October 11, 2008

Robot Baby Cake

Barbara Jo made this creepy robot baby cake for our little friend Isaac's second birthday party. Nobody requested this, she came up with this one on her own.
Watch the robot baby kicking on YouTube
...and it's sound-activated!

My little friend Isaac has a room entirely decorated with space robots (plus the giant stuffed spider I made him when he was born, which sort of fits in with the decor if you assume it's a giant stuffed SPACE spider.) His wall is covered with framed robot pictures, intermingled with illustrations from children's books about space travel from the 1950's; the hooks on his door are made of wooden stacking robot toys; and the wall over his crib reads "Blast Off!" His mom even turned his diaper pail into DiaperBot! He lives to serve humanity and devour and vaporize our dirty diapers. At least until he rebels against his human masters and destroys us all. And after a few months of eating diapers, who can blame him?

So when it came time to make Isaac's second birthday cake, what could be more appropriate than a robot cake? And naturally a robot cake ought to do more than lie there like a pile of hardware. It ought to do something. But what? Unfortunately I don't know anything at all about robotics, in spite of having taking a brief Kinetic Art class, in which we made a vibrating spider out of a motor, a paper clip, and an Altoids tin. So I turned where everyone turns when they need robot construction kits - the internet. I purchased two - one for a line-following snail robot and one for a sound-activated walking robot (clap once, it starts walking; clap again, it stops walking.)

As it turns out, robot kits supplied by the internet are really lame. First of all, they teach you absolutely nothing about robotics. The circuit boards are pre-assembled, so all the "assembly" that I got to do involved zip-ties and plastic pop-rivets. Not really very educational. Also, the snail robot couldn't carry even so much as a cupcake, so it was essentially useless to me. The walking robot, however, had more potential. It clearly wasn't strong enough to make the entire cake walk (which would have been cool) but, by laying the robot on its back I was able to achieve a nice kicking and flailing motion. "Aha!" I said to myself, "I can make that look like a newborn baby robot, lying on its back and kicking its adorable little aluminum arms and legs !" Some of you might be tempted to argue that a newborn baby robot cake might be more appropriate for a party for, say, a newborn baby, as opposed to a party for a two-year-old. Well, you're right, but I didn't have time to learn how to make a toddling robot, so a newborn baby robot was really my only choice.

First I created a dowel framework that would support the body of the robot while leaving the legs free to flail. Then I rolled out a big sheet of gum paste, to be cut into the various metal plates. Once the gum paste dried enough to be rigid, but not enough to make it impossible to cut, I cut out arms, legs, hands, and feet and attached them to the robot's little legs with a bit of royal icing.

Barbara May (ably assisted by her two-year-old son) kindly baked the cake for me. I started out with two 9" square cakes, which I cut up and reassembled into a small body section, to be mounted on top of the robot base, and a head, to sit adjacent to the robotic body. I covered both of these with a layer of fondant (which actually took a couple of tries - the first time out I made both the body and the head too big, so I had to peel the fondant off, recarve the cakes, and recover them) and mounted them in the appropriate places on the cake board.

In order to hide at least the majority of the plastic robot mechanism, I cut rectangles of gum paste and assembled them around the cake and the base of the robot. I wish that I had thought to make the body of the robot more human and anatomical because then I could have made it kind of a Matrix-style cyborg-y baby trapped in a metal cocoon, but I didn't think of that until it was too late. I also made a face plate and mouth plate to put on the head, along with a little pair of circular ears.

At this point, it was about 1:00 in the morning on the day of the party (I got a really late start on this cake - sorry, Isaac!), so I was really rushing to add all the additional details. As a result, I was unfortunately unable to put as much care and detail in as I would have liked, and I also didn't have time to let the gum paste tubing dry sufficiently so it turned out pretty wilted. The cake did end up with an interesting steam punk vibe about it though, with all the royal icing rivets. I confess that I couldn't resist adding a little gum paste belly button rivet and two subtle little gum paste testicles. Evidently no one noticed, because no one at the party commented on it, which is probably just as well, since it was a pretty juvenile thing to do.

In retrospect, maybe I should have left the cake white rather than painting it, because it looked a lot cleaner unpainted, but I suppose that might have made it seem unfinished. I was going to paint the entire thing silver, but I didn't have enough silver luster dust (I was using luster duster dissolved in gin, because I didn't have any vodka [alcohol works better than water because it dries faster due to the alcohol content.] If you're thinking I was totally unprepared for this cake project, you're right - sorry again, Isaac.) so I painted the outer plates silver and the inner "skin" areas gold. It still looked a little too monochromatic, so I added some shiny blue and red accents.

At this point I realized that my cake seemed to be leaking brown sugary goo. I had refrigerated and thawed the cakes a few times over the course of the day, because cold cakes are firmer for carving and fondant smoothing. As I said earlier, I messed up the fondant covering, so there were several trips in and out of the refrigerator. Apparently in my refrigerator this generates humidity or something and breaks down the icing enough to cause the cake to leak, slowly but continuously. Well, now I know not to do that again. Fortunately, in this case, it wasn't that bad. The leakage didn't get anywhere near the electronics, so it didn't interfere with the robot's functionality. In fact, the little trickle emerging from the corner of the head looked like an oil leak, so it basically worked with the overall concept.

The cake was a hit at the party, especially with my 2-and-a-half-year-old nephew, who enjoyed clapping it on and off. Later in the party, he inadvertently turned the cake on by shrieking in rage that he was not permitted to play with the birthday boy's new toys (because the birthday boy was currently playing with them himself.) I think we all know what that frustration feels like. We left the party early.

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  • Oh my god, I LOVE you. My husband showed me your police box cake and I was excited to see what else you had so I clicked on robot baby. It KILLS. I am leaving this post before I see what else is out there so I don't know what else I will find, but you rock.

    By Blogger Dolly Smith, At September 14, 2009 at 6:35 PM  

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