The Making of "Labyrinth Mural Cake"

Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered,

I have fought my way here to the castle,

beyond the Goblin City,

to take back the child that you have stolen.

My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great.

You have no power over me.

Labyrinth is in my opinion one of the greatest movies ever made, and it certainly played a big part in my life growing up.  I loved everything about it.  The puppets, the music, David Bowie (squee!!), the costumes, everything.  I owe a life long obsession with Brian Froud to the Labyrinth too.

When I first had the idea of creating a Buttercream Labyrinth Cake, it was for something far more simple, and 2 dimensional, but I don’t like to do anything by halves, so not only did I decide on 3D, but also on 100% Buttercream.

I am so very proud of this cake. Not only because it looks good, but because it would have been so easy to settle. I could have made something with a hint of Labyrinth, and it would still have looked good, but I took the risk, and put SO much work into a cake, not knowing what kind of reception it would get.

I’m thrilled to say that the response has been overwhelming, and while it’s nice to hear nice things about your work, what is even better, is hearing how many people are inspired to try something DIFFERENT. Something outside their comfort zone, or what they thought could be done. That just fills me with so much joy.

I’m also thrilled to hear people trying things by hand. We are losing far too many ‘skills’ because there’s a tool/mould/gadget for that, and while I appreciate innovation, I’m energised by true Artisan efforts. I’m not trying to sound preachy, but I personally am more excited about a work of art that has created at every possible turn.

I have put together a rough 'behind the scenes' pictorial of how it came together, and what inspired me.  I have had some people ask if I will be doing a full tutorial on this cake, and I have to say I would love too if there is enough interest, so let me know in the comments!

Planning the Adventure

The general 'story' of this cake, for those that are familiar with the movie, is Sarah's ascension from the maze, to the Firey Forest, to the ballroom, and to her ultimate confrontation with the Goblin King. The colour palette is not only chosen based on the film's design, but also to represent her journey from darkness to light.

As some of you may have seen, I created a rough sketch of the design, more to give myself an idea of placement, rather than as a "rule", after all, I was going to be modelling Buttercream, so I had to be willing to change my design if it wasn't working!

This Mural was created on Styrofoam tiers, but could easily have been made on cake, or a canvas, or any other medium.  I chose my layout to resemble a castle, by off setting the tiers, beginning with an 11" base, then 9", 7", and 5", all 5" high.

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I attached the tiers using melted chocolate, which sets HARD, so be sure you have them where you want them before it sets! I fully assembled the cake, because I wasn't planning on icing each tier, but rather 'painting a canvas'. I wanted the cake to be one continuous story, rather than individual layers.

I lightly marked the dummies in pencil, where I planned to put the large structural pieces, as a guide.  If this was cake, it would have been easy enough to mark the cake after it had been crumb coated.

The first step was to implement the stairs.  This was really where the whole thing  would work, or it wouldn't.  I chose to apply a thick strip of Buttercream to the cake and carve the stairs by hand using a square edged palette knife, but next time around, I think I would model the stairs and then apply them.  As it was, the 3 staircases took half a day on their own.

Just as with paintings, this cake needed to be built from the background, to the foreground, so I added the doorways, and background base colours, by hand painting on Buttercream with a square edged paintbrush.  

This not only kept the layer relatively thin, and thus quick drying, but also gave me a great tapestry texture. 

Now that I had the 'structure', I could begin adding the next layer of design.

Modelling Buttercream

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Yep. You read that right, MODELLING BUTTERCREAM.

I knew it could be done, as I had tried something similiar with my "Harvest" cake, but for this cake, I wanted more from my Buttercream.  I wanted to create hand modelled masks, Firey's, a clock face, all of which would require more strength than Basic Buttercream could provide, but I still wanted to be able to give this work the '100% Buttercream' title.

Yes, I realise that modelling chocolate would have given me a more realistic finish, but this was about testing Buttercream's limits, as much mine.

I knew that I could just add more icing sugar, and that would thicken the Buttercream, but I was worried that the sugar would crystallize and crumble, so I kneaded in some cornflour, just to see what would happen. 

BOOM! Basic Modelling Buttercream! Able to be modelled into any shape, with a respectable amount of detail, and also able to be painted! The cornflour doesn't really change the flavour of the Buttercream, but it does have a slightly powdery taste.  

This mix is NOT intended to be used as a make shift fondant. It has no stretch, so its not for covering cakes. This is to give you the ability to model using ingredients that you already have lying around. Whether its to use in a mould, or to model a simple bow, or to create a 4 tier Mural cake, Basic Modelling Buttercream is just another medium you can use.

This is NOT Modelling Clay.  This is not a hard set medium.  Its sets firm enough to hold shape and be painted, but it cannot fully replace modelling chocolate or other mediums for use in sugar flowers or other delicate items. Its not impervious to heat or moisture.  In terms of shelf life and storage, treat it like regular Buttercream.

So to recap:

Basic Modelling Buttercream

500g Icing Sugar (Powdered Sugar)

250g Butter (you could use shortening if you want a white clay)

Cornflour as needed. (I say as needed, because the temperature and conditions will dictate how much you need to add to get a firm consistency)

You want the consistency firm, but not dry, otherwise it will just crumble. It will only take a little bit of a play to work out how much you need to use to get the consistency you like working with. This is NOT for piping.

Creating a Fiery Forest

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From a technical standpoint, this section was the hardest.  I hand painted (which is not one of my strengths!) the Labyrinth in the background, and modelled the Trees in the foreground.

The trees were constructed using Basic Modelling Buttercream (BMC), by rolling logs of BMC, and twisting them to give them a gnarled vine like appearance.  Once dry, I hand painted highlights and shadows for depth, using Rose Spirit and edible Dusts.

The leaves were all hand piped using tri toned Buttercream, and a 349 tip.  Yes, it took a long time. Yes, my hand hurt afterwards. Yes, I have taught myself how to pipe with my other hand so I don't cry while I work.  But seriously, worth it. It's such an awesome effect.  

To help me create a 'bunched' effect, I piped blobs of green Buttercream to use as bases for the leaves. Thus not only helping to bulk out the tree, but to do it evenly.

The Fiery's (which scared me to death when I was little!) were created by modelling their heads from BMC, and hand piping in the eyes, hair, and hands.

The Ballroom

The quintessential scene, and inspiration for pretty much every Wedding Dress, Song, and Groom for most of the 80's, the Ballroom scene is a work of art. How then do you capture the essence of that scene, when you don't have a lot of space, or options? 

I chose to focus on the clock, THE clock, that punctuates every major scene, and stirs as a constant reminder for Sarah, and indeed for all of us, that time doesn't wait. I chose to also chose to include some masks from the Ballroom, which were modelled as described above.

The clock, believe it or not, was actually rolled out much like cookie dough, which I 'cut' using a bowl. This gave me nice rounded edges, and because it cut all at once, there was no pulling out of shape. I let it crust for 10 minutes, then carefully lifted it, supporting it with my hands, and attached it to the cake.  The underside was still soft and sticky, so I didn't have to do anything special to make it stick.

Some of you have asked how something so big stays stuck, well it comes down the surface area that is attached to the cake is quite large, and the profile is quite thin, so over the space of the clock, the weight is evenly distributed.  Also, much the same as freeze drying flowers overnight, dryer Buttercream holds better.

Once it had crusted and dried on the surface, I painted it with Rolkem Super Gold, to give it an awesome shine (and make it a pain in the butt to photograph!), and hand piped the clock face.

The Details

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What cake would be complete without Roses! The answer is of course, it wouldn't, so I chose a vibrant Maroon and Dusky Pink colour scheme, which I felt was not only pretty, but delightfully 80's. Keep a keen eye also for a little bunch of Eye Lichen!

The 'Helping Hands' were also modelled with BMC, and were surprisingly simple to model. Once they were dry, and gave them a soft paint with a grey lustre dust mixed with Rose Spirit, more for shading than colour.

Both the Helping Hands, and the masks could not have been made without my awesome Sugar Shapers. 

The final detail, and actually the line that has always stayed with me from Labyrinth, was "how you turn my world you precious thing". I have just always loved it. I think it sums up both Jareth and Sarah's relationship, and love in general.

My handwritting piping needs work, but overall I couldn't be happier with how the cake turned out.

This cake has broken through a fear barrier for me, one I built myself, because I was comfortable, but in comfort I wasn't moving forward.  I now know what Buttercream can truly do, and now a whole world of design ideas has taken up residence in my mind, and it sure will be fun getting them out.

And my final thoughts on Buttercream? How you turned my world you precious thing..

Viva La Buttercream xx