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. margaret13  |  January 30, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Tehe. I was so thrilled when I saw that you had made a cello cake!! I am also a cellist, though I highly doubt I am anywhere near to being as good as your friend, and cellos just don’t seem to get alot of attention. There is a whole lot of violin stuff, but hardly anything for cellos. So thanks.

  • 2. Megan  |  February 20, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Saw you in justine just had look

  • 3. bittersweetbaker  |  March 6, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Wow! I’ve seen a a pictures of your cake on Google, (it’s amazing), but I can’t see any of your pictures on your website!

    I don’t know what’s wrong, but both our computers don’t show the pictures.

  • 4. bittersweetbaker  |  March 6, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Sorry, I just wanted to add that I can see pictures on only some of your posts, like the Cold War Brownies post.

    • 5. Elissa  |  March 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

      Bittersweetbaker – That is so weird :( All the photos come up on my computer. At the moment I’m using ImageShack to host my photos, but I’m starting to think Flickr might be more reliable. I think it might be my summer project this year to move all my 17 and Baking photographs to another image server. Thanks for letting me know :)

  • 6. bittersweetbaker  |  March 7, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Hi Elissa,
    Thanks for replying!
    I researched ImageShack, and apparently the site is blacklisted.
    (We live in a university, we can’t access some sites).

    On my site I use Picasa, and I think that works very well!

    I’m thinking of making your cake for my younger sister on her birthday.
    She plays the violin!
    I’ll let you know how it goes if I make it!
    Thanks again,

  • 7. Bittersweetbaker  |  March 11, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Hi Elissa (again)!

    I’m sorry for writing so many comments, but I was wondering how thick each of your cake’s layers came out. I made a cake very similar to your go-to white cake, and baked them in a 9×13 pan. They are coming out pretty thin, about an 1/8 of an inch each. Were yours this thin?
    Thank you!

    • 8. Elissa  |  March 11, 2010 at 10:27 pm

      Bittersweetbaker – Leave all the comments you like! :) My cake layers were definitely not that thin. I’d estimate each layer was around an inch thick. Maybe you didn’t use enough batter? The recipe I used normally makes two reasonably tall 9″ round cakes, which I combined into one 9″x13″ cake.

  • 9. Nette  |  March 16, 2010 at 8:40 am

    This is amazing… what did you use to make the bridge?

    • 10. Elissa  |  March 16, 2010 at 11:55 am

      Nette – Thanks! I used chocolate shortbread cookies for the tailpiece and fingerboard and used vanilla shortbread for the bridge.

  • 11. bittersweetbaker  |  March 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Hi Elissa,

    My sister’s birthday party is on Saturday, and I decided that I’m going to try and make your cake. I was reading over the post again, and in the last paragraph, you said that you like to cover the cake with a thin layer of fondant, then pipe frosting, gel, or add sprinkles. Did you frost the buttercream before putting on the fondant? If you did, do you think it would work without the buttercream?
    Thank you so much!

    • 12. Elissa  |  March 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      Adriana – Oh, yes, you need some sort of binder to keep the fondant stuck to the cake, so I’d frost the cake with buttercream before using the fondant. Or you could skip the buttercream and just use a layer of jam, but since I don’t like the way fondant tastes, I like to use buttercream. As for the shortbread cookie recipe, I used this one: http://www.bakingobsession.com/2008/10/21/checkerboard-cookies/ Hope it works out! Tell me/show me how the cake looks!

  • 13. bittersweetbaker  |  March 24, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Sorry, just one more thing: you mentioned that you used chocolate shortbread cookies for the cello neck. Do you have the recipe for them? They look very dark, and I haven’t found a good recipe yet. Thanks again!

  • 14. bittersweetbaker  |  March 27, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Elissa, thank you so much! You have no idea how much I appreciate your help.

    After about 9 hours of working on the cake, I’m finally finished. It looks nothing like yours; it’s nowhere near as professional looking. But it’s clear that it’s a violin. Or cello. I ended up not using fondant, because I couldn’t afford messing up. I used a ganache instead. My sister’s party is in a couple of hours, so I’ll tell you how it goes later.

    I’m also going to post it on my blog, so I’ll give you the link as well.

    Thanks again,

  • 15. san diego screen printing  |  March 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    That was a good idea and I might try it at home. It tastes good and simply amazing. How about guitars? Is it possible to bake a guitar cake?

    Thank you,
    san diego screen printing

  • 16. hannah @ thepastrykook  |  April 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

    this looks sooo good. you are inspiration! i play the violin and the viola and i love baking. i hope to bake something like that for myself one day!

  • 17. haber scripti  |  May 6, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Super cool, as always.

  • 18. haber scripti  |  May 6, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Wow this is insanely amazing!

  • 19. Jason Pereira  |  May 20, 2010 at 3:56 am

    It’s very unique. It’s good for someone who loves violin and into music. Cakes come into different designs but its also necessary the taste. It should be something delicious.

  • 20. claudia  |  June 9, 2010 at 2:33 am

    i will make this amazing cake to my 8 year old cellist daughter. thank you for the inspiration

  • 21. Susannah  |  September 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Love it! I also play cello…maybe I should request it for my birthday in a little over a month…

  • 22. Sudhakar  |  November 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Oh my gods, that’s amazing!!

  • 23. sadie  |  February 19, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    I take fiddle so all i have to do is make the cake and make it a violin shape insteand of a cello!:)

  • 24. sadie  |  February 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    oh and i love baking too!:)

  • 25. Aundrea L.  |  March 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    As always your baking is phenomenal! This cake looks extremely professional… I do the same thing with parking the car ,I get so excited when I can get it strat on the first time (:

  • 26. Yolanda  |  March 26, 2011 at 3:59 am

    Hi Elissa! I have just found your blog through honey & jam I am astonished that you, just 17, can make such gorgeous recipes like all the ones I have seen by now! But as soon as I saw this cello, I had to make a stop and congratulate you for such work of art.

    I will follow your cooking activity from now.

    Cheers from Spain, a far away country from the States!

  • 27. naomi  |  April 21, 2011 at 11:56 am

    that cake is sssoooo awesome too bad i cant make it even tthough it would be awesome if i could make mostly because i play the cello !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 28. easy chocolate chip cookie  |  December 2, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Hi my loved one! I want to say that this post is amazing, nice written and include approximately all important infos. I’d like to look extra posts like this .

  • 29. Boyce  |  August 24, 2013 at 3:59 am

    My daughter plays the cello and she is having a chocolate party. She was always nagging me to get her a chocolate fountain birthday cake. But now that I found this thank you Elissa :)

  • 30. Anna  |  March 5, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    thats really cool. I play the cello but have never seen something like that. thanks!!! =)

  • 31. theneuroticchef  |  March 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm


  • 32. Suruchi  |  May 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    OMG, What a beautiful Cello Cake. You’re so talented !!! It looks so life like and delicious. My ten year old plays the cello and next week is her concert. I wish I could make this for her.

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  • 35. bettythebakingprincess  |  July 8, 2014 at 9:47 am

    This cake is really amazing! I’ve been playing the cello for over 13 years and it never came to my mind that it was actually possible to transform this passion into a cake! =) Thanks for being so inspiring!

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  • 43. Kim  |  May 19, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I would like to have someone make this cake for my son’s graduation reception and I was wondering if you used a cake pan

  • 44. laura  |  September 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    HI. I love your cake and was wondering if you used two 9 by 13 cakes for this?

  • 45. felisrecipes  |  December 28, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    amazing work :)

  • 46. Derek  |  June 27, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Hi, I know it’s a long time since you’ve posted, however I’m hoping you still see this! The picture on this cello cake block no longer seem to come up. Are you able to repost them or email them to me?


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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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