“They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums… drums in the deep. We cannot get out. A shadow lurks in the dark. We can not get out… they are coming.”
In my efforts to slowly but surely brainwash my nephew into being a geek, I’ve gradually been introducing him to Tolkien.
First, I gave him a copy of The Hobbit. Then I let him watch the first of the Lord of the Rings movies. I even agreed to watch with him the Rankin-Bass cartoon of The Hobbit. (It’s not as bad as I remembered. Peter Jackson could learn a thing or two about brevity from that adaptation.)
Then, for his latest birthday, his 10th, after clearing it with his parents, I went deep into the mines. I made him search for his presents, via a riddle game/scavenger hunt inspired by Bilbo and Gollum. My nephew had to solve one clue, which led him to the next clue, which led him to the next, which finally led him to his birthday prize: a fancy, illustrated hardcover edition of The Hobbit, and a Lego Mines of Moria set. A geek he is becoming.
The topper was this Mine of Moria-themed cake, which I managed to put together in about two hours. Making this monstrosity, about 12 by 18 inches in the end, was actually not that hard, and as you can see, I took some liberties with the canon. Think of the project as a (mostly) edible diorama. I wish I had taken photos of the cake in process, but alas.
Here’s how I did it:
1) Fair use? For me, I went with the Peter Jackson version, and kept my creation limited to the “Balin’s Tomb” room where the Fellowship is ambushed by orcs and takes on the cave troll. I refreshed my memory by downloading some images of the interior walls and that famous doorway that the orcs crash through. (New Line Cinema, is this fair use? Come get me.)
2) Print it: Once I found the images I wanted, I printed them on standard 8.5- by 11-inch paper. I also printed out an image I found of a three-volume Lord of the Rings book spine embossed with the Elvish Doors of Durin archway image, which I thought made a nice “gateway” to the cake.
3) Paper Fellowship: I printed out decent-quality images of the members of the Fellowship: Gimli, Frodo, Sam, Boromir, Legolas, Aragorn, and Gandalf (fool of a Took, I forgot Merry and Pippin), plus a cave troll and some orcs. Some of these were from the film; others were images of action figures. I tried to print them at the proper approximate scale so the humans were taller than hobbits and dwarves, and the troll was biggest of all. I suppose I could have also drawn them.
4) Cut it out: Using scissors, I cut out the figures and taped them to toothpicks.
5) Supermarket save: Here’s the shameful part — please don’t tell my nephew: I went to my local supermarket and purchased two unfrosted sheet cakes from the bakery department. Turns out they sell them that way (at least at my grocery store). The cakes came straight out of the freezer, which was actually a good thing, because cutting half-frozen sheet cake is easier and less crumbly than cutting a fully thawed cake.
6) Turn to stone: I bought some pre-made white frosting and mixed it at home with food color. I found that an equal mixture of blue, red and green created a nice stone gray color. Maybe I used a little more blue. Experiment to see what works for you.
7) Step up: I began with one sheet cake as the base. I cut a staircase into the cake. Then I cut another staircase.
8) Chisel and magic toothpick: From the other slab of cake, I began slicing out columns and other features. Using a paring knife, I found that I could actually “chisel” out some impressive detail. I added plinths and capitals (tops and bottoms) to the columns. I stuck them in place with toothpicks and affixed them to the surface of the cake.
9) Arch technique: My confidence building, I began to get fancy. I made an archway, and secured the arch to the surface of the cake using “super toothpicks” (4 toothpicks lashed together with Scotch tape). If I had wooden skewers, I would have used them instead. Needless to say, you need to remind the eventual cake eaters (young kids especially) to look out for the toothpicks before they take a bite.
10) It’s a tomb: I added more architectural features, more or less at random, using the remaining slabs of cake. I even made a tiny “Balin’s Tomb.” The leftover scrap pieces I scattered here and there; these were to be various stone ruins since, after all, the place was a ruin.
11) Awash in brilliance: Here was my most brilliant move. After frosting the surface with thick gray frosting, I realized that icing the smaller elements, especially the vertical surfaces, was going to be a pain. I was also running out of frosting. Here’s where inspiration struck. I watered down the frosting so it was a liquid slurry, and I painted it on with a pastry brush. Perfect. If I were to do it again, I’d “paint” the pieces before affixing them with toothpicks. But I was in a hurry.
12) Paper trail: I added the paper elements: the characters, the gateway (the door through which the orcs attack) and other paper elements. I took some of the bigger pictures, taped them together, and attached them to the back of the cake, to make a kind of theater backdrop. Some required cardboard reinforcement and cardboard legs to hold them up.
13) Frosting Bag(gins): I don’t have proper cake decorating tools. To write with the frosting, I filled a Ziploc bag with frosting, and cut out the corner with a pair of scissors. Voilà — a pastry bag. On the base, I wrote in frosting the words “Happy Birthday Jack … May you have many Moria.” It took him a while to get the joke. I also wrote a “10” on Balin’s Tomb. Yuk, yuk.
14) “We can not get out… they are coming”: Candles were lit, orcs stormed the party, and the cave troll bellowed. When enemy was defeated, the cake was safe to eat.
15) Backup cake: I had warned my nephew’s parents that perhaps Uncle Ethan wasn’t to come through with the cake, so they very smartly came up with their own backup cake (which tasted much better than my store-bought one). My nephew very quickly Mines of Moria-ed that cake. The paper characters and scenic elements are easily removed and repositioned.
And they call it a cake! A cake.
Let us know if you try a similar cake construction project and how it turns out.