Back in December, I became obsessed with the idea of making a cake in the shape of Appa, the flying bison from Avatar: The Last Airbender. With help of my more experienced cake-making friend, Fran, I set out to make the Appa cake.
These photos illustrate the process starting from two boxed cake mixes and four pans, to assembling and decorating the bison.
We started with one flat 8.5x11 pan, one small loaf pan, and two domes (from the Wilton "sports ball" kit.) With some trimming, the flat cake became Appa's body and tail. The loaf was cut into six equal slices, which we laid flat to create Appa's six legs. After a coat of thin icing, we layered the domes to create Appa's head and "hump." (We trimmed the rounded top off the "hump" dome and used it to bolster the head dome. This also helped create the shape of Appa's face.) We used the corner scraps from the flat cake to create his puffy cheeks, and a trimming from the front of the "hump" to help round out his tail.
Next, Fran iced the whole thing, and we piped a little extra icing into any spots that needed smoothing. A thorough coating of shredded coconut helped hide any remaining flaws, and created Appa's shaggy fur.
I had puzzled a long time about how to best make the brown arrow/stripe down Appa's back. After deliberating over using store-bought fondant, making my own fondant, or attempting to do a neat job with icing, I went with an online recipe for marshmallow fondant. (I added cocoa and food coloring to make it chocolatey and brown.) This was a very messy step and I thought the fondant would be too sticky to use, but after much kneading and adding of powdered sugar, it magically acquired a Play-Doh consistency. We rolled out the fondant to cut Appa's stripe.
I also used a large amount of the fondant to sculpt the horns. I left the horns in the freezer for several hours, then dipped them in melted dark chocolate. (I say "dipped," but really it was more like painting the chocolate onto the horns.) They went back into the freezer to harden, then were attached with toothpicks. The horns still had a little trouble staying in place, and you can see them sagging in some of the later pictures, unfortunately.
Appa's toes were made out of chocolate-covered almonds. I frosted his cheeks with chocolate icing, then cut another piece of the fondant for his nose and coated it with black icing from a store-bought icing pen. His eyes were made from chocolate-covered espresso beans dipped into the white frosting, then pushed into his face; I dotted black and white icing with a toothpick to create pupils and highlights.
Lastly, Appa's ears are created from large marshmallows sliced on the diagonal, coated in icing and coconut on top and chocolate icing on the bottom, and attached with toothpicks. Another marshmallow was cut in half and covered in icing/coconut to give Appa a lower jaw.
The whole project took two nights to complete, but it was worth it; many people thought we must be professional pastry chefs! :)