Ok this is very much an amateur offering, but I couldn’t find any step-by-step instructions on how to make a Dusty the Crophopper birthday cake, so I’ve pieced together my own. You will doubtless be able to do a better job of it than me (this one is pretty lumpy and wobbly – I’ve not had much practice with fondant!) My newly-three-year-old was pleased as punch, and that’s what matters!
The cake support and the board
I wanted him to look like he was soaring in the sky (!!) so I made a wedge of cake, placed it on the board, and iced over the whole thing. Here you can definitely do better than me – make the wedge out of one, big piece of cake. I made it out of two strips placed side-by-side and joined with buttercreme and jam. The weight of Dusty later meant that they started to pull apart and he started tipping over (you can see the crack in the blue fondant covering the wedge in some of the photos). I had to put a support under one of the wings to stop this happening. It didn’t ruin the look, but I was annoyed that I needed it. So use one big bit of cake and you won’t have this problem.
The cake is standard victoria sponge, made a week in advance and kept wrapped up in the freezer until required. It is easier to cut and sculpt when it is still frozen. You can add extra flour to the cake to make it stronger (you could do this especially with the wedge that supports the plane as it needs to take quite a lot of weight), but I didn’t, and it was fine.
The main piece of Dusty’s body is made from one large piece of cake, cut into shape as shown in the photo (with a bread knife, while still frozen). The piece on top where his eyes are was made from some of the off-cuts, again just cut to shape with a bread knife. I stuck the whole lot together with jam and buttercreme. I also cut the body in half laterally so that I could add jam and buttercreme, and covered the whole thing in a ‘crumb coat’ of buttercreme ready for the fondant.
The main wings
The main wings are made of a piece of cake board cut to size and bent slightly in the middle (see first pic above). This is the only bit of the cake that isn’t edible (other than a few cocktail sticks).
I added a layer of white fondant to the main wings, stuck to the cardboard with a thin smear of buttercreme (second pic above). Several hours later when the white fondant had dried a bit and was easier to handle, I stuck a layer of orange on the bottom of the wings and folded the edges over slightly, sticking them down to the white with some gum paste glue (see how to make this below). I scored a thin groove around the edges of the white fondant with a knife, as you can just see in the photos.
To make it look like the wings were coming out of the body, I gently placed Dusty’s body on the fondant-covered wings and marked how wide the body was (I did this AFTER the body was covered in fondant – see below). I then cut the fondant out of the middle of the wings so that the body is sitting directly on the cardboard. You can see in the photo above that there is bare cake board (the silver section) showing where I removed the strip of fondant. This gives the effect that the wings are coming out of his sides, instead of looking like he is just perched on top of them. Particularly effective if your fondant is as thick as mine! I also added the thin blue strips on each wing, as you can see in the photo.
Covering the body in fondant
Again I did the white layer first, by sitting Dusty’s cake body in the middle of a large piece of white fondant, wrapping it up round his sides and trimming off the excess. I then draped the orange layer over the top and trimmed it off at the right length, and added the blue streak. All of the small pieces of fondant, such as the blue streak, the eyes, the black trim etc are stuck on using a small piece of gum paste dissolved in an egg cup with a splash of water. It makes great glue and of course is totally edible.
The tail wings
I made the smaller, blue, rear wings the night before so that they had time to harden. They are simply cut from fondant (I made a template in thin card to make sure they were the same size). I scored a gentle groove along the edges and stuck cocktail sticks into them while the fondant was still quite soft, so that they were stuck tightish by the time it dried. I used the same fondant that I used to cover the board, but I think it would look better in a slightly different shade of blue so that they stand out more. Next time! The small square of fondant between the cocktail sticks I actually broke off later as it wasn’t needed, so ignore that bit.
I made the orange tail in the same way, also the night before so that it had time to harden.
I also made the black propeller blades the night before. Dusty of course has yellow tips on his but frankly by this point I was ready for bed!
Assembling the cake
The next day I laid the wings on top of the cake wedge and sat Dusty on top of them. He was not actually stuck to them but the weight of the cake kept everything together. I did add cocktail sticks to the blue wedge of cake and sat Dusty down onto them so that he wouldn’t slide. You can see those in the ‘wings’ picture above.
I think the photos are fairly self-explanatory here – I added white fondant for the ‘windscreen’ that forms his eyes (love that slightly wonky expression,) and for the side windows. Using two different sized pen lids as fondant cutters, I cut blue and black circles for the pupils. I always add a small speck of white to the pupils – you wouldn’t believe how much difference it makes.
I surrounded the ‘face’ and the windows on the sides with a thin strip of black fondant. The circular ‘3’ plates were cut from white fondant and I cheated by colouring the number ‘3’ and the edges of the discs on with edible marker and allowing it to dry before sticking the discs onto the cake. Of course the original Dusty is number 7 but this was for a third birthday cake so I ad-libbed!
I added ‘D3’ to the tail fin in white fondant. You can just see it in the finished cake pictures.
The silver nose piece is white fondant stuck on with a faithful old cocktail stick – push the stick into the front of the cake in the right place, leaving a centimeter or so poking out, and stick the cone-shaped nose piece onto that. I then coloured it with a silver edible pen, along with the silver bars at the side of the nose. I think this would be better done with silver dusting or just with grey fondant – again – next time!
I stuck on the rear wings and tail fin by simply poking their cocktail sticks in at the right places. I cut a little slit in the fondant covering the plane body at each place, so that the wings/fin could stick into it a bit – they looked less ‘stuck on’ that way and more like part of the plane. I added the propeller blades at the last minute as I was afraid of them falling off, but actually they were pretty sturdy.
Finally, I added some ‘clouds’ to the board, and a name plate in the ‘Planes’ style. You can probably tell that I’d lost the will to continue by this point.