How to Make a Lightning McQueen Cake, Part II: Sculpting and Frosting

How to Make a Lightning McQueen Cake, Part II: Sculpting and Frosting

When last we met, my chocolate chip cake had just spent 85 minutes baking. I’d lashed together two cooling racks just to fit the darn thing. And just as I was mopping the flop sweat off my brow, I noticed that the center of this very large cake was sinking. Quickly.

I cried. There was nothing else to do.

But then I glanced at the die-cast McQueen I planned to use as my model, and began to wonder if perhaps I could use this sloping to my advantage. The car’s fenders do curve and roll, including a dip right under the windows…

Once the cake was cool enough to handle but still warm, I said a little prayer, placed the doubled cooling rack on top, held on for dear life, and flipped it over. And what do you know: It slipped right out. That dang flower nail sat in the collapsed center like the button in a polka-dotted sofa cushion. I yanked it out and threw it directly into the garbage.

While the cake finished cooling I strategized. If I cut off about three inches from each end, I’d have a 6 x 12 shape with upward slopes at either end. I could use the cut-off sections to build the upper part of the car. That seemed like it just might work.

Using Harry’s toy as a guide, I trimmed the edges until they kinda-sorta looked like McQueen’s fenders. And then I cut the scraps into a 3D puzzle, until I’d cobbled together a cake that actually resembled its intended subject, complete with space for Oreo wheels. I was shocked. Seriously, I didn’t think this was going to work until about 40 minutes in—mid-afternoon, the day before the party—when I stepped back and saw this:

Next up: Gluing the puzzle together using Sara’s Foolproof Frosting, then applying the crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting that would act as a seal, keeping the thousands of itty-bitty crumbs from marring the surface of the finished cake. By then it was late afternoon, time to make dinner (yup, that’s right, I spent the entire day in the kitchen). It was a good point to stop—if you don’t allow your crumb coat to crust over a bit, it won’t do its job properly.

After dinner was cleared away, all that was left was what I’d been dreading all along, what I expected to be the hard part (ha! as if what came before was easy): Decorating the cake until it was recognizably McQueen. That’s right, pastry bag time. I mixed up my colors using about a thousand small bowls, in these approximate quantities:

1 1/2 cups red
1/2 cup black
1/4 cup gray
1/4 cup blue
1/4 cup yellow
1/4 cup orange

First up, black outlines, using a number 3 tip. Once I’d sketched out all the bits and pieces that make McQueen McQueen (including the Piston Cup on his hood, which Harry was adamant be included—that’s what makes this a Cars 2 McQueen, not just a garden-variety version), I added the little hits of color, using a number 1 tip for the tiniest details and a 2 for the rest: windows, headlights and taillights, eyes, smile, lightning bolts, and on top a giant 5, for Harry’s age.

I was starting to feel pretty good about this cake.

Not bad, amirite?

Things sped up from there, once I piled red frosting into a bag fitted with a number 16 star tip. This is the absolute easiest way to decorate a cake in a manner that might make people think you know what you’re doing. All you do is hold the bag close to the cake, perpendicular to it, and squeeze out a little dollop. Release the squeeze, pull the bag straight up, and you’ll have a pretty little squiggle of frosting. Apply another right next to it, and another, and another, moving in rows across the cake.

If you look closely you’ll see that I did quite a sloppy job. It was after 10PM and I was tiiiired, too tired for precision. This is why I could never be a pastry chef.

Sometime around 11:00, I called Stephen in to see my masterpiece:

I was thrilled with the way last year’s fire truck cake came out. I was even pretty pleased with the near-disastrous Handy Manny fondant cake. But this cake, my friends, this cake is a cake for the ages. It’s like I had another child.

Such a shame that the thing is, y’know, meant to be eaten. All I have left now is the memory.

So, any tips for me, to make next time easier? Any tales from the trenches of your own cake-making?