Episode 61 of the Podcast – Merry Mischief Bakers

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Timey Wimey Back to Cake International: 2016


Remember 2016? It was a thousand millionty years ago, I know.

Back in 2016 I made an entry for Cake International in their Christmas category and I thought I’d posted about it here on this blog. Apparently, I didn’t. I just went looking for the photos because this piece is mentioned in the March 25, 2021 podcast episode, and I couldn’t find it here.

So cast your minds back to a pre-covid time when Carrie Fisher was still with us and some people thought the Brexit vote and US election wouldn’t have too many terrible repercussions, lolsob…

Wayne's World Time Travel Gif

Doodley-do, doodley-do, doodley-do…….

To start, I bought a 1:12 scale silicone brick mould (this exact one here, 1:12 Scale UK Standard Size Imperial Bricks Mould (1120065) from Diorama Debris) and then I started making fondant/gumpaste mix bricks. I used a bunch of different scraps and colours to make a variety of shades of browns and reds. I believe I stopped somewhere after 1100 bricks, and I only had a few dozen leftover at the end. Basically I sat in front of the TV filling the mould tray several times through the day, then I’d let it dry enough to pull them out without being mangled, and then do it again.

bricks laid out on board

While I was still making more, I laid out a wall and fireplace base casually so I knew approximately how many bricks would be required.

loose fireplace bricks

I then did more layout tests for a fireplace, planning out what walls would go where so it was integral to the wall but also going through on both sides.

bricks affixed to board

Eventually I committed to the process, gluing the bricks down with royal icing and starting a more defined fireplace.

adding more bricks

Bit by bit the wall grew, although I learned quickly I couldn’t do too many rows without letting earlier ones dry, because the weight of the next row wanted to shift the one underneath. Bricks were cut in half for alternating row ends as needed.

more bricks

All in all it’s just another brick in the….

By this point I’d stopped worrying entirely about keeping the inner surface clean because I knew I’d be lining it with something else. I sort of tried to keep the exterior bit clean of royal icing, but messing with each row was really time-consuming and knocked bricks out of place, so I stopped being so fussy and learned it was easier to clean up a dried surface anyway. I think if I did this again, I’d keep all the royal towards the interior so hardly any would squoosh out to the exterior, which would have left nicer, cleaner lines.

starting windows

When it was time to start the windows, I cut out cardboard placeholders that I pinned in place (knowing I’d be putting window sills on later anyway), so even if the rows were uneven I could ensure the windows would be exactly the same size. This is because as I worked, I noticed the brick rows varying a bit and I know all too well that a small variance repeated over time magnifies into a big variance. In the background, you can see I’ve already started work on some books and furniture.

The fireplace arch (and the window arches later) were pretty easy: I just started from the sides as such arches always go, pushing extra royal between the bricks at the top and pinching the bricks together at the bottom so there was almost none there. I had to let every new addition dry fully, so it took quite some time but it wasn’t very complicated since I already knew how real-world arches work.

building the fireplace

The much trickier part was the external chimney, which I knew would be hidden behind the wall paneling but still needed to be open. I wanted it so the viewer could see down into the chimney, all the way inside. So I had to step-build it and be creative in the supports while it dried, including that middle bit of spaghetti which is pointed downwards at the arch to create an upward tension on those middle bricks on the chimney. (If I’d done another arch here, it would have shown on the outside as an arch and looked weird.)

window arches done

The completed interior of the brick wall.

I cast some simple gelatin sheets on on ultra-smooth surface to get very flat, very transparent windows. The sheets were glued to the interior of the brick wall with royal icing before the pastillage wall was put in place, so the “glass” appears to be seamlessly just there. From many angles, it was so clear as to be difficult to see at all.

adding interior features

Next I put down some blue “carpet” in the form of lightly textured Satin Ice fondant, a mantel over the fireplace, and a pastillage inner wall. I also added strips for moulding around the ceiling, floor, and windows. There are still exposed bricks for what will be the hallway.

Making the pastillage walls meant precise measurements, dried out fully on a mat over several days. This is the smaller hallway wall, but the larger main wall had to incorporate the windows and fireplace as well, all in one seamless piece.

exterior wall done

The exterior wall at this point.

And so, having once again spent far, far too much time on a relatively inconsequential part of a piece, it was time to hurry up and make the zillion details that anyone actually cares about.

The tree was made by rolling snakes of marbled green gumpaste and twisting those around spaghetti strands, then pushing flat to cover the spaghetti. Then I used scissors to snip the sides, twisting the gumpaste a bit as I went. The top tip from the judge later was that I should have cleaned my scissors off between each cut for cleaner edges.

drying branches

These were dried firmly with the protruding bit of spaghetti so they could later be easily placed inside the trunk as needed, going from longer ones at the tree’s base up to smaller at the top.

Once I had the branches of different lengths dried, I made a core of pastiallage around more spaghetti and then very firm, dark green modelling chocolate around that. I’m not sure the inner core actually helped with stability very much in the end, to be honest, but it at least made it easy to make a firm trunk out the bottom.

building the tree

I pre-poked holes into the modelling chocolate for the branches, building from the floor level up to the middle on either side so if they slumped at all, it’d be towards each other, which would then fit the natural gravity appearance of the tipped tree. Basically it’s a demon hedgehog.

tree in position

I cut bits of the window where the tree would have “broken” through, making it look like jagged, broken panes. I reserved the cut-out bits and later stuck them in the royal icing snow outside, though they were very difficult to see there. The last branches were put on the trunk after it was put through the window, so I could tailior where they went in order to match the whole wall and window assembly.

making lights

I really wanted those candy-coated sunflower seeds I’d used in the US as Christmas lights before, but NOBODY in the UK sells them (or at least didn’t in 2016 and last I checked still didn’t…no wait, UPDATE…one seller has a 5lb box for £77. That’s slightly out of my price range!). So I had to hand-make every tiny light. I made little cones of each colour, let those dry, and then stuck greek blobs on the back and stuck a hole through.

lights on strings

Then, having used tinted vermicelli before for bucket handles, I repeated that procedure to make a bunch of green strings and put the lights on, using a tiny dab of sugar glue inside each hole. I didn’t try to make long strings, just short ones where the ends could poke into the branches and give the illusion of being wrapped in lights.

tiny things

I also started making teeny tiny candle stick holders, plates, and other items to be painted later.

tiny paintings

I got my sugary Bob Ross on and painted some happy trees on itty bitty gumpaste canvases.

Once all the bits’n’bobs were done, they all had to go in place on the tree, on the furniture, on the walls, and scattered all over the mayhem of the room. The girl figure was initially supposed to be a lot more detailed, but I got very badly ill right before the show and struggled to finish. She was finished in the hotel the night before, with poor lighting, limited workspace, and a mild fever. I also had plans to make a sort of cut-off roof at the top of the wall, but again when I fell ill I just had to cover those naked bricks so I cut two more long strips using my herb mincer as I had for the moulding elsewhere, and plonked them along the top. The judges noticed, and I don’t blame them.

Oh, and when I got it to the hotel I asked if I could borrow one of their wheeled carts, but a porter insisted on doing it for me and then insisted on carrying the box into my room, and I was far too Canadian about it and didn’t argue. He wasn’t careful and it shifted in the box and one of the hallway awards had its ribbon snap off. I tipped him anyway. You can take the girl out of Canada, but…yeah.

At least it was done and on the table first thing the next morning. And then I collapsed and died, the end.

on the table at CI

On the table at Cake International.

Okay not really, I managed to survive the show, despite having enormous heartache at apparently getting no award at all at first. When the awards were out, I went to check and saw nothing, no card or anything, and I was GUTTED. I moped. I went and told Mike McCarey and he gave me sympathy and said I was robbed. I whinged on Facebook about it. But then I put on my big girl pants and queued up for hourrrsss to get to talk to a judge, who then informed me that the card was apparently missing because I’d won a bronze. BEST BRONZE EVER. I hugged the judge. We’re probably not supposed to do that. The thought now of hugging a CI judge while getting over an illness is pretty horrifying, but there we are.

And then I even survived the rest of the show and the drive home to be able to photograph it properly. Phew. Here are pics from lots of angles of plenty of details, including the little Scottie dog almost nobody noticed.

completed entry 1

Behold the carefully constructed mayhem.

completed entry 2

completely entry 3

completed entry 5

Note the snow on the protruding part of the tree.

completed entry 6

Here you can see the bits of “broken glass” from the window, all in gelatin, of course. And yes, the fallen ornament is also deliberate.

completed entry 7

The painting above the bookshelf, deliberately askew.

completed entry 8

The Scottie dog going at the garland, which is made of a red liquorice string with sprinkles attached, plus destroyed ornaments, presents, and books all around. Note the book with the legible title, after the one of the earliest memes I ever saved for reuse later.

completed entry 9

You know a cat would destroy a tree and then lick themselves passively aggressively at you.

completed entry 10

The cards on the mantel have writing in them.

completed entry 11

I mean having a potted plant on a small table with pets in the house really is asking for trouble…

completed entry 12

I dusted the inside of the fireplace with black petal dust to look well-used and give a reason for the little black smudges and paw prints all over the place nearby.

view down the chimney

As mentioned before, it was important to me that the chimney be “real” insofar as you can see down through it.

completed entry 13

OH NO NOT THEIR GUMDROP BUTTONS!

completed entry 14

Santa never stood a chance at getting to those cookies and milk. And look at that scratch damage to the couch…tsk. Cats. Just…cats.

completed entry 15

completed entry 16

broken ribbon

This is the ribbon the porter broke. I couldn’t even find the pieces to repair it.

jammy bottom

For those who want to gauge the scale, here’s a measuring tape in inches:

measuring 1

measuring 2

measuring 4

The blue cube-ish things with an orange ball in the middle are supposed to be Terry’s Milk Chocolate Oranges because every Christmas I get those (and some dark ones in the red boxes) for my family. I ran out of time to do the detailing on them to make that more obvious, but British friends seemed to recognize them anyway.

measuring 3

This one is in cm to show just how teeny tiny these cats are.

So that’s the whole piece. FWIW, everything above the board is 100% edible, as in there is no wood or wire in the whole piece. Even the whiskers on the cats, the candle wicks, and the pulls on the crackers in the stockings are made out of tiny bits of vermicelli.

I actually find making the bricks and placing them to be very relaxing. Maybe one day when I have the house to myself again I’ll do another brick-wall project…probably not in 2021 at this rate, though. Because now that we’re back to the future, I’m still exhausted every day dealing with the reality nobody would have predicted back in 2016!

doc brown gasp

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