Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kids' Birthday Cake: Dora the Explorer!

My niece just turned four and I made her this Dora the Explorer cake. I decided to put it on my blog because besides being cute and delicious, it's also very customisable and not too difficult. I made all the decorations on it except for the actual Dora figurines, and they could easily be replaced with other figurines/decorations to suit your needs. I could see it easily being adapted to become a fairy cake, or a smurf wonderland etc. Anything that would suit sitting atop a green hill. It was the first time I've used fondant on a decent scale, so I wanted to share that it can be fun and that even beginners can get decent results.

The steps involved include baking the cake, frosting it with buttercream icing, colouring/rolling out fondant, covering the cake with the fondant and creating fondant decorations. It may seem like a lot of steps, but none are particularly difficult and the cake and decorations can be made in advance, so it is not too overwhelming. I spent a couple of hours during the week playing around with making the decorations, and then two days before it was needed I completed the entire cake in another couple of hours. This way the process was not at all stressful, and the product didn't suffer from being made in advance.
The cake itself is a Madeira Cake, a simple lemon cake and serves 16.

Madeira Cake


  • 350 g butter, softened
  • 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Grated rind of one lemon
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Method: Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the lemon rind. In another bowl beat the eggs until thick. Sift flour and baking powder together. Add to creamed mixture alternately with the eggs. Stir to mix. Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 25 cm round cake tin. Bake at 180 Celsius for approx 45 minutes. Leave in tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Once the cake is cool you'll need to cover it with buttercream frosting. This is so that the fondant will have something to adhere too, it also smooths out any minor lumps or bumps. Trim the cake if necessary before you start. For example, if you want to the cake to have a flat top you may need to trim a layer off the cake's surface. You can then flip the cake over before icing it. This will create a nice flat cake to ice. However, if you're like me and want to create a slightly rounded hill shaped cake then trimming or flipping may not be necessary. I just frosted the cake as it was as I thought a slight mound would look nice.

Buttercream Frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2 cups sifted icing sugar (powdered sugar/confectioner's sugar)
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons hot water

Method: Cream the butter until it's nice and fluffy and light. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the icing sugar, beating well as you go. Make sure it's nice and smooth. Add a little bit of hot water as needed to get it to a spreading consistency. Spread this all over the cake, top and sides. It doesn't have to look perfect (i.e doesn't matter if it gets crumbs in it) as it's going to get covered with the fondant. But it is important to make sure it all looks reasonably even and symmetrical. You don't want lumps and bumps or a wonky cake.

Covering in fondant:

I covered the cake using 750g of white "Pettinice" fondant purchased from the supermarket (not almond flavoured though, yuck!). First I coloured it by kneading in a bit of yellow and blue gel colouring. Yellow + blue = green. Crazy huh? Helpful hint, it's good to sprinkle the bench (and your hands) with a wee bit of cornflour (or icing sugar), to stop the fondant from sticking. Kneading is a bit labour intensive, but once it's soft you're all good, so just keep persevering. Make sure you have kneaded the fondant enough and it's soft and smooth with no streaks of random colour. Then you need to roll it out and cover the cake with it. For good instructions on how to cover a cake with fondant you can check out this link: How to cover a cake with fondant. Explains it much better than I ever could!

I had a decent amount of leftover fondant (I rolled out my fondant quite thin) so I rolled some into balls and used them to surround the bottom of the cake, this gave it a tidier look. Now onto the rest of the decorations...

Making decorations:

I made all of these decorations by hand using more white fondant that I just coloured myself (again with gel colours). I didn't use any special tools, apart from the number 4 for which I used a cookie cutter, I added the dot details around the edges by using the point of a skewer. I created the creatures and flowers by just experimenting and seeing what worked, then I used the skewer and a plastic knife and spoon to create extra dimensions like dots lines and mouths (using the tip of a teaspoon).

It's just like glorified play doh. So have fun and play around to create decorations of your own, or feel free to use my photos as a guide if you want to copy them. I don't have any instructions as it was just a bit hit and miss playing around with different ideas. But if you have any specific questions just feel free to leave me a comment and I will help the best I can.

I made the decorations about a week in advance and stored them in a cardboard box (line the bottom with non-stick paper) so that they dried out. They were very fragile, so be careful with them. Perhaps gum paste is a better medium and will prevent fragility? I have yet to delve into the use of gum paste; I'm still a novice with this stuff, so feel free to give me pointers! Anyway, to stick any items onto the cake I just brushed the bottoms with a bit of water before pressing them onto the cake. I used florist wire to hold the bee up in the air. It was a lot of fun creating them, so I definitely recommend it if you have a creative (and patient!) nature, otherwise there is always the option of buying pre-made decorations to save you the fuss. But I do think it's lovely and worth the effort to give your cake the personal touch, I was very happy I gave it all a go. And thankfully the birthday girl enjoyed it just as much as I did.


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