Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Praying Mantis Novelty Cake Design

I thought about going chronologically, but the desire to show some more unique novelty cake designs won out; so I'm writing today about a praying mantis cake that I made for my kid's birthday cake a couple of years ago.  My son had adopted a baby praying mantis (did you know that they are called "nymphs"?) and raised it from fingernail size to finger size.

He was fascinated about its feeding habits, and learned how to catch aphids, fruit flies, flies and moths, how to put it in the jar with the praying mantis, and then both boys would enjoy the feeding show!  (I’ll leave it at that, since this is about cakes, not the carnivorous eating style of mantids).

Anyway, here’s the cake picture for the praying mantis cake.

When looking for cake design options I really couldn’t find much on the internet.  The only praying mantis cake I saw was actually a group of cupcakes arranged, more or less, in the body of the mantis, then covered with a sheet of fondant.  The praying mantis was then airbrushed on.  Two cupcakes became the eyes.  It was very clever, but since I didn’t have an airbrush and, at the time, was not working with fondant, I opted for an easier cake design.

The basic cake design is very simple.  In this case, I baked a regular 13x9 inch cake and frosted it with blue buttercream frosting.  On a piece of paper I drew a picture of a praying mantis (you can also print one from the internet or copy it from a book).  There are two ways of getting the picture on the cake:

1.  Cut out the drawing, lay it on the cake, then trace around the outline using a small sharp object (a knife, toothpick, etc.).  Remove the paper drawing and use icing piping to cover the lines.  Use a frosting tip to frost inside the lines.

2.  With a pin, prick holes along the lines of the design.  Lay the design on top of the cake and rub cocoa powder over it.  Carefully lift the paper design and you will see the stencil outlined on the cake in cocoa.  Then go over the design with piping gel, or icing through a frosting tip (cake decorating tube).

As you can see, I designed my mantis cake sitting on a log.  I used regular buttercream frosting, leaving half the amount plain white and coloring half with cocoa.  Since I could not get piping gel in Kenya, I used a star tip nozzle on my cake decorator cake to fill in the body of the mantis, then a round tip to outline the praying mantis.  The brown icing was piped onto the log and the ridges smoothed a bit with a  knife.  For added texture, I used chocolate vermicelli to give a bark effect to the log, and used individual vermicelli pieces for the lines of the body and the eyes.
If you are like and can’t find piping gel, you can order it from here
It would also be great to have a good set of decorating tips.  Wilton has a good set for sale.  I've learned how to make do with what I have on hand, but it sure is nice to have professional decorating tools!


Here are some other ideas for making a novelty cake design of praying mantids:

1.  Use chocolate bark as the bark of the log.

2.  Any kind of small candy will do for eyes - gold decorating balls, raisins, any small, dark sweets or candies you have available in the stores.

3.  Cut a praying mantis design out of fondant or marzipan and paint (with food coloring and lemon juice or alcohol).

4.  Kids always love toys on their birthday cakes.  Buy plastic praying mantis figures and place on top of a regular cake.  Decorate the top of the cake with chocolate logs (like Cadbury Flake) or green coconut grass, or chocolate/marzipan leaves. 

However you do it, have fun!

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