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Making a Tornado Cake!

The F5 Tornado Birthday Cake


Tornado Birthday Cake
Tornado Birthday Cake
Let me start by saying, I'm no expert at baking or cake creation (this may come as obvious to some who watch Ace of Cakes on the Food Network).  I'm just a dad with two great kids, one of which is turning 6 years old and is fascinated with weather.  In particular, the strong and violent kind of weather, like tornados.  So much so that he is learning quite a bit about weather and natural forces as well as a lot of things that have to do with learning, such as use of the computer to learn more.  So it only seemed fitting that we go that extra mile to make a birthday cake that suits his current interests.  A year ago, that would have been Monster Trucks (that would have been a fun cake).  Today it's Tornados!
That being said I started thinking ahead of time how I might be able to create this cake.  I sort of knew what I wanted to do, the trick was to allow that tornado to stand on its own.  The following will hopefully explain in detail how this cake was created so that someone else might be able to do it for their Tornado obsessed birthday person!
The order of business was to figure out how to stand that Tornado up without a cake disaster (no pun intended).  I started with a slab of 3/4 inch thick fresh, clean plywood.  Knowing the size of my cake pans, I cut the plywood about 2 inched longer on all sides.  4 inches longer in total than the cake base will be.  I'll be putting two 13x9 cakes next to each other so the plywood was cut 17x22.  I then drew a line to mark the border of the cake.

The method I decided to use to stand the cake up was going to be a pair of 1/2 inch wooden dowel rods.  I figured I'd be stacking up 6 layers of cake that would be about 2 inches thick so I cut two rods at about a foot long.  Those pictured to the right are longer than 1 foot.

I also discovered that the cake will sink under the weight of the icing so the tornado was shorted than expected by about an inch or so.

Later I trimmed this dowel rods using a pair of clippers.  Don't saw them after the cake is layers. If its necessary to cut them, use clippers.  You don't want to shake the cake and you don't want saw dust in your cake.

I wanted the cake to be in the corner.  I also wanted to put the cake centered on the dowel rods but hang out over the edge of the cake.  Figuring the cake would be maybe 9 or 10 inches across at the top, I came in 5 inches from the edge of the board and found the center.  I then spaced out two rods about 3 inches apart.  Then drilled two holes straight down into the 3/4 inch plywood.  (I didn't drill on my nice countertop though!)  The dowel rods were then tapped into the wood.  You want these to be tight so drill a hole exactly the same diameter or slightly smaller.  You could always glue the dowels first and let it dry.  But they have to be secure.  The plywood was then covered with plastic wrap and taped to the bottom so it wouldn't slide around.


Cake Time!

Time to start layering cake.  My wife kindly baked several 13x9 chocolate and vanilla cakes to start the project.  Not knowing how many I'd need, we started a couple of nights ahead of the party and made 2 of each, a total of 4 cakes.  We figured it wouldn't be enough so the next day she'd bake more.

The first two cakes were layered down.  It seems the vanilla fluffed up higher than the chocolate, so it would have to be shaved to give a flat surface.

The chocolate cake was put on the tornado side so I could do a little surface damage in that area as though the tornado was doing damage to the cake itself.

The chocolate cake was the first to be lowered over the wooden rods.  Then the vanilla was placed right next to it.

Take care lowering the cake over the dowel rods.  Line it up so it will lower close to your lines.  My lines were a little larger than the actual cake so I evened that up.  Don't worry about the lines.  The icing will cover that up.


First layer of Tornado!

The first layer was going to chocolate.  using a sharp pairing knife, I cut a circle out of the chocolate slab of cake.  The cut was not straight up and down, it was angled so the bottom was slightly narrower than the top.  Overall the top was about 6 inches tapering in to about 5 inches at the bottom.

First layer Down onto the Rods

Lower the cake down over the wooden rods.  I found it best to hold my thumbs over the rods and press the cake down while my other fingers were supporting the cake.  This way I was compressing the cake and not blowing holes out the top of the cake.

2nd layer of cake

The bottom of the second layer would be about the size as the top of the first layer of cake.  So I cut it as a larger circle.  Don't worry about making it perfect.  I was shaving a lot off later to make the shape I wanted.  Its better to leave extra on it than to not have enough cake.  So go a little larger if necessary.

2nd layer Down onto the Rods

Like the first layer, lower the cake down over the wooden rods.  Center it up as best as possible so the rods support the cake.

I then alternated chocolate, vanilla, chocolate, vanilla layers.

I gave a progressively larger flair to the cake so it hangs out over the cake like an ominous tornado over the landscape.

I had a few gaps due to the variation off thicknesses in the cakes.  I later filled these gaps with thin slices of cake to give it support.

In one instance a cake broke an end off so I :glued" it back on with some green icing out of a spray bottle.  It was thick and had some sticking power to it.


The vanilla cake on the base was a little thicker so I shaved it down to make it flat.  That's what the white area is on the vanilla cake.

This was the first night of work.  Not too difficult and it looks great so far.

I did a few little things like clean up the toys from my old train set that will make up the landscape.  I also made a little house out of cake.


Wrapped in plastic wrap for the night.

The next day two more cakes were baked, another vanilla and a chocolate.  Both for the top of the tornado.

That night, the goal was to stack the final two layers and get the icing and props on.

As with the other tornado layers, these last two were cut larger and layered on.

You can see the repair using green icing on the vanilla layer.

The next step was to trip the cake.  I used a long carving knife to shave off a little cake here and there to give a relatively flat surface to layer icing onto.  Catch the cake with your other hand so you don't let it fall on the cake making a mess.  I was holding the camera but otherwise I was catching the cake as I shaved off a little at a time.

I also trimmed the top of the wooden dowel rods using a pair of clippers.  You may need to use something with a little clamping power like a hand operated tree branch clipper.  Be careful not to shake the cake around.




Decorating the Tornado Cake

Working from the top down, I started with layering icing to the tornado.  I decided on a grayish light blue color for the tornado.  This was a base of pre-packaged white icing with food coloring added to it.  I did a sample first to check the color. 

When I had the color just about how I wanted it, I put three 4 or 5 ounce containers of icing in the bowl, then started adding food coloring to it until it was about right.

It was tricky adding the icing.  I had to layer it on thick to prevent the cake from peeling away but even then it was pulling up.  But that's OK!  The pieces of cake in the icing only added to the effect of debris flying around in the tornado.  That's the beauty of a Tornado Cake.  It doesn't have to be perfect!

Once I had a good layer of icing around the entire tornado, I started swirling a twisted pattern into the cake.  I also added a little more food coloring here and there to give the effect of things getting sucked up into the tornado.

You can see the dowel rods sticking up out of the cake.  The cake actually was sagging under the weight of the icing and about 3/4 inch of wooden rod was now exposed.  I just iced that over.

I though about putting a layer of blue cotton candy on top for the effect of a cloud but I didn't have time to locate any before the party.



The tornado is done. 

It also felt stable with the
dowel rods holding it up.
The master of disaster.

The next step was to add green icing over the landscape.  Above you can see the green getting added.  Again, just pre-made white icing with green food coloring.

To the right I took a slice of chocolate cake and made a road.  I then took a fork and chewed up the road as though the tornado had ripped through it and damaged the roadway spreading debris. 

The house is also added with a little tilt to it as though it was being lifted.  The roof is chocolate and the house is vanilla.  Doors and windows are chocolate.


More of the roadway being torn up.  Also the landscape was disturbed to look like the tornado had carved a path.


For the landscape:

 I used pretzel sticks for trees and wrapped green icing out of a spray can around them for the leaves.  Those trees that were in the path were snapped off.  Some were flying around in the tornado!

Pretzel sticks also made up the railroad tracks with black icing out of a small squeeze tube for the rails.

Yellow icing for the dashes on the road.

Candles that were construction equipment were used as though they were toppled or sucked up into the vortex.

Pretzel stick pieces and chocolate pieces were scattered all over like debris from the tornado.

Green sprinkles were added all over for grass and variation of the landscape.

Small toys from my HO train set were added such as signs and a railroad crossing guard and a railroad sign. 

Some signs were floating on the tornado!

Tornado Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday was added across the front.

Justin's Tornado Birthday Cake
Close up pics of the
Tornado Birthday Cake

Dump truck, trees, signs,
and debris in the tornado!



Overall the Tornado Birthday Cake was a great success.  I carefully transported the secured cake in the back of my truck only a mile down the road to a Moonbounce place.  Everyone was amazed by the detail and the concept and all the kids wanted a piece of the tornado!  It was fun to make and didn't take a lot of resources.  Just a small investment in time.  Well worth the price.  Justin loved it and that's what really mattered.


Justin's Tornado Cake



Tornado Hershey Bar Wrapper Party Favor

To the right is a party favor that I made that we handed out to all the guests.  This label fits on a full size Hershey's candy bar or possible other bars as well.  It's basically an image found online with some birthday specific text and some funny Tornado Ingredients.  Also added a tornado diagram for a fun little educational twist.  I thought I post this online just incase anyone that might like to make a cake like this wanted to add a party favor gift with a related topic.  The links below are both a high resolution jpg image and a Word document that I used to print two side by side. There are dashes on either side of the image.  Fold the label back on these dashes.  The ingredients will go over the road in the image.  Enjoy!

Click for a High resolution JPG

Click for a Word Document that allows printing two side by side



Other Tornado Cakes

Texas Tornado Cake
Twister Cake
Jason's Tornado Cake
Tornado Cake
Another Tornado Cake
Yet another Tornado Cake
Skychaser Tornado Cake
Dr. Floyd Birthday Cake
Another Texas Tornado Cake
Tornado Cake on StormTracker



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