Making a Spell Book Cake

Tutorial on making a spell book cake from the movie Hocus Pocus
Cast a spell with the Sanderson Sisters’ Hocus Pocus cake. Image courtesy of Debbie Morrow, All Rights Reserved.

After years of watching my aunt make some amazing fondant cakes, my daughter and I thought we’d give it a try. But, instead of store bought fondant, we decided to make our own. It was less expensive, tasty, and easy to make.

This Hocus Pocus Spell Book, is the second fondant cake we’ve ever made. The first was a five-layer Pusheen Cake, that took 9 hours to make, because of so many trials and errors. But that conversation is for another post.

For this one, I was lucky enough to have my aunt visiting, and my daughter helping again. We split the tasks up between us, to create this cake faster. So especially if you’re a newbie, ask a friend to help. Even if they have never used fondant before. Because anyone can make this, it’s just more enjoyable with someone else helping and troubleshooting.

What You’ll Need:

  • A Cake mix (your choice in flavor) and a 13 x 9 x 2 cake pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Butter cream frosting – Homemade or Wilton’s
  • Homemade Fondant (recipe below) – You’ll need enough for cake with edging, and embellishments
  • Food Coloring or Gel: brown, green, silver metallic, and black
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Fondant and icing tools: A roller, a mat (or wax paper), frosting spatula, and items to shape embellishments – such as straws, toothpicks, kabob sticks ( just get imaginative, if you don’t own official fondant tools)
  • Other tools we used: a clean, clear ruler, brand new, various paint brushes (at least a 1-inch and a liner for detail), silverware, and one large and one small knife.
  • A larger platter or board the cake will sit on

Directions:

Before you do anything, make sure you grease and flour your pan sides, and cut a piece of parchment paper for the bottom. Then mix and bake your cake according to the box directions, or make your own homemade one – just as long as it fills the pan size mentioned above. Once baked and still in the pan, let it cool enough to place into your freezer.

Marshmallow Fondant: While the cake is either baking or freezing, start by making your first batch of fondant. I suggest reading the full fondant directions, before starting the recipe below. It dries/hardens a lot quicker than you may think. You’ll need two separate batches because: you’ll need two different main colors, and a large bowl with lots of room for the marshmallows to puff up, without spilling over.

Even though you could technically add color after mixing sugar in, you’ll realize that adding color before mixing in the sugar, will save you major kneading. Believe me, I’ve done both. It’s far easier to mix color into melted marshmallow, than after the sugar is added and stiffening.

Also, don’t worry if you have any leftover. Marshmallow fondant keeps well, sealed in a baggie. Leave at room temp. and it should be good for at least a month or two.

For each batch, you’ll need:

  • 1 bag (approx. 10 -12 oz.) of marshmallows (minis melt better)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of water
  • 4 + cups of Confectionery Sugar – some call this 10x
  • Shortening to grease hands, spatula or fork
  • Rolling Mat or Wax Paper
  • Roller

Directions:

Set up your station, where you’ll be rolling out the fondant (with mat or wax paper, roller, extra 10x sugar, and a little shortening nearby) Also have the brown gel or food coloring near the microwave, because again – it’s much easier to mix in the color before the sugar.

Pour marshmallows into a large microwave safe mixing bowl, add water. Microwave around 30 seconds (depending on your wattage) – you’ll see it puff up and melt, so keep a close eye on it, and add or subtract seconds, as needed. As soon as the marshmallows are puffed and melted, pull it out of microwave, and mix well. Then add your BROWN food coloring or gel. Add enough to be slightly darker than your desired book. Because when you add the sugar, it will lighten a shade.

Once the color is mixed well, add 4 cups of the confectionery sugar and stir vigorously. Some people like to use beaters for this, but I like to do it old school – especially being so sticky at this point. Your choice. Once the sugar is well incorporated into the marshmallow mix, it should be firm enough to start the kneading process. If you had to use lots of food coloring instead of the concentrated gel, you may need to add a little more confectionery sugar to make it roll-able.

Sprinkle your mat or paper with the confectionery sugar, to help prevent sticking. With greased hands, grab the mix out of the bowl to form a ball, place on the mat or paper, and knead the heck out of it. Throughout this process, add sugar as needed to prevent the fondant from sticking to mat or paper. Knead until it’s no longer super sticky. It should be smooth, soft, and a bit shiny. This can take between 6 to 8 minutes to achieve the right consistency, then place the fondant into a tightly sealed baggie or plastic wrap.

Now repeat with second batch of fondant, but DO NOT ADD COLOR. LEAVE WHITE!

ButterCream Homemade or Wilton’s

A buttercream coat is a must, before using fondant. Some recipes can be found at My Cake School, or my daughter has used a Wilton’s pre-made version, several times with great success. There are different homemade types of buttercream, like American, Swiss, Italian, etc. Using the pre-made is like using frosting out of a can, but with a little different consistency. The pros to store-bought is the time savings, and ease of use. The flavor works well with the homemade fondant above, too.

Working on the Cake

Take your cake out of the freezer and make sure there are no edges that are sticking to the side walls of the pan ( use a butter, or straight-edged knife around the edges to loosen). Flip your cake gently, over onto the platter or board that your cake will be presented on. Pull parchment paper off, if stuck on. Then flip the cake, top side up.

Most likely, you will have a little raised middle. If this happens, using a sharp serrated knife, level your cake to be as flat as a book. *Optional, but definitely recommended: Cut your cake horizontally through center to have two level flat pieces. Sometimes I use toothpicks to keep me guided across the right depth, like the directions at RecipeTip.com. There is also a inexpensive cake cutting tool that does a straight cut, sold at Dollar General.

Fill with Buttercream/Coat

Once the cake is fairly level and you’ve cut your cake into two layers, add buttercream in between the layers, then crumb coat your cake similar to Wilton’s Crumb Coating – 101. Although some sites say you only need to refrigerate the cake during the process, I’ve found that freezing works far better in keeping the crumbs to a minimum. Once it’s crumb coated, place in freezer, about a half hour again, to keep it nice and firm.

After the crumb coat has hardened a bit, pull out of freezer, add another thin layer of buttercream, and set cake aside.

Roll out the brown fondant you’ve made, large enough to cover at least the top and book binding side. The pic below will help. Make sure you’ve rolled it thin enough, for leftover pieces needed for bottom trim of book, outer eye, stitch area, and fingers on side of book.

Side view of Hocus Pocus Spell Book Cake. Image courtesy of Debbie Morrow, All Rights Reserved.

If it’s your first time using fondant, watch Wilton’s video on how to roll, pick up, and place on a cake. When I used fondant the first time, I used a different recipe, and it was harder to work with, than the one I have above. My daughter also agreed, the above recipe was better, and now uses it every time she makes a fondant cake.

It might be just a matter of practice too. So if it tears, just reroll and don’t give up. Always make it bigger than you think you’ll need and then cut away. Make sure the leftovers are placed back into a baggie, to stay moist and pliable.

Once you’ve cut the book cover section over the cake, roll out 3 white fondant rectangles, the width of what the page sections would be(The ruler will come in handy right about now). If you’re having issues with fondant not sticking to other pieces, use a little paint brush of water, a little more buttercream underneath, or there is even a tutorial on fondant “glue” – I never tried it, but seems like a reasonable option.

Adding Book Page Trim to Sides: Roll and cut a thin, straight strip of brown fondant to go over the white fondant, bottom page edge. Do this on all three sides – like the images, to look like the bottom of a book cover.

Making the Pages Look Like Pages

Once you’ve got the white fondant page sections in place, you won’t believe the ease of this part. Take your ruler and make indentations across the white (lengthwise, how pages would appear), over and over, on all sides. Once you’re satisfied with enough page indentations, take a dry, clean paint brush and dip it into a little cocoa powder. Then dust the page areas. Keep repeating with dust, until the pages have depth.

The Fun Stuff: Embellishments

Probably the easiest way to figure out sizing of the embellishments on the book, is to simply make a paper cut-out pattern of some the pieces, set them over the book, and see if the sizing fits. Or measure out everything and list on a piece of paper. This would be: The metal circle cuff surrounding the eye, (make sure it’s large enough for surrounding the eye/lid), the corner silver ends (but not snakes), and a strip of paper representing the snake strip along the binder edge. Remember, the stitches will go in there too, while eyeballing if everything looks accurate in size.

Our Halloween Bash dessert table. Image courtesy of Debbie Morrow, All Rights Reserved.

The Fingers on the book binding: I just looked at my own fingers and shaped brown fondant pieces similar, but if you’re struggling, go to The Bearfootbaker.com for a tutorial. For the Eye: Shape a white piece of fondant into a half-oval ball. For some, it may be easier just to make an oval ball and cut it into two pieces (make sure the extra piece gets put back into the baggie). The Eyelid: I rolled out some brown fondant, a little longer and almost double the width of eyeball. After placing the eye ball down on the fondant book, I wrapped the lid on the top and bottom, making a bit of a fold in them. I used a brush of water to seal them in place. The Iris: Get a small ball of white fondant and knead any color (I used green), well into it. Then roll the piece flat, and cut out the circle with either a straw, or the round end of a decorator tip. Do the same for the black pupil, but use a smaller straw or tip. Optional: Add a brush stroke of shortening over eyeball, to make it shiny.

The Silver Pieces

For all silver painted pieces, you’ll need another cookie sheet of space to work on and to ensure the silver food coloring or pieces don’t taint the rest of the book. Let them dry a bit before transferring. You’ll be making squares, a latch, snakes, etc. The metal circle around the eye: The shape itself, reminds me of a handcuff, so that might help you in making this – especially if you’re doing it free form. You can use a cup, round cookie cutter, or even just roll out (an approx. 1/4 inch thick) piece of white fondant, with your hands in “snake shape fashion” and join the ends. Shape, flatten, and cut/add fondant as needed, until you’re sure it’s shaped circular and even. Make sure it will fit around the eye/lid. Once you’re satisfied with the size and shape, paint it with silver food coloring. Make the markings on the cuff with a toothpick or whatever thin tool you have. Small circle impressions go in- between the lines. Optional: add a single Nonpareil to cuff edge, to appear as a hole for clasp attachment.

The Clasp: Although not seen in my pics, there is a rectangle silver clasp on the side of the book, attaching the silver cuff shape. It’s about the same thickness of the cuff and appears to make the book look lockable. It’s nothing special, basically a rectangle piece that appears to be attached from bottom of book to cuff.

Squares/Rectangle: This is where those paper cut-outs will help. It will give you a pattern to just cut out the correct size pieces, by laying over your rolled out white fondant. Paint all with silver food coloring, add snakes mentioned below. ( Paint a bit of fondant glue or water to ensure pieces stick together).

Snakes: Three will be needed. Two smaller (one on each square), and a larger one, to be placed on top of the long silver rectangle, that follows the top left side of the binding. After you’ve made all those with white fondant, paint with silver food coloring.

Adding to the Top of Book: Add all the silver pieces, and once they are securely in place, roll out thin pieces of brown fondant for the scars. Use your imagination. We used 2 thin strips down for each scar. You can pucker the two together or not. Once you’ve scarred your book, take black food coloring or gel, and paint the cross stitches over the scars.

Last Added Touches: Take a piece of aluminum foil – scrunched into a ball, and add texture to the book. Take the foil ball and dab the book cover several times, all over the brown, to give it a more leathered look. Make sure silver paint and black cross stitches are dry first, before next step: With a paint brush, dip it into cocoa powder, and brush over nail beds on side of binding, and all over book, to give a bit of an aged look.

If you happen to try this tutorial, please send me a pic. I’d love to share everyone’s creations! Also, if you have any questions, please feel free to email or leave a comment, so I can answer ASAP. Enjoy Creating!

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