How to Create a Safari Cake

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Copyright 2013 – Sweet Dreams Cake App/Michelle Davis – All Rights Reserved

I’ve been sharing my safari cake with you for the past couple of weeks. In my last post I explained how to bake jungle animal prints inside the cakes. Today I am going to talk about how I created some of the exterior elements. I’ll save the animal sculpting for next time but today I’ll talk about all the other pieces.

In case you forgot what the cake looked like as a whole, here it is:

Before I even started baking any of the cakes, I created all the 3D edible elements. I try to keep everything edible on my cakes; you won’t find plastic toys anywhere near them. I pride myself in this but when my kids were little they used to always complain to me about how they never got to have toys on their cakes like their friends. You just can’t win with kids! Anyway, I try to use modeling chocolate as much as possible because it is easy to work with and most everyone loves the taste. There are times, though, when modeling chocolate isn’t the best medium to use. If the cake is going to be in any sort of heat the chocolate will melt. Sometimes I need pieces to dry really hard so I have to use gumpaste. Also, if I want to paint with food coloring or use petal dust, fondant or gumpaste are sometimes a better option. You can still paint food coloring on chocolate but you need to mix it with some vegetable oil and it never really dries completely. You can also use petal dusts on it but they just seem to adhere nicer on fondant and gumpaste. Modeling chocolate can be purchased at cake supply stores or online. You can also make your own. Click here for a recipe for homemade modeling chocolate.

The Tree

The tree that topped my safari cake was created out of both modeling chocolate and rice krispy treats. When I made the RKT (rice krispy treats) I added some green food coloring to the melted marshmallows to turn the batch green.

I started by building an internal support structure. I try to keep everything as edible as possible on my cakes but when you are building 3D pieces you often have to use dowels and wires as supports or your elements will fall apart. I took a wooden dowel and cut it about 3” longer than the height of the tree. The additional length allowed the bottom of the dowel to stick out so that I could stick it into Styrofoam while working on it and eventually stick it into the cake. I then wrapped two pieces of 18 gauge floral wire around the dowel to support the branches of the tree. To hold these in place I covered them with a layer of hot glue.

When my supports were complete I wrapped a layer of rice krispy treats around the dowel to create the girth of the trunk. It is best to use RKT while they are still warm so they can be shaped and molded. If they cool too much you can stick them in the microwave for a few seconds to heat them back up. Also, once you shape them, you can stick them in the freezer to quickly firm the back up. I then covered the RKTs in a layer of brown modeling chocolate to finish the trunk.

For the branches, I rolled out some modeling chocolate into logs, leaving one end thicker than the other. I then slid the log over the wire and pressed the thicker end of the log against the trunk of the tree. Using a veining tool, I blended the branch and trunk together. I then used the veining tool to create lines in the chocolate to give the tree texture. I was way too haphazard with my lines and should have taken the time to give them more direction instead of just marking up the whole tree. Oh well, as with every cake, there are always things I wish I had done differently.

To finish off the tree, I shaped some RKTs into mounds and attached them to the branches and tree trunk with some melted chocolate. Whenever I work with chocolate I always keep some candy melts in a melting pot next to me so that I have melted chocolate whenever I need it to attach pieces.

The RKTs helped reduce some of the weight of the tree but it was still fairly heavy so when I placed it on the cake I inserted a couple of dowels into the cake, just underneath the trunk, as you would if you were adding an upper tier. This kept it from sinking into the cake as it sat.

The Sign

The sign was really easy to make. I started by just rolling out a piece of modeling chocolate and then pressing a wood board texture sheet on top of it, using a fondant smoother to apply even, firm pressure.

The resulting wood board indentions made it easy to cut out individual boards for the pieces of the sign. Using a long board for the base of the sign, I slid it onto a wire so that I could eventually stick it in the cake.

I then cut the additional boards smaller and trimmed their ends to make them pointed. I attached each of these boards to the base with a dab of melted chocolate. The writing was painted on by hand with a very fine paint brush and some white food coloring. Usually you have to mix your food coloring with vegetable oil before painting on chocolate but white coloring is already very liquid. I was able to use it directly without adding anything to it.

The Number Topper

My niece was turning six and she was very proud of how old she had become so I wanted to make sure and announce her age somewhere on the cake. Since I was placing bamboo in other places around the cake I thought it would look neat to keep the bamboo look on the top and create a big “6” out of it.

I had to use gumpaste to assure that the shape would hold up and not crack or become malformed. Whenever you create things out of gumpaste, be sure to give them 2-3 days to dry completely. The techniques I used to create the bamboo look are described below in the Bamboo section. Once I molded the bamboo shape I formed it into a “6” then stuck it on to a dowel, adding a dab of melted chocolate for glue.

Here is how it looked after brushing it with petal dust and adding some food coloring markings. See below for explanations on coloring the bamboo.

I placed it on some waxed paper, dusted with cornstarch, and let it dry for several days before I messed with it again.

Animal Prints

The animal prints really made this cake pop. I used a couple of different techniques to create the zebra and leopard prints on two separate cakes.

I didn’t take any pictures while I was applying the zebra stripes so I’ll just try to explain what I did. First, I rolled out some black fondant really thin then continued to thin it out by running it through my pasta roller. I then laid the fondant piece on a cutting mat and used a sharp knife to cut out individual zebra stripes. I didn’t use a pattern or anything, just free handed it. I carefully lifted the pieces onto the cake and smoothed them down with my fingers. They attached really easily but if I had any pieces that needed additional adhesive, I just brushed a little water underneath the stripe and that made sure it stayed in place. I didn’t place stripes in the area on top of the cake where the top tier would sit. It is best to keep your cake surface as smooth and flat as possible if you are going to be placing another cake on it.

The leopard print was made by hand painting the spots directly onto the cake. I had never painted leopard spots before so I started by doing a search on Youtube for an instructional video on painting leopard spots. Art videos and books are so helpful with cake decorating. I covered my cake with an ivory fondant then used a round paint brush and some warm brown food coloring, thinned with vodka, to paint large and small spots all over the cake. As with the zebra stripes, I didn’t paint any spots on the area where the top tier would set on top of the cake.

I then went back around to all the spots and used some black food coloring, also thinned with vodka, and painted the black outline. This is one of those times in painting when it is okay to have a shaky hand. You actually want to slightly wiggle your paint brush as you apply the black so that it doesn’t produce sharp lines. To keep it looking natural you also want to vary how much of the spot you enclose in the black. Some spots I completely wrapped in black, others I only partially wrapped.

I finished the print by adding some additional small black spots in between the larger spots. Again, you want these to be shaky so be sure to wiggle your brush as you paint.

The Bamboo

The bamboo was one of my favorite parts of the cake. I really loved the feel it gave to everything. When making the number 6 topper and the row of stalks around the base, I used gumpaste, but for the borders I just used fondant since I wanted to the cake to be easy to cut and I also wanted to bend it around the cake after coloring it and I was afraid gumpaste would dry too much and crack. It was definitely easier to mold and color the pieces that were made from the gumpaste, especially since the fondant ones tended to stretch and lose their shape a little as I unmolded them. They worked out just fine though since they were just borders and weren’t a real visible part of the cake.

I found some bamboo molds on Etsy and really loved them. The neat thing about these molds is that the seller also posted a Youtube video on how to use them and how to realistically color your bamboo. In the video she makes green bamboo but I wanted mine to be more yellowish so I did my coloring a bit different.

To mold the bamboo, I colored some gumpaste a pale golden yellow then rolled it into a log about the width and length of the mold. I then firmly pressed the log into the mold. You can see this done in the Youtube video. After flipping the mold upside down I carefully pressed on top of it to release the gumpaste, starting at one end and working down the length of the bamboo. For the pieces I was going to place around the base of the cake, I immediately cut them into varying lengths and allowed them to set and dry. The fondant border pieces I colored immediately then places around the cake, attaching with some water.

To color the pieces, I started by using a flat brush and some cocoa colored petal dust (you could also just use cocoa powder). I laid the tip of the brush on the segment line of the bamboo then brushed downward. You have to be careful not to get too much dust on your brush or it gets too dark on the bamboo. If you do apply it too heavy you can keep brushing over it to help spread it and remove some of it.

I then went over each of the segment lines with a round brush and a darker brown petal dust. This made the segment lines really stand out.

I finished them off by mixing some of the dark brown petal dust with some vodka and using a fine brush to paint a thin line on each segment. I also added some random markings along the length of the bamboo as you can see in the bottom bamboo piece in the picture.

When the base bamboo pieces had completely dried, I attached them to my baseboard (which is just a 2″ cake dummy covered in fondant) using melted chocolate.

The Leaves

The final thing I’ll talk about today is the jungle leaves on the sides of the cake.

These I made by coloring fondant three different shades of greens. I rolled out the fondant very thin then used my rose leaf cutters, both a large and smaller one, to cut out leaf shapes. I then placed each leaf in my leaf veiner to add the veins.

Jungle leaves are much more jagged than rose leaves so I took a knife and cut additional pieces out of each leaf to give it a more rugged look. I then attached them to the cake with some water, placing larger leaves in the back and smaller ones in the front.

My favorite was the mound on the left side of the cake since I had the giraffe eating from them.

There! I’ve covered a whole bunch today and my brain is now fried from trying to remember everything. I hope it all makes sense. If you have any questions always feel free to post them in the comments and I will be happy to answer them.

Next time I’ll talk about animal sculpting.

Until then, God Bless and Sweet Dreams.

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  1. Hi, How many days in advance do I need to make the animals? For the cakes, how many days before the party did you bake them? When you assembled the cake did you use dowles to support the cake? How did you transport the cake? Sorry for all the question.

    1. Hi Linda,
      The animals really just need to dry overnight before you need them but they take a while to make so you want to allow yourself enough time to make them. I usually like to make pieces like that the week before I need them so that I can just focus on the cake the week I am making it but that is just me. I am a slow worker and have limited time for working on cakes so I try to give myself plenty of time to get things done. If the cakes are for a Saturday party I will usually bake them on Tuesday or Wednesday and then spend the rest of the week decorating. Yes, I did use dowels. I used dowels for each tier and then I also used one long dowel that went through the center of all of them. I had a hole cut out in the bottom of the cake board of my top tier so that I could just slide that layer onto the main dowel and not put a hole in the top of my cake from it. It was really sturdy with the dowels so I transported it all assembled. I refrigerated it well the night before and then delivered it all assembled. I had to travel over an hour and the only problem I had was it was a hot day and my air conditioning went out in my car so the rice krispy treat on the tree started warming up and some of the leaves started to break off. Once I got up to where the party was located, in the mountains, it was cooler and I reformed the leaves and they stayed together for the party. I don’t recommend using chocolate or RKTs if your cake will be in a warm environment since they tend to melt. In that case I would use fondant or gumpaste. Oh, one more tip, if you refrigerate your cake with the chocolate pieces on it make sure to cover the chocolate pieces with some plastic wrap then allow the cake to come back to room temp before removing the plastic wrap. This prevents condensation from forming on the pieces. Hope that helps.

  2. Bravo Michelle………..If I were Ellie…I would b in 7th Heaven…You have put so much thought into the cake…God Bless

  3. Bravo Michelle…………………If I were Ellie…I would be in 7th Heaven ….you have put so much effort on the cake….and the detailing is brilliant..Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      I am so sorry but I am just now seeing this question. There were a few weeks where I wasn’t notified of questions that were posted so I missed several of them. I am so sorry. I am doing some back checking right now and just discovered this.
      Anyway, to answer your question, it doesn’t get totally dry to the touch. It dries but still stays a little tacky. When I was placing the giraffe tier on the bottom tier I had to be careful so that I wouldn’t smear the print.

    1. Hi Madison, I’m sorry but I have no idea really. I don’t do cakes for profit so I don’t keep track of my costs.

  4. Thanks so much for the inside and outside leopard cake pictures and instructions. I followed your instructions and now have the most amazing 16th birthday cake for my bf’s grand-daughter. 🙂 Bookmarked this site for future

  5. Thanks so much for the inside and outside pictures and instruction for the leopard cake. I now have the most amazing birthday cake to give my bf’s grand-daughter. Bookmarked your page. 😀

  6. I am learning how to make figures, and I started with the elephant. He is coming along just fine. I have him almost finished. I am really enjoying this. I love the animals, and they are not really hard if looking at the pictures as you go. I checked myself with each instruction and tried to match everything. You did not talk anything about the size of these figures. Do you do a specific size for the animals?

    1. Hi Mary,
      The sizes are really up to you and how tall your cakes are and how big you want your animals to be. My cakes are usually around 5″ tall after covered in fondant so I would guess my animals were somewhere between 3 /12 – 4 inches tall. It has been a while since I made this cake so I don’t recall exactly.

  7. Great instructional post! I just made the leopard print cakes tonight (they’re still in the oven, so fingers crossed they come out right!) I tried to judge taking a third out of my second batch of yellow cake, and still ended up with not enough yellow, so I ended up running out to the store mid-process. I had originally used Duncan Hines yellow cake mix, but the drugstore where I bought my emergency third box of cake mix only sold Betty Crocker. It seemed like the Betty Crocker mix was thicker than the Duncan Hines. I might just try a pound cake recipe next time, as that batter is already super thick. I feel like light and dark brown chocolate batters were a good thickness, but the plain yellow batter was still too thin.

  8. Hi dear
    I don’t know you
    But I appreciate from you hearty,
    I use your directions for my madagascar tree and I succeeded to make it perfect,
    Thank you so much
    And I wish the best for you.

  9. I just came upon your tutorial on How to create a safari cake. Your cake is absolutely gorgeous. I realize that you posted this 2 years ago, but I am hoping you can answer a few questions. I am a beginner.
    I have never made a tiered cake before. Do the second and third tiers sit right on the lower cake or is there one of those cardboard plates underneath.
    I don’t like the taste of fondant so I won’t be using it. That is why I wanted to try modeling chocolate for the animals. I want to keep everything edible.
    I will be frosting the cakes with buttercream icing. Is there any way I can paint on those leopard spots if I let the icing dry. Why do you thin the food coloring? And why with Vodka? Would it work if I used petal dust? And what about the zebra stripes.
    I will definitely be trying the animal prints on the inside of the cake. Even if they don’t turn out right, they will still be edible. What a great idea. I’m really excited about trying all these new techniques.
    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and talent with everyone.

    1. Hi Danielle,
      Whenever you stack tiered cakes you need both cake boards and dowels to support the upper tiers. You can do a search for tutorials on how to stack tiered cakes and that will give you all the info on how to do it and how many dowels you need for the size cake and all that.
      As for painting on buttercream, I have never done it but I have read that it can be done. I would make sure you use a buttercream that is either a crusting buttercream or one that has lots of butter in it and make sure it is well chilled so the butter gets very hard.
      I thin the food coloring because it is to clumpy as is. I use vodka or ever clear because they have high alcohol contents and evaporate quickly so that you aren’t adding water on to the cake and causing it to run. I don’t see why you couldn’t use petal dust as well.
      As for the zebra stripes, you might consider using fondant just for these. Ice your cake in white buttercream but then roll out thin strips of black fondant and cut out the stripes and lay them on the cake. They can easily be lifted off if you don’t want to eat them.
      Hope that helps. Good luck to you!
      Happy Baking and God bless!!

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  11. Making a rainforest cake for my grandsons birthday and want a freestanding tree beside the cake. Do you think , since your tree is so “thick” and if I made it from gumpaste, that it would stand on its own?

    1. Hi Gina. It might be ok because it is so thick. I would probably be a little nervous myself though just because it is also tall and could end up being top heavy. I think it will have to be your call if you want to try it. I don’t know that I would be comfortable leaving it free standing myself, but I also tend to err on the side of caution. Good luck to you!

  12. Hi Michelle!
    This cake is beyond amazing and looks so stunning! I know you’ve posted this a few years back but was wondering if I could still ask a question on how you stacked the tiers. I noticed the tiers are a bit off centre to fit the animals at the front. Could I please ask how you stacked them to give room at the front for the animals?
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa. Thank you for the compliment! I stacked them just like I would a center stacked cake but I positioned everything toward the back of each cake so the dowel rods are inserted evenly over the area that the top cake will set on. I also add one long dowel rod that goes through all three of them. I hope that makes sense. Happy Baking!

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