Cello Birthday Cake

September 19, 2009 at 5:28 pm 99 comments

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?

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99 Comments Add your own

  • 1. nutmegnanny  |  September 19, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Your cake looks great! I bet your friend was amazed:) I’m not sure if I find parking as great as you do but I will have to give it more thought:) Well I should take that back. I do feel really accomplished when I parallel park successfully :)

  • 2. Jennifer  |  September 19, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Beautiful cake! I’m very impressed! I recently made a banjo shaped cake for my son’s second birthday. He LOVES string instruments and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up like your friend C-. I did the same thing you do… I found a picture on the internet and printed it to make a 9×13 image (neck included) and then just stuck it on top of the cake and cut. I made Flo Braker’s dark chocolate cake and I filled it with raspberry jam folded into whipped cream. I used cream cheese frosting to decorate – not sure if that was such a good idea but I was running out of time. I used twizzler’s pull-n-peel for the strings and licorice nibs for the tuners. It looked pretty good for a first attempt, but nothing like your cakes! I wish I could attach the picture…

  • 3. Sis  |  September 19, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Very nice, and quite professional. Great job. You should be proud!

  • 4. conniex721  |  September 20, 2009 at 12:06 am

    That cake is extremely impressive! I hope your friend loved it!
    I would have to agree with nutmegnanny; I don’t find parking that enjoyable. It’s probably just because I never park right in the center! I need some practice… =p

  • 5. Melissa  |  September 20, 2009 at 5:13 am

    I Love That Cake! I play the cello, so that cake really is cool. Great job!

  • 6. Anna  |  September 20, 2009 at 5:57 am

    That is an amazing cake!! I found your blog a few months ago and love it! You’re a very talented young lady!

  • 7. Monica H  |  September 20, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Awesome cake and what an awesome friend you have for driving you to deliver the cake AND going the speed limit :-)

    This is very impressive and a sweet cake for the birthday boy. I’m sure he loved it!

  • 8. Amanda  |  September 20, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Super cool, as always.

  • 9. Eliana  |  September 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    You are incredible talented. This cake looks awesome.

  • 10. Dolce  |  September 21, 2009 at 6:55 am

    This is wonderful! The cake is perfect… And it turned out great that you could be indeed in the passenger seat, securing this beauty :)
    I would only be too sad to damage such a treasure and eat it… It’s so beautiful!

  • 11. pixen  |  September 21, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Simply fabulous and sexy! Yep, it’s true for a well designed cake! Thumbs up!

  • 12. Jen @ MaplenCornbread  |  September 21, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    GREAT work!!! Amazing!!!

  • 13. Nicole  |  September 21, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Oh my you really are so patient doing all those dots it really really looks good.

  • 14. peasepudding  |  September 22, 2009 at 2:04 am

    Beautiful cake and photography!

  • 15. Jade  |  September 22, 2009 at 8:17 am

    You are a wonderful baker and cake decorator!! Love this piece!! Great job.

  • 16. martha  |  September 22, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Woah! my mama plays cello… this is the best idea for her birthday! you are amazing, i’m so jealous of your talent!

  • 17. Marian  |  September 22, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Oh wow, this cake turned out so well!!! Congrats on an amazing job! (and on getting your license… it still does give a sense of freedom!). :-)

  • 18. devona  |  September 22, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Great job on the cake. And don’t you just love Dorie’s party cake recipe, you can adapt it to anything. Last time I made orange and possibly like it better with the orange than the lemon.

  • 19. kai  |  September 22, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    yummyyyy. does it ever make you feel sort of…strange…to see your masterpiece getting cut up before it’s devoured? i definitely feel a little guilty seeing it getting eaten when you probably took fifty times longer to make the cake than to see it all eaten.

  • 20. Elissa  |  September 22, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Kai – Actually, the faster something is devoured the happier I feel!

  • 21. D  |  September 23, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Holy Mac & Cheese! This is amazing! I am making birthday cakes for some people this Friday and I really wanted to do something cool, but I didn’t have the courage. Now, I just might have to try something. Really Really nice work there.

  • 22. Yumi  |  September 23, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Envyyyy. I’m at art school, but no way can I do something this cool.

  • 23. Hilary  |  September 24, 2009 at 4:13 am

    Like a wonderful piece of music can be, this cake is a masterpiece!

  • 24. Sharon  |  September 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Another amazing cake, well done! (Bet it tasted great too)

  • 25. Bonticou  |  September 26, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Wonderful cake!!! When my children were small, I made a lot of shaped cakes (pancakes too, but those were “freehand”). My most ambitious were the Starship Enterprise (grey icing, with black and white outlines and accents) and an army jeep (khaki icing, black tires, white accents). I generally followed your methods, making a template from a sketch, and going from there, but I was making cakes for small kids, who tend to think grey or khaki icing is cool, and were not critical about looks, as long as there was lots of icing.

  • 26. Catherine  |  September 27, 2009 at 9:55 am

    This is an amazing cake! Incredible work!

  • 27. Jane  |  September 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    What a fantastic cake, what a charming post! I just can’t help thinking you are destined for some sort of greatness. And, as for driving, I think even us “adults” still have those moments when the open road, so to speak, provides a sense of freedom and expectancy. Even if that road is only to the library and home!

    Love your blog.


  • 28. Nicole  |  September 29, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Beautiful job!

  • 29. Angela  |  October 1, 2009 at 3:46 am

    What a show-stopping creation – it’s fabulous!! xxx

  • 30. Jayson @ bigjobsboard  |  October 2, 2009 at 5:25 am

    Wow! Yummy! It’s awesome design. Great job!

  • 31. Preston  |  October 2, 2009 at 7:55 am

    This post made my day.

  • 32. Shannon L  |  October 3, 2009 at 9:04 am

    never made a shaped cake, but i have to agree with you that driving is pretty fun and exciting. i hate parking however, but that could be because i suck at it. usually at school because im always running really late my car is diagnol in the spot and i dont take the time to straighten it because i would be tardy. still tho i love driving. and your right its so nice to have your own car. i was fortunate my dad already had two cars: one for work, one for driving so i got the driving car otherwise i would be in your situation. i could never have waited to get my lisence i got it on my 16th birthday! and singing along to the radio while driving is one of the most fun things ever. see where we live there is no nowhere you can walk, everything is close but to far to walk so it was have no freedom because my parents are always working or have a car and be able to go everywhere lol.

    love the cake, you did a really nice job

  • 33. Making my Mark  |  October 6, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    That is one gorgeous cake, my friend! There’s not a doubt in my mind that your friend loved it.

  • 34. Ash  |  October 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

    OMG!! You are so talented!! This cake is just amazing!!

  • 35. Jessica Whittenberg  |  October 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Wow I must agree with all the others in here. This is one beautiful cake you made. So DELICIOUS! I find the hardest thing in shaped cakes (especially so beautiful cakes) is to actually eat them because it is so hard to ruin such a master piece.

    I am happy to hear you got a licence. I remembered my self feeling the exact same thing (you actually quoted me with the parking thing. I used to do that for a long time after I got my license), but be careful at nights – it is fun to do things perfectly but it is also really easy to makes mistakes that leads to some unpleasant consequences.

    This post is totally getting a link at my blog.

    Keep up the good work
    Best wishes,

  • 36. Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets  |  October 8, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Hi Elissa! This cake is fantastic and I’ve been a subscriber/fan of your blog for a while. I left you an award on my site, so please check it out when you get a chance!

  • 37. Ashley  |  October 9, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Wow this is insanely amazing!

  • 38. eLiNG!  |  October 11, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    wow….crazy cake, talented! you are amazing! :D

  • 39. teax2  |  October 13, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    this is absolutely gorgeous! I just discovered this blog on tasty bloggers, I´m going to follow it from now on

  • 40. Jess  |  October 14, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    What a gorgeous cake!! I came across it on Tastespotting. You did such a great job! Are you artistic (like drawing, painting etc?) I’d love to make a cake like that, but I don’t think I’m right brained enough to pull it off!!

    • 41. Elissa  |  October 14, 2009 at 8:59 pm

      Jess – I’m artistic in the sense that I have a good eye (for photography, cakes, etc) but I don’t have any artistic talent when it comes to drawing or painting unfortunately!

  • 42. Anja  |  October 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Congrats to your enter in the seastar. I’m a first time visitor on your page, dropping in from the ungourmet. I’m a young pro, too. have a nice weekend… Anja

  • 43. Annie  |  November 4, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I just found your blog and I love it! That frosting looks so delicious, do you have the recipe for it?

  • 45. Trella  |  November 17, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    This is so beautiful and amazing! My son plays cello. I wonder if I could make this for his BD in June? I don’t think it would turn out nearly as nice as this one. Do you sell some of your baked goods?

  • 47. annika  |  November 23, 2009 at 12:45 am

    this is a beautiful cake!
    you are so talented, it’s nice to know there are other teens out there who see how wonderful baking is. :)
    i am also a high school senior, and i love to write and bake as well (they call me “pie girl” at school). i am also a cello player, and so when i heard about your blog (and this cake) i was really excited! i think what you’re doing is amazing, and i look forward to reading what you post next.
    your photography is wonderful, too

  • 48. Heathers christmas cakes  |  December 8, 2009 at 2:30 am

    You have really captured the beauty and elegance of the instrument in your cake, it’s a shame that it is going to be devoured!

  • 49. Hilary  |  December 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Love your blog, your Christmas Peppermint meringues, your Gingerbread Igloo & your Cello Cake – kudos for all your efforts! It sounds like you have a wonderful group of friends too, so important in life.

    You reminded me that 13 years ago, for my son’s 5th birthday, I cooked him a “home on the range” sheet cake with little plastic cowboys & horses surrounded by a fence and gave him a birthday party with pony riding – one of my fondest memories. I love to cook, but am not very talented or creative that way like you are, but I surprised myself by how well this cake came out!

    If you ever get into sailing during college or afterwards and like it, you can always get a job as a chef on a sailboat at some point in order to see the world and fuel your writing interests, something I wish I had done in my 20’s and before raising a family. Have fun & hope you get to go to the college you want!

  • 50. Ellie  |  December 27, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Just lovely…. the cake, the post and your blog. You are obviously a sweet person with wonderful talent, and are getting well-deserved attention! Keep at it, and enjoy every bit of the praise and applause.

  • 51. rewlon  |  January 20, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Really nice cake :D After i senn your cake i decided to make cello cake for my brother. Everyone were suprised and shocked :p

  • 52. Culinária Teen | Jelly Blog  |  January 22, 2010 at 4:23 am

    […] o passeio por lá! Afinal, quantas pessoas conseguem fazer o próprio bolo de aniversário no formato de um violoncelo? #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item […]

  • 53. littlecellist.com  |  January 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Just wanted to say that we think your cello cake and your blog are fantastic. We love the Rainbow Pride Cake too!


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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