When I first got the text from a friend asking me to make her nephew an AT-AT cake, I have to admit that I thought it was a typing error. Soon after, I received another text from her brother also asking me to make his son the AT-AT cake. It seemed too coincidental that they would both make the same spelling error so I went to Google and quickly realized that I knew exactly what an AT-AT was, I just had no idea that was what it was called. AT-ATs are the four-legged creature/machines in the Star Wars movies. AT-AT actually stands for All Terrain Armored Transport. If you still aren’t familiar with them, maybe this picture will refresh your memory:
I just love that picture! That is actually my cake in the foreground of a Star Wars video game scene. My teen daughter took a picture of it in front of a green screen then used the magic of Photoshop to insert the video game scene into the background. She even added the lazers.
Anyway, I was so excited to do this cake because I have wanted to do a Star Wars themed cake for a long time. Once I started looking up pictures of AT-ATs online, though, I got a little intimidated. There is so much detail on those creatures! I ended up using lots of pictures and breaking it all down so that, once I got started, it was no where near as intimidating as I had feared. In the end it turned out to be on of my most favorite cakes that I have made. Here are some more detailed pictures.
My favorite part of the cake are the legs.
I had a little cake batter left over from baking the cake so I also made a few cupcakes and used the Star Wars font to spell out the birthday boy’s name.
The best part about making cakes is seeing the reaction of the recipients. Here is a photo Garrik’s dad sent me. They say a picture speaks a thousand words so I am pretty sure this photo says it all.
Before they ate the cake Garrik even got to spend some time playing with it. He brought out his Star Wars figures and X-Wing fighters and created a whole battle scene. I love when a cake can bring this much joy to someone.
Now I want to share with you a little on how I made this cake. I wasn’t able to put together a full tutorial but I did take some pictures while I was creating it so I will share those with you, along with some helpful information.
I started with the baseboard. I usually like to create cakes on separate boards and then attach them to the baseboard at the end to prevent destroying the board while I work but, because this cake needed to be screwed into the baseboard I had to make it first and just be very careful while I constructed the rest of the cake. I wanted the board to look like the snowy tundra that the AT-ATs roam in The Empire Strikes Back. I first attached a few lumps of modeling chocolate on to the board then covered the whole thing with white fondant. I brushed a little brown petal dust onto the lumps to give them a wind blown look. I then brushed piping gel over the entire board, except for the brown areas and covered it in granulated sugar. Using my fingers, I spread the sugar to also look wind blown. Here was my result. Sorry for mediocre photos. When I am working, photos tend to be low on my priorities.
Next I had to add the structure. A 3-D cake needs support, just like a human needs bones, or else it will all fall apart. I usually use pipes for my supports but AT-ATs have very long flat legs so this time I needed something flat but also very strong. After wandering around the hardware store with my husband, he came up with the genius idea of using steel flat bars for the legs. We took a bar home and he cut it down to size for each of the legs then cut the knee area of two of the legs with his reciprocating saw, placed them in his vice, and bent them into shape. He then cut out a board to hold up the cake and attached the legs to it. He also screwed another board onto the body board to support the neck and head. Finally he secured the legs to the baseboard with screws. I was more than just a little nervous as I watched him screw into my finished baseboard but he was very careful and didn’t make too big of a mess on it.
How did I know the sizes I needed for the structures, you ask? I probably should have mentioned this first; I always start with some kind of pattern. A lot of the time I have to just use pictures and blow them up to the size I need but I was lucky to find this schematics drawing online so it was a tremendous help with figuring size as well as later cutting out details. I enlarged the schematic to the size I wanted and used that for all my planning.
I usually try to cover my structures completely so that they don’t come into any contact with the cake. I didn’t worry about covering the steel bars with anything though, since they would just be covered with gumpaste that would not be eaten, but I didn’t want the cake touching the wood so I cut cardboard cake boards the same shape as the wood board and attached them to the wood with hot glue.
It was time to get started on the fun part. This is when my patterns became very handy. I had multiple copies of my main pattern so that I could cut pieces out and use them for measurements or as patterns to cut around.
I started at the feet and worked my way up, covering the legs in gumpaste. Using the pattern I determined the diameter of the circles I would need for the feet then rolled out some thick gumpaste and cut circles out with a round cutter.
I cut the circles in half and placed them on each side of the flat bars, joining the sides together and smoothing out the seams. Using pieces of my pattern, I cut out the side bars of the feet and made indentions in them with a modeling tool.
I added more circles of gumpaste, some toe pieces and then some black fondant to give the impression of a blank space. I inserted toothpicks, with some gumpaste wrapped around them, to later use to support the side bars. I like to use melted candy melts as my glue since I can mix colors to match my needs (I added a couple of black melts to a small amount of white melts to get the gray color) and they give you a few seconds to move things around if needed but then harden up pretty quickly and hold great. The only time they don’t work well is if you are in hot temperatures because they will melt. I don’t have that problem much, though, since I live in the cold north.
I continued on, covering the steel bars completely with gumpaste, using my patterns to cut out individual pieces. Some pieces that weren’t completely attached to a flat surface, like the ones underneath the boards, I had to let dry for a while so that they would stay firm once I attached them to the board with candy melts. The round bars that are on the back side of the legs were made by running gumpaste through my extruder and letting them harden before attaching.
Some details I cut out and attached and others I just drew on, using my modeling tool. I also had to pick and choose which details to add and which ones to eliminate. That is hard to do when you are a detail oriented person but I also had to be realistic on the amount of time it would take to create the cake and the difficulty of working with a small scale. I’m sure any Star Wars fanatic might be able to point out incorrect details but I think it turned out great for a cake.
Now it was time to create the body. This was formed out of cake so I baked a 9×13 sheet cake and cut it in half lengthwise, torted each half, then stacked them all on top of each other. Out came the pattern again. I covered it in packaging tape so that the grease from the cake wouldn’t ruin it, then I laid it against the cake and used it as a guide for carving. I also attached a second copy of it on the other side of the cake so that I could create a guide for my knife. I learned how to do this technique in Mike McCarey’s Cakenology DVD (excellent DVD by the way!)
Here is the finished carved cake. As you can see, the cake is a little more crumbly than I would normally use for a carved cake but there wasn’t a lot of detail to carve so I could get away with this cake recipe this time.
Next came a crumb coat of chocolate buttercream.
Then I covered it in gray fondant.
I went back to my resource pictures to add lines and markings while the fondant was still soft.
I had to cut a strip of cake board and cake out so that it would set level on the board where the neck board attached to the body board. I free handed this with an X-acto knife.
The cake was then attached to the body.
AT-ATs have very sharp edges so, using gumpaste, I cut out panels, let them dry for a bit, then attached them to the fondant with candy melts. I used my patterns again to cut out the panels and my modeling tool to add lines and other details within the panels. I also added smaller panels at the base of the body to hide the cake boards.
The head, neck and undercarriage of the AT-AT were made from rice krispy treats. For the neck and undercarriage I used a circle cutter to cut out rice krispy treats, cut a side off to make a flat surface on the rice krispy treat, then covered them in fondant. The fondant was first indented with a texture sheet before attaching.
Here is a picture of the undercarriage attached to the board with candy melts and covered in textured fondant.
The same method was used for the neck.
Once again, out came the pattern for carving the head from rice krispy treat. I cut it a little smaller than the pattern so that I could allow for an additional layer of fondant to hide the bumpiness of the rice krispies.
Here I added the extra piece of fondant on the top of the head to make it smooth.
I wasn’t too concerned about the sides of the head being smooth because they would later be covered with gumpaste panels, like the rest of the body.
Once the panels were in place I started adding more details. The guns were made from running gumpaste through my extruder then using a skewer to make indentions in the ends.
With a small paint brush, I brushed on some red airbrush color to add the red detail on the front panel.
A look at the top of the head.
Once all the details were in place I was really happy with the cake but something was missing. It needed some shading and additional color to give it a more realistic, weathered look. I am the first to admit that I am not great when it comes to shading and using my airbrush, so I went to Facebook for some help. There is a great group on FB called Cake Newbs that is a wonderful place to ask questions and get recommendations from some of the best cakers in the industry. So I posted a picture of the cake and asked how I could make it more realistic. I immediately got some advice to spray it with silver airbrush color then dust it with dark gray petal dust. I am so glad I asked! That is what I did and that is exactly what it needed to take it to the next level. It is hard to see the full impact of how dramatic a difference the airbrush and shading made in photos but I think they can give you a pretty good idea.
Oh, another tip I learned from the group is to cover the baseboard in plastic wrap to prevent the airbrush and petal dust colors from ruining the board, as you can see in the above picture.
There you have it, a cake that was a lot of fun for me to make and a lot of fun for a little boy to enjoy.
Until next time,
God Bless and Sweet Dreams