Cello Birthday Cake
Ever since I got my license in June, I’ve wanted to drive myself as much as possible. Even though I don’t have my own car, somehow it feels amazing to be able to say, “Hey – I think I’m going to drive to the library and return these books, okay? Be back in a few minutes.” For me, getting into the car, listening to music, and knowing exactly where I’m going to go gives me such a strong sense of freedom and contentment.
I don’t know if adults get this feeling since they’ve been driving for so long. But I really love driving at night, where I follow every curve in the road perfectly and feel comfortable and smooth. And it almost makes class worth it to drive to school in the morning, listening to the radio and taking the route so familiar I could do it with my eyes closed.
And I hope you all still enjoy this, but I love parking the car. It’s such a good feeling to step around the back and see that I’ve parked exactly in the center. Don’t you get happiness from walking away, locking the car with the click of a button and a satisfying beep?
I don’t have my own car, and even though I get to use mom’s whenever available, I still pine for my own. It means I could drive home instead of taking the hour-long bus ride, and it means I wouldn’t need to depend on my friends. Half the time I think I should take all the money I made over the summer and just buy one. The other half of the time I tell myself the money could be used for a vacation after senior year, like for the road trip my friends and I are planning for next summer.
But for now, I just make excuses to drive the car we have. Sure, I could walk, or maybe I could let mom drive, but I need to get practice, right? Especially after I was late to the driving scene. Most of my friends went after their licenses at 16, but I waited. So after months of guiltily asking for rides or walking to the bus stop while my friends walked to the parking lot, it’s nice to do it myself.
But sometimes, you really need to be in the passenger seat.
One of my oldest friends, C- turned 18 last weekend. He is an incredible cellist who plans to pursue music professionally. For his birthday I knew I wanted to make a cello cake. He doesn’t like chocolate, so I played with my favorite swiss buttercream to try and get it brown without cocoa powder. Peanut butter, maple syrup, coffee, nothing produced the right hue. So I put in as little cocoa powder as possible while still ending up with a woody brown frosting. I used my go-to white cake and did all the baking the morning of.
Like always when I make shaped cakes, I found a picture of a cello on the internet and cut the cakes appropriately. I baked cocoa and vanilla shortbread to make the neck and various parts of the cello. Finally, I used gel icing to pipe the f-holes and the strings. Five hours later, I was looking at one of the coolest cakes I’d ever made.
I was home alone, and the original plan was to drive with the cake in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, this unusually shaped cake didn’t fit into any of my cake carriers and I was at a bit of a loss. The cookie neck of the cello proved extremely brittle, and finally I bitterly concluded that I just could not drive there myself. I called four different friends, and only one was available to pick me up, and that was J-.
J- was one of the first to get his license and car, but despite the experience he’s a bit of a reckless driver. He isn’t dangerous, but he resents stop signs and considers speed limits more like suggestions. He has a tendency to make sharp, unexpected turns and step on the brakes without warning. I wasn’t worried about getting into an accident, but I couldn’t help but picture the cello cake splattered all over my shirt, or a thick coat of frosting on the glove compartment.
Getting the cake into a car was a hassle. He held the door open for me and I carefully got in, putting the cello on my lap. Then he handed me the scroll, which I held in my hand, palm up. As J- pulled out of the driveway he kept asking, “You got it? Should we pull over?”
J- took the speed bumps at two miles per hour. When we got to the main road, he stayed 5 miles below the speed limit and his driving was impressively smooth. Twice, other cars passed us, and I could just see the wistful expression on his face as he let them go by. When we got to C-‘s neighborhood, he made all the winding curves slower than the people using the sidewalk. He parked the car, turned to me and said, “I was more nervous driving you and this cake than I was during my driver’s test. Man.”
Although I got a little frosting on my fingers, we managed to transport the cake without damage straight to the kitchen. C- and everyone else there was blown away by the cake, and laughed as they tried to picture J- practicing defensive driving. Somehow I get the feeling he won’t be driving so slowly again for a long, long time.
After an afternoon in the park and the take-out Chinese, C- cut the cello and ate the f-hole topped slice. He ended the night with a performance with his real cello, and I accepted a ride home with a smile on my face and yummy cake in my belly.
Since I didn’t use any new recipes for this cake, I thought I would talk about how I tackle shaped cakes. I’ve realized it’s easy to make a cake shaped like pretty much anything as long as it’s 2D. This makes for endless possibilities and people are always impressed.
1. Make a template. I find an image on Google of the shape I want. Pick a simple image with an obvious outline and not too much embellishment. Use Word to adjust the shape of the image, and print it out in the proper size. All of my shaped cakes so far have been baked in a 9×13 pan, so I sometimes need to split the image in half and print them out separately to get the right size. Below is the image I used for this cello cake.
After printing, use a sharpie to outline the important parts of the stencil. You may need more than one copy of the printout – I outlined the body of the cello, the fingerboard, the tailpiece, and the bridge. Cut them all out and you’ve got perfect templates.
2. Cut the cake. I triple-wrap my cakes in plastic wrap once they’ve cooled and then freeze them for 30 minutes or so, until they’re hard. Then I level the cakes if necessary with a serrated knife or my cake leveler. Place the template on top of the cake(s) and carefully cut around. I’ve never tried using an electric knife, but that might work well?
3. Assemble and decorate. Frost and fill as you would any cake. Make any other components -for example, I baked cookies in the shape of the tailpiece, fingerboard, and bridge, using the templates I’d cut out. I like to cover just the top of the cake with a very thin layer of fondant, using the template again. Then just follow your imagination and pipe frosting, gel, or use sprinkles/etc to decorate.
Tell me if any of you have tried making a shaped cake… What did you make, and how did you do it?