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Herbivores of the African Plains – Julia’s Cake 2011


Originally Julia said she wanted a giraffe cake. 

Because I’d done elephants before.

And Beluga whales last year.

The plan was to have a bunch of fondant giraffes all over a grassy cake.

But then, as is her womanly right, Julia changed her mind.


She finally settled on giraffes, hippos, zebras, and elephants.  And she wanted mothers and babies.

I started with the hippos, because they seemed simplest. 

I will admit that I didn’t budget my time well for this cake.  I should have started the animals at least a day earlier than I did, but I seem to have this need to give myself stress, so I made the animals right before I had to be at work on Saturday, and finished them Sunday morning – the day of the party.  Why do I do this?  I don’t know.  It’s not like I don’t enjoy playing with fondant.  It’s fun…creative…kind of meditative.  Fun.  But I seem to forget that during the year and so I put it off and put it off….

Anyway, I made the baby hippo, and settled her so the little face was lifted up to the mama’s face.  Then I made the mama hippo, and had her face angled to meet the snout of her baby. 

I thought they were cute…but they also look a bit like gray pigs to me.  Ah well.  They’re gray, so they must be hippos.

Next, the elephants.

First, the baby…her trunk up, again, the whole face-lifted-toward-mama pose. 

I love the elephants.  Even before I added eyes, they seem to have personalities.


And, in a “Baby Mine” frame of mind, I positioned mama elephant’s trunk so it curled around the baby’s trunk.  I put a little piece of plastic wrap in between the trunks so they wouldn’t stick together as they dried.  Oh, and the piping tips leaning against the baby were to keep her ears where I wanted them.


I formed the zebras out of plain white fondant, figuring I’d just paint the stripes on them.

And I made the giraffes out of yellow fondant, the splotches to be painted on in brown.

Now, the hippo and elephant are rather chunky little creatures, and I went very simple with the legs – four little balls of fondant per animal.  That worked fine.

For the zebras, I made squat little columns of fondant, so the zebras looked like they’d been grazing in a particularly abundant patch of grass…and slathering peanutbutter and jelly on each blade.  In other words…I had kind of porky zebras.  But that was okay – they weren’t falling over.

The giraffes were a different story.

Can’t have chunky giraffe legs. 

But skinny legs don’t support fondant bodies very well…so they needed some sort of internal support mechanism.

Good thing we have a surplus of bamboo skewers!

I rolled out some yellow fondant into a rope about the diameter of a drinking straw, then cut a skewer into four equal-length pieces (for the legs).  I pressed the bits of skewer into the yellow fondant rope, leaving a bit of space between each one…then cut them apart, pressed the skewers into the fondant a bit and then wrapped the fondant around the skewers the rest of the way so they wouldn’t show.  Then I remembered that I needed a neck, too, so I cut another bit of skewer and repeated the process.  I added a bit of fondant to the end of that one and shaped little ears and those little knobs giraffes have on top of their heads.  Then I rolled another piece of fondant into a body shape and positioned the legs and neck so that the legs were splayed a bit and the head was down, nibbling on theoretical grass.  That was baby giraffe.  I repeated the whole thing with larger pieces of bamboo for mama giraffe, and let all my creatures dry overnight.

Early Sunday morning I got up and started painting the splotches on the giraffes.  And here’s how they looked:



Oh, yeah, and I made sure every animal had a tail.  Can’t see these very well, but they’re there. 


Then it was time for the zebras. 


And their tails.


After that, I just used a bit of black food coloring to accentuate the gray pigs’ hippos’ eyes and nostrils, and to paint little toes on their feet.


And  here’s a hippo tail:


And, finally, the elephants.  Just eyes.  I gave mama elephant eye lashes, too.  Artistic license.


And here, just to be thorough, is an elephant tail:


The cake itself – heart-shaped, lemon cake, lemon frosting.  Julia’s not all that fond of chocolate.  If I hadn’t carried her for 41 weeks and a day, I’d wonder if we were truly related.

I colored the icing tan, for the pale dirt of the Savannah (it’s famous for its Pale Dirt…didn’t you know that?), and used green for grass.  You can see by the floppy grass that it is incredibly humid here on the Rhode Island African Plain, and the grass didn’t want to stand up.  Oh well.

I wrote a simple “Happy Birthday, Julia!” on part of the cake and arranged the animals. 


Julia wanted the giraffes on top. 

Part of me thinks I should have put the zebras where the elephants are, to break up the gray a bit…but I like the elephants the best, so I put them front and center. 

And here’s the cake:



Half the cake is gone now, or maybe a bit more, but the animals are all safe and sound on a plate in the pantry.  No idea what we’ll do with them…they’ll probably live there for the next ten years.  I think I still have Luke from Alex’s cake last year.  Maybe when each kid turns 21 I’ll make big cakes with an assortment of fondant creatures from most of their past birthdays…hmmmm.

Anyway, one down, one to go.  Next month – Alex’s cake.  He’s asked for lizards.  Should be fun!  

4 thoughts on “Herbivores of the African Plains – Julia’s Cake 2011

  1. Sprogblogger,

    Fondant is definitely fun to work with. I loved Play-Doh (however its spelled) when I was a kid, and this is like a grown-up version. And it doesnt crack when it dried out like play-doh did! And you can make it into any colors you want! And not knead the color in completely so its marbleized! You definitely need to get some and just play. I highly recommend it.

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