I started this project about a week early, making the decorations in batches during the week.
I picked up a seashell candy mold from Michaels for $1.99 and used candy melts that I already had left over from making cake pops.
Really, I should have used pastry bags or a parchment cone to pipe in the melted candy, but I was lazy and just smeared it in messily with the back of a small spoon (so, yes, the piping bag is "staged" for this shot. But check out my awesome spoon designed to hang on the side of your teacup! Or tupperware, in this case.)
The shells popped out easily after a quick chill in the fridge. They're a bit holey and raggedy-looking. I bet using the piping bag would have helped. Sometimes I like to take short cuts a little too much for my own good. Whatever. Real shells aren't perfect anyway.
Another option for the shells would have been to press fondant into the molds. With that method you can brush them with pearl/luster dust and make them look rill purdy.
To make the coral, I piped melted candy out of a small parchment cone and then sprinkled colored sugar on them while they were still wet. I found the lumpier and more misshapen the design, the more they looked like coral.
Side note: I had tried another method of making the coral earlier, which involved piping royal icing onto grape stems (tutorial here.) It didn't work out so well for me, though I think it's because I had a bad batch of RI. Still, I like my method better because you can actually eat it.
More coral made from leftover bits of colored fondant (I save and try to reuse everything! See the parchment scraps in the picture above?)
For the curly ones, I made thin snakes, flattened them a little and then folded them up into themselves.
The round ones are just little bits of rolled up fondant poked with a boning/veining tool.
I also made a few of these coral thingamabobs in different sizes and colors, but didn't end up using them. They're made of fondant/gum paste combo so they can dry hard.
Just free-form roll out pieces of your 50/50 and cut out different-sized holes. I used a piping tip, a bubble tea straw, and a regular drinking straw. Then I used the straws as "formers" to make the coral dry wavy. If you make these you can place them standing up on top of your cake.
More 50/50 used here to make Zoe's name. I used my extruder to make rope, formed them into the letters, and let them dry overnight.
Another side note here, about "gum glue": My Wilton method teacher introduced me to this (shout out to Lisa at the Colma Michael's store!) I haven't seen it used on any cake show or online tutorial, but I think it's a better adhesive than water or piping gel. All you do is dissolve a little chunk of gum paste in water and brush it on.
I also love it because I can use up my dried hard bits of leftover gum paste (again, nothing is wasted around here!) Sometimes I don't even bother waiting for it to dissolve - I just daub my brush on the wet lump and get going. You'll notice after a while it will have morphed into a smooth gluey liquid.
I used my gum glue to glitterfy Zoe's name. I just brushed it onto the letters and went nuts with the disco dust.
BUT FIRST! I lined a dish with parchment paper so I could be very generous with the glitter and then funnel the excess back into its container (say it with me - zero waste!)
Obviously, I let the glue and glitter dry before picking up or moving the letters.
Moving on now to the piece de resistance: Nemo! He's made of RKT.
I like to use a bowl to form rounded RKT figures. You can just press it into the concave sides of the bowl till it's just the right shape.
RKT Nemo was then brushed with gum glue and covered in orange homemade MMF before I added his features. I think the little white bits applied to Nemo's eyes with a tweezer really made him come to life.
The fins were made of 50/50 so they could dry hard and stand up straight.
Oh, I also made seaweed out of marbled green fondant.
After I was done making all the decorations, I started working on the cake. 2 layers of yellow cake, chocolate ganache filling - not seen here, that white stuff is the buttercream dam - and a surprise rainbow cake layer for Zoe! (I cut it from a 10" square I had in the freezer left over from my fire truck cake.)
I know what you're thinking. Why didn't I torte the cakes? Um... I blame this misstep on remnants of trauma from a recent "cake fail" where I torted my cakes nice and thin and they collapsed under the weight of the cake topper.
Ya right. I was just being lazy.
This cake would have tasted a lot better if I had torted the layers. And I would have been able to get the same height with less cake.
(P.S. the cake fail story is true. check back for a post on that soon.)
Next, the cake got a generous frosting with light blue buttercream. I didn't really go in with a plan, it just came about.
I started frosting the top and noticed that it looked better messy. I patted the frosting with my offset spatula and it formed the perfect chop for Nemo's oceanscape.
I did know that I wanted to use my new icing comb on the side of the cake. I played with straight and wavy movements until it looked perfectly imperfect.
Life is so much easier when a lack of precision actually works in my favor : )
A squiggle of thin consistency BC was piped around the bottom of the cake to hold the "sand", which was really brown sugar. I used dark, but light would have been better. (Even better would have been crushed graham crackers, because you'd actually enjoy eating it.)
I didn't take a picture, but I used a funnel to apply the sugar (you can make one out of parchment paper, or cut a corner right out of the bag.) I used my fingers to pat it down and contain the mess.
The final step was adding the decorations.
Nemo got a little support from some bubble tea straws embedded in the cake.
I used another, taller straw to attach Nemo and keep him from moving. Just make sure it doesn't stick out of the cake taller than he is (I've done that before.) I used a straw to make a hole in Nemo's bottom first, and then... um... impaled him.
And finally finally, I positioned the shells and corals in the sugar sand, put the letters in place, and stuck on the seaweed (probably would have been easier to do the seaweed before the sand, but it worked out fine.)
Here's Nemo and his Dinosaur friend at Zoe and Parker's birthday party. They were a hit!