How to Carve Styrofoam Base Elements for Custom 3-D Cake Decorations

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Take some of the lessons I learned on the below cake project to make your carved Styrofoam bases easier to cover with fondant for custom 3-D cake decorations!

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted July 2008

I recently designed a cake for a client whose husband was turning 60 and she wanted to give him a special cake at a surprise party with their friends, family, and neighbors. Apparently he likes to walk around the neighborhood park with their miniature dachshund…a lot. So she asked me to put together a cake with a figurine of her husband, the dog (no leash), and the fountain from the park he walks in. Here is what I came up with:

Cake sketch

Again, one of those really fast sketches on the same sheet of paper as one of my many “to-do” lists. It was kind of hard to tastefully incorporate all the elements she was looking for.

The covered cake:

Covered cake

Around their neighborhood there are signs for the streets that are embedded in the sidewalks.

Rockhill road sign

I got out the ninja brush again and made the sugar version. A pencil is in there for scale.

Rockhill sugar sign - Talk Sweet to Me

The sidewalk with road sign and a rock paving pattern were added to the cake:

Cake and beginning decoration

Next was the dog. Here is Max:

Dog inspiration photo - Talk Sweet to Me

This was much trickier than either Margie or Handi made it look…and since I’d never attempted one before, of course found a few things I’d do differently next time. I’ll tell you here so that if you’re making one yourself, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did! I actually carved the legs out of Styrofoam, and they were a little bit stumpy.

Carved styro dog

A few days after the cake was delivered I remembered that Margie used skewers for the legs of the horse she did a few months ago. I’d probably do that next time, which would give me a better way to anchor the dog to the cake (I used royal icing this time) and also allow me to make the legs thinner. I’d also make the snout skinnier – either just with icing or with a skewer as a base there too – work on making the eyes more realistic, and add some texture for the fur. (I was reminded of this while watching Elisa Strauss’ YouTube video of the dog cake. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here.)

Dog figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

I covered a wire with icing and inserted it into the styro to make the tail, made a couple of ears out of icing, then painted the parts that needed to be black with food coloring. Overall, I think the attempt was okay, but I know there is room for improvement and learned a lot from it.

Finished sugar dog - Talk Sweet to Me

Next was the man. I saw Handi make a dancing groom one time and he told me that when you do the figurines where only one leg is anchoring it to the cake, you must insert the skewer up through that leg…but then make the skewer come out in the exact center of the shoulders of the figurine so the head will be centered. I had to make two attempts at carving the styro for it because I had such a hard time inserting the skewer correctly (Handi will not be surprised when he reads this!):

Man figurine 1

I was unhappy with my proportioning here, but share it anyway so all you cake people out there can benefit from my mistakes! The torso is too long, and the legs are too short and stout. The lesson: *measure carefully* when starting to carve, and remember that the styro must be skinnier than you want it to end up being since the icing adds bulk. Adding the shorts:

Man figurine 2

He usually walks his dog in khaki shorts, a yellow polo shirt, and black flip-flops with socks.

Man figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

The finished figurine:

Man walking figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

I was most proud of the fountain on this cake. Here is what I was going for:

Fountain inspiration - Talk Sweet to Me

So I carved the three bowls and the base out of styro…

Carved fountain - Talk Sweet to Me

…then covered them with icing.

Fountain elements

After that, it was time to make it more realistic with some piping.

Sugar fountain no water - Talk Sweet to Me

I added some water and secured it to the cake with royal icing:

Sugar fountain - Talk Sweet to Me

After that it was just a matter of adding the other figurines, piping on some shrubs and grass, adding flowers, and finishing the message and candles on the board. Here is the finished cake:

Man and Dog Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

It was fun to deliver the cake and meet Max…he’s even cuter in person! The client was very happy with it, so I decided I was too. I guess for a first attempt at a dog and a walking/dancing figurine (without Handi and Margie’s expert advice), it was okay. I learned enough to do better next time, at least.

Signature - TalkSweetToMe.com

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