Last time we chatted, I shared how to make an easy an amazing 6 layer rainbow cake. Well, I sure wasn’t going to leave you hanging. I am back to tell you how to turn that awesome layer cake into a beautiful unicorn!
If you are not familiar with my past life, I will let you in on a little secret. I grew up in a bakery family. My father ran a bakery long before I entered the scene until just last year. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with him from the time I was 15 until I graduated college. It was a great experience. The quality time I got to spend with dad was simply priceless. I didn’t know it at the time, but I sure do now…It’s crazy what living over a thousand miles away from your family and a few years of wisdom will really help you to appreciate. As an added bonus, I also learned some mad cake decorating and baking skills.
With dear old dad retiring from the family business, it made me nostalgic for all those times we shared together in the bakery. Learning life lessons, hard work, and the importance of a good sense of humor. Little miss just turned one, so I decided Momma needed to whip up an epic birthday cake. No way was I going to do store bought for my little lady, when I know my finished product will taste and look a million times better than what I can get at most stores around here.
So for all my fans, who have actually made it this far through my reminiscing, I want to share with you how to create your own professional unicorn birthday cake. Everyone will be asking who your baker is and where they can purchase one for their next event and you will get to smile and say “I did it!” You will feel so proud and accomplished.
Homemade Frosting Tips
In full disclosure, I did have to call dad and get a few last minute tips on how to pull off this unicorn cake feat at home. There is a big difference in the types of materials a commercial bakery can purchase vs what the home enthusiast can get their hands on. Good thing for me, dad is well versed in this and was able to give me some great substitutions so that everything will work out. Below are a few tips from my dad’s mini cake making pep talk that might pertain to your baking adventures, too. Just wanted to share the love! <3 <3
- Buttercream frosting will not be white if you make it using only butter.
- Buttercream frosting will not taste very good if you use basic shortening (ex: Crisco)
- Bakeries make buttercream using cake shortening and butter: Typically a 2:1 ratio in order to have optimum taste as well as white color. Note, it is very hard to order small quantities of cake shortening, and it is somewhat expensive in comparison to the other ingredient options.
- Using a jar of marshmallow fluff in homemade buttercream will give it a nicer flavor, especially if you are using Crisco as your shortening
- If you use Crisco and butter combination for homemade buttercream use a 1:1 ratio and add the marshmallow fluff.
- If you make buttercream just using butter, I still add the jar of marshmallow fluff.
- The slight yellow tint from frosting made just using butter will not effect your ability to color the frosting, but you will not have a true white color.
Making Fondant Cake Accents
For this particular cake, I used fondant to make a few accents. It is important to plan ahead of time and make sure you make your accents a few days in advance so they have time to harden and be painted, with food paint of course. : ) I purchased Wilton’s pre-made fondant. Note, always sprinkle your work space with confectioners sugar prior to working with the fondant.
To make the unicorn horn, start by taking a piece of fondant and kneading it like dough. You want to soften it and make it pliable.
Next, roll a snake shape ( like you did as a kid with Playdoh). Tapper the two ends of your snake shape. The center should be the thickest part and the two ends the skinniest.
Bend the snake in half having the two tips meet. Twist the two ends together working your way down until you get to the bottom of the unicorn horn.
Take a skewer and put it into the unicorn horn and push it about 3/4 of the way up the horn. This will help support the horn when it is placed into the cake.
Lay the horn on a pan and let dry for at least a day. Two to three days is ideal.
Once the horn is dry, use gold (or whatever color you want) food paint and paint your horn. Stick the horn skewer in Styrofoam to allow the paint to dry. Now your horn is ready for the cake!
Knead and make the fondant pliable. Roll the fondant flat.
I used a heart cookie cutter to cut out the ear shapes. The top part of the heart was placed off of the fondant, so I only used the bottom half of the heart to make the ear shape. I used the cookie cutter to make sure the ears were uniform in size. Alternatively, you could also just cut out triangles. Cut out two ear pieces.
Take the ear piece and pinch together the bottom of the triangle.
Place the ears on a pan to dry. Remember, a day is the minimum and a little longer than that is even better :).
Once the ears are dry, I used a couple drops of pink from the Wilton color system and thinned it with a teaspoon of vodka. I then painted the centers of the ears pink.
As you can see from my images, I was mass producing unicorn horns and ears to top the birthday cake, smash cake, and all the cupcakes! That was a lot of horns and ears ;P
Steps to Decorate Cake as a Unicorn
So, lets get started. Place your cake on a cake turntable. The first thing you will need to do, after you have assembled your layers, is it to give it a crumb coat (or not…read on for more info about that). A trick that I love to use for frosting cakes is if you have the time and space, is to stick your cake in the freezer for a few hours or even overnight. A chilled cake is so much easier to work with and will prevent you from ending up with tons of crumbs in your frosting. To be honest, when I start with a frozen cake, I don’t even do a crumb coat unless I am going to cover it with fondant. If it is frozen, I tend to just go for it and frost it.
Prior to frosting the cake, decide what color you would like the base of the unicorn head to be. I used a true all butter buttercream recipe for my unicorn cake. Due to the high concentration of butter in my frosting, it has a cream color as opposed to white. This is perfect for the look I wanted, so I didn’t even need to color my frosting. If you would rather have a different color for the head, then color your frosting before you start.
Once your frosting is the color you desire, we will start by frosting the sides of the cake. I use a flat icing spatula to apply frosting to the cake. While holding the spatula parallel with that of the cake sides, I spread the frosting, using gentle pressure, until a smooth coating of frosting all the way around the cake is achieved. Make sure that none of the cake layers are peaking through the icing. It is too thin if you can see any of the layers and you need to add additional icing.
Once the sides are covered, I then plop some icing on the top of the cake and spread that out evenly using the same spatula. I make sure to spread all the way past the edges.Some icing may even drip onto the sides. That is totally OK.
Next, I grab the icing smoother. As I spin the cake on the turntable, I hold this parallel to the cake and use slight pressure. This tool is taller than the layer cake and will smooth the frosting
Once the sides are smooth, I go back to smoothing the top. I use the flat icing spatula and spread the icing from the edge of the cake toward the center. I do this working all the way around the cake.
To get any additional remaining lines removed from the top of the cake I will let you in on a secret. Boil a pot of water and keep it boiling. Place your spatula in the hot water for about 15 seconds. Now, slowly drag across the top of your cake. This melts the icing just enough to smooth it and remove any spatula marks. We used this tip at the bakery all the time.
Next, I placed the fondant unicorn horn in the top of the cake and one ear on either side. Note, you should make the fondant horn and ears a few days ahead of time to make sure that it has time to dry and harden. Instructions for making the unicorn horn are at the end of this post.
Once the fondant pieces are in place I began making the mane. I prepared five pastel colors of frosting: pink, purple, blue, yellow, and green. The pink and purple were put into pastry bags with a regular size rose tip (104). The blue was put into a mini rose tip (102). Green was put into a leaf tip (352). Yellow was put into the closed star tip (35)
I made roses and covered the front top of the unicorn head in a triangle shape. Next, I filled in gaps between the roses with the star tip adding little yellow flowers, as well as adding leaves to all of the roses.
I then added flowers in the same manner around the ears. On the back of the head I used flowers to create the mane and had them go down the back side of the cake too. I even had some flowers wrap around the bottom of the cake towards the front on the cake board to extend the mane slightly. I then sprinkled gold star sprinkles and little white pearl sprinkles throughout the mane to add a little extra dazzle.
The finishing touches to decorating the unicorn are adding the eyes. I painted on the eyes using a small paint brush with the black food coloring from the Wilton Color Right Performance Color System. Do not dilute the food coloring or it will run and drip, ruining all that hard work. We sure don’t want that to happen. Ta-da! Unicorn cake complete!
Phew! Glad you made it through the LONGEST POST EVER! Sorry about that. I just had so much good info to share with you. Hope it helps and you can use it on some of your next cake frosting endeavors. If you have questions or need more frosting (or general baking) feel free to post in the comments and I will get back to you ASAP. Happy cake decorating!
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