This past Saturday I attended a baby shower for my dear friend Noella. It seems like it was just last month that she went to Kaua'i for vacation and came back married to her best friend John. My how time flies! She's pregnant with her first child, a baby girl and is due in a few short weeks. I've been anticipating making this cake since I found out she was pregnant. I just couldn't wait to celebrate this big event in her life.
On a warm, sunny August morning, Noella and I met for breakfast at the High-Life, one of my favorite restaurants in Ballard. Over sauteed chard and baked eggs, I watched Noella's face light up as she detailed her plans to decorate her daughter's room with bright pink and orange, Mexican doll prints she had recently found and Otomi patterns. Otomi wasn't a word I was familiar with but it was a pattern I adored. Until that day I didn't even know had an official name! Otomi is the Mexican art of embroidery which you've most likely seen, especially if you've ever visited Mexico or been into a Pier 1 Imports store. It's actually rather common as I've seen variations on it on everything to women's clothing to pillows to a lamp shade at the Land of Nod. I was instantly intrigued and loved the idea of translating an Otomi design onto a cake.
I could "see" the design in my head almost instantly but translating it to an actual cake proved to be a bit of a challenge. I knew I wanted to have an Otomi pattern on the cake, but I wasn't sure what the scale should be. Since Otomi patterns are notoriously jam-packed with various sized elements, the overall design can get very busy. Would the busy pattern work on two tiers? Should I keep the colors separate per tier or combine them? I was over thinking things but unfortunately that's part of my creative process. Oh, and let's not forgot my internal struggle to commit to using fondant or not. It wasn't until about a week before the cake was due that I made a decision to use fondant. Honestly, I try to avoid covering cakes in fondant due to how expensive it is, that most people just eat around it and I just get really intimidated. But in order to get the clean palette I needed to apply the pattern to the sides of the cake, I knew it was the right direction to go.
I was dreading draping the fondant over the cakes like you wouldn't believe. Thank goodness for my friend Janet who makes the most amazing cakes and has a lot of expertise covering cakes with fondant. She gave me two tips that made all the difference! She said to put my cakes into the freezer to get them really rigid because it makes it easier to cover (so true!) and to makes sure my fondant was at least 1/4 inch thick once I rolled it out. Up until then I was lucky if I was using 1/8 of an inch which would explain why my fondant normally always tears and generally looks horrible. It took me four separate attempts to get the cakes covered without any tears or obvious wrinkles but I did it. While not perfect it was still leaps and bounds better than I had ever done. I finally had a clean palette to Otomi-ize!
As for the design, I found a few images of animals online that I printed out, shrunk, and cut out and used as stencils. As for the rest of it, well, I just made up as I went along. My goal was to create a pattern that was some what traditional and made the pattern symmetrical all the way around the cake. The second layer took on a life of its own and stayed somewhat simple. I could have continued the Otomi design there too but it just seemed like too much. I opted for a bright boarder and used a few small designs to add some interest.
Overall I'm pretty thrilled with the way it came out. Noella loved it when she saw it at the shower and really, that's all that mattered.
Noella, I'm so happy for you and John! I can't wait to meet your little bubblecupcake! She's so lucky to have you as a mom!