My brother-in-law, Owen, has a 4th of July birthday. But not only is his birthday patriotic, so is he. He is a 100% pure blooded, flag waving patriot, Republican and Reagan lover. Serious Reagan fan. No really, I mean he worships the guy. His major in college was political science, so you can always count on an intense discussion about politics if you so wish to engage in one. Almost every year I make him a patriotic cake. Always something red white and blue to celebrate the day.
Owen and his wife, Cathy, are two of our very best friends in the entire world. We are in-laws (twice removed), but our kids think they are cousins. We have been "family" for over 20 years, and celebrate every major holiday and life event together. Our families are very close, and I cannot imagine my life without them in it.
Well, Owen turned 50 this year, and Cathy planned a huge surprise party for him. (Why I had to keep the cake secret because he might read here from time to time.) So when Cathy asked me to make the cake, I said of course! At first I thought I might just do a huge flat cake in a more simple design. But that didn't last too long. The idea came to me late one night while I was sleeping, I think. I don't remember exactly when it came to me, but as soon as it did, I knew I was in trouble. I knew it would be a challenge. Going places I had not gone in cake before. But just like all the other crazy ideas I get, I knew I had to try. I could not talk myself out of it. It became an obsession. It consumed my every waking thought for the better part of 2 weeks.
My idea was to incorporate a picture of Owen and Reagan side by side that I photo shopped into the cake. But not just a boring ole picture on the cake. No, not on my cake. It has to move! It has to pop up and down! It has to pop up and down on the lid of an Uncle Sam hat! Yes, that's it! Perfect! Awesome!
Now how in the heck was I going to do that? I didn't have one iota of an idea how to go about doing that. But I know someone who does! There was only one person to call in for back-up on this one.... my brother Michael. Michael is a genius (literally), an engineer, and he is a guru at all things mechanical, electrical and technological. He started taking things apart and rebuilding them when he was a little kid. He had a "lab" under our house growing up with all kinds of gadgets and goodies down there. ( He set boobie traps so my sisters and I could not get into it and mess it up, LOL.)
But Mike has always been my hero. When my other siblings were torturing me and making my life a living hell, he was always sweet and nice to me. If I had a broken toy or mechanical doll, I would go crying to him, and I knew he could always make it work again. And he always did. He always made it work. He is a friggin' genius. And my hero. And the nicest, sweetest guy on earth. So of course, he was happy to help me with my ambitious project.
So I tell Mike what I am trying to accomplish, and while he thought about what we needed to get to make this work, I got started on the cylinder of the hat so it would have ample time to dry:
Then I covered the dummy with parchment paper, and wrapped it with gumpaste to form the hat cylinder. I used the exact same process I use when I make my gumpaste crowns. I let that sit for 2 or 3 days to firm up before I slid the gumpaste off the dummy. After I slid it off, I let it dry about a week before I touched it again.
The top of the hat was one single cake cardboard covered on one side with red fondant. I needed to keep the lid as light as possible, because we did not know how much weight the motor would be able to handle.
The cylinder was glued to the hat brim with some chocolate on the inside.
You can also see in these photos that the gumpaste cylinder did wrinkle some over the 1.5 weeks it was drying. I assume it was from the sheer height and weight of it. Gravity just taking its toll. It was purely cosmetic, and did not affect its stability. I felt confident I would be able to cover all that when I decorated it. (Well, I hoped, anyway...)
We needed a very sturdy way to hinge the lid to the cylinder, so Mike put a strip of fomecore down the back of the hat. We glued it on with chocolate, and cut a hole in the bottom so the electrical wire for the motor could come out the back, later to be attached to the power supply. The hinge was attached to the fomecore with epoxy glue. (Really strong stuff!)
So what were we going to use to motorize this thing? I of course did not have a flipping clue. I had explained to Mike what I wanted to do, and he found two hobby motors on Amazon that he thought might work. He wasn't sure though, as there was not enough info in the product description for him to really know. We would not know until they came in: their size, if they were strong enough, would the gears have the proper height rotation, and their speed. Would they be too weak? Too fast? Too slow? I ordered them right away, and it was an absolutely excruciating week waiting for them to come in. Not knowing the fate of my idea! It was torture! I really wanted this cake to work, not just for myself and meeting the challenge, but I really wanted it to be special for Owen.
So the motors finally come in, and I open the boxes to find about 800 little plastic pieces in a bag. Ack! Obviously it was a model kit, and needed to be assembled. I rushed over to Mike's to deliver them so he could get started on assembly, and we made a date for him to cover over the next day to see how this was all going to work (or not.) Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. (again.)
So Mike came over the next day (and the next 2 days after that) to get this hat working. We glued fomecore to the hat brim to prop the motor up to the right height. Everything was glued down with melted chocolate and masking tape to get it as secure as possible. The wire ran from the motor, out the back of the hat, to the power source.
Mike attached an eye hook to the underside of the lid. Then I was able to glue on the photo. A thick copper wire went from the motor gear to the lid. As the motor ran, the gear would turn, making the wire go up and down. (We hoped!) The electrical thing on the left is his power supply unit he brought over to give it juice. Did it work? Did we fail? You will have to wait to find out....
In the midst of all of this I had even another idea. (Yes, a dangerous thing.) Wouldn't it be cool if I could incorporate some audio into the cake of Reagan wishing Owen a happy birthday? Oh yeah, that would be awesome! Surely there has to be a way to do that! Some hidden speakers or something. But the bigger problem was getting audio of Reagan's voice saying happy birthday. No way would I find that anywhere. Maybe I knew someone who could do an impersonation and record that. I really didn't have much hope that this would come to fruition, but it was a cool idea anyway.
So one evening, on a whim, I decided to do an internet search. Just to see what was out there. So I googled "Reagan audio saying happy birthday"....... and to my utter amazement, within 5 minutes I found it! An audio file from 1968 of Ronald Reagan wishing a newspaper mogul a happy 90th birthday. I jumped out my chair and howled with excitement! This was just what I needed! I could not believe I found it! It was surely a sign from God. This cake had to be made. I had to press on. I had to make it work!
I did not want the mp3 player just hanging out on the cake board, so I built a little box to cover it out of fondant with tylose added. I made a hole in the cake board, and threaded the speaker wires under the cake board so they could not be seen. I made a small hole in the box right over the "play" button of the mp3 player. I put a large silver dragee into that hole, so when you pressed it, the "play" button was activated, and the audio played. It was too stinkin' cool! I listened to it over and over, and got a huge chuckle each time. (Lordy, I have no life.)
The 50 was made from fondant with tylose added, and dried super firm. I made another disc of fondant with a hole cut out the center to let the light shine through from the rotating stand. The 50 was super-glued onto the white disc. The rotating, light up cake topper is made by Wilton, and battery operated. It was perfect for this use!
To support the hat, I used a stress free ring support with long legs. The legs went down into the blue tier (which was a single layer 13 inch round, filled), and extended above the cake to the desired height. Wilton plastic columns slipped right over the stress free legs to give the perfect presidential look to the cake!
Here is the cake set up at the party. Did everything work? Was it a success? Did Owen like it?
You can also view the video here.
So as you can see, much to my amazement and sheer jubilation, it all worked out and Owen loved it! He just went on and on about how incredible it was, and how much he loved it. It was also a huge hit with all the guests at the party. They could not believe it was a real cake. Everyone that knows Owen got a huge laugh out of it, because it was such a funny and appropriate theme for him.
I am tickled pink that my idea came to life, even though it was very nerve wracking! I could not have done it without my incredible brother Mike. The motor and all the electrical stuff was done by him. I felt bad that he got sucked into my black hole of craziness, but he said he enjoyed the project. And I believe him; he lives for this kind stuff!
The cake was fun, the party was fun, working with Mike was fun. I have such a great life. I am truly blessed.
PS. Tomorrow I will post about the saga of trying to get this entry up. I am too traumatized right now. It is now 2:43 AM. I was not going to bed until I go this thing done! :)