You know those moments in life where things escalate quickly. Before you know it, you are someplace that you had no intention of going (and you have no idea how you got there).
That pretty much sums up this R2D2 cake for my son’s birthday party. I started off with the idea of making a pretty special cake that would stand vertically and make a striking centrepiece. Then my husband got involved, and suddenly we were discussing how to make our R2D2 cake play the famous Princess Leia hologram message using hardwired projectors, a failed smoke machine and a lot of fondant.
And I know I am biased, but the result was pretty awesome!
Not only did the cake look great, but we also managed to recreate the hologram effect and totally blow the minds of the kids at the party. Not to mention a few adults too.
How did we do it? You can cheat and watch the video here, or the longer version can be found below.
We cut the base out of 12mm and 18mm chipboard using a jigsaw. Because of the weight of the cake, the base was re-inforced using metal brackets.
We also cut a large hole in the centre of the base to allow a length of poly-piping to pass down through the cake (and through the board) to keep the wiring safe for the projector.
The head was one of the bigger challenges. It had to be big enough to fit the projector inside it, but also hollow (and strong enough to hold up the fondant detailing on the outside).
I used a big mixing bowl as a mold. I covered it with cling film and dusted it with plenty of cornflour to make sure it would not stick. I mixed tylose powder into the fondant and smoothed it out over the bowl before leaving it to dry for 24 hours.
After I painted it with silver metallic food paint I added the small panels of blue color and other details. I was worried this was going to add to the weight of the head and make it crack, but it actually seemed to make the whole thing more sturdy (as you could see in the video where we smashed the head).
There are many great arguments to be had in life (red pill or blue pill, anyone?) but few will inspire as much passion as deciding what color R2D2’s insides would be, if R2D2 was a cake. We opted for stripes. It seems logical, right? You can also see in this photo how the pipe ran up the inside of the cake's body.
Each layer of vanilla cake was separated with white chocolate ganache, with sugar syrup added to the cake to keep it from drying out.
More ganache was used on the outside of the cake before adding the fondant and details. The two sheets of fondant were added so that the ‘seams’ lined up with the placement of the legs, which hid most of the join.
I made the legs using homemade rice krispies treats – it is a great edible material for parts like the legs which need to hold their shape in a vertical position and give a bit of support. I used a paper template to get the shape right, and then hollowed out channels down the side to allow for R2D2’s wiring and pistons that run down his legs (I’m assuming that is what they are, anyway – a more non-technical description would be ‘the silver tube things’).
Because of the shape of the legs, I rolled the fondant out and then almost wrapped it around the rice crispies treat as if it were a present, chopping out another panel to run down the inside of the legs. I also marked the fondant before it dried to add another level of detail.
I then attached the legs to the body with gum glue (tylose mixed with water). That stuff is amazing!
The fun stuff
We purchased a small projector from eBay, with the only requirement being that it could play from a USB stick, and that it had a remote control.
To make the video clip, we edited a variety of YouTube videos (Princess Leia’s message is here and the dancing Stormtroopers can be found here) . I recorded a special message for Harvey which was dubbed over Leia’s video – and you should have seen the look of absolute delight on his face when it played.
We teed the video up so that it would play with a ‘blank’ screen at the start. All you can hear are R2D2 sound effects. Then the message reads that Leia is stuck inside the cake, so she wants to send birthday wishes to Harvey and all she can organise in time is a video of some dancing stormtroopers.
Everyone loved it.
Tips and Tricks
It would have been a lot easier if we had a projector that ran on batteries, because we wouldn’t have needed to plug the cake into a powerpoint. Having said that, it did mean that we were able to shine it bright enough to be seen during daylight.
Work out what size your projector is, and then work backwards with your measurements and sizes from this to ensure that everything is in the right proportions.
Freeze your cakes in advance. It takes a long time to put this cake together, so you need to make sure everything will taste fresh on the day.
Make sure the cake is on a platform that can spin or be easily moved. Some people were not sure the ‘hologram’ was actually coming out of the cake until we moved it.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. R2D2 is a droid with a lot of fiddly components, and you could lose your life trying to build him perfectly accurately. The big stylised version of his features in this cake was very effective, particularly from a distance.
Freeze your fondant! It was hot here when I made this cake and it just kept going out of shape. I learnt to cut the shape I needed and transfer to the freezer for 5 minutes before trying to pick them up. This was essential, especially for the large side panels.
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