My lovely friend Jo’s little girl Sophie turns one this month, so Jo asked whether I might have time to bake for her party (which was yesterday). Over a post-rehearsal glass of wine, she mentioned that the theme was safari animals and over the course of the next few seconds we batted back and forth, finishing each other’s sentences to come up with a winning idea: a big number 1 cake decorated as a giraffe! A quick search on Pinterest kyboshed the notion that this was an original idea but this didn’t matter; it merely provided confirmation that it would work.
Having recently used Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Vanilla Marble Cake for Lindsey’s 40th birthday cake, I knew it worked for number tins (besides which, it seemed fitting for the inside of a giraffe) so I plumped for the same recipe rather than an arguably more robust but less interesting vanilla sponge.
The buttercream crumb coat. It’s not as smooth as I would’ve liked because the cake doesn’t resist the pull of the palette knife very well, so I didn’t want to be overly picky about smoothing and find that I fatally wounded the giraffe.
I coloured a rather hefty 1½kg of fondant in yellow because I didn’t want to leave ANY possibility that I mightn’t have plenty. It would’ve been awful to feel I had to roll it more thinly than I wanted and find it split as I moved it. Of course, I have lots left over but that’s fine by me.
Now, I’m not going to pretend this was easy; it really wasn’t. I made sure I rolled the fondant to 5-6mm so that it withstood a bit of jiggery-pokery, but all those corners were tricky because they put pressure on the fondant and threatened to make holes. I had to work pretty quickly, pressing against the walls in a slight upwards direction to prevent the weight of the fondant from creating a tear. Getting into the inner corner was a total nightmare and if you look closely you can see substantial imperfections, which led to an artistic decision you’ll see later on…
I only bought 500g of blue fondant on the grounds that it’s pretty expensive and I was planning to do a tree so I could cover however much board didn’t have blue on it. I rolled it fairly thinly and made sure that the gap was in one corner, then rolled a randomly shaped bit of green to overlap – it didn’t matter that it was wonky as I knew it’d be covered later.
For reasons that I imagine are obvious, I didn’t ice the giraffe whilst it was on the board, so I used a Wilton cake lifter, a steadying hand and lots of ‘oh-please-don’t-fall-apart’ wishes to move the giraffe into position.
Alas, no time for lying down, for now it was time to decorate! Allow me to introduce you to my model: this is Gerald.
I rolled out some chocolate-flavoured brown fondant, which I chopped into random geometric shapes and secured in place with a little egg white painted on the back. I can’t claim it’s in any way realistic but there’s something pleasing about it nonetheless.
Next, I rolled a ball of the brown and sliced it through just to the side of the middle and reshaped the larger bit for the eye. I then laid it on a bit of yellow, which I trimmed to be just a little bigger than the brown, and cut an eyelid to fit over the top. I fashioned something a bit like a Shu Uemura false eyelash, leaving a good amount at the bottom so that I could tuck it under the upper eyelid. Splishy splashy with egg white, plus a tiny bit of yellow and Bob’s yer uncle: a decadently lashed eye with a cheeky glint.
Next came a nostril and a simple thin sausage shape for Geraldine’s mouth, which was positioned in such a way that I could use leaves to cover the flaws in the yellow fondant under her chin. What a cunning plan, Baldrick.
A cake of this size takes quite a long time to cool down, so I had used that time to cut out lots of leaves from two different green fondants I happened to have in the cupboard, plus a few orange flowers. I just positioned them fairly randomly over the green patch, making sure I covered the join and curled a few up the sides of Geraldine’s neck.
For the ears, I cut a leaf-shaped bit of yellow and used the pad of my index finger to press into the palm of my hand and create a cup-like shape. I popped a little brown in the middle and then placed it in a chocolate mould (an egg cup would do, I expect) so that it dried into the curved shape. A very simple short, fat yellow cylinder topped with a bit of brown made the horn, which I poked in to the top of Geraldine’s head with a cocktail stick.
Finally, a yellow satin ribbon pinned to the sides of the board and Geraldine was ready to party.
P.S. In case you’re interested, Geraldine was actually created two weeks in advance, wrapped very carefully in greaseproof paper, then cling film, then foil and placed in the freezer. About 30 hours before cutting, she was unwrapped and placed in the fridge for 8 hours, then sat on the kitchen counter to defrost entirely. It seems she didn’t suffer at all for this experience.