middle was still one that took effort. Why? Because it let me hide the worst one, and because when competing you never know where a judge is going to peek. Your competition mindset should never include skipping details! Of course if you’re just doing this for someone who wouldn’t notice, go ahead and put a dried orange ball in the middle.
Anyway, I tried carefully stacking them in different ways, keeping the “lit” ones to one side since I knew I wanted it to look like the fairy was going through the pile and lighting them. By planning out the stack in advance, I knew what fit where and risked less damage in putting them together.
I moved them all back off (but in an order so I knew what would go back on where), then stuck the middle one in place with a tiny bit of wet fondant. I then did the bottom outer ring the same way.
To attach pumpkins to pumpkins, I first placed the upper one where I wanted it to sit on the lower ones and carefully made tiny marks against the upper one where all the touch-points were. Then I wet tiny bits of orange fondant, smoothed the edges of the bits onto the upper one on those marked points, and pinched it out to make a little soft fondant spike. Then I gently pushed the upper pumpkin into place and used a damp, small brush to smooth out the smushed adjoining bits of orange fondant. That way they were all firmly held in place but with a lot of open air in between. If you look closely at these photos you can see the joins:
When it was time to add the fairy, I knew I needed her completely supported by the Jack-O-Lanters if I was going to do her with no internal supports. That meant putting her on the bottom but reaching up and over, so her arms could be on the pumpkins and not free-floating.
I drew a rough sketch to the correct size on a scrap grocery receipt:
To make the torso, I started with a bit of purple fondant in a teardrop shape:
I then gently and slowly made a pinch-pot of the base of the teardrop, flaring out the edges to be a little dress.
Next I picked the side I wanted it to go on so that her arm would be able to reach up and be “lighting” the top lit pumpkin. I wet the front of the torso and gently, carefully pushed it into place, starting from slightly above and pushing down (including from inside the skirt) so that some of the purple fondant filled the face holes of the Jack-O-Lanterns, helping to anchor it in place.
I pinched the top in at the sides and flattened the top to shape the upper dress. I used the side of a tool to make a little waist indentation around the middle. Then I used one of the PME tools to poke in little shoulder holes and came in from the bottom to poke leg holes underneath:
For both the arms and legs, I rolled a thin snake of white, then an even thinner snake of black, and wrapped the black around in bands like so:
Once the bands were on, I gave the whole thing another gentle roll to make it smooth. Then I cut it, decided which orientation looked best, wet the shoulder holes, rolled the arms to a point on one side and a flat end on the other, and poked the points into the shoulder holes. I also lightly wet the undersides to glue the arms to the pumpkins. Then I made super teeny tiny hands (see my 101 tutorial for hand making, and then see a licensed therapist for a huge quantity of relaxation medication before attempting these on this scale).
I had rolled a wand stick the night before, but it was so tiny (about the width of a Jimmy/sprinkle) that it kept breaking. So I took the longest portion that was left, put it ever so gently into the fist hand, made a tiny little flat star of yellow and stuck that to the pumpkin, then stuck the other end of the stick to the yellow star with a tiny yellow point to make it look like a 3D sparkle wand.
I made little shoes by making elongated black tear drops and folding the point back over as curly toes, mounted them on the base, and made little indentations at the ankle with one of the mini ball tools.
For the legs, I took my banded snake and bent it in half, anchored the bottoms in the shoes, then shoved the bent part up against those leg holes I’d made previously and used one of the tools to jam leg material up into the holes. That sounds so sweet and gentle because cake decorating is romantic and I write romance novels.
Also, as I blog this I realize I must’ve done the legs first since the arms aren’t on in that photo. Which goes to show just how tired I was while making this, and just how poor my memory is! It actually doesn’t matter which you do first because everything is resting on or hanging from that torso, so as long as the torso is on well, the rest is fine.
Anyway, next I made the head, which I’d usually mount with a toothpick but since the challenge here was to use no internal supports, I couldn’t do that. I made a ball, indented for the eyes, put in the smallest possible black balls (anything less got stuck in my fingerprints), pinched out a nose, and used that PME half-circle tool to indent a smile.
I put some water on the neck of the torso and mounted the head. Then I went to bed, knowing that if I touched it again at that point, I’d wreck it.
The next day I marbled what remained of the black and white limbs into a marbled tiny pinch pot, hacked at the edge to make some hair locks, and gently put it into place with the tiniest amount of water. I didn’t fuss about the top because I knew there’d be a hat on there.
The hat was super simple: a teardrop pinched out at the bottom like the torso but going further and keeping it nice and round.
Somewhere along the line I also made tiny wings by lightly marbling some white with a bit of purple, then rolling it as thinly as possible and cutting out the shape I wanted. I picked little holes in a matching pattern on each with one of the sharper PME tools, and let them dry for a couple of days.
Once the hair was on, I mounted the wings with a bit of water on the back of the torso.
I put the hat on, weighed it one last time (I’d been weighing throughout to make sure I never even approached the 200g limit), and then set it aside to dry for the show.
So there you have it! Now go make something itty bitty and cute, then link your photos in the comments.