I knew I wanted to a duck theme for my daughter's second birthday. Her two favorite things right now are ducks and the color yellow, so it just made sense. I spent months pouring over images of duck cakes trying to decide what I should do. I swore I wouldn't do fondant because I've never used it before and had heard it tasted bad, but eventually I convinced myself that the cutest cake would be a 3D duck covered in fondant.
Step 1: Make fondant
I decided to make marshmallow fondant from scratch. I heard it tastes better and it is a LOT cheaper than buying the pre-made stuff.
1 16 oz. bag of mini marshmallows
1 2 lb bag of powdered sugar
2-5 TB water
1/2 cup of Crisco
Melt marshmallows in microwave in 30 second increments. Stir thoroughly and microwave for 30 more seconds. Continue until marshmallows are completely melted - about two and a half minutes. Place 2/3 of the powdered sugar over the melted marshmallow mix. Using the Crisco, grease front and back of hands thoroughly. Grease the counter top. Pour mixture onto greased counter top and knead like bread. Add the rest of the powdered sugar and continue to knead. Regrease hands and counter whenever fondant begins to stick. If mixture tears easily, it is too dry. Add a teaspoon of water and knead thoroughly. After about 8 minutes, fondant should be a firm, elastic ball that can be molded and hold its shape.
Cover ball in Crisco, double wrap in plastic wrap, and seal in a Ziploc bag. Refrigerate at least overnight. Marshmallow fondant lasts a long time and can be made days and even weeks in advance. When ready to use, remove from fridge, grease counter top and begin kneading. Once it reaches room temperature, it will become elastic and pliable again. If you need a little more cooperation from it, microwave it. Beware though, it gets hot very fast.
Color fondant with food coloring. This can be stirred into the melted marshmallows or it can be kneaded in. Some argue that adding the food coloring in advance may alter the color results and recommend waiting until the day you will use it and knead it in.
Step 2: Make the cake
Knowing how much work the decorating would be, I didn't want to waste time making the cake from scratch. I doctored a boxed cake mix to make it denser to withstand stacking and the weight of the fondant. And the cake was delicious.
1 1/4 cup milk (whole milk will give best results)
1 TB oil
1 small box (4 serving) of powdered pudding mix of a complimentary flavor.
Mix ingredients together. Pour into greased cake pan and bake at 300-325 for a little longer than recommendations based on the cake mix instructions. Just check with a tooth pick every 10 minutes longer than the recommended time.
I used a 5 quart mixing bowl for the base of the duck. It took one and half cake mixes to fill it. I greased it and lined it with wax paper before pouring in the cake. It took about 4 hours to cook. I kept the temperature at or below 300 so the top wouldn't burn while the middle fully cooked.
I used two disposable tinfoil custard dishes for head. I also lined the bottom of these with wax paper.
Step 3: Piece together with buttercream frosting
3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 cube butter (use Crisco if you need pure white frosting)
1 tsp vanilla or almond
4 Tbsp canned or regular milk as needed
I doubled the recipe above to make sure I would have plenty.
I pieced the custard-dish cakes together with a really thick layer of frosting. The head needed a little height. :)
My base cake sunk a bit in the middle. I was really worried it wouldn't work out, but I trimmed off the bottom a bit and the cake was dense enough that it was just fine.
Then I cut it in half and added a layer of frosting.
Step 4: Chill
Place in freezer for a couple hours/overnight.
Step 5: Carve
Using a serrated knife, I rounded out the head.
And for the body, I shaped it a little bit too. I thought the base was too fluted so I trimmed off cake there.
The denser cake recipe and freezing the cakes made this part really easy.
Remember to enjoy the extra!
Step 6: Crumb Coat
Apply a thin layer of buttercream frosting to the cakes this catches all the crumbs and "locks" them in so won't appear in the final frosting layer.
Step 7: Chill
Chill until the frosting is firm.
Step 8: Frost
I wanted to add a thick layer of buttercream to go under the fondant for great taste and for those who would pick the fondant off.
Step 9: Apply fondant
Cover the counter with Crisco or powdered sugar. Roll out to an even 1/4 in thickness.
Drape over cake.
Trim with a pizza cutter.
Step 10: Stack cakes
Stick a straw in the cake all the way. Pinch and crease the straw where it meets the cake. Pull the straw up and cut it at the mark. Don't push back down.
Do this three times.
Set the top cake on top of the straws. The weight of the top cake will push the straws down into the bottom cake. The straws won't go into the top cake since they are the exact height of the bottom cake. These straws support the weight of the top cake so it doesn't crush or misshape the bottom cake.
Step 11: Decorate cake
My mom and I made the wings, feet, eyes, beak, etc., out of fondant. We were able to attach the smaller pieces using only buttercream frosting. The bigger pieces need toothpicks as well.
I dyed the leftover frosting green and spread it to represent grass on the foil-covered cookie sheet.
I made the fondant five days early. I baked and chilled the cakes on Friday, then really went to town frosting and doing the fondant on Saturday. The birthday was on Sunday. It was definitely not a project I could've done in a single day or the day of the birthday. I am glad I gave myself plenty of time.
And the final result.