How to make a 3D Train Cake

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I had a request for more details about the 3D cake I made for my son’s 2-year-old Train Birthday Party last year. I should clarify before I start, that I am not a trained baker (wait until I show you his 3-year-old birthday cake fail). I just get big ideas for my kids’ cakes and am crazy enough to think that I can do them myself and cheap enough to see that is the only option to fulfill my vision.

The fun/challenging part of this cake was figuring out how to get the shape I was after with out making lots of cuts (I don’t like to deal with the crumbs. I knew I wanted an old-fashioned sort of engine. Maybe like something you’d see on Thomas the Train, but not obviously Thomas or any of his friends.

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So here is what I came up with:

I used bread pans to bake two “loaves” of cake, and a cleaned out large bean or spaghetti sauce can to bake boiler of the engine (cylindrical body of the train).

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If I had written this post a year ago, I might be able to tell you which can for sure, but I’m pretty sure I went through my pantry until I found one that was a similar diameter to my loaves and that didn’t have that plastic coating on the inside. There are a lot of posts written about baking cakes in cans, so I would consult one of those before trying this. The main thing I remember was greasing the can really well (I like Wilton’s cake release or similar product that combines the grease and flour), and holding my breath that it would come out alright when it was finished baking!

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And it did! I’ve found that when I do shaped cakes such as these, I either need to used a recipe for a more dense cake (like a pound cake), or if I am using a mix, I just make sure to omit most of the oil it calls for. Otherwise it will be too crumbly to hold it’s shape. So if it calls for 1/3 cup oil, I usually just add 1-2 tablespoons. Fill the can about 2/3 full as it will rise during cooking. Your baking time with vary depending on the thickness of your can, so just have some toothpicks ready for the doneness test and keep an eye on it.

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It was a good thing that I used a tall can, since the top of the cake comes out cracked and crusty. For a fun, rustic cake, I would leave the top just like that, but for my smooth engine, I had to cut off a bit of cake to have a smooth surface to work with.

I used one of the loaves as the bottom of my cake and cut the other in 3rds. I stacked those on top of each other to form the cab of the engine where the windows would be. I also baked a little cupcake of sorts in a mini metal tart pan I had on hand. I cut that in half to form the cow catcher at the front of the engine.

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And then I decorated it. I frosted it with a buttercream crumb coat, then covered it all with fondant. One of my favorite things to do is to paint directly on to the fondant. This saves time kneading the fondant colors and allows me to use more colors and detail. I generally use luster dust to make my paint. Mix a little dust with an alcohol based food product, like clear vanilla, or most any extract to create a sparkly paint. The boiler is a shiny silver (though it is light and mostly looks white it the pictures). I painted most of the rest of the train a steely blue, and painted on the windows. I was lucky to borrow the plastic whistles and smokestack from a kit my SIL had used to make a giant thomas train once before. The other details are all edible. The light is yellow candies inside a fondant case. The wheels are cookies or crackers (I think the big ones are Maria’s Gamesas. I can’t remember for sure about the little ones). I just covered each cracker in fondant and used my red dust to paint on the wheels.

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I also painted a fancy #2 on the front for his no. 2 birthday. I used black licorice vines to make a train track extending from the train.

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Another nice thing about fondant was that I could use Edible Color Markers to actually write on the cake and personalize the train a little more.

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So that is the story of the little train cake that could. For more of his adventures, check out the whole train birthday post!

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