A good friend of mine and a fellow member of the Scarpace lab just completed her final defense of her dissertation last Monday. To celebrate this huge accomplishment, Dr. Tumer & Dr. Scarpace are throwing a party for her this weekend! I was thrilled and honored when Dr. Tumer called to ask if I’d make a small cake for JJ!
I’ve been hoping to have the chance to make a graduation cake for JJ because I really wanted to try to recreate her bound dissertation. For those who may not know, when you complete a dissertation (for a Ph.D.) or a thesis (for a masters), our department gets it printed and bound. The copy stays in the departmental library for anyone to read…although probably no one ever does! haha! The dissertation is bound with a black leatherette cover and imprinted with gold font.
Since we only needed the cake to serve about 10 people, I had to keep it small. I decided to make a large graduation cap out of cake and use stacked cardboard to make the dissertation. Recently in lab, we were talking about how some people decorate the tops of their mortar boards so they stand out in a crowd full of graduates. JJ is headed to Cleveland to, for the first time, be living in the same town as her husband so I wrote “Cleveland here I come” on the top of her cap. Here’s the finished product:
If you’re interested in learning how to make a cake like this, read on. To begin, prepare your cake board (mine was a piece of plywood my grandpa cut for me). I covered my cake board with white fondant that was marbelized with orange and blue fondant (Go Gators!).
Next, stack pieces of same-size cardboard and tape them together. This will create a firm “book” that the cake will sit on. You could easily do the book in real cake too – just be sure to properly dowel it so it can support the graduation cap cake on top. Cut a piece of black fondant just slightly (and I mean slightly) larger than the cardboard pieces and place it on your cake base wherever you want the book to lie.
Spread a small amount of royal icing over this black piece and set your cardboard stack on top. Next, roll a larger piece of black fondant. This piece should be large enough to cover the top and spine of the book. Again, use a small amount of royal icing to “glue” this piece onto the cardboard stack. When you work on the spine of the book, tuck the edge of the fondant underneath, rather than cutting it straight across. This will give the impression that you covered the “book” all with one piece of fondant. With a little bit of touch-up work, you can completely blend the two fondant pieces together so that there is no longer a seam.
Now you need to add the pages to your book. I added my pages using 3 separate pieces of fondant. To do this, roll a piece of white fondant and cut it to the right size to fit between your cover pieces. Apply a little bit of royal icing to the cardboard and put the white fondant in place. Once I had all of 3 sides covered with white fondant, I went back and added the “page” effect by pressing the edge of a ruler into the white fondant.
Now, let’s move on to the graduation cap cake. I baked an 2-layer 8-inch cake- nothing special. Then I gently carved the cake to a flattened cone shape. At this point, be sure that the top is perfectly flat so the mortar board sits straight on top. After I carved the cake, I covered it with buttercream and then with black fondant.
Yikes! Excuse my purple/black fingernails (that’s what you get when you dye fondant black) and my messy apron (good thing I was wearing it I guess)! Anyway, cover this cake with fondant as you would normally and trim away the excess at the bottom.
To accessorize and personalize this cake, I decorated the top of the mortar board, created a small fondant plaque that said “Congratulations, Jiejin!” and painted the spine of the dissertation with gold luster dust dissolved in a small amount of clear alcohol. I created the tassle by rolling very thin snakes of blue fondant, pinching one end to secure them all together, and attaching them to the edge of the mortar board. Simple as that!
Congratulations, Jiejin! Everyone is so proud of you and you will be sorely missed in lab!