Sculpting Jungle Animals Out of Modeling Chocolate

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I’ve been on vacation for the last two weeks with my family in Florida. Part of our trip was spent taking in the rides at each of the Disneyworld theme parks. Animal Kingdom has always been my least favorite of the four parks that make up Disneyworld but this trip I had a completely different attitude about it. After spending all the time working on my niece’s safari cake, before the trip, I developed a new appreciation for jungle animals. My eyes were suddenly opened to every little detail and feature of all the exotic animals as we traveled through the “African savanna” on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. I couldn’t help but continuously think about what an amazing, and often hilarious, job God did in creating each unique creature on this earth. And what must Adam have thought as he was presented each creature and asked to name it? Today we are going to look a little closer at some of the unique wildlife of the jungle as I teach you how to make each of the animals I made for my niece’s cake.

I took a lot of pictures as I went along so I am going to share those pictures and do the best I can to explain what I did in each step. If you are looking for instructions on a specific animal and don’t want to have to scroll down through the whole thing, you can click on one of the animal links below and you will be taken directly to that section.


If you want more pictures of the original cake, click here.
For information on baking animal prints inside a cake, click here.
For information on how to make other features that were on the safari cake, click here.

The Basics

Before I begin, let me cover I few basic things that I did with all the animals. First, I used modeling chocolate to create each of these animals. You can buy modeling chocolate at cake supply stores and online or you can make your own. Be sure to knead your chocolate before using it so that it is pliable and easy to work with. If it starts to get too warm while you are using it, just set it aside for a little while and allow it to cool or place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. You can also use fondant or gumpaste but I prefer to use modeling chocolate whenever possible because I like how easy it is to work with and it tastes really good. It is also very easy to color; just add a drop of gel or paste food coloring and knead it in. Add additional drops until you get the intensity you desire. I usually coat my hands in a small amount of shortening before doing this. That helps the food coloring come off your hands more easily. I know some people wear disposable gloves but I personally don’t like using them.

When attaching pieces of modeling chocolate together I use different adhesives, depending on how heavy the pieces are that need to be attached to one another. If I am just placing a thin piece on to another piece, I can often get away with just gently pressing it on. Sometimes the heat from my hands will cause it to melt just enough to stick to the other piece. If I need a little more to secure it, I may use a small bit of water. I usually just take a paint brush and brush on a very light amount then stick the pieces together.

The adhesive I like to use the most is piping gel. It is thicker, so it holds pieces that are a bit heavier and it grabs on to the piece to hold it in place better. As with the water, you don’t want to apply too much or it will just smear everywhere. The other advantage of piping gel is that it is clear so, even if it does smear a little, you won’t see it.

If I have a really heavy piece to attach then I use melted chocolate. I always keep a variety of colored candy melts on hand so that I can try to match the melted chocolate to the color of the piece I’m working on, making it less visible if any of it smears out. If I need a lot of melted chocolate I will keep it warmed up in a melting pot next to me while I am working. Otherwise I just place a disk or two in a plastic paint tray and pop it in the microwave. Check on it after about 20 seconds or so and use a toothpick to stir it every few seconds until it is as thin as you would like. When you go to use it just apply it with a toothpick then attach your pieces. You will want to hold them together for about 30 seconds or so, until they have set up. They will continue to get stronger as the piece sets and the chocolate cools. If you need the chocolate to cool even faster, place your piece in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes.

To blend the seams when I attach pieces together, I use the curved end of my PME quilting tool and slide it down over the seam a few times to meld the chocolate together. I also use my fingers. The heat from my hand will cause the chocolate to melt slightly and blend together as I rub my fingers over it. Keep in mind that this will thin out the point where the seam is though. To compensate for that I sometimes make attaching piece slightly thicker at the seam so that I have excess chocolate there to blend into the other piece.

Another thing I like to have on hand when working with modeling chocolate is clay sculpting books. The techniques for sculpting in clay can often be used with chocolate as well. I especially like books written for children because I am not a natural artist by any means. This is the reference book I used to give me some ideas on a few of the animals for this cake.

The final tip is to use Styrofoam. I use it both for sticking skewers in when I am sculpting pieces that are standing or need extra support (as with the giraffe) as well as a place to dry pieces that are going to be hanging off the cake (as with the tiger.) It is always nice if you have Styrofoam cake dummies that are the same size as the cake you are making because then you can set your pieces on them and make sure they are going to fit properly on your cake. You can see in the picture below how I used my cake dummies to check the size and positions of my animals.

Now let’s get started!

The Elephant

I started by coloring some chocolate grey, with a small dab of black food coloring, and rolling a ball into an egg shape. I then pressed it down on the surface so that it sat flat.

Next I added two logs for legs, leaving plenty of space between them, and blended them in to the body.

When making arms or legs it helps to just roll out one log and cut it in half on a diagonal. This helps you keep them the same width and the slanted end makes it easier to attach them to the body. I did this for both the legs and arms.

The arms, once attached.

The head started out as a ball then I kept placing pressure on one end and rolling it on the table to bring out the long trunk.

When attaching heads to bodies it often helps to place a piece of uncooked spaghetti in the body and add a little melted chocolate to it so that you can slide the head on it and hold it all in place. With the head in place, I bent the trunk to give it some movement and used the end of my quilting tool to press against it and leave indentions. I also took a wooden dowel and pressed it into the end of the trunk to make it look hollow inside.

I used a small ball tool to press indentions where the eyes would go.

For the tail, I rolled out a long log of chocolate and attached it to the back of the elephant. I then attached a small ball to the end of the log and used sharp scissors to cut it and give it a bushy look.

For the ears, I started by rolling a slab of chocolate thicker on one end and thinner on the other.

I cut the end with a razor blade then used a round cutter to cut out two ears.

I then took my fingers and pressed the ears to thin them out and shape them.

When attaching them to the head I used a couple pieces of dry spaghetti for support, then added some piping gel and used my quilting tool to blend them in. You can see that I also added some white fondant eyes at this point. I like to use fondant for eyes because it is easier to paint on and makes a nicer surface for painting pupils.

To finish him up, I painted on some pupils with food coloring mixed with vodka and added some more wrinkles and toe indentions with the end of my quilting tool. I placed him on my cake dummy to make sure I had him positioned properly then allowed him to dry for several days.

The Giraffe

The giraffe was my favorite, but also the most difficult, of all the animals because he had to stand on long skinny legs. I try make everything on my cakes as edible as possible but sometimes you have to use skewers and/or wires for certain structural supports. In this case, I cut down four wooden skewers and stuck them in a block of Styrofoam. I then took a ball of golden-yellow chocolate, rolled it so that it was oval shaped, then pressed it in position on the legs. You will notice that the butt end (the left side) is slightly lower than the other end because giraffe bodies are slightly sloped.

For the legs I rolled out two logs (you only see one in the picture), cut them in half then used my razor blade to cut lengthwise about half way down into the log.

I then temporarily removed the body from the skewers and laid each skewer inside the slit of the log and pressed the chocolate around the skewer. I rolled it to smooth it out all around the leg.

For the feet, I took small balls of brown chocolate, rolled them oblong then slid them up the skewer and onto the leg.

When all four legs were complete, I put them back in place in their holes in the Styrofoam, added some melted chocolate to the tops of them and then repositioned the body back on top.

I used the quilting tool to blend in the seams.

The neck is long so it also needs support. I started by rolling out a long log, making it thinner as it got to the top, and cutting the ends of it with a razor blade. I stuck a piece of dry spaghetti through the center of it, leaving excess coming out of both ends. I then added some melted chocolate and positioned it in place on the body, blending it in.

I trimmed the top of the spaghetti so that it wouldn’t stick out higher than the head. For the head I rolled a ball of chocolate, placing pressure on one end to thin it out and make a raindrop shape. I attached it on to the piece of spaghetti with some melted chocolate.

I then used my fingers to press small indentions into the sides of the nose to shape it more.

With an X-Acto knife I cut the mouth horizontally and separated the top jaw from the bottom.

I added some nostrils with the pointed end of a gumpaste tool. I used that same tool to continue to shape the mouth.

The eyes were two balls added on top of the head. Notice that they stick out, unlike the indented eyes in the rest of the animals. The ossicones (do you like that fancy word for horns?) are two small logs with small chocolate balls on the end. Even though they are small I used some melted chocolate to hold them in place because they kept moving around on me. The ears were made in a similar way as the elephant ears but they are much smaller and I cut out triangles instead of circles. They are positioned on the sides of the head, almost horizontally.

The tail is another long log with a pointy log of brown chocolate on the end.

To make the mane, I rolled out some brown chocolate and trimmed the end flat, making sure it was long enough to cover the length of the neck.

I then cut it out and used my fingers to pinch the top of it and thin it out.

With my sharp scissors I cut lots of slits to look like hair. Notice I was careful not to cut too deep or it would break the strip apart.

I painted a line of piping gel down the neck then positioned it in place.

The last step was painting on the spots and pupils. I’ve found that the best paint for modeling chocolate is petal dust mixed with a dab of vegetable oil. You can also mix some gel or paste food color with vegetable oil. I mixed the color then used a paint brush to add the details.

The Lion

The lion starts out with a ball of yellow chocolate rolled into a cone shape and pressed against the surface to create a flat bottom.

Front legs are made by rolling out a long log then cutting it in half.

They are attached to the front of the body, along with a ball for a head. A piece of dry spaghetti serves as a support for the head.

The nose is made by rolling out a small log then cutting the end of it with an X-Acto knife so that it is flat.

Attach it on the head ,with the flat end on the bottom, blending it in to the face. Add two white balls and a cone shaped white beard.

To make the ears. Take a small yellow ball, flatten it, then use a ball tool to make an indention in the center.

Cut the end of it flat.

Then attach to the top of the head. Use the ball tool to make indentions for the eye holes as well.

Use the quilting tool to make indentions for the toes.

The mane is made by adding orange mounds on the head. Start at the back.

Work around to the front.

Use the quilting tool to add movement in the mane.

Add another layer of smaller mounds on top of the bottom layer.

Add some white fondant eyeballs then paint on black pupils with black gel food coloring mixed with vodka. A small, flattened black ball finishes off the tip of the nose.

The back legs are made by rolling out a long log, bending the end of it so the leg bends down, and using the quilting tool to add some indentions where the bend occurs. Cut the piece at the point where it will attach to the body.

Attach the leg on to the body then use the quilting tool to add some toes and indentions on the legs.

Finally, add a tail by rolling out a long log, attaching it to the back of the lion and then adding an orange cone to the end of the tail. Use the quilting tool again to give some movement lines to the tail end.

Here is my finished lion. You will notice in the picture from the cake that I later decided his mane needed more color so I brushed on some brown petal dust to give it more depth.

The Monkey

I am embarrassed to tell you this but the whole time I was creating the monkey I kept envisioning David Hasselhoff, especially those infamous pictures of him eating the hamburger while he was drunk. Sadly, that was my inspiration for this little guy.

I began with an oval ball of brown chocolate and laid it on its side. I stuck a piece of dry spaghetti into the body to support the head.

Because of the way it was positioned, I had to use melted chocolate to attach the head and I used a scrap piece of modeling chocolate to hold it in place until it was dry.

I then blended it at the neck and added some logs for arms, bending them into shape once they were attached. The legs were made the same way. Notice that I slid the leg underneath the body. You have to make sure it is cut at an angle to be able to do this. I also used the quilting tool to add some indentions at the bends in the legs.

The nose was made by coloring some chocolate an very light brown then rolling it into an oval and cutting it lengthwise.

I then attached it to the face and used the quilting tool to indent a mouth.

Two flattened balls are added to create the monkey’s mask.

Another ball is attached for the nose and the pointed end of the quilting tool creates nostrils.

For the ears I flattened out a small ball of chocolate then used a #10 tip (I think that was what it was, I can’t remember the exact size) to cut out a circle.

I trimmed the end flat

Then attached it to the head. I used the ball tool to make indentions for the eye holes.

I then added small balls of white fondant for the eyeballs and painted pupils on them with black food coloring mixed with vodka.

The hands and feet were made by flattening out balls of chocolate and using an X-Acto knife to cut in fingers and toes.

I then attached them to the arms and legs.

The hair was created using a toothpick.

Here is the finished David Hasselfhoff, er, I mean, monkey.

The Tiger

Although I’ve listed the tiger last in this tutorial, he was actually the most important animal on the cake because tigers are my niece’s favorite jungle animal. I had to make sure he was positioned at the top of the cake and was detailed enough to be an attention grabber. I was really happy with how he turned out.

I began by rolling out a long, orange, log shape for the body and attaching a ball to it for the head, blending in the seams with the quilting tool.

Next I ran some white fondant through my pasta roller to get it very thin. (If you don’t have a pasta roller just roll out your piece very thin.) From this piece I cut out the underbelly of the tiger. Notice that the sides are angled so that one end is smaller than the other.

I positioned it on the tiger, with the smaller end pressed up against the head and the larger end wrapped underneath his body.

The nose was made by rolling out a small log and cutting it in a diagonal with a razor blade.

I then attached it to the head, along with two yellow balls and a white cone shaped beard.

Using some more thinned out fondant, I cut out two circles with a #12 tip and positioned them in the eye region.

With the ball tool, I made indentions for the eye balls.

I then added two small balls of lime green chocolate for the eyeballs and a small flattened ball of brown chocolate at the end of the nose.

For the ears, I rolled out a small log and cut it in half at an angle.

I used a gumpaste tool to make indentions in it

Then attached it to the top of the head.

As with all the other animals, I rolled out logs for the legs, cut them in half and attached to the body. I had to be real careful with positioning since the tiger was laying on his side. I positioned the back legs so that they would look like they were partially underneath the lion. The toes were made by attaching white paws to the ends of the legs and then pressing a toothpick into the paw to make toe indentions.

The tail was a long rope with a small black ball added to the end of it. I forgot to take pictures while I created the beard but it was done basically the same way I made the mane of the giraffe. The only difference was that I rolled it out even thinner and, after attaching it to the face, I took a toothpick and moved the hairs so that they had more separation in between them and some were positioned more forward while others were more toward the back. I also used the toothpick to help attach the beard on the head. I started by applying a thin layer of piping gel, then held the beard in place and used the toothpick to press the edge of it into the head to get it to stay. You can just barely see all the little dots at the base of the beard from the toothpick indentions.

To finish him up I painted on stripes and pupils with a fine paint brush and some black petal dust mixed with vegetable oil. The vegetable oil never really dries completely so you have to remember to be very careful when handling the tiger and giraffe or you will get food coloring all over your hands and on to other things you touch.

As I worked on the tiger, I kept him on the edge of a cake dummy so that I could create him to look like he was laying on the edge of the cake. The cake dummy helped me get his legs positioned correctly to look like they were dangling from the side. When I was done I allowed him to dry on the cake dummy until it was time to place him on the real cake.

Whew! If you stuck with me through this whole thing then I applaud you! I hope these instrctions have been helpful. If you make them for your own cakes, be sure to post a picture of your work on my Facebook wall. I love to see your creations.

Until next time, God Bless and Sweet Dreams.

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    1. Thanks Paula! I really should have broken it up into multiple blog entries but this was my fourth post on things relating to that jungle cake and I figured everyone was probably getting tired of seeing it so I’d just cram it all into one and move on. Ha!

    1. Hi Linda. They vary in size a little but they are right around 3″. You can see a picture of them on the final cake here:
      Each of the tiers on the cake was 4″ tall so that should give you an idea. The elephant and lion were about 3″. The giraffe was probably 4 1/2″. The lion and monkey were laying down so it is a little harder to determine their exact length but you can probably guess from the pictures. I hope that helps.

  1. Hi, How many days in advance do you make the animals? How many days in advance do you make the cakes and cover them?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Linda,
      It all really depends on your how much time you need to do things. The animals really only need about a day to dry but they can take a while to make so you need to allow time to make them. I am a slow worker and I only have short segments of time to work on cakes with my busy schedule so I started the animals a couple weeks before I needed them and worked on them as I had time. The only things that really need some extended time to dry are gumpaste pieces. I usually like to allow gumpaste about 3 days to dry solid. As for the cakes, I usually bake them one day and then refrigerate them overnight and cover them in fondant the next day. Sometimes I will start decorating them the same day I cover them and other times I will decorate them the following day, all depends on my schedule. I hope that helps.

  2. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your website and blog. I am new to baking/decorating and enjoying discovering tutorials, etc. I am about to embark on a safari baby shower cake and found your tutorial very helpful…wish me luck! I also am excited about using the modeling chocolate from your recipe to make the animals and palm tree…. 🙂

    Thank you again!


    1. Thank you so much Elizabeth! It is so nice to know that my tutorials are helpful. I love sharing with people so it is nice to know that my time and effort is appreciated. I am so excited for you as you embark on your baby shower cake. I hope it all goes smoothly for you (although I still make mistakes in every single cake I make!) and that you have as much fun with the process as you do the results. I would love to see your finished cake if you want to share it. You can post a picture on my Facebook page if you want. Good luck to you!

  3. WoW! What a great tutorial. You made it so simple and I look forward to creating these jungle animals. Will definitely post on your Facebook wall when I do. Thanks Michelle.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that! I would love to see a picture of your finished cake when you are done. You can post it on my the Sweet Dreams Cake App Facebook wall if you want to share. Good luck!

  4. I made the lion and the elephant. I am making the tiger and the rest of the animals. I really like the way you did your cakes. Thank you so much.

  5. I am doing this for a Baker’s Assistant class. I am really excited. I have never made anything like this. I love the animals. I just wanted to say thank you. It is a challenge and it is fun. The cake is beautiful. The cake layers I am not quite sure. Is it 6 inches, 8 inches 10 inches.

    1. Yes, Mary Jane, I used 6, 8, and 10 inch cakes. Good luck with your project! I hope the tutorial helps.

  6. Great instructions!! I made the lion and elephant as cake toppers for my nephew’s 2nd birthday. I used a garlic crusher for the lion’s mane and gave him a messy little hair do! Turned out so well!

    1. A garlic press is a great idea for the mane Catherine! I’m so happy to hear that the instructions worked well for you. I bet your nephew loved it!

  7. Amazing instructions! I can’t wait to use your techniques on a safari cake I have to do for this Saturday. Thanks so much for sharing all of this! 🙂

  8. Hello,

    I just wanted to say how brilliant I think your cake is. I would really like to have a go at something similar and your instructions are really well written and seem really easy to follow, so thank you. I was just wondering…when you are making the elephant, or any of the animals what is the colour of the modelling chocolate that you use as a base? Is it white or milk?

    1. Hi Megan,
      I am so sorry but somehow I never saw this post until now. I am having some issues with getting my comments. I just happened to look here today and see your question. I usually use white candy melts as the base of my modeling chocolate, unless it is a brown or black animal. In that case I will use a milk chocolate or dark chocolate type candy melt for the base, depending on how dark of a brown or black that I want.
      Again, I am so sorry for the delayed response.

  9. Wonderful tutorial on using modeling chocolate for sculpting animals! Very entertaining to read- I actually laughed out loud at your admission to visualizing David Hasselhoff, you’re hilarious! Thanks for the awesome read!

    1. Hi Sonia! Somehow I missed your comment earlier and am just now reading it. Thank you so much for your compliment. I’ve always had a creepy feeling about David Hasselhoff so I thought it was appropriate. Haha! Happy Caking!

  10. Hi! I just want to say wow! My brother is turning 1 in September and the lady we usually ordered cakes from moved out of town. I am going to try and attempt this cake do you have any tips or things I should watch out for? Also, what is the easiest way to cover a cake in fondant? Thanks so much for the awesome tutorial!

  11. Hello. Great instructions. It’s very informative.
    How did you dry figures of modeling chocolate ? Left it outside without covering like fondant ? How did you store the figures? its sweats after taking out from the fridge , and how it can be solved?

    1. Hi Sohana,
      Yes, I left the modeling chocolate uncovered on the counter to dry, just like I would with fondant. You can store them in a cardboard box if necessary. If you have problems with them sweating once removed from the fridge, just wrap some plastic wrap around them while they are in the fridge and then wait until they are back at room temperature before removing the plastic wrap from them. Hope this helps.

  12. These looks really lovely, I haven’t tried chocolate fondant yet but it does look easier then using normal gum paste, I going to give it a go because the effect on the models you made is really good. Thanks for all the handy tips too!

  13. Hi Michelle! I was just wondering, how do you carry that cake with that bamboo base? I want to recreate this cake but was trying to figure out how I’d transport it. Did you just build it on site? I don’t think that’s an option for me and i really love the bamboo! Thanks!

    1. Hi Melissa. I am so sorry but I am just now seeing this question. For some reason I never got a notification about it. Anyway, I assembled the cake before transporting it (I had over an hour drive to deliver it) and it held up just fine. It was heavy but I managed to carry it up stairs, into my car and from my car to the party. Part of the reason I work out regularly is so that I can carry cakes. Lol! The bamboo part of the cake was made on a styrofoam cake dummy so that helped with the weight.

  14. This post was FANTASTIC!!! I sent it to my cousins who are cake bakers who have never used modeling chocolate. Your photos and explanations are so clear that anyone can learn how to do this. THANK YOU for taking the time to teach us!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m so happy that you could pass it along. I really hope it is helpful to your cousins. Blessings!

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