When it comes to Taylor’s birthday cake, each year I try to one-up myself from the year before, which is pretty hard when you’re trying to top something like this.
I’ve pretty much stopped asking what he wants, because I know exactly what he’s going to say. I’m sure he knows by now that I’m so over his constant requests for nothing more than a plain-ass chocolate cake year after year (something he’s never going to get, mind you, I have a food blog to keep up, after all). But this year, I have a feeling he intentionally tried to think of the most ridiculous cake possible, if for no other reason than to shut me up.
And I think most people, when faced with a request for a “slot machine cake,” would probably run and hide.
I, however, took it as a challenge.
And I’m never one to turn down a challenge.
Well over $100 in supplies, hours and hours of backbreaking labor, and countless texts to Aunt Lynn later (she is, after all, the only other person I know who’s braved fondant-covered cakes) and, well, the results speak for themselves…
I get MAJOR wife points for this one (and believe me, I’m going to be milking those points for all they are worth).
Sure, my fondant technique needs work (where do those little bubbles come from anyway?) and I ended up simplifying my design significantly from my original plan, but I am pretty damn proud. Because for a first attempt at anything other than a plain round cake, and only my 3rd fondant-covered cake EVER, I think it came out pretty fabulous.
Why a slot machine? Well, first let me clarify: not just any slot machine, a wheel of fortune slot machine (duh). Taylor has become quite a Vegas junkie in the past few years, taking at least one trip a year there with his dad and brother. It’s become somewhat of an annual tradition for him, and I like that he gets to spend some quality guy-time with them (and he’s with his Dad after all, how much trouble can he get into?) It works out perfectly, as he gets his Vegas-guy-time, and I get a nice quiet weekend at home to binge watch as much trashy TV and Disney movies (tissues in hand) as my little heart desires.
If Vegas is his favorite place in the world, then the slots are his favorite thing in Vegas. Not in an unreasonable, lose-all-your-money kind of way, but more that they are electric and shiny and make fun noises. Honestly, he could probably just sit and listen to the slot machine soundtrack and not even play a penny.
But where’s the fun in that?
I knew I was going to use chocolate coins for the jackpot (honestly, if slot machines doled out chocolate coins I might be more interested). But beyond that, I hadn’t the slightest idea how where to start. So, I did what I usually do in hard-to-visualize situations: I made a mockup. I opened up my trusty Illustrator and drew a scale drawing of what I wanted my cake to look like. I knew I had two 8-inch square cakes and one 9-by-13-inch cake to work with, and used those numbers and dimensions to figure out what pieces I’d need and how they’d fit together into the final shape.
As it turned out, the wedge I cut off of one layer fit perfectly upside down on the next to make a perfect slope for the front face of the machine.
How’s that for some cake-math?
While I ended up not even using the very top layer (I felt it was tall enough) and ultimately scrapped the jackpot counter on the top as a result (um, you try cutting out digital numbers out of fondant), my drawing was actually quite representative of the final product. I like the the simplified elements, it feels clean and colorful and not cluttered if I had tried to put all the text and detail on there. There’s no questioning that it’s a Wheel of Fortune on top, even without the numbers.
The big 7’s were easier, since they were much larger. I simply printed out the 7’s in the font I wanted to use, then cut the paper shape out with an X-acto knife, and traced that same shape onto the fondant.
It made me a bit giddy to be able to put my X-acto to use again; I don’t think I’d touched it since college design class.
What happened to my pretty corners?! As soon as I draped that massive, 5-pound sheet of fondant over top it’s like they simply disappeared. Oh well, I guess I was lucky the entire thing didn’t melt into a puddle, so there’s that small victory at least.
The wheel was maybe the most detailed part of the whole thing. I ended up building it like a lollipop, pressing a cake pop stick down into a thick round of gumpaste (fondant mixed with tylose powder). Then I added the ‘face’ of the wheel, a circle of black fondant with all the colored wedges glued on top (hint: for a pretty fantastic fondant glue, mix a bit of tylose powder with water).
As it turns out, the dowels I bought to support the cake were hollow. I stuck one right in the middle of the top layer (you can see it in the pre-frosting assembly shot above) where I wanted the wheel, and frosted/fondanted around it. Then I just stuck the lollipop stick down into the dowel and voila. It was quite perfect, actually.
The handle was a bit tricker, and you can’t see the toothpick that’s actually supporting the handle upright. The shaft is actually another dowel that’s been wrapped with fondant, and the base and knob on top more fondant. I originally wanted to make the top a cake pop, but couldn’t get a smooth coating of black fondant around that ball if my life depended on it. So, plan B. Always be sure you have a plan B (in cake decorating, as well as in life).
I don’t have a recipe for this one, mainly because it’s nothing new, but if you are curious, I made a double batch of my favorite chocolate cake base, substituting milk for the red wine in this case. Turns out 3 8-inch round cake pans equal exactly 2 8-inch square cake pans or 1 square 13-by-9-inch cake pan. So a double batch gave me exactly enough cake to build my slot machine.
For the frosting I made about 2.5 times the basic recipe, substituting half of the butter for shortening (which produces a sturdier buttercream that I thought would better support the weight of the fondant).
I used approximately 4 pounds out of a 5 pound tub of fondant (Satin Ice brand, if you’re curious). I also found, to my relief, some small 4-ounce packages of pre-colored fondant (including black and red, which are notoriously hard to get really rich color from straight white fondant). For the elements that needed to harden, I kneaded the fondant with a bit of tylose powder. This essentially turns the fondant into gumpaste, which will harden completely when allowed to dry. (Without it, I think my wheel would of looked like something out of a Dali painting). Bonus: the tylose mixed with water makes a super strong fondant glue.
The gold finish comes from spraying the white fondant with edible gold lustre spray. One can was BARELY enough (the back of my cake was a bit splotchy as I ran out). Also, be sure to cover your entire counter before you spray this stuff – even with a few garbage bags underneath I managed to leave a sparkly gold film on everything in the vicinity.
I used some acrylic plastic dowel rods (vs the standard wood) to support the cake, as well as secure the wheel and serve as the ‘bones’ for the machine handle.
The chocolate gold coins I used came from Nuts.com, however there are a number of similar products available on Amazon as well (including some chocolate poker chips that I actually debated using instead).
Phew, I think that covered everything. What’d I miss? Oh yeah…
So happy birthday, dear husband. May your 32nd year on this planet be filled with health, happiness, and lots of chocolate cake. And maybe a few jackpots thrown in for good measure (ching ching ching!)