I was on vacation when I received an email from one of my customers. She said her daughter would be celebrating her birthday at Cayuga Nature Center and that she loves porcupines. She was hoping to have a cake with a North American porcupine look/theme. Okay … how shall I do this? My mind started turning and I spent some time looking for pictures. A search for “North American porcupine” generated these results. I’ve created a realistic looking tiger cake for Alex for a prior birthday. However, tigers and porcupines are two very different things! A 2D drawn version of a porcupine might end up looking messy. It’d be better to go with a less realistic look but still get the porcupine feel for this porcupine cake. Alex’s Mom said she’d love a porcupine cake and cupcakes with porcupine cupcake toppers! It was time to start honing the details.
The porcupine cupcake toppers and cake ruminated in my head for our vacation, along with all the other cake designs I had coming up. I didn’t want to totally copy something, but I did want to be inspired by something.
I sent an email with screen shots to my husband, noting the attributes that I liked from each picture and asked his opinion. I’ll include them here. Click on each image to learn more about each one. Unfortunately, most are from Pinterest and either the link takes you somewhere that is no longer valid or doesn’t give you any information.
My Husband’s Reply
Instead of emailing, he popped over into my home bakery. My bakery is right across from his office with a little connecting area between them. He liked the last one the best for the cupcake toppers for the same reason that I did. It is flat and it looked very repeatable. He liked the first little toppers the best for the top of the cake because they were most similar to the flat version of the toppers. I could get behind that. After all, I liked aspects of each choice. Now the job was to make them unique to me!
My daughter Elizabeth asked if she could give it a try. She’s been working for me for almost a year now and she’s done a lot of great detail work. Sure thing, I said!
Elizabeth’s porcupine cupcake topper is on the left. I came in and wrinkled my nose, signaling my disapproval. She knew that I didn’t love it. This is one of the hard things about hiring my child. I knew she had worked super hard and was really excited to show me. “I really like what you have here, I just want to tweak it a bit.” She watched as I used a different brown, made the full body flesh instead of using a white base with flesh on the nose part above the white, and made the quills a little thicker so they had more volume. Then, we found a little candy that was light blue to try for the eye. Nope. How about more of a navy blue? Yes, that would be good. The perfect roundness and slight sheen was just right. I finished it off with a little rosebud.
Porcupine Cupcake Toppers
As with all cake projects, this one started with grand intentions of capturing each step and ended up with one picture of a partially-made body. I am posting it solely because I find it ridiculous that this is all I managed to capture. There were two of us working and neither of us took a break from making 16 porcupine cupcake toppers to get some photo evidence of our work.
Should you be interested in making your own (why else would you be reading this, right?) here are the steps.
- Make a flesh color for the body, select a brown for the quills, get out a green for the leaf, black for the nose, a small candy for an eye and another color of fondant for the rosebud.
- You’ll need a petal cutter, a small leaf cutter, a small circle cutter and a mid-sized daisy cutter. You’ll also want a small rolling pin and some royal icing or sugar glue.
- Start by rolling out a body (we did one at a a time so they stayed moist and able to accept quills)
- Then, roll out some brown that is a little thicker than what you used for the body. Use your daisy cutter to cut 5 daisies. Use a small circle to cut the center out of each daisy. This leaves you with your “quills” for the porcupine cupcake toppers. Starting at the back, place them row by row until you get to the front third of the body.
- Affix your eye with a small dab of royal icing. Make a small black ball for a nose and use royal icing to place it on the nose portion of the body.
- Lastly, if you are making a female porcupine cupcake topper, roll out some of your colored fondant for your rosebud. Use a ravioli cutter or knife to cut it into an 1/8 inch width and about a 1 inch length. Roll it up to make a ribbon rose. Roll out some green fondant and cut your leaf with your leaf cutter. Use a bit of royal icing to place them on your porcupine cupcake toppers.
Now, for the Porcupine Cake …
I knew that I was going to make an 8″ cake with a small porcupine on the top. I appreciated Scott’s thought about the two little porcupines and I liked them, but I had this image of quills. American porcupines have a lot of skinny long quills and the toppers were more playful, requiring some imagination. I wanted the top one to “match” them but also be “more porcupine” in nature. My original plan was to use my Wilton sports ball pan and do something like the second image in the post above. Somehow that seemed just a bit too perfect. I wanted it smaller and I wanted it to connect to the cupcakes. I started with the cake. It was a dairy-free chocolate cake with dairy-free chocolate frosting and mint chocolate cookie filling. The frosting is one of my favorites, but because it uses both expeller-pressed coconut oil and Earth Balance buttery sticks, it gets very soft if you work with it at room temperature too long. You have to work quickly! After I made a bunch of quills by rolling up a 50/50 mix of chocolate and gum paste, I frosted the porcupine cupcakes, placed their toppers on and filled and frosted the cake. Then, I went to deliver cakes and do some errands, all the while still thinking about how I’d make the top porcupine! I knew he’d be made from the two cupcakes I made AND the cake levels that I had made sure to tell my husband and son not to touch until the porcupine was done.
How to Make the Porcupine Top Cake
When I got home from my cake deliveries, I decided that the base of the cake would be covered with pink fondant balls to match the color of the ribbon rose on the cupcake toppers. I did that, then laid three green leaves on the top of the cake as a base for my soon-to-be porcupine to sit. I let the frosting that I had placed in the fridge during my delivery come to room temperature again, using the time to work on other cakes.
Finally it was time to tackle this porcupine. I cut one cupcake into a triangular shape for the nose and used a circle cutter to take a bit out of the second cupcake so that the two shapes could nest together.
Now I could make this mini porcupine cake come to life! I didn’t take any more pictures until it was complete. Again, if you want to make it yourself, here is a list of steps.
- Have your two cupcakes prepared and chilled (it is always easier to work with cold cake if you are cutting it apart), prepare your quills in advance, and have the frosting you’d like to work with ready. You’ll also need a small amount of a flesh-colored fondant for his nose area.
- Cover the triangular cupcake with a thin layer of frosting and then cover with the flesh-colored fondant. Use frosting to attach this to the body of the porcupine.
- Use two or three thin cake levels to mound up the back of the porcupine. Alternatively, you can slice the bits that are left from your cupcake and use them. I had the levels and they were the right thickness (about 1/4 inch) so I worked with them instead. Take one of your three cupcake pieces and use that to add a bit of extra roundness to his backside.
- Place him on the top of the cake.
- Now use a #10 round tip and pipe little swirls for his quills to go in.
- Insert the quills, taking care to make sure they go all the way into the cake, not just the frosting.
- Top with any final adornments, including writing or cut out letters.