The new Frankenweenie movie is in theaters today (!) so I’m celebrating this happy occasion with a funny little Sparky cake!
I can remember watching the original version of this movie when I was nine years old. That was way back in 1984, but the story still tugs at my heartstrings today. Tim Burton based the film on the relationship he had with his first dog (aw!) and the personal feel really shines through. Most every pet owner will be able to relate to the love that young Victor Frankenstein has for his dog, Sparky. I certainly saw myself and my first dog (a scruffy mutt/chihuahua named Danger) in the story.
I can’t wait to see the new movie in all its black and white stop-motion-3-D glory! The new puppet incarnation of Sparky captured my heart with his expressive face and little nubbin-nose. I so wanted to create my own Sparky. And I did.
(Okay, I’ll stop.)
I really loved sculpting little Sparky, and if you’d like to try your hand at making him I’ve got plenty of step-by-step photos to guide you. If you’re interested in sculpting for cakes in general, my book has a section completely dedicated to explaining sculpting fundamentals: armature, modeling, manipulating… I really get geeky on the subject.
The interior of the cake had to be Frankenweenie green! This was achieved by using a white cake batter along with a .3 oz bottle of neon green food coloring and a little kelly green gel from Wilton.
1 pack of gum paste (pastillage)
Clear vegetable shortening
Black gel food coloring
2 white sixlets candies
Sugar sticks (like toothpicks) made from rolled gum paste
Fine tipped artists’ brushes
Plastic drinking straw
Note: Plan ahead. Make gum-paste sugar sticks by rolling gum paste into long thin toothpick-like sticks and allow to dry 24 hours before using. Make about 10-12 in an assortment of sizes.
1. Knead a little vegetable shortening into about 1/2 cup of gumpaste until pliable. Tint with a dot or two of black gel food coloring.
2. Slice off about 1/3 of kneaded paste and form into a long teardrop shape. This will be Sparky’s head. Press two Sixlets into the gum paste about 2-inches down from the rounded top.
3. Remove the Sixlets and paint a little black gel food coloring around the eye-holes. Allow to dry slightly.
4. Re-insert the Sixlets candies into the eye holes.
5. Roll another 1/3 of the gum paste into a ball for Sparky’s body. Press 2-4 long sugar sticks into the ball allowing 3/4-inch of the sugar sticks to stick out of the gum paste ball.
6. Press the head onto the sugar sticks gently but firmly. Be careful not to squish the head when you do this. Adjust the head and re-position as necessary.
7. Tint a quarter-size ball of gum paste black with the gel food coloring. Press a small piece onto the tip of a sugar stick.
8. Gently insert into the tip of the tapered/pointed end of the head.
9. Fashion two triangular shaped ears from the black paste and press into two short sugar sticks. Press into the top of the head piece, leaving plenty of room for the eyebrows that will be attached later.
10. Roll out two skinny pieces of grey paste and taper the ends. Cut them to appropriate length for two arms/front legs. Shape and press into the body using two short sugar sticks as connectors. You could also use corn syrup to adhere if you find the sticks to be too tedious. Make two more shorter pieces for back legs in the same manner as before.
11. Attach the legs to the body using two short sugar sticks.
12. Fashion a tail from the black gum paste and press onto a sugar stick. Affix to lower back portion of the bum paste/body ball.
13. Roll a piece of white gum paste flat and cut into a square. Roll scraps of black paste together and roll flat. Cut rounds of black gum paste using the plastic drinking straw. Press black circles onto the white square. They should adhere unless your gum paste is too dry. In this case you may attach them with a little shortening or corn syrup. Adhere square to Sparky’s back/above the tail. Use corn syrup or shortening as an adhesive if it doesn’t stick naturally. Cut two thick black paste circles for sparky’s neck bolts. Press them into sugar sticks and then press them into Sparky’s neck on either side of the head.
14. Fashion two small pieces of black gum paste into eyebrows and affix over the Sixlets eyes. Using a very fine tipped brush (the smallest you can find!) paint pupils onto the Sixlets eyes using undiluted black gel food coloring. Using the same brush, paint on stitching details on and around the arms, on the head and legs and around the tail. Also paint stitching around the polka-dot patch on his back.
15. Allow brush-work to dry. Gently manipulate and finesse clay if some parts have become misshapen during assembly.
The graveyard sculptures were made from extra pieces of gray gumpaste. Most of them were unplanned and randomly made so I don’t have a tutorial for them. I did try to make Sparky’s tombstone much like the one in the movie. I drew the lettering with the end of a toothpick.
I really love – and can relate to- Tim Burton’s dark-is beautiful stories and visuals. The grey scale really adds to the drama of the film – and to this cake! This was a really fun project and a perfect celebration centerpiece for Halloween!
Frankenweenie “Sparky” Cake
Note: I used rolled fondant on this cake. If you’re not adept with this covering, feel free to double the frosting recipe and ice the cake in white buttercream.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
6 egg whites
3/4 cup whole milk
.3 oz bottle neon liquid green food coloring
1/4 teaspoon Wilton kelly green gel food coloring
- You’ll need two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, greased and the bottoms lined with parchment.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, mixing well.
- Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until very soft and lightened in color. Beat in vanilla.
- Whisk together the egg whites and milk in a medium mixing bowl until just combined.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture, then one-third of the milk mixture, stopping and scraping down the bowl and beater after each addition. Beat in another quarter of the flour, then another third of the milk mixture. Scrape again. Repeat with another quarter of the flour and the remaining milk mixture; scrape. Beat in the remaining flour mixture.
- Scrape the bowl well with a large rubber spatula. Add food coloring and mix again until consistently green. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops.
- Bake the layers for about 30 to 35 minutes, until they are well risen and spring back when pressed in the center. Cool the layers in the pans on racks for 5 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.
1 1/2 cups of unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners’ sugar – the finest you can find (usually 10x)
1 tsp. clear vanilla extract
1 drop black food coloring
* Milk or heavy cream, optional
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together the butter and confectioners sugar. Begin mixing on low speed until crumbly, and then increase to high and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add vanilla and beat again for another minute until light and fluffy.
- *Note: If you find the buttercream is too stiff, you may add milk or heavy cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is spreading consistency.
- Fill cake with about ¾ cup of plain white frosting, then crumb-coat with a thin layer. Refrigerate until ready to decorate. Tint remaining frosting with the drop of black food coloring and transfer half to a piping bag fitted with a triple star decorator tip (#2010) or grass piping tip. Transfer the other half to a piping bag fitted with a single star tip (2D)
1 lb. white ready-made fondant
Black gel food coloring
1 Sparky sculpture
A variety of small tombstones for the pet cemetery
Stone pattern candy mold (optional)
Edible black glitter
- Knead fondant well on a lightly powdered sugared surface and roll out ¾ lb. to about ¼” thickness. Cover cake and trim edges. Smooth fondant surface with spotlessly clean hands or fondant smoothers if you have them. Transfer cake to a cake stand or serving platter.
- Tint about ¼ cup of the remaining fondant dark grey with the black gel coloring. Add coloring a little at a time until the correct color is achieved. Press a long piece of the dark grey fondant into the stone pattern candy mold and remove. Use a knife to tidy the edges and create a long 8-inch “sidewalk “ or walkway that will go across the middle of the cake. Set aside.
- Make a small “hill” using some of the remaining fondant and place it on top of the cake- position it towards the side that you choose to be the back of the cake. Gently lay the sidewalk across the front third of the cake (see picture).
- Cover the entire hill and the edge of the sidewalk closest to the hill with the grey buttercream in the bag fitted with the triple star piping tip (or the grass piping tip that I wish I’d had).
- Place tombstones on and around the “grassy’ buttercream hill. If the tombstones you’ve made are large, you may want to secure them with a wooden skewer or gum paste stick. Place Sparky on the fondant walkway.
- Use the buttercream in the bag fitted with the single star tip to edge the bottom of the cake.
- Sprinkle entire cake with black glitter.
- Serve to delighted guests.
Supplies for this cake: