Friday, June 14, 2019

Margherita Pizza - A guest #FakeFoodFriday post from Hannah Fenske!

Hello all, it's that time again for a guest post!  This time we have a tutorial on Margherita Pizza from Hannah Fenske, who I worked with at the Opera. This delish dish (yeah, I said it) was for 2018's The Italian Girl in Algiers at the Santa Fe Opera. Take it away, Hannah!

Hi y’all!  Happy Fake Food Friday!

Aimee shared a great tutorial last month for her version of leftover pizza, but there’s no single way to make a pizza!  I was tasked with making one last summer, and used some different techniques to accomplish a similar product.  It was requested as a rehearsal stand-in for what would eventually be a practical margherita pizza consumed onstage in a very silly scene.  This meant that it didn’t need to be anything fancy, but the desire to make something pretty combined with a quiet work week allowed me to go all out on this project!

Materials: Thin upholstery foam, hot glue, Jaxsan, papier mache, Flex Glue, fake ficus leaves, acrylic paint, gloss sealer (also, round plastic tray and pop rivets)
Tools: Heat gun, scissors, hot glue gun, sandpaper, Olfa knife, paintbrushes (also, pop rivet gun)

First, I started off with a thin piece of upholstery foam (1/2” or so) and cut it into a rough circle.  I wanted the final product to have some flexibility to it to mimic real slices of pizza, but in retrospect, after I added the layers of hot glue and Jaxsan, the pieces ended up fairly stiff.  While the foam worked really well aesthetically, I would probably recommend using some craft foam as a base instead if you want a more flexible end product.

For my particular pizza, since I knew it would be carried around stage and tipped towards the audience, I needed to keep the slices on the tray and together until they were removed for “eating”.  I accomplished this by adding some pop rivets to the tray and keeping the corresponding hole in each slice marked and clear throughout the process. You can see my Sharpie marks in the next picture.

From there, I cut some additional pieces of the same foam to build up the edges for a thick crust look.  I made sure to vary them in width and placement since real pizza crust isn’t perfectly consistent. Then, since papier mache doesn’t really like sticking to upholstery foam, I painted a layer of Jaxsan onto the crust and let it dry before adding a few layers of good ol’ papier mache.  This gave the crust a nice lumpy look and feel while still being smooth enough to look like crust. After a bit of sanding, I also ended up adding a layer of Flex Glue to the crust for added stability and to smooth out any rough spots.

Next, tomato sauce!  I added liberal amounts of hot glue to the center of the pizza, making sure to overlap the edges of the papier mache to keep them from curling up.  Once a section was covered with a puddle of glue, I would wait for it to partially set up, then go back and use the tip of the gun to add texture by re-melting the glue in places.  I considered using a more sophisticated material like silicone for this, but I liked the malleability of hot glue since I added lots of texture with this step (also, hot glue is way easier to paint!).  Once the layer of tomato sauce was built up and cooled, I added a few specific smooth puddles of glue that would become the melted slices of fresh mozzarella. (Sidenote: If you’ve never had a slice of classic Italian-style margherita pizza with the fresh mozzarella slices, you’re missing out!  It is by FAR my favorite kind of pizza. Go try it.)

Basil came next.  I acquired some leaves from a silk ficus tree, and since basil shrinks and gets sort of wrinkly when it’s cooked, I took a heat gun to them.  Worked like a charm! I also pressed them flat while they were still warm since they were initially a bit too voluminous to be convincing.

The next steps were a lot of careful layers of paint.  I based the whole thing in a pizza dough beige, then added a variety of browns to darken the crust, focusing on darkening the places where the dough “bubbled”.  I used two or three reds for the sauce, and after painting the cheese white, I added some yellow in the low spots where the oil would have pooled. I painted the basil a darker green, glued it on, and added bits of even darker green and brown to the cooked edges.  To seal it, I added a layer of gloss to all of the sauce, cheese, and basil.

Also, once I realized that my pizza wasn’t going to be particularly flexible, I went ahead and added a layer of Jaxsan to the bottom (not pictured, sorry).  This gave it a nice crumbly feel, and with some paint, it blended in well to the edge crust.

As much as I didn’t want to cut up my lovely pizza, it did need to be sliced.  I made the cuts with an Olfa knife, then painted the sides of the slices strategically with the beige, reds, and whites.  The edges didn’t end up looking as finished as they could have with some additional papier mache and/or Flex Glue, but I wanted to make sure that the pieces fit together as snugly as possible.

And here you have the end result!   Don’t you love when a fun project goes even better than you expected?  I tend to get the wiggles when I’m in a good place creatively, and there were lots of those during this project.

Wishing you happy crafting and creative wiggles of your own.  Prop on!

Thanks Hannah! If you want to check out more of Hannah's stuff, you can check out her website at  

Friday, June 7, 2019

Cherry and Pistachio Nougat - #FFFriday!

For one of our operas this season (La Boheme!) we have a scene set in 1830-40s with a lot of vendors.  One very delightful item we needed to make was some nougat!  Our Instagram followers have had a preview of this one, as I've been sharing some process shots over there.  

Materials: Crayola Model Magic, Acrylic paint, iridescent gift wrap, transparent tape, Joe's Sticky Stuff, Stock silver platter
Tools: Knife, ruler, Olfa blade, scissors

I haven't written a Materials Monday post about Crayola Model Magic yet, but I did write some about it in the Marzipan Hedgehogs post, and it really is one of my favorite fake food materials. And it is the perfect texture for nougat! Originally I was going to add some plastic orchid buds (you can see them in the background of the photo below) to be my pistachios, the color and shape were perfect.  However it was pointed out that if all of the mix-ins were the same density (or material) that cutting would be immensely easier.  
A warning on this one: this project took a LOT of patience due to dry times.  Even working  in a literal desert, it still took daaaays.  Nearly 2 weeks passed between first sculpting and final wrapping.  Model Magic is air dry only, and I've not attempted drying it in any other manner. I did contemplate trying a toaster oven (non-food use only, of course), but I didn't want anything to burn...

Day 1: I started with white Model Magic and some acrylic paint for almonds.  I rolled them into balls and generic almond shapes.

I then repeated the process for pistachios.  I wasn't terribly concerned about how they were going to look, as they were going to get mixed into the nougat, then cut. 

I then let them dry out in the sun for a few hours.  They got a nice 'skin' on them, and to help them along (and make them easier to mix), I cut them in half.

Dry little nut babies! Dryyyyyy!

Next, I made some dried cherries.  To get enough color, again starting with white Model Magic, I had to add A LOT of paint.  From experience, I knew this was going to make it quite sticky, but I only had the white MM to use.  If I did it again, I would have started with a base red so I wouldn't have to add so much paint.  Once I had the color I wanted, I rolled the MM into snakes and picked off odd sizes to look like cut cherries.  Like the nuts, I wasn't super concerned about how they looked pre-mix.

After making the little cherry chunks, I set the cherries and nuts out to dry in the sun yet again.  I left them out for the rest of the day and worked on other projects.  

Please enjoy our desert setting, sand and rocks and a retaining wall.

Day 2: I set out to make the nougat out of even more Model Magic!

I got a bit too excited about my off-white nougat base, and added too much paint.  I added more MM, which worked out well in the end, even though the color was definitely darker than I had hoped, and very close to the almond color. 

I will fully admit that I've been watching a lot of the Great British Baking Show, and I was certainly treating this like a bread dough.  There was a lot of kneading involved (hence the slap-dash waxed paper taped to my table).  I flattened it out to add my nuts and cherries in!

And then so much mixing commenced!

I ended up cutting some of the pistachios into quarters for better mixing.  Model Magic is easy to work with, but mixing a beast this big was very tiring...  

I mixed nearly all of my nuts and cherries into the mass, but it was pretty arbitrary.  I then smushed it all into a baking pan I found in stock!

So nougatyyy

In hindsight, I probably should have put some sort of release agent on the pan, but it was non-stick and I thought it would be fine.  And now, the waiting began...  I knew it was going to take a while for the mass to dry, so I set it outside to take advantage of the dry air and sun. However, I was leaving a real baking pan with an irresistibly pokeable material in it, out in a path where people would be walking past.  And after 9 years of working here, I know how my curious co-workers would react.  After an entire day of sitting outside, the nougat was still pretty soft.  I was hoping that by the next day, it would be pretty dry!  

Day 3: My hopes were dashed.  I let it sit in its pan for another day, to let it firm up.  

Day 4:  By the end of the day, the nougat was somewhat dry, and I felt confident enough to peel it out of the pan.  And let me tell you, it was still quite wet and squishy on the underside.  Fortunately it was Saturday, so I was able to let it sit out for an entire day without me or anyone else wanting to poke or cut it open.

Day 5:  A day of rest for me and the nougat.  

Day 6:  Still not dry.  


I got a sharp-ish knife that we have for foam carving, and marked some generic cut lines.  Thanks to my co-worker Sara, we captured the first cut!  


This also unofficially launches the F-n-B youtube channel, I guess.  I'm v glad my nails aren't filthy, but it's also very weird to see your hands from a different angle than from your body... I digress.  

If you don't want to watch the vid, the cuts were pretty successful!  After cutting them into squares, I let them dry yet another day.  I was very glad that I opted to make everything from Model Magic, as cutting tiny plastic chunks probably would have made this process much more difficult, and it's possible the MM wouldn't have stuck to the plastic and the nuts would have fallen out.  

Day 8: Stacks! The red from the cherries did streak a bit, and the almonds are basically invisible, but I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out!

I found the silver tray in stock, and ended up making a white foam tower on the inside to hold up the pyramid and get the most out of the nougat chunks.  I ended up trimming several of the edge pieces to get a square cut.  And, because the scene they're going to be in is very shiny and sparkly, I wrapped the days-dried (we're talking Day 12 at this point), in iridescent cellophane because it's FESTIVE.  

In the days since, the tray has been cut, but the nougat remains (so far).  I hope you've enjoyed this very long tutorial.  It's still not as time consuming as actually making it, but it looks real enough to eat, I think!  (Note: Our shopper found some real nougat at Trader Joe's and bought some for the shop.  It was not what I was expecting, but I also didn't hate it.  The best way I could describe it is wet marshmallow, but also tasty?  I'd eat it again.)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Petit Fours - #FFFriday Guest Post from Helena Mestenhauser!

For this week's #FakeFoodFriday, we have another guest post from Helena Mestenhauser, with a super cute set of petit fours!


Materials: Insulation Foam, Rosco FlexCoat, Extra Heavy Gel Medium w/ stained glass paint
Tools: Bandsaw, sandpaper, brushes, piping tips and bags

These petit fours are very cute but definitely aren't quick: in order to get the very smooth frosting finish I did multiple very wet coats of Roscoe flex coat and let them naturally dry which was at least 24 hours between coats so be prepared for that!

For any piece of sheet cake style pastry I usually start with cubes of foam cut out on the bandsaw. 

Petit fours have a rounded top shape so I hand sanded the top and side edges to help that shape seem a little softer.

Then it was time for coats of Rosco flex coat. Each layer consisted of a painted on full layer of flex coat smoothed over immediately with a coat of watered down flex coat at about a 1:1 ratio. This allowed the flex coat to really stick and create a dimensional layer but the water still allowed it to smooth over nicely over time as they dried slowly. The first coat was just straight up flex coat- no paint to tint.

The second and final coats (for a total of 3 coats) were both colored- the pure flex coat was tinted with both a little bit of cal-tint and with some white paint. The white paint is important, don't forget it! Flex coat dries clear so if you want the petit fours to be pastel in color you have to add white! 

I didn't bother to tint the 1:1 watered down flex coat for this step: it barely holds color anyway so its not worth trying to tint it as well. 

When your petit fours are fully dry, its time to pipe on some lovely flowers! Kate Stack (instagram handle @k8stack) piped these and they really make the petit fours shine. We used extra heavy gel medium with stained glass paint for our piping to give it a little translucency, but really any spackle with paint through a cake tip will do. As with other fake frostings its super easy to use regular cake piping tips and bags and just swap real frosting for fake, and you can do all the same techniques! Our flower technique requires two different tips: a rather flat one for the leaf, and a medium sized ruffle tip for the flower itself. 

Make sure you really let your frosting dry! Move them too soon and you risk accidentally smooshing them. Bon Apetit!


Thanks, Helena!  These look completely delightful.  I love a tiny treat, especially ones that look so delicate.  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Light Apps: Fruit! - #FFFriday

Long time followers of the #FakeFoodFriday hashtag will recognize this week's fruit from when I posted them on instagram over a year ago!  For The Doppleganger at Steppenwolf, we had a three tiered tray of fruits to go with a spread of light apps. These pineapple chunks, orange slices and banana slices were used to fill have the trays to cut down on the amount of real food we put on stage.   I was lucky enough to work on this project with the lovely Emily Feder and Brontë DeShong and we spent A LOT of time making sticky jokes about epoxy.

Materials: Pink insulation foam, bead foam, tissue paper, flex glue, acrylic paint, epoxy
Tools: Olfa knife, paint brushes, acid brushes

For the pineapple chunks, I started out with strips of pink foam and cut them into generic pineapple chunk shapes.  I then covered them with yellow tissue paper and flex glue.

Once they were dry, I brushed a bit of light yellow paint on them for a bit of depth.  Once they were fully dry, they were completely covered in epoxy, because they were used by real food and we wanted them to be washable.  To do this, we used acid brushes and 5 minute epoxy on most sides, let it cure, and then repeated the process on the other sides.  Finally, we gave each chunk a light sand to get rid of any hard edges and knock down the shine a bit. 

The oranges are bead foam, artfully carved into wedge shapes.  We opted for bead foam so they would have a bit of texture instead of smooth sides.  They were then coated in white tissue paper and flex glue, allowing it to wrinkle in places, to form the 'juice sacs.'  (I just googled this and I don't really know how I feel about the name.  'Juice vesicles' also was suggested, but really, that's not much better).  

Once the tissue paper was dry, they got a coat of orange tinted flex glue, that was watered down just a touch.  As a result, the flex glue pooled into the lower areas, leaving white ridges, giving the oranges a great texture!  Shout out to Emily Feder for figuring these out!

They also got a light drybrush of white for highlights.  Then, like the pineapples, we coated them with epoxy and finished with a light sand.  

Mmm... juicy

Banana slices: 
For our bananas, we cut a bunch of circles out of 2" pink insulation foam using an olfa knife, and then sliced it like you would a banana.  They were sanded slightly for shape, then coated with white tissue paper and flex glue.  This was a two step process to get both faces and the sides.  

They then got painted with light yellow acrylic paint and allowed to dry.  Then their center detail paint was added.  We finished them up with a coat of epoxy (the most difficult of the three, in my opinion. Getting the sides was... difficult), and finished with sanding like the other two. 

Did I dig through the whole pile to find one that had a little face?  I sure did.

I almost finished this up with, "and that was that," but this project was quite time consuming due to the epoxy coating.  It's possible we could have coated them with a different sealer, shellac perhaps,  but we were worried that an 8 show/week schedule would be too harsh on them.  Our fruits were washed after every performance.  And of course I didn't get a picture of them all together on their tray, because tech.  There is some real pineapple in our fridge calling my name, and I think it's snack time.  Prop on!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Fillable Pie Crust - #FFFriday!

Another quick #FakeFoodFriday this week!  Sadly I didn't take many progress shots of this because I didn't think about it... (always take process shots, friends!)  So this week we have pie!

Materials: Pie plate (ceramic), insulation foam, Apoxie, Glossy Wood Tone Design Master, Shellac
Tools: Parchment paper, rolling pin, carving tools, Olfa knife

For Straight White Men at Steppenwolf, staging called for the guys to be eating a pie straight out of the tin.  Because we didn't want to buy a pie for every performance, we searched for some easier alternatives, especially ones that didn't require baking.

We settled on a crumble top apple pie; a can of apple pie filling and some crumble topping.  Because they wouldn't have time to eat all the pie, we decided to make a false bottom as to not waste too much food.  
I started with a pie pan from stock, and put a 1" layer of insulation foam on the bottom, which I hot glued down.  I then mixed up a bunch of Aves Apoxie Sculpt, which is one of my favorite prop making materials.  It's a two part clay that is also adhesive.  It stays workable for several hours and hardens without baking.  It paints easily, is carvable, sandable and all around great.  
So with my mass of Apoxie, I rolled it out on some parchment paper, which, honestly was pretty awkward, butI wanted to make sure it didn't stick to my table.  Once it was big enough, I draped my pie plate and pressed in my crust. 
(Not going to lie, I definitely channeled all my crust knowledge from The Great British Baking Show into filling my pie plate.)

The designer requested a decorative crust, so I mixed up some more Apoxie, rolled it out and trimmed some thin strips for a plait. It was very difficult to braid long strips, so I did it in small chunks.  I added some more Apoxie leaves to hide where I matched up the braid sections.  For the leaves, I cut out the leaf shape and let it dry a bit and added some veins.  When it was almost dry, I turned the edges up a little bit to give it a little interest.  

When the Apoxie was fully dry, I painted my crust with a generic crust color and then dusted it with our old standby, Glossy Wood Tone.  Because it was being filled with food, I then sealed it with shellac.  Our shellac was a bit old, so it was gloppy and ended up darker than I expected.  

So shiny...

The shine is more than a regular crust would be, but from stage it wasn't too noticeable.  If only my real bakes turned out this nice!


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