Sunday, February 28, 2010


Project: Fake Cake

Materials: Foam (Insulation or White Bead Foam), White Acrylic Caulk (4-6 Tubes), Acrylic Paints, Green Glue (3M Fastbond Contact Adhesive.)

Tools: Spatula, Disposable Pastry Bags, Decorator Tips 32, 104, 4, and 352, Lazy Susan/ Cake Decorating Turntable (Optional)

First, a word about tools.  Cake decorating is a perfect example of a project which uses real food preparation tools with non edible chemicals. Always be sure to store food safe tools/containers separately from non food safe tools, and label them well.  If you are storing actual, food-safe, prep supplies in the shop, make sure they are stored in closed containers to protect them from contamination. Remember, once a tool or utensil is used once on something that is not food-safe, it is no longer to be used for edible food preparation. Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Foam is a really good base for onstage cakes, it is lightweight, easily shaped, and fairly durable. Best of all, it doesn't crumble like real cakes do, so it is easy to frost.  For this cake, I used white bead foam, first cutting it to size (9" Diameter circle) on the band saw, then gluing the two layers together with green glue. Before frosting, I rounded the top edge slightly with sandpaper.

The frosting is white acrylic caulk. The caulk is easy to work with, can be colored by adding acrylic paint, and can be smoothed with water when wet. When dry, it is paintable, durable, and somewhat flexible.  When frosting a cake, you want to start with a big blob of frosting on top, and spread it outwards with even strokes of your spatula. If you need to add more frosting, add it to the center blob, and work it into the frosting that is already down. This helps to make a smooth finish (and, in real cakes, keep crumbs out of your frosting.)

When you get to the edges, let the frosting fall down the sides of the cake before smoothing it down. To get the sides straight and smooth, hold your spatula upright, at a 45 Degree angle to the cakes edge and, in one continuous motion, gently smooth the frosting around the cake. See how the blade is tilted away from the cake in the photo? Don't do that....hold it straight. (It's hard to take a photo and frost at the same time.) This is where the Lazy Susan really comes in handy. Being able to turn the cake while you smooth is a big help.

Like real butter cream frosting, acrylic caulk can be smoothed with water for a nice, finished look. Wet your spatula lightly, and smooth over any folds or lines. Keep the blade of your spatula clean by wiping it often with a damp rag. No frosted cake is as smooth as glass, so some imperfections will give it a realistic look.

Once the first layer of frosting is complete, you can start piping. For this cake, I used a simple shell border on the top and bottom of the cake. (See my next post for more details about decorating this cake.)
After the caulk had dried, I dusted it with Design Master Butter Cream paint, to dull the white down a bit. Then, I mixed small amounts of white caulk with yellow, orange, and green acrylic paints to make the colored frosting for the cake's decorations. (And by the way, this isn't an incredibly awkward bundt cake, the hole in the middle is the fixture I installed for the fake candle that is taken out of the cake during each performance.)
I piped the decorations on, let the cake dry, and TA-DA!

Some cakey links:
As I mentioned earlier, I plan to do my next post detailing the decorations on this cake. However, if you just CAN'T wait to see how it's done, I recommend visiting the Wilton site for more information.
While you can buy a decent selection of cake decorating supplies from the big box craft stores, I always like to frequent local businesses when I can. Your local cake decorating store will most likely have a larger selection of tools and, more importantly, staff who actually decorate cakes and can answer your questions. If you don't have a local cake decoration supplier, and you have the time to order online, please consider Cook's Cake and Candy Shop, located in Milwaukee and on the internets. They have thousands of items for cake and candy making, and helpful staff who know what's what about cakes.  When I needed silver edible ink to write on sheets of dried seaweed, these ladies pointed me towards silver fondant glaze. When I retire, I hope to be a Cook's Cake lady.
If you are looking for some hilarious cake failures, this is your site. You can spend hours looking at fail cakes, with the occasional success thrown in for good measure. I promise that you won't be disappointed here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turkey Leg

Ah, the turkey leg. What would Ye Olde Renaissance Faire be without one?  And, of course, what would the Ghost of Christmas Present be without one? So felt our director of "A Christmas Carol" this season.  The request was for a turkey leg, partially eaten, that could be removed from a dressed plate which is part of a bedazzling display of festive foods.  Our version of A Christmas Carol is in it's sixth year, so my involvement in the bedazzling display was limited to gluing on stray berries and shuttling stray glitter back to its intended home. However, the turkey leg was a new addition this year, and so the crafting fell to me.  Before I begin, I think it is fair to mention that our Carol is performed in a large proscenium house, and not in our usual, more intimate thrust space.  The aesthetic of the props in Carol is more theatrical than the work we usually do, true to life detail is often wasted in this space.

First things first, research images as usual. What surprised me the most about the photos of the turkey legs is what a bright pink center most of them have. I expected to see more of the whitish gray that you tend to see in breast meat, but these guys are bright pink.

 I started with the bone, which was simply a piece of hardwood dowel that ran through the entire "leg." I whittled down the end to give it a bone-like appearance, and sanded away any splinters or sharp bits. In my experience, actors have dainty, soft hands, and they will find ANY imperfection in a prop and injure themselves on it.

The flesh of the turkey leg is made from upholstery foam. I cut a vaguely- turkey leg shaped chunk of foam on our table top bandsaw, cut that in half, and cut a groove down the center of each half for the bone. Using 3M Fastbond Contact Adhesive (commonly called Green Glue), I joined the foam together with the bone inside, sandwich style.  Next, I used my trusty Olfa knife to carve the foam into the shape of a turkey leg.

Once the carving was complete, I covered the foam with acrylic caulk. Acrylic caulk is a very good props coating as it can be colored by mixing in acrylic paint, is paintable when cured, and becomes tough and flexible when dry. It can also be smoothed with water before it dries. I happened to have some caulk that was already colored with fuschia paint, so I used that. I would recommend using caulk that is already tinted, as it made it easier to do the final paint job.

Once the caulk was dry, I painted.  The golden brown look of the skin was achieved with layer after layer of Glossy Wood Tone, the king of Design Master spray paints (trumpet fanfare).  I used acrylic paint and gloss medium to try to simulate the tissues in the bite, and did some shadowing on the bone as well. If this turkey leg was for one of our more intimate spaces, I would have done more as far as texture, possibly using hot glue to help with the gristly look where the bone meets the flesh.

Once the turkey leg was all dry, it was basically like a nerf turkey leg with a tough coating, so the best part of this project was walking around the shop hitting things with it.  Here in Milwaukee, we play with our food!

3M Fastbond Adhesive 30NF, AKA Green Glue
This is a great contact cement for joining foam. Remember, paint it onto both surfaces and allow to dry before adhering.

Olfa Knives and Tools 
I love these tools. The Utility L-1 is my go to knife for most jobs.

Design Master Woodtones 
I have yet to meet a prop shop that doesn't depend on these paints for many uses. Glossy Wood Tone is basically magic in a can. On the downside, the spray pattern is usually pretty uneven. Like all spray paints, these should be used with proper ventilation and respiratory protection.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TV Dinner

I have to admit, there wasn't a research image for this one. This TV dinner came mostly from the memories of the rare evening when my brother and I were allowed to have microwavable TV dinners. Black plastic compartments separated our chicken nuggets from our crinkle fries, and a thin layer of plastic covered the greatest of the treasure, a sticky 'chocolate' brownie that baked in the microwave. What luxury technology had brought to our lives!

This TV dinner was for our production of Almost, Maine, and was simply a piece of set dressing. I decided that this character seemed like the tuna noodle casserole type to me, and what goes better with tuna noodles than peas? Our shopper, Pete was kind enough to buy me a real TV dinner, so that I could use the iconic black divided tray. I dispatched the dinner, and washed out the tray.

The peas were easy as pie. Easy as peas? Hmm. I simply took a strand of cheap mardi gras beads, spray painted them green, cut them apart, and glued them into the tray with Alene's Jewel It glue. This glue is excellent for holding round items to smooth surfaces and, as it dries shiny, I also spread it around the compartment to simulate water. Mmm...watery peas.

The tuna noodle casserole is actually sawdust noodle casserole! I mixed up some egg noodles (dry, not cooked) with sawdust, flex glue, a dab of ecru acrylic paint, and a few of those mardi gras peas. The benefit of the flex glue sauce is that it holds the pasta down on its own. I sprinkled a bit more sawdust on top for extra texture.

The gooey chocolate brownie was a bonus. I happened to have a few tablespoons of Smooth-On Flex Foam it left over from a previous project. Using Smooth-On's So Strong brown pigment, I colored the foam, and poured it into the tray.

Once it was all together, I glued a fork in, and we sent it to stage!

Monday, February 8, 2010


Project: Chocolates
Materials: 1/2" insulation foam, brown and white acrylic caulk (with silicone), plastic baggies, Krylon Crystal Clear

The show we're about to open calls for a tin of chocolates to be hidden in a drawer. While we have a few little bon-bons in stock, I've been asked to create a few chocolates to supplement the collection. Chocolates are often faked onstage, as real chocolates melt easily under theatrical lighting. Fake chocolates are readily available if you have the budget, but as this is a fairly simple and straightforward project, you can save the money by faking your own.
The first thing to do is find a research image. A quick search on the internet can provide us with a plethora of chocolate photos. Since I have a small, square chocolate in mind, we'll go with this lovely morsel.

Second, gather your materials. I am assuming
that you are working in a space stocked with the basics, so I haven't included basic tools and supplies on the materials list. Let's begin!

1. I used 1/2" thick insulation foam as a base for these chocolates. It is cheap, readily available, reasonably durable, and lightweight. I started by cutting the foam into 1" squares with a utility knife. Then, I sanded the top edges and corners with 100 grit sandpaper to round them over, as the top of most dipped chocolates is not perfectly square. I always find it helpful to make a few extras of whatever I'm creating, if possible. That way, I can make some mistakes along the way.

2. Next, I coated the edges and the top of the chocolates
with brown acrylic caulk. I like to wear gloves to keep my hands from getting messy, and use a tongue depressor to spread on the chocolate. Once the top and sides are covered with a good layer of caulk, I dipped my finger in water and used it to smooth the caulk out. Then, I placed the chocolate on a piece of tin foil to dry.

3. After allowing the caulk on the chocolates to partially dry, I piped on the decoration. When doing small projects like this I've found that snipping the tip off of a plastic baggie makes a great disposable pastry bag. The piping took a bit of practice to get the feel right, so those extras that I cut came in handy. I did most of the piping in brown caulk, but I also tried the white, for a different look.

4. After the tops and sides were dry ( a few hours), I flipped the chocolates over, and coated their bottoms with caulk. Once the chocolates were completely dry, their color looked good, but the caulk was a little dull. I used a light spray of Krylon Crystal Clear, Satin Finish to give them just a bit of a sheen.

5. Presentation. My Dad once told me that food is 90% presentation. This may not be true in real life, but it certainly is in food fakery. These chocolates were each placed in a candy cup (available at candy making shops or big box craft stores), and placed in a tin with our other chocolates. The tin, painted by Margaret, is partially empty to allow a deck of cards to be hidden inside.

Need more info about chocolate? Here are a few links to some good propsy info. Enjoy!
Here is a link to Hershey's company history, with a few good pieces of graphics reference for you ephemera hounds.
Cadbury Chocolates made in Bourneville, UK are a favorite around the world. You can read about their products at this site. If you have time, read about the history of their company. The early Cadbury company was revolutionary in caring for its employees. To this day, the whole town of Bourneville smells of the chocolate factory there. Yum!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Welcome to the Fake 'n Bake Kitchen

Welcome to the wonderful world of culinary fakery!

My friend Eric Hart has a lovely props blog where he expounds on all things props. Since I saw his blog, I've been wondering about how I, too, can contribute to the general knowledge of prop artistry flying about the internets. So, I've decided to do a blog of my own, specifically related to fake food craftsmanship and casting and molding - the two things I specialize in here at the good ole MKE Rep. I am by no means the leading authority these topics, but I have a few years of propping under my belt now, and ever-mounting experience in the dimly lit props kitchen. I think it's time to share some of my successes (and some of my hilarious failures) with you lovely people.

The first step was choosing a name, and I have to say that my friends were full of helpful suggestions. As promised, Sarah Heck (a propster extraordinaire herself) will be rewarded with a plate of (actual, edible) chocolate chip walnut cookies for her suggestion of Fake 'n Bake. Special mention should also go out to Linn Elliott for her hilarious, if cumbersome, Pate de Faux Gras. Other contenders included Sham Cast Bakery, Inedibles, Easy Fake Oven, Fresh Faked Goods, and Kitchen of Lies. Thanks to all.

I hope you'll find this blog to be helpful and amusing. Please send comments and questions, I'll do my best to answer you or to point you in the direction of an answer. So, let the fakery begin.


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