So, you know, I usually make things based on a whim. Things basically that challenge me. I tell myself things like, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool to make a recipe from a medieval cookbook?” Crazy things like that.
So last year, a week before my son’s 2nd birthday, I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to make a Thomas the Train cake?” That is my son’s obsession. Trains and automobiles. So instead of doing what any normal mom would do (pay someone to do this cake), I decided to roll up my sleeves, bullied my son’s dad, and do it ourselves. Thankfully, I found a step-by-step guide on the internet to talk me through it. I hope it can help you too.
Let’s start with the face. You need to make the face in advance because the fondant mixture needs to dry out. Otherwise, it will be too heavy and it could cause your cake to collapse.
The face is made of marshmallow fondant. Marshmallow fondant is basically a 500 gram bag of barbeque marshmallows, blitzed for 60 seconds on “high” in the microwave in a heavily greased pyrex or ceramic bowl (I cannot stress this enough), with 2 tablespoons of water. When this is melted, pour the mixture into another greased bowl filled with half a bag of confectioners sugar or cornstarch. This improves the elasticity of the fondant. I tried to use my kitchen mixer, but it gunked up my machine. So I waited a few minutes and kneaded it using an oiled spoon, then by hand. Make sure that it is cool enough not to scald you! Get the mixture out of the bowl and wrap in cling film for an hour.
After this, you can knead, roll, and mix in the food colors. Always work with the fondant with oiled hands and on a surface dusted with cornstarch.
The website I referred gives a very detailed description on how to make the face. If you don’t have the kitchen tools she has, I think that the wooden end of a paintbrush or a knitting needle will come in just as handy. Make sure to insert the barbeque stick into the face before you work on it, since the stick will alter the dimensions of the face. Use the rest of the fondant to fashion the wheels, the funnel, and the other things that protrude from Thomas. We have enough books and toys to use as reference, but it really is best to base the cake only on one or two versions of Thomas. The diameter of the face is about 4 inches, since I have a 4 and a half inch springform pan in which I made the cake for the face.
I always use the same recipe for buttermilk chocolate cake. Recipes on the net are dime a dozen, so take your pick. Make two batches of that. Pour the batter onto a 13×9 inch pan and onto an 11 inch pan. I am lucky enough that I have a 4 1/2 inch springform pan, since you will need this too to make the face. I’ve read on the net that an enterprising mom used a coffee can to make this, which is a good idea. Make sure to grease it heavily so it will come out. Let this sit for a day out in the open, or freeze it for at least three hours, to make the cake harder, denser, and less spongy. You need a firmer cake to make the abuses you will inflict on it stick. Otherwise, your cake will sag under all the icing.
I swear by Martha Stewart’s Caramel Buttercream icing for the flavor and ease to work with. The only pain is making the caramel, since you’ll have to watch it closely, otherwise it’ll burn. The icing will come out a bit beige, not white. If that is not a problem then by all means use this recipe. It yields enough icing for the entire cake.
As you see, we’ve trimmed and cut the cake from the bigger pan in half, and cut the cake from the smaller cake pan to fit. I found it best to already work on the surface where the cake will be served and clean up the sides afterwards, since it will be difficult to move Thomas once you’ve got all that icing on it. We used a glass serving plate. Three layers of cake. Ice the layers in between generously to make it stick on each other. Ice the front and stick the trimmed round cake from the springform pan onto it.
We used a steak knife to sculpt the dome on the third cake layer, to make it fit the cake from the springform. The scraps from the smaller cake were stuck to the top and the back part of the train. Then comes something called the “crumb layer,” a layer of icing that is spread all over the cake to prevent the crumbs from showing through the colored cake icing. Toothpicks were inserted into the funnels and dome to make it stick on the cake, and Thomas’s face was inserted into the cake with a barbeque stick.
Here comes the fun part: Icing the cake. I couldn’t believe the amount of food color we used to come up with the blue, black and reds for this. Since black was not readily available in Germany, we used Zuckercouleur, a coloring agent used for browning sauces, which is readily available in supermarkets, mixed with every single food coloring agent we had, to make it truly black. Experiment with adding yellow to make the blue lighter, or brown to make it darker. Here in Germany, green, yellow, red, magenta, blue, and violet are readily available. If you don’t have a cake spatula, the back part of a butter or bread knife will do.
Et voila! Thomas the train. We needed at least four days to make it. This year I’m taking the easy way out and have bought a Lightning Mc Queen cake pan.