Sunday, October 21, 2012

DYI (Make Your Own) Cake Pan

I've been meaning to write this post for, well, just FOREVER.  I have not found a good Google link nor YouTube video to explain how to make your own cake pan.  My mom made custom cake pans for her six children for almost every birthday because:
1) she could be creative in the kind of cakes we wanted, and
2) while time-consuming, we couldn't afford to keep buying shaped cake pans.  There are six of us siblings, so that adds up to a LOT of DIY (Do-it-yourself) cake pans.  Go mom!

It's a lot of work, but if you just have to have that peanut-shaped cake, or a map of your state, I think it's worth it.  Nathan was just baptized, and I wanted to make a CTR (Choose the Right) shield-shaped cake.  So here goes.

My mom's version

Tips before you get started:

  • Make sure you measure the inside of your oven.  Do not make a base that won't fit.*  The easiest way to do this is to pull out a rack and measure the width and height.  Easy peasy.  But also take into account whether you want your cake-with-base to fit in the freezer until you're ready to thaw and frost it, and/or the fridge until you're ready to serve it.  If you plan on doing either of those, you need to measure in your fridge and/or freezer as well.
  • Do not make a shape that is too detailed with narrow parts.  Pick shapes that are generalized around the edges.  For instance, a violin cake might completely overcook at the neck.  The Eiffel tower could burn up at the top point and down at the legs if you make them too narrow.  And so on.
  • Keep in mind how much cake you want to make.  With this technique it's easy to make big cake pans because you're not confined by the size of a store-bought pan.  But just realize this means 2+ boxes of cake mix when you're ready to bake, as well as additional frosting.  If you make a bigger cake, it means longer cook times, too.  The cake pans my mother and I create usually require 2-3 boxes of cake mix.
  • If your cake is a shape where the mirror image will look backwards if flipped, be sure your original base is a flipped image.  For instance, this shield cake looks the same either way.  But most state-shaped cakes would need to be baked in a cake pan that looked like the mirror image since a cake is flipped after baking.  More on that later.
  • Lastly, scroll through all these directions first so you have an idea of the logistics, before you start your own process.  Better to read through it now than to become desperate in the middle of a step.

What you will need:

  • a copy of your shape, be it a car, star, apple, strawberry shortcake, smurf, skateboard, etc to either look at or trace.**
  • heavy duty tinfoil that is 18" wide; see picture above  (Normal tinfoil is 12" wide)
  • masking tape
  • scissors
  • Cardboard, enough for you initial base, then for a final base that is at least 2 inches bigger than the original.  (Or your final can just be a rectangle big enough to set your cake on.)
  • Exacto knife (box cutter)  [In a pinch you can use heavy-duty scissors]

Ready to start?

1. Draw, grid, or freehand your shape onto your cardboard at the size desired.  Don't worry about penciling all over it or adding inner details; you'll be covering it up with tinfoil in a moment.

2. Cut out your shape with an exacto knife or scissors (the former is much easier, but the latter works in a pinch).  See steps 18-20 for instructions on how to cover the final base.

3.  Make multiple masking tape loops and place them all over your cake base:

4.  Pull out your heavy-duty, 18" tinfoil and take off a piece that's long enough to cover your base with at least a 2" berth.  Make two of these (you'll see why).  If you look at the picture above you can see I have mine sitting next to/under my shield.  You can also see that it wasn't quite wide enough, so I added another strip toward the top--notice that long piece of masking tape attaching two strips of tinfoil.

Once you've covered your cake base in masking tape loops, place the base sticky-side down onto your first tinfoil sheet.  I don't think it matters if the tinfoil is shiny-side up or down, but I'm OCD and lay mine down on the dull side of the tinfoil.

5.  Now cover the other side of your base in masking tape loops:

6.  Remember that second piece of tinfoil you made in step 4?  Now you're going to eyeball it and place it over this side of your cake base (I place mine dull side facing down), being careful to make sure it has a 2" berth on all sides when placed down. And if you lay it wrong?  Just pull it up and re-place the tinfoil until it lays right.  In the picture below you can see I am placing my top sheet of tinfoil over my base:

7.  Smooth the edges:


8.  Trim the tinfoil to conform to your cake shape, leaving a 1 1/2-2" edge.  Now both sides of your base are covered in tinfoil:

9.  Now for the part you're all wondering about--the sides!  Before you start this part, take some measuring tape and measure the perimeter of your shape (not including the excess tinfoil around edges).

10.  Roll some tinfoil out on your floor to the length of the perimeter + several inches.  I.e. if your perimeter was 3 feet, you would roll out 3 feet plus 4-6 inches.  I suggest cutting the length with scissors; trying to tear off 18 inches of tinfoil can end up making it rip inward, thus making your side a bit too short in some places.

11.  Ok, here we go!  Your tinfoil is laying out on your floor.  You are going to want to fold the top of the tinfoil down toward you hot dog*** style, almost in half, but leave a 1 1/2-2" edge at the bottom (I totally eyeball it).  Start on one side and slowly move across the tinfoil, folding until the entire length of the tinfoil is folded down.

11.  Now you get to do it again.  From the top of your tinfoil, fold down exactly in half, down to the bottom of your last fold, but not past the 2" exposed part at the bottom:

 12.  For this step, I have no pictures, because I goofed.  You are supposed to fold down the tinfoil from the top a THIRD time, in half, hot dog style.  I forgot, and so the sides of my cake were very high.  The third fold gives the side 6 layers, which makes the sides strong so your cake batter stays where it should.  = )

For the rest of the pictures, remember that your own sides will look half as tall as the ones in my pictures, and that YOURS was done right, and mine, wrong!  *grin*  I probably won't make another cake pan for another four years, and only then will I be able to take pics of following the directions properly.  IF I remember.  *sheepish grin*

13.  Just a little more prep work and we're ready to attach the sides.  Take yout scissors and start snipping little cuts about 1/2 or so inch apart along the exposed part of tinfoil  Do NOT cut into or past the folded tinfoil above.

Move along the entire length of tinfoil:

14.  Now you will also cut into the excess tinfoil around your cake base, snipping pieces there as well.  Try not to cut into the actual cardboard, but cut up close to it.  Remember you're cutting through two layers of tinfoil on this one.  Doesn't have to be perfect; we'll tape it all down later.  Continue all the way around your cake base.

15.  Ok, here's the moment you were waiting for!  This is hard to describe, so I'm including both pictures and video for this part.  Watch the video first, then look at the pictures.


Line up your tinfoil "side" perpendicular to the perimeter of your case base, so the folded-down edges and exposed flaps are facing you, NOT the inside of the cake.  Just try and line up a few inches at a time:

16. Take a doubled-strip/flap of tinfoil from the cake base, and a matching strip from the side, and twist them together, kind of rolling them up and twisting them at the same time.  Watch the video above if you're confused about this step.

In the picture below, I've taken away my hand so you can see the first two strips that I twisted up.

And in this picture, you can see the opposite vantage point.

And here is yet a third shot.  Remember, though, my sides are twice as high as they were supposed to be.  Yours won't be that high (that's a good thing).

Continue rolling up a gathered double-tinfoil strip from the base of the cake pan with a matching strip from the side, all the way around the cake pan.

Your sides will be nice and sturdy, but not so sturdy that you can't adjust them a little here and there.  And if you come to a sharp turn in the shape, I take the tinfoil side and crease it well; you can see this on the three "hard" points of my CTR shield cake pan, quite specifically on the picture below showing the top point of the shield:

 16.  You can do this step at the end, or as you go along.  It's the masking tape step.  Do NOT use duct/duck tape, use masking tape (even blue painter's tape doesn't stick as well; masking tape is my family's tried-and-true option for this part).  On the outside where you have been twisting up the tinfoil strips/flaps, you can run some masking tape over them to help keep them in place.

But the most important part of this whole venture is doing a good job with your masking tape on the INSIDE of the cake pan, the part between the side and the base.  If that isn't well-taped, your batter will leak.  I've heard horror stories, so I've always taped mine really well.  I even hold them up to natural light when it's daytime and make sure I can't see any pinholes.  I haven't had any cake pans leak yet.

I usually start with strips of tape that I sort of fold in half hot-dog style facing away from me (the inside of the folded-over part is the non-sticky side of the tap).  Then I let go a little so the tape takes on an "L" shape.  I line each side of the "L" up against the corner of the cake, so one half of the tape is going out flat against the base, with the crease right in the intersection of base and side, and then the other half of the tape is going up against the side.  Once I position a strip where I like it, then I bring one hand around the back of the side for pressure, and then use my other hand to smooth the tape down, both on the side and base so the tape adheres well:

Next I add another horizontal strip along the base, overlapping the piece that straddles side and base.  Then I add yet another along the side piece, also overlapping the middle, side/base-straddling piece.  Sometimes I'll also add a piece of tape vertically, folding it in half hamburger-style*** and placing it perpendicular to the horizontal strips of tape:

17.  So, you crinkle/twist/roll up the side strips/flaps on the outside of the cake as you go along.  When you finish and come back to where you started, there should be some overlap.  I uncrinkle some of my very first strips, then bring the overlap around the outside of the cake pan, and then take those strips from the overlap and rewrap them into the very first strips I had originally done.  Be SURE to tape down the overlap part on the inside, from top to bottom.


Your cake pan is ready to be sprayed with non-stick pan spray and filled with cake batter.  You cook the cake by following the cake mix/recipe directions for the amount of cake you put in (I did three chocolate cake mixes for this cake; it was 17+ inches at its greatest height, and 16+ at its greatest width).  If you've already completed steps 18-20, skip to step 21 on how to remove the sides and "flip" the cake onto the final base.

18.  You should have your "final" base ready for when your cake is done and cooled.  Or make it while you're waiting for the cake to cool.  = )  Remember back at step #2 when you made a base that was at least 2" bigger than your cake pan base?  Now's the time to pull that out.  It can be just a rectangle, or, in my case, I went with a bigger version of my original shape.

This time you don't need to cover both sides of the cardboard.  Just the side that the cake will sit on.  So.  Take your tinfoil out and pull out a sheet big enough to cover your shape, and then some.  Again, if you need to add a strip for more width, no problem.  Just be sure to tape the pieces on the dull side of the tinfoil.  You definitely want shiny-side facing up for your final base.

19.  Put masking tape loops on the face-up side of your cardboard, just like in step #3.

20. Take your piece of tinfoil, dull-side facing down, and lay it over your 2nd, bigger cardboard shape cutout.  Smooth down the edges so you can see where they are, and then flip the whole thing over, holding the cardboard and tinfoil together as you do.  Now all you need to do is pull in any of the excess tinfoil and tape it down onto the underside of the final base.  You can see I snipped the edges to make this easier to do:

And voila--here is your final base; your cake will rest on this base, and you will frost with the cake sitting on top of it:

21.  Taking off the sides.  Once your cake has cooled for at least 40 min, you can start to peel off the masking tape and pull off and/or unravel all the strips that hold the side to the base.  Go all the way around the base until your sides are off.  The masking tape will have changed color and the base will look cooked and crumby, but it's not your final base, so don't stress about it.

22.  BEFORE you flip your cake, you want to take a long frosting knife and level your cake.  I'm talking about the part in the middle that rises more than the sides and is a big hill.  Cut it off so that when you flip the cake, that middle mound doesn't high-center your cake.  If you forget this step, it means poking a lot of stiff frosting under the edges of your cake to hold them up.  = )  Also, corners may break off before you have a chance to frost.

"FLIPPING" the cake:
23.  I wish I had thought to have someone videotape me (or in this case, it was my mom, who baked, flipped, and frosted the cake for me) for this part, and I'm irritated that youtube also does not appear to have any videos showing this process.  There's an easy trick to it.  Do NOT lay your final base down on your counter, pick up your original base-with-cake-on-it and turn the whole thing over quickly (a disaster if there ever was one, plus it's impossible to get the cake to lay right where you want it on the final base).

Instead, have the cake-with-base laying on the counter.  With your non-dominant hand, place the final base upside down (face-down), gently, on top of the cake that is cake-side up.  Why gently?  So you can look under and see where the base landed, and if it has equal amount of edge all the way around it, or if it needs to be adjusted.  Remember, once you flip it, wherever the cake lands, that's it's final resting spot.  At least it is if you don't do this for a living.  So, adjust the final base, still upside-down on top of your cake, until you're satisfied with the placement.  Then, placing your non-dominant hand in the middle of the final base to give it good pressure, slide your dominant hand under the original base-with-cake, and then flip firmly but not recklessly, not too fast nor too slow.  Bring your non-dominant hand down onto your counter and slide your hand out from under the cake.  This way the cake is already touching it's final surface before it ever slips, giving it good pressure during the entire flip, and keeping it in place so it's right where it should be when the flip is complete.

24.  BEFORE you lift the original base off the bottom of the cake (which is now the top, since you flipped the cake onto its final surface), this is a good time to gently place your long frosting knife along the edge of the "top" of the cake (which was the bottom just moments ago) and the original base, gently separating any cake that might want to cling to the tinfoil of your original base.

THEN lift off the original base.

And there you have it!

25.  A couple of final tips, if you haven't frosted a flipped cake before.  First, the cakes are usually kind of crumbly.  It will need what bakers call a "crumb coat," or a base coat of frosting.  This doesn't have to be ultra-stiff, and it doesn't have to be colored.  It's just to seal in the crumbs.

Second, don't worry if frosting gets onto your final base around the edges and looks messy.  Once you're pleased with your frosting job of the sides and top, it's easy to wipe off any excess frosting from the shiny tinfoil, right up to the edges of the cake.  And for finer fixes, use your finger along the edge of the cake to carefully mold the frosting toward the cake and fine-tune your frosting to look more uniform on the edges.

Lastly, if you want to put fondant on your cake, then you'll have to look it up online.  I used fondant for my CTR letters and the border of the shield, and it was a whole new experience for me.  It was my 2nd time using fondant, and my first time using homemade (marshmallow) fondant, and first time using fondant on a cake.  I was sure pleased with the outcome.  And huge thanks to my mom who frosted the cake and helped me get the fondant down.  : )

*Someone once made a violin-shaped cake, and the neck of the violin made it too big for the oven.  My mom ran over to help her (the batter was already inside the cake pan before the lady realized the error) and they left the oven door open a bit so part of the cake was sticking out, and then tinfoiled the opening of the oven.  My mom can fix pretty much anything in a pinch!  So creative.
**I'm assuming you can't freehand the shape onto the cardboard.  If you can, great.  I can, but I still usually don't.  I either grid the cardboard (remember it will get covered with tinfoil later anyway) in pencil and then grid a smaller picture, OR I take my picture in a paint program or photoshop, and make it the size I want it (my current cake was 17x17 at the widest/tallest points).

Then I go in and cut out 8 1/2 x 11 parts of it, starting from left to right, and create individual "parts" of the picture and print them all off.  I then tape those parts together to make the size I want, trim the perimeter, and then use the large-ish paper copy to trace the shape onto the cardboard.

Plus, when I do it that way, I now have this large shape of my picture to use for frosting/fondant purposes.  I totally cut out the insides of mine to make my individual CTR letters and the shield border on this cake.  Please comment to me if you need more help in knowing how to do this part; I didn't think to take pictures of the process.

***UPDATE 6/19/14: I've been asked what "hot dog style" means. When I was growing up, if you folded a piece of paper in half so that it was longer than it was taller (folding over the 8 1/2 inch side on itself), it was called "hot dog style."  If you folded the paper over so that it was more like a blocky rectangle as opposed to a longer, skinny one (folding the 11 inch side over on itself), it was called "hamburger style."  I hope this explanation helps.