Lush + Spa Themed Extravaganza

Despite my horrible drawing skills, here’s what I envisioned for her cake.  The peanut -shaped thing is supposed to be a bathtub.*

* proper perspective (of anything!) not included 😬

Big shoutout to my 11-yr old daughter for making all the Lush bath bombs.  She chose a bunch from the Lush website then made teeny tiny replicas! They looked exactly like the real thing.

Because I wanted the spa girl to be in a bubble bath, I needed to make arms and legs.  But I had to make and remake her hands and feet many, many times because I just couldn’t get them quite right.

Turns out I don’t  have quite the right tools (or small enough fingers) to make delicate appendages, so hats off to the experts.

As a result, my bathing beauty looked a bit man-ish for a 14-year old girl, but it’s okay…the intention was in the right place. Plus, bath bubbles.

Then I painted her fingernails and toenails to make it look more realistic (and if I’m being honest, less man-ish).  I needed magnifying glasses for that.  And a toothpick!

And now the cakes. I baked three chocolate cakes from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook (actually baked these the night before), but the morning of the party, I stacked them with chocolate ganache in between.

Then added the final crumb layer before layering over the fondant…


The fondant layer…

Here I am piping the bath mat….

Here’s the first look at the finished product.  I wish I had taken individual pictures of all of the things on the cake, but I didn’t.

Here’s a list of what was on it:

  • Claw-footed bathtub
  • side table
  • glittery (sequined) lampshade/lamp
  • pitcher of lemon water
  • bath bombs
  • slippers
  • book
  • face mask
  • cucumber eye treatement
  • bath turban
  • edible homemade sequins and fondant flowers around the base just for decoration.

Side view…

And at last, a picture of me and my happy,  newly crowned 14 year old

Now I need a deep tissue massage and a long soak in a Lush-scented bubble bath!

Where’s Shadow?

There was a lot going on for me this year so instead of making decorations for a full cake or several cupcakes, I opted for a one extra large cupcake in a small flower pot, just for the birthday girl.

We have a 2 year old, VERY ball-focused pup, so this rendition of her seemed quite appropriate.

#goldengate, #goldengatebridge

Homage to San Francisco

We moved from San Francisco to Marin this summer, so my daughter and I decided on San Francisco themed cupcakes. Specifically, we thought about all of the things we loved about San Francisco in addition to all of its iconic landmarks.
Generally, before I start making cupcakes with detailed images like these, I draw them out to better refine the image and also make sure that what I have in mind will ultimately fit on the cupcake. As always, some images always morph from the original conception. For example, originally I wanted to do street signs to indicate the intersection of our home. Ultimately, I decided to actually make little buildings to show our home and the two neighboring homes.
fondant, cupcakes, San Francisco landmarks, golden gate bridge, Hamano sushi, Easy Breezy Yogurt Shop, Pizza Hacker, Tartine Bakery
Here are 12 of the finished cupcakes. We also make labels for each cupcake to identify the images (in case they weren’t clear!) for the party guests.
Here are the beginnings of the sushi, the Alvarado school mascot, Ticklebelly Hill, our old home and the seals at Pier 39
A close-up of the Hamano sushi roll
fondant, golden gate bridge, cupcakes, san francisco landmarks
The Golden Gate Bridge!
croissants, hot chocolate, San Franscisco treasure
A croissant and hot chocolate from Tartine Bakery
pizza, la lengua, pop up pizza, wood fired pizza,
Pizza Hacker has the best pizza in the city! @pizzahacker
Easy Breezy, frozen yogurt, toppings, fondant
This was the birthday girl’s favorite cupcake and was an homage to Easy Breezy Frozen Yogurt on 24th Street in Noe Valley.
pier 39, sea lions, San Francisco Bay, San Francisco landmark, Fisherman's Wharf
The sea lions at Pier 39. The girls played party games and whoever won had a choice to pick their cupcake (after the birthday girl) or get a prize from the prize bag. All of the girls that one opted to get first dibs on picking the cupcake of their choice. Surprisingly to me, this cupcake was the first one chosen!
BFF, best friends, friend
This was one of the “Friends” cupcakes to represent the friendships my daughter made while in SF. Because I am a redhead, I always make a little redhead girl (if applicable) even though she didn’t have any redheaded friends. Fondant creator prerogative!
ticklebelly hill, san francisco hills
This is TickleBelly Hill. It’s not the real name of the hill, of course, but one that our family coined as our bellies did flips if we hit the bumps just right. TickleBelly Hill ultimately became the “company” name of any baking projects the three of us did together. And later, of course, the name of this website.
Noe Valley neighborhood
Our apartment and the two neighboring homes.
Hamano gyoza
The Birthday Girl’s creation! She made everything herself. Every Tuesday for 4 years, she spent the afternoon with her great-aunt, and this plate of gyoza symbolizes their favorite meal together at Hamano restaurant.
San Francisco cupcakes
Here are all the cupcakes together and labeled: Our old home, Golden Gate Bridge, TickleBelly Hill, Hamano sushi, Pizza Hacker, Alvarado Elementary, Buttons Candy Store, Easy Breezy Frozen Yogurt, Tartine Bakery, Pier 39 sea lions, BFFs, Hamano gyoza, Karl the Fog, Twin peaks+fog+Sutro Tower

Halloween-inspired Fancy Cake


Cake drawing
My daughter wanted a wedding-style, multi layered cake for her 12th birthday. Here’s the original sketch I drew to flesh out some ideas, including using gum paste to mimic a skirt for the bottom tier. In addition, I thought I might make gum paste or fondant ruffles, to adorn the top tier in ombre colored layers, but ultimately, I just cold-carved the Italian meringue buttercream and left it plain for its smooth and crisp-edged look. Because my daughter’s party was just two days before Halloween, we started thinking about how to make it Halloween themed, but also keep the fancy cake as planned. We toyed with a half and half cake where one side was “dead” (black/grey) and the other half looked normal, but ultimately decided to go with a plain-old bloody fondant knife and fake rubber spiders. Each tier is an easy, moist, make-ahead chocolate cake from the Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook. There are three layers separated by chocolate ganache (a different ganache recipe –yielding more spreadable results–than the one in the Barefoot Contessa cookbook). The top tier is 3 layers of the same chocolate cake, but layered with an Italian Vanilla Buttercream.
Creepy Cake
The full cake. I wanted to make it look like a fancy wedding cake, with the obvious differences…
Fondant Knife
Here’s a close-up of the fondant knife–complete with some bloody fingerprints.
The top of the cake. I experimented with making different kinds of flowers with gum paste– a peony, roses, and the small white “filler” flowers that would mimic fresh flowers on a real cake. I formed the curve of each peony layer using various sized cupcake wrappers and cupcake tins with a tinfoil “hammock” inside. I dusted the edges of the flower with luster dust to make it look more realistic.

Birthday Magic

Magic Cake
December 5, 2015: A magic themed fondant cake. The actual cake is under the (all edible) sequined “blanket’. Fondant goodies in and around the hat are two scarves, a magic wand, two bunnies, 3 playing cards, many dice, a white dove and a knotted rope.  The skinny metal looking things in the back are sparklers which we lit as we sang the Birthday Song.  
Here's the original sketch I made while trying to figure out how to make this cake
Here’s the original sketch I made while trying to figure out how to make this cake
A magician always pulls a bunny out of his hat! Bunny is flanked by a wand, dice, playing cards and colorful scarves
Fondant playing cards
Fondant playing cards
Second bunny and knotted rope

Carnival Funland

Doughnut Extravaganza

fondant doughnuts
December 2014: Here are some of the first mini doughnuts I made. All are made of fondant and topped with royal icing. The sprinkles are actual sprinkles!
fondant glazed doughnuts
I experimented making glazed doughnuts. Some I used just painted with translucent royal icing. Some I painted with gelatin so that it would peel a bit and look translucent when dry. And some I covered in clear glitter flakes.
fondant doughnuts for cupcakes
Fondant doughnuts


My almost 8 year old daughter made the kitten + accessories in the upper right of the picture. She also made the two doughnuts at the very top!
Fondant doughnuts on cupcakes
Here they are!  I wanted each cupcake to resemble a little picnic table, so I wrapped them with red gingham waxed tissue tied with a white ribbon.  Then, I topped each cupcake with a smooth white fondant round before topping each with the doughnuts.  
fondant doughnut topped cupcakes
An aerial view
fondant doughnut topped cupcake
some close-ups
fondant doughnut topped cupcakes
The “powdered sugar” on the doughnuts was actually dried white fondant that I ground up in a coffee grinder.
fondant topped cupcakes
A plate of mini cupcakes
fondant cupcake
This cupcake was the birthday girl’s favorite: Hot chocolate with marshmallows + a Malasada (Portuguese doughnut).


Disco Fever

October 2014: My daughter wanted a dance party themed birthday party.  I immediately thought of a dance floor cake and sketched out the drawing above.   My daughter made one of my characters into a goblin– hence the big, pointy ears.
I knew my cake would need a disco ball, but the only way I could envision hanging it, would be to build a wooden structure around the cake so the disco ball could hang down. Here is a photo of my cardboard prototype.
I took my prototype to a nearby Home Depot to ask for help on how to  build it, as I knew I would need some sort of brackets for the angled roof. Something magical happened there, and after 15 minutes of them trying to find the right person to help me, Eddie arrived.  It was soon understood that Eddie was not going to help me make the structure, but he was actually going to make it FOR me.  He built it in two days complete with a paint job and silver glitter pinstriping.   When I got to the store to pick up the structure, Eddie and I talked about lights, and he glued in two battery powered LED lights right then and there. Eddie’s supervisor came by to check out the structure and take a few pictures.   Amazingly, they wouldn’t let me pay for anything.
Here are the beginnings of my fondant dancers.
This guy was modeled after John Travolta’s famous pose in Saturday Night Fever.
edible sequins disco ball
The disco ball is made out of molded Rice Krispies Treats  covered in fondant. I looked into buying silver sequins– or something I could use to mimic the reflective surface.  A small jar of sequins was expensive and not exactly what I had in mind, so I decided to make my own. I found an online tutorial from Kara’s Couture Cakes and made one big gelatin sheet.  Once it was dry, I hand cut the sheet into small squares.
fondant covered cake
Here’s a picture of the whole cake. I also made lime green and black sequins to decorate the edges of the dance floor.  I covered the cake in black fondant and then laid out the black and white fondant tiles.

fondant covered Disco cake

fondant cake
A close-up of my Solid Gold dancer.
fondant cake
John Travolta’s protoge
fondant cake
Shooting the moon!