Thursday, September 22, 2011

Finding Nemo Cake: A Tutorial in Pictures

One of my favorite movies, and now one of my favorite cakes (it's got glitter!) This Finding Nemo cake was for a double birthday party for two 3-year-olds. Our friends' daughter, Zoe, wanted Nemo, and her birthday buddy, Parker, wanted a dinosaur (more on that later.)

I started this project about a week early, making the decorations in batches during the week.

I picked up a seashell candy mold from Michaels for $1.99 and used candy melts that I already had left over from making cake pops.

Really, I should have used pastry bags or a parchment cone to pipe in the melted candy, but I was lazy and just smeared it in messily with the back of a small spoon (so, yes, the piping bag is "staged" for this shot. But check out my awesome spoon designed to hang on the side of your teacup! Or tupperware, in this case.)

The shells popped out easily after a quick chill in the fridge. They're a bit holey and raggedy-looking. I bet using the piping bag would have helped. Sometimes I like to take short cuts a little too much for my own good. Whatever. Real shells aren't perfect anyway.

Another option for the shells would have been to press fondant into the molds. With that method you can brush them with pearl/luster dust and make them look rill purdy.

To make the coral, I piped melted candy out of a small parchment cone and then sprinkled colored sugar on them while they were still wet. I found the lumpier and more misshapen the design, the more they looked like coral.

Side note: I had tried another method of making the coral earlier, which involved piping royal icing onto grape stems (tutorial here.) It didn't work out so well for me, though I think it's because I had a bad batch of RI. Still, I like my method better because you can actually eat it.

More coral made from leftover bits of colored fondant (I save and try to reuse everything! See the parchment scraps in the picture above?) 

For the curly ones, I made thin snakes, flattened them a little and then folded them up into themselves. 

The round ones are just little bits of rolled up fondant poked with a boning/veining tool.

I also made a few of these coral thingamabobs in different sizes and colors, but didn't end up using them. They're made of fondant/gum paste combo so they can dry hard.

Just free-form roll out pieces of your 50/50 and cut out different-sized holes. I used a piping tip, a bubble tea straw, and a regular drinking straw. Then I used the straws as "formers" to make the coral dry wavy. If you make these you can place them standing up on top of your cake.

More 50/50 used here to make Zoe's name. I used my extruder to make rope, formed them into the letters, and let them dry overnight.

Another side note here, about "gum glue":  My Wilton method teacher introduced me to this (shout out to Lisa at the Colma Michael's store!) I haven't seen it used on any cake show or online tutorial, but I think it's a better adhesive than water or piping gelAll you do is dissolve a little chunk of gum paste in water and brush it on.

I also love it because I can use up my dried hard bits of leftover gum paste (again, nothing is wasted around here!) Sometimes I don't even bother waiting for it to dissolve - I just daub my brush on the wet lump and get going. You'll notice after a while it will have morphed into a smooth gluey liquid.

I used my gum glue to glitterfy Zoe's name. I just brushed it onto the letters and went nuts with the disco dust. 

BUT FIRST! I lined a dish with parchment paper so I could be very generous with the glitter and then funnel the excess back into its container (say it with me - zero waste!)

Obviously, I let the glue and glitter dry before picking up or moving the letters.

Moving on now to the piece de resistance: Nemo! He's made of RKT. 

I like to use a bowl to form rounded RKT figures. You can just press it into the concave sides of the bowl till it's just the right shape.

RKT Nemo was then brushed with gum glue and covered in orange homemade MMF before I added his features. I think the little white bits applied to Nemo's eyes with a tweezer really made him come to life.

The fins were made of 50/50 so they could dry hard and stand up straight.

Oh, I also made seaweed out of marbled green fondant. 

After I was done making all the decorations, I started working on the cake. 2 layers of yellow cake, chocolate ganache filling - not seen here, that white stuff is the buttercream dam - and a surprise rainbow cake layer for Zoe! (I cut it from a 10" square I had in the freezer left over from my fire truck cake.)

I know what you're thinking. Why didn't I torte the cakes? Um... I blame this misstep on remnants of trauma from a recent "cake fail" where I torted my cakes nice and thin and they collapsed under the weight of the cake topper.

Ya right. I was just being lazy.

This cake would have tasted a lot better if I had torted the layers. And I would have been able to get the same height with less cake.

(P.S. the cake fail story is true. check back for a post on that soon.)

Next, the cake got a generous frosting with light blue buttercream.  I didn't really go in with a plan, it just came about. 

I started frosting the top and noticed that it looked better messy. I patted the frosting with my offset spatula and it formed the perfect chop for Nemo's oceanscape. 

I did know that I wanted to use my new icing comb on the side of the cake. I played with straight and wavy movements until it looked perfectly imperfect.

Life is so much easier when a lack of precision actually works in my favor : )

A squiggle of thin consistency BC was piped around the bottom of the cake to hold the "sand", which was really brown sugar. I used dark, but light would have been better. (Even better would have been crushed graham crackers, because you'd actually enjoy eating it.)

I didn't take a picture, but I used a funnel to apply the sugar (you can make one out of parchment paper, or cut a corner right out of the bag.) I used my fingers to pat it down and contain the mess. 

The final step was adding the decorations. 

Nemo got a little support from some bubble tea straws embedded in the cake. 

I used another, taller straw to attach Nemo and keep him from moving. Just make sure it doesn't stick out of the cake taller than he is (I've done that before.)  I used a straw to make a hole in Nemo's bottom first, and then... um... impaled him.

And finally finally, I positioned the shells and corals in the sugar sand, put the letters in place, and stuck on the seaweed (probably would have been easier to do the seaweed before the sand, but it worked out fine.)


Here's Nemo and his Dinosaur friend at Zoe and Parker's birthday party. They were a hit! 

My husband says the dinosaur looks possessed, but I'd like to believe he was just jealous because it was also his birthday and he didn't get a dinosaur cake. I'll be posting pics from the dinosaur cake project soon and maybe he can have a go at it.


  1. Wow. This is an amazing amount of work. And what a result! I'm sure Zoe and Parker loved their beautiful cakes.

    When did you start getting into pastry chef-ing, Gitu?

    My former SIL is a pasty chef at Sydney's Planet Cake (they got some realty show show coming soon on the food channel). So I've seen the behind the scenes work that goes into celebration cakes, i.e. the ganache and fondant and whatnot. It's such an artistic endeavour and a hellova hobby. Love looking at beautiful cakes and it's interesting to read the step-by-step process.


  2. Hi Sonia! Hardly pastry chef-ing... more like playing masak masak at home :)

    I got to take a few months off from working last year, and to pass my time, i took a basic cake decorating class at a chain craft store here. from there I kind of took the ball and ran with it! (i watch a lot of those cake reality shows you speak of, read a lot of cake blogs and watch a lot of youtube videos.)

    thanks for reading! i think you might be the only one :) (so far)

  3. I love the RKT Nemo! How far in advance did you make him? Think it would be okay to make the day before and leave out on counter?

  4. Please, I am a noob, what is RKT?


  5. Hi Jen,
    RKT is Rice Krispie Treats. You can make them or even use store bought and mold them to make light-weight edible forms that you can frost and/or cover with fondant. Try it!
    Thanks for reading,

  6. Samantha, I think I worked on Nemo several days ahead

  7. I will be attacking this cake as a first time mama and a first time cake maker. It is my sons first birthday and we are doing a nemo themed party. I am the type that picks up things super quick and I am very crafty. As a first time cake maker is there any advice you can give me on making this cake? You have already been incredibly detailed which I love, but is there any thing you could think that would help me out. Also I see you make homemade fondant, but if I did get pre-made would that give me less room for error on the cake or would you advise doing it homemade for taste? You advised to make a couple days ahead of time. So when I do that, do I just store in the fridge after it is made until his party? Thank you for your help, it is greatly appreciated!

  8. Hi Yesenia,

    My best advice is give yourself plenty of time when trying something new, and always have a plan B :)

    Absolutely fine to use pre-made fondant. I actually often find it easier to work with, and that way you can spend the time saved to finesse your design and decorating technique.

    I recommend you do not refrigerate RKT Nemo. When you refrigerate fondant, you risk condensation on the surface when you take it out, and wet fondant is no bueno! I believe it will be safe to eat, especially if it's sealed in the fondant. The fondant will probably be dry and unpalatable (albeit safe) so the kids may prefer to peel it away to get to the RKT. Not for the discerning palate!

    Good luck and I hope these notes came in time for your party... please post a link to pictures of the finished product!

  9. Thank you so much for replying! It is definitely in time for his party. I am throwing it on June 1st. My last request would be is there an actual ingredient list? Or am I just wingen it ?? lol Either way I am going to give it my all. I will definitely post pics, the good, the bad, and the ugly ;)

  10. Your cake is simply BFF and I are throwing a Nemo Baby shower for here we are both great cooks...bakers not so can we get pre made fondant? I LOVE LOVE LOVE this cake

    1. Sorry about the delayed reply! You can get fondant online (Global Sugar Art, Sweet Wise) at your local cake decorating supply store, or Michaels. I've also started seeing it in some regular grocery stores in the baking section.

  11. and pretty much where do you suggest we purchase most everything you did here? Michaels?

    1. Michaels / cake decorating supply store for the candy, molds and fondant, grocery store for the rest.

  12. Really beautiful and so very creative! what did you use to make the bubbles? Can you cake the shell candy ahead of time?

    1. Yes you can definitely make the candy shells ahead of time, even a week ahead. The bubbles are just white sprinkles (bigger size) that I applied with a tweezer.

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  14. Can you make the shell candy like a week ahead of time?