One day I wrote her name upon the strand, But came the waves and washed it away: Again I wrote it with a second hand, But came the tide, and made my pains his prey. "Vain man," said she, "that dost in vain assay, A mortal thing so to immortalize; For I myself shall like to this decay, And eke my name be wiped out likewise." ~ Edmund Spencer, Amoretti LXXV
We won’t lie to you – this cake takes a while to make and you need a steady hand plus some patience to spare. And most of all, a grateful recipient who will appreciate all the effort invested into making this tremendously laborious piece of indulgence. Beneath the glorious fondant surface hide two layers of chocolate cake and ganache.
3 days upfront we started with making the sea shells, fish, coral reefs, seaweed and Neptune. We made first a sketch of what we thought the final result should look like. The rope, at the bottom of the cake we made on the day of assembly, after everything else was done and placed. As you need to curve around the cake making this upfront is not a good idea; fondant hardens out within 24 hours (in this climate). And if you are making this for your family or a friend: you can save the fondant figurines (pretty much eternally…) and re-use them for another cake project.
2 days upfront we painted all the hardend out fondant forms. The frilly coral reefs and seaweeds were the most challenging. They are very fragile and you will need to practice your patience here at a maximum level. Same counts for Neptune’s Trident…
Neptune himself was somewhere between fascinating and furious making. The moulds are extremely well done with an intense level of detail. However, the hands, holding the trident, were a real weak spot. Whereas with the fish, shells and even the rope we got away without freezing, Neptune, the corals and seaweeds absolutely demanded frost.
The fins of the fish were delicate but not nearly as fragile as the corals. We worked all of the fish, coral and seeweeds with colour pigment mixed with isopropyl. It does require a quick hand and gives a beautifully painted result. We worked the same way with Neptune, except for his body – this was dry-dusted with a fine brush and a pearl pigment. The same technique was used for all the shells, the sea water and the ropes.
1 day upfront we baked the cake and made the chocolate ganache. We baked only one (as this cake was for 6 people) which we horizontally cut and made a two layer cake filled and finished with ganache. Both were left to cool off completely at room temperature.
Neptune’s beautifully detailed fish tail and waves were a delight. Surely, a lot of colouring and shading work, gold dusting and sparkles ~ the satisfaction of the result and the joy was, however, tremendous!
On the day of the assembly, we first assembled the cake and finished it off with the divine ganache. Let it harden and then in the afternoon, wrapped the cake in fondant, dusted it all blue, dispersed the sand roughly and layered all the shells. Then we put up Neptune on a tripod support of wires, going into the cake and gave him his trident. Then we put up the fish, dispersed the corals and seaweeds, and added some more sand. Finally, we made the ropes, dusted them and ‘glued’ them using a lick of sugar glue to make them stick to the sides.
Should you feel inspired to recreate this then you will need the following:
- Chocolate cake(s), any dry chocolate cake recipe will do (do not use moist ones as they will prevent the ganache from drying, resulting in the fondant getting soft, too…)
- Ganache (we used a ratio of 2:1, mixing 75% pure chocolate with 35% cream, made of cow’s milk)
- Moulds: Neptune, Fish, Coral & Seaweed, Sea shells & rope
- Fondant (in total we used 1 kg), you could use red and green fondant for the sea weed and coral (but to us it would have been a waste to break open 500g of fondant for the 6 small plants… we took the challenge of painting 😀 )
- Wire and wire cutters
- Sand: crumbled, sugar coated Ladyfingers (we used only 4 and used the rest for a tiramisu)
- Colour pigment, dust and sparkles
- Brushes, if you are going to this more often invest in good brushes that you’d only use for food colouring projects
- A cake stand and possibly a cake plateau
The Under the Sea ~ Birthday Cake is part of our Ode to the Ocean series.