snake cake

I’m not much for finicky cake decorating, but earlier this week, with my younger son’s birthday celebration looming — his real birthday was Sunday, but we wouldn’t be partying until Friday — I got an uncharacteristic urge. Maybe it’d be fun to do something a little more involved?

Along with a host of other off-handed suggestions, my son mentioned a snake. The idea lodged in my brain. A snake, with its low center of gravity and streamlined body, seemed fairly simple, right? Plus, since my son is the youngest, the pressure was off. No other children would be coming up through the ranks demanding a similarly fancy cake come their thirteenth birthday. Neat how that works, yes? So after a quick Internet search, I settled on a cake by Yolanda of How To Cake It fame.

My son said that he wanted chocolate and not white icing and please, no weird experiments. Fine, I said, it will be chocolate, but no promises on the icing and yes, this is an experiment and a surprise so that’s all I’m saying about that.

The poor kid’s anxiety shot through the roof. He still had lingering PTSD from The Picaken Fiasco of 2015, in which his birthday cake ended up in the compost (and then the dog ate it).

“Can’t I make a small cake?” he pleaded. “Please? Just in case the experiment doesn’t work?”

“Oh, shush,” I laughed. “You’re going to like it just fine.”

I made the chocolate cakes — four recipes worth — on Thursday, so he saw those. And then on Friday morning he saw me make the two batches of fondant and a fifth chocolate cake (and I made the coffee buttercream, too, but I don’t think he noticed that).

Right after lunch, I took him to my mother’s house so my younger daughter and I could decorate in peace. The two of us worked the entire afternoon.

To start, there was the carving.

To do it well, or at least thoroughly, one must dispose entirely of any notion of thriftiness. Cake is a medium: Cut and chuck with abandon! (We did, however, freeze the scraps. What to do with three containers of chocolate cake bits?)

Then we connected the pieces with buttercream and spritzed them with simple syrup to lock in moisture — something that I learned from Yolanda.

I dirty iced the whole affair.

The board cleaned, it was time for the fondant. Because it was a tricky process — but not hard! — there are no photos of the rolling, lifting, pressing, and patching.

To create a pattern, I cut a piece of netting an onion bag and pressed that into the fondant. It didn’t leave a very clear imprint, but it was good enough, we decided.

Then the painting.

We brushed the whole snake with ivory gel mixed with rum. Then we made the shapes using mixtures of browns and blacks, blotting with paper towels as we went.

It was touch-and-go, and the end result was highly imperfect, but we were having far too much fun to really care.

We decorated the board with rocks (that my father brought over when he and my mother came for supper) and twigs from the yard, and then hid the snake in the downstairs bedroom until the big reveal.

The whole project was so much fun, and now I can’t stop thinking about cake.

What to make next?

This same time, years previous: crispy baked hash browns, timpano!, a horse of her own, the quotidian (2.9.15), eight, seven, school: the verdict, travel tips, gourmet chocolate bark.


  • Laura T.

    Very cool cake! I think the netting worked great for the texture! I agree with someone else from earlier about the scraps. You mix cake crumbles with frosting for cake pops/balls.

  • Jenlee

    I just found you from Mavis' blog and I have to say that cake is amazing!! My dh is terrified of snakes and this would send him running. I grew up in a small town in SC and we had a lot of Mennonites. I remember we used to go to their farm on Saturdays and get fresh cream and baked goods. Their last name was Schrock, and yes, I know how common it is. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your young one (well, less young now!), it seems unfair to be left out of all the fun on your own birthday. Are you going to decorate something else as complex that he can participate in?

  • Margo

    OH WOW!!! (I'm snake-phobic so your final result is impressive but shudder-worthy for me).
    Did it taste good?? It sounds like it should have. . .

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, it was quite moist, and it crumbled easily. I think Yolanda's cakes are much more dry (making them easier to carve), so they probably actually need the added liquid….

  • beckster

    That is a cool cake! I bet it was fun, but the results were impressive. I say make trifle with the leftover cake as well, with whatever you and your family like.

  • Anonymous

    That is one impressive cake! Good work!!!

    (also: isn't it well-nigh *impossible* to photograph cake well? Harrumph. That last shot of the "scales" is flat-out amazing.)

    (also: soft marzipan can be a good fondant alternative for this sort of thing, if one does not like fondant – it does behave differently with painted-on things, so usually you have to go for sufficiently-gel-y or not-water-based paints, but store-bought marzipan tastes so much better than most store-bought fondant… but homemade fondant might beat out both! 🙂 )

  • Birdie

    Make a chocolate mousse trifle with the leftovers- truly scrumptious! Layers of cake, whip cream, chocolate mousse and dark thick fudge sauce- very decadent but divine! Great for a crowd.

    • Anonymous

      I'd cosign on this, but also note that black forest trifle is delicious and very similar and basically my favorite. 🙂

      Or one could go in the direction of ice cream cake sundaes: cake, ice cream, and then assorted toppings (whipped cream; nuts; jams/syrups).

      You can also decorate cakes with cake crumbs and stencils (a bit like cookie crumbs or like cocoa/powdered sugar?), but it sounds like your cake load is, uh, greater than this technique would make a dent in.

      For making a new cake out of the old cake, you can line a mold/shape with clingwrap (bundt pan, dutch oven, whatever) and, using a definitely-firm-when-chilled frosting (like whipped ganache), glue together a cake from the cake pieces (add frosting, smash piece into place, repeat). Chill, invert, peel off plastic wrap, frost, slice and serve while still chilled. (the "slice while still chilled" thing is important for structural stability if you've got a loose-when-at-room-temp frosting involved) The aesthetics of this are more fun when you've got two different colors of cake, but it's still a tasty sliceable dessert thing when single-tone.

      Or there are charlotte russe variations? (line mold with cake, fill with fluffy delicious thing that sets, chill, turn out, eat)

      (can you tell I've had a lot of practice with cake leftovers?)

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