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The T-Rex Project

Disclaimer! I'm a Chef, not a “Cake Boss.” I consider things like this to be kind of like a sprig of parsley on a plate. While technically edible, no one eats it. So it's basically a garnish if you will. A very large, very expensive, sprig of parsley.

My Niece asked me to do a dinosaur themed birthday cake for her 4 year old daughter. Well, if you know me you know that I'm no slouch when it comes to baking desserts and decorating cakes but, this was entering into uncharted territory. She messages me this photo of a cake with a dinosaur sculpted from rice krispys and fondant.

In my humble opinion, the dino sculpture in the photo looked kinda like and angular lump.

So begins the “T Rex Project.” I've done one other sculpture in my entire lifetime. It was in 1988. I was at The Culinary Institute of America. I sculpted our pet parrot out of salt dough and I've enrobed a few cakes in modeling chocolate. Easy peasy compared to the challenge I'd accepted. So, I checked out the internet for video tutorials, photo essays and drawings and museum photos. I still made some mistakes, (mostly in spacing) that will become all too apparent in the final product. Modeling chocolate is somewhat forgiving and adds strength to the structure as well but, as with anything, it has it's drawbacks.

For the armature I used ½ inch PVC and since this will technically be an edible center piece the pipe is held together by friction only. One of the issues I saw in the videos and photos was the artists, while in mid sculpt, needed to add additional support towards the front of the beast and then try to camouflage another piece of PVC in the middle of their sculpture. I remedied that by anchoring the tail by repositioning and what would eventually be a eye screw and hook. I drilled a hole through to put a double strand of galvanized steel wire through for the arms and attached steel flanges to the base to hold the legs in place.

One of the tutorials I watched suggested melting marshmallow and applying it to the PVC to assist the rice mix to stick to it. I did this and found it helpful however, melted marshmallow as well as the rice krispies treats them selves have, what I found, to be a “sweet zone” where it's just warm enough to be sticky but not warm enough to simply slough off and the time between the two is short. Even still, I had problems keeping the belly from dropping off until I got the first of the chocolate wrapped around the belly. It was then that I noticed the weight of the chocolate on the one end and the rice krispies on the other end that the tail section was coming apart at the T and collapsing. A quick repair, a temporary support, and slap some chocolate on it and that solved that issue.

T Rex was pretty stable at this point in time but I wasn't taking any chances. There was still a lot of work to do so I left the temporary support in place till I was ready to finish the underbelly. Some of the tutorials referred to the modeling chocolate as chocolate clay. There's a big difference between actual clay and modeling chocolate. Clay smears and spreads much nicer than modeling chocolate. I ended up rolling out pieces of chocolate into sheets and wrapping it around the base. At this point I should tell you, my only sculpting tools were, my hands, a spoon, a butter knife and a chopstick. I found it difficult and at times absolutely impossible to blend the chocolate at the seams. This is where I decided to use the blunt end of a chopstick to texture the beast in order to hide most of the flaws. It was time consuming but it worked really well.

I used rolled fondant for the eyes, inside of mouth and teeth. I found a bunch of interesting things at the local craft store for projects like this. For example, edible adhesive, edible dust. Whoda thunk it? I used the edible adhesive to attach the teeth and claws on the arms. Covered the base board with plain icing and ground up chocolate chip cookies before adding the feet and finishing the tail.

At this point in time he's looking pretty bad ass! That's right. All the texturing was done with the blunt end of a single chopstick.

So far so good. Now to add the cake to the project. This is where my main failure made itself known. I'm sure there's some mathmatical equation of Height X Length X Cake X Difficulty = Y kinda thing but I'm not familiar with it.

While the plan was to make the T Rex look like he was coveting the cake there wasn't adequate space to assemble and finish decorating the cake so it's kinda messed up. I'm sure the 4 year old birthday girl didn't mind, but I did. The client, (my niece) had requested a party hat for the Rex so that was made of fondant. She also requested butter cream icing on the cake and NOT be covered with fondant, which I was happy to oblige, however I did make the polka dots out of fondant. While I didn't have far to go it was with-in the city with egregious pot holes the T Rex traveled quit well and was very stable.

To cover the PVC armature I used 24 cups of rice krispies, 12 oz. of butter, 2.5 lbs. (4, 10 oz. bags) of marshmallows. Your basic rice krispies treats recipe quadrupled. I also used 4.5 lbs. Of chocolate and 1(one) and 3/4 cups corn syrup for the modeling chocolate.

Eat well and sculpt my friends! :)

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