Carving a Polar Bear Cake

From left to right top row: Vivian, Camille and me. Middle: Bob, Ally, Nancy. Bottom: Lady, Maria and Camille
I can bearly contain myself over how impressed I was with the wonderful group of students who joined us for an advanced pastry course at ICE Institute of Culinary Education: How to Carve a Polar Bear cake. Each sweet polar bear ended up having its own very fleshed out individual and delightful personality!
I feel I should start by introducing my bear, Ben.  I debated over a number of possible bear names, Beary White, Nanuk, Winona, Antonio Fargus and Little Bear. Little Bear was a close second because ironically he is NOT very little, not to mention the fact that I have very fond memories of reading the Little Bear books to my son--- who is also no longer very little. Meet Ben. His head is full of sweet dreams: vanilla and chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream and ganache, wrapped in a blanket of vanilla chocolate fondant.

Each carved cake project starts with finding photographs of my subject narrowing down shapes and ideas.  Once that just-right image is found, I scale it to the size I'd like my cake to be using a Tracer Projector and enlarger. Next we check and mark measurements on the scaled sketch (see below).
I thought we might want to change up the look of some of the bears, by adding a hat, or tiara, hence the ghosted hat floated on the right side of sketch.

The two "tiers" of cake are assembled, filled with a chocolate buttercream, and refrigerated to set up. The bottom tier is carved and doweled. Next, the smaller tier, on its separator board, is set on top and carving continues.  Using a templates traced from the sketch the shapes are refined, both by cutting away cake, and by adding a cake pop mixture I call cake clay, (cake broken up into crumbs combined with just enough buttercream to make a moist but firm clay-like mixture). After refrigerating, refrigerating after pretty much every step---cold cake makes sculpting so much easier! the cake is coated in chocolate ganache, which will make for a nice solid foundation.

Students covering their cakes in a mixture of fondants:  We were very lucky to have Fondarific Fondant sponsor the courseFor this class we mixed 2 parts Antique White Buttercream Fondarific with one part Carma Massa Ticcino fondant and it was amazing! User-friendly and wonderful for creating texture. We rolled this combo out and set up in the freezer for about 10 minutes creating a very easy-to-work-with, forgiving and sculptable consistency for carved cakes
The eyes have it! 
Polar bear eyes are surprisingly small relative to the size of their heads. In this case it very conveniently worked out to be exactly the size of 1/2" ball tool. The gum paste balls need to be rolled out at least a day in advance so that they harden up enough to handle and withstand being pushed into their sockets. 
Sachiko Windbiel from Mimicafe Union has a must-see Vimeo tutorial on How to Make a Standing Fondant Figure which along with many other things, teaches exactly how eyes like these are made. 

Texture: I like using a variety of tools to create texture. For this cake we used burnisher and bone folder tools, veining tools, tooth picks and x-acto knives to create a series of different sized strokes. Everyone's favorite tool was a little homemade raking tool which was made out of four toothpicks taped together at the base with artist tape:

Colors: Once the coat was texturized, we used white petal dust mixed to a syrupy consistency with lemon extract. Use a broad flat paint brush on its side trying not to get food color into your grooves of texture, but on the very top layer of fondant.  Grey powered food color was then gingerly applied to the dry surface of fondant with a smaller dry paintbrush.

Recipe: One of my very favorite cakes is Margaret Braun's butter Cake.
Its a delicious vanilla cake with a caramelized sugar crunch baked into the top of each layer. It has a great firm structure for carving cakes.

3D: It's very useful to have a three dimensional reference to work from.  When sculpting animals I often rely on toys, and I particularly like Schleich figurines.

Inspiration: I like to find lots of photos to use for reference.  Can you tell which of these became the final guides for the cake?

Templates: Below are the footprint templates for shapes of the two separator boards.  The bottom tier is assembled on the larger template and is for the base of the bear (note the bump-out for the placement of the paw under the chin). Template 2 is for the top tier, with the second paw template inside of it.  The lower part of template 2 has a small bump out for the bear's muzzle.  The muzzle is added and sculpted out of cake-clay on top of the board, and the chin is sculpted out of approximately a plum sized ball of of modeling chocolate attached underneath the foam-core board. Cake Paper Party has great tips on making modeling chocolate and a reliable helpful chart of ratios of for different chocolates and candy melts to corn syrup. 
They should be printed out at 100% on 8.5 X 11" paper:

template 1: base under bear

template 2: separator board for under the top tier

Ben's Base board: Cut a 14" square of 1/2" foam-core board. Then cut random triangles from the edges.  Some of the cut triangles are then glued to the board.  I combined two different shaded of blue fondant to create a marbleized effect, rolled it out, chilled it and cut it into an 11" circle, and attached to board.  Then cover the rest of the board in white fondant and paint it with luster dust.

The End.


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