How to Make a 3D Cake
You Can Carve a 3D Cake to Decorate!
Do you love cake decorating? Are you tired of spending money buying specialty shaped cake pans? Here's a guide to teach you how to start carving your own 3D cakes for birthdays and other celebrations!
Anyone can carve a 3D cake. This 3D blue dinosaur cake in my article introduction was only my third cake to ever try carving. If I can learn to carve a 3D cake, anyone can do it. I'll show you the process that I used to teach myself how to carve a cake into any shape my kids asked for as their birthday cake.
Get an Idea for Your Cake Design
Chances are, you have an event in mind for your 3D cake. If it's a birthday party or a special event in honor of someone, choose a design that you think that person would really enjoy. Here are some things to keep in mind as you choose a design or animal or theme to create in cake.
- Choose something bulky. You'll want your cake to have some cake to it. Motorcycles, baseball bats and other narrow designs are hard to make if you're just starting out and want to copy a design from a photo or toy.
- Choose something with simple shapes. As you read through this article you'll understand what I mean by that exactly. You want to be able to visually dissect the design into simple shapes, if you can--you have a design that will be easier to carve.
- Choose something with a simple color scheme. I made this mistake once and made a race car cake that needed about 12 different colors and it took me 9 hours to finish. Start with a design with 2 to 4 colors.
My Most Recent 3D Cake: July 2011
Find Your Inspiration
Here are some books that have ideas in them to inspire you. Some other places to look are: Kids toys, cartoons, google image search, and coloring books! Coloring books are great, because the images are already reduced to simple shapes. Preschool ones are the best.
Find an inspiration photo
You can find an inspiration photo by searching images online, photo galleries on cake websites or by looking at pictures or toys at your home. I personally like to find actual cake photos online--usually someone with experience created the cake. This means they've decided how best to format the cake so that it's sturdy and easy to put together.
Our Subject Photo - Choose a subject photo to use while you work
For my example in this article, I've chosen to use a graphic of a bumble bee. This is a cute cuddly little bee that would make a really darling cake for someone who loves animals or gardening.
Visually Dissect Your Image
The next step once you've found your image or a toy or item that you can use to model your cake after, is to visually dissect the image into basic shapes. If doing this in your head is difficult for you (if you're a visual learner), get a pen out and mark the item into shapes. There's really no right or wrong. Sometimes I carve into one large sheet cake, sometimes I carve by using many smaller cakes and putting them together before carving.
Use cake pan shapes as your guide. I know that I own some round pans and a very large rectangle pan. So I try to look for circles and squares in my designs.
Here on our bee shape you'll see that I've dissected him (visually) into two large circles and five smaller circles.
There are two tiny circles for his antennae and one little piece of triangle for his tail and two strings for his antennae to stay on. I usually use fondant on my cakes, so those un-circled shapes I would probably build out of fondant.
Pre-Colored Fondant - A handy tool to save you time!
For smaller details, you may need just a small amount of a color of fondant. For a chicken beak, a dinosaur nose, any small detail on your cake. To save you time mixing a large amount of different colors of fondant, purchase some packages of pre-made fondant in a variety of shades. Great for accents, borders, polka dots.
Vide of a Topsy-Turvy Cake Being Carved - See some basic shapes being created!
This is a great video to watch to see how to use your knives to cut your cake into shapes. There are straight cuts and curved cuts. This video shows you how to make a stacked topsy-turvy cake, which is very popular. You can see someone carving, laying down a crumb coat of frosting and covering a shaped cake with fondant.
3D Cakes: Make or Buy?
Do you think it's better to make your own 3D cake, or to buy one from someone who makes them professionally? Tell us why!
Do you like to make your own 3D cake or buy one from a baker?
Adjust Your Shapes and Choose Your Pans
You'll see in this photo I've chosen to make the "wings" section of the bee from one circle. After looking at the design, you can see that the wings circle, the body circle and the head circle are all basically the same size. Not exactly, but remember, this is art, and there are no rules. So to start this bee I would choose to make three cakes in 6", 8", or 9" circles (depending on the size of the party) and one other square cake to make the smaller eyes and antennae bobbles out of.
I usually make extra cake, because cake is awesome. If you make too much, you can always eat it or make cake balls out of it. If you make too little, you'll be sorry you did!
Basic Pan Shapes for 3D Cakes - Some options for your cake pan library
One of the best things about learning how to carve 3D cakes is that you don't need to hunt for specialty pans to build your cakes! I have a cake pan library of only 7 pans. A large rectangle, two 8" circles, one 10" circle, two 6" circles, and a sports ball cake pan. I usually use one half of the round sports ball cake pan to create a domed shape for a rounded animal. I can build any number of cakes with just those pans, and use the carving methods to create the shape I want!
Assemble Your Cakes and Begin to Carve!
First, bake and cool your cakes. Use a thick pound cake or recipe made for 3d cakes (you'll be glad you did, it should be dense!)
Freezing the cakes after layering them can make them easier to carve, they'll be sturdier. For this design, I would make all three of the large circles two layers, so that I'd have room to carve them into a rounded dome. I usually use a large cake board to put my cakes on as I build them.
Put your cakes next to each other and cut out little notches to nest pieces into each other.
Each time you to to make a cut in your cake, use a small fillet knife and "draw out" a division line. Carving is all about proportions. So in this photo you can see that the wings are divided in three parts, with the center part about twice as big as the side parts.
If you like the proportions you've drawn, begin using your filet knife to cut away pieces of the cake to match the shapes in the photo. Start small--you can always cut away more cake later! Don't rush it.
Keep a bowl handy to catch your trimmings.
Tools for Carving 3D Cakes - Here's what I recommend
There are really only a few things you need to have to carve your cakes. You'll want one larger cake slicing knife that is long wide and flat. This is for leveling and scraping large surfaces of the cake. You'll also need a flexible boning or filet knife. This is really a tiny knife, but I do almost all my carving with this little tool. You'll also want two sizes of offset spatula for putting on your crumb coat of frosting, applying fillings and stirring icing.
Video of Cake Carving Large Dog Cake - See a pro in action!
This is one of the most fascinating cake carving videos I've seen. This is a four minute video of a four-day project of a very advanced dog cake. It's inspiring to see what could be possible, and it's also great to see the carving steps in action.