Gift Box Cake – surprise! I didn’t get you an actual present.

IMG_9862 2The Gift Box Cake – perfect for those times you just don’t know what to get someone!

This year, my gift to my brother (in Pittsburgh) was a surprise visit from his little sister, and a big layer cake. Not just a layer cake, but a schmancy cake layered with awesome. My suspicion was that he would appreciate aesthetics nearly as much as taste, so I decided to go all-out and try my hand at a gift box cake.

This was my first foray with fondant, and only my second attempt at working with gum paste. For my first try? I think I did alright. Everyone who’s seen it has been fooled by its realism and impressed by its detail, and The Brother nearly tore into it thinking it was, in fact, a box with a cake inside. By that I’d call it a success.

It wasn’t an easy success to come by, though. My inexperience was clear when I rolled the cake in fondant only to realize that seams, and breakage, would be an issue. Buttercream oozed from every nook and cranny, and although I made a valiant effort to patch and seal, there was no salvaging the situation.


I scrapped the fondant, and tried again. Much better!


I used about 2 lbs. of white fondant, kneaded with maybe 1/8th tsp. Wilton’s Gel food coloring, Delphinium Blue.

Once the fondant was on, I set to work on the gum paste bow. I followed this tutorial from, which was very helpful in laying out just how to shape and assemble the bow. Because you can’t actually tie a knot with gum paste, each loop of the bow, the tails, and the center, are all separate pieces that are rolled, pinched and crinkled, and laid together.


I wasn’t successful at getting the gum paste as thin as I’d like, but after many torn pieces I settled for the thickness you see.
Using a fondant embosser/stitching wheel along the edges and brushing the ribbons with white luster dust made a huge difference in terms of adding realism. Right before my eyes the sheets of rolled sugar transformed into shimmering ribbons of fabric.

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While not perfect, I must say I was pleased with myself. Plus, having more hands-on experience now, I’m certain I can improve with time and practice.

The cake itself was a white cake – nothing too fancy, but by no means lacking in deliciousness. After looking at several recipes, I discovered that Bridget, from The Way The Cookie Crumble’s, had already looked around and tried a few for comparison. Being a fan of Cook’s Illustrated, they would have been my first choice, but I went ahead with Bridget’s minor adjustments to the CI recipe, agreeing that I didn’t want the cake to be too sweet.
You can find her adaptation of Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe here:
I made a double batch, resulting in three 8×8″ square cakes and one thin 9×9″ (this is what created the ‘lid’ of the box).


An observation: I like leveling cakes. Leveling means scraps, and where do scraps go? Into my belly!

For the frosting, I used Tasty Kitchen’s Vanilla Buttercream, which has become my go-to recipe ever since the Angel Food Wedding Cake. This time, I went wild with adding whole vanilla, vanilla extract, and a pinch of vanilla powder for a very full and rounded flavor.


Another observation: I like making buttercream. Creaming butter and sugar means beaters, and I get to ‘clean’ them when I’m done.

And of course, because the cake uses so many egg whites, I went ahead and made vanilla ice cream with the yolks.

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Unfortunately, the ice cream didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh with me (no, I didn’t eat it all… yet…) – although I could’ve packed it with dry ice and taken it on the bus, I already had enough to carry.

After lots of trying to coordinate with friends, and avoiding telling my brother I was coming dto town, he managed to figure it out anyway the night before I arrived. Although that technically ruined the ‘surprise’ aspect of the whole thing, it ended up being a good thing because it meant him getting to plan on what he wanted to do – which is what it’s all about!

Arriving at his apartment before he left work meant getting to set things up a bit.

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(Shhh! He thinks I matched the color of the card to the cake on purpose – happy coincidence!)

After dinner, we went out with friends to shoot some pool, and throw back a few birthday shots. Then it was back to his place to enjoy some cake!

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Having had some time to sit wrapped in the fondant, the cake was nice and dense. I kind of wish I’d used a little more buttercream (although I used an entire batch!) between the layers, but it was still insanely tasty, and hit just the perfect level of sweetness.

The Brother, being the luckiest guy around, not only got to enjoy this slice of wonderful, but also a hunk of this cake, made by friend of his:

(Michelle’s chocolate cake with cherry cream cheese frosting)

This was a thing of beauty – dark chocolate cake, covered in black cherry frosting and hiding a secret layer of jam inside. The cake was super chocolaty, and the frosting just the right level of sweetness – a serious home run on the combo, too. I’ve got to admit, I had more than a dainty piece of this.

Just to be clear, there was no competition between the cakes – no cake face offs, sorry folks. They were so different from each other, and both incredible. Have I mentioned what a lucky guy The Brother is? There may also have been cupcakes the next day. That’s right, two cakes and cupcakes. Is that overkill? Naaaaaa!

My only regret about the whole thing was not being able to stay longer. After just one day I was on my way back home. Thank goodness for the Holiday’s coming up, because I miss that boy already.

Happy birthday, Big Brother!

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13 Responses to Gift Box Cake – surprise! I didn’t get you an actual present.

  1. gwynne November 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    WOW. I’ve always wondered about fondant and gum. Now I’m much clearer. May even try it sometime. Looks like a nice puzzle, challenge.
    Beautiful, Willow.

  2. Willow November 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Gwynne, thanks! Yeah, it’s fun stuff to play with. Let me know if you do, I’d love to hear about it. :)

  3. The Sister November 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Ugh! The Brother’s birthday…. ! *sigh* Really, I can remember things. Really.

    The cake looks awesome, though, little sister. Excellent work.

  4. Willow November 13, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    Haha, thanks. It’s never too late to give him a call! I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

  5. Eric M November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Wow! That’s pretty amazing. If you wanted, that’s a pretty marketable skill.

  6. Willow November 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Thanks, Eric! I do like the idea baking more (and styling) but I’ve still got a long way to go. :)

  7. confessionsofabrighteyedbaker November 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    I love the idea of making baked goods for people on their birthdays. They like eating them and you get to try making something new! The cake is picture perfect :)

  8. Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen November 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    This is sooo brilliant! :)

  9. Willow November 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm #


  10. Anonymous November 15, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Great job! My first attempt with fondant looked like yours too. It’s not as easy to work with as one would think. Practice does make perfect though.
    Here’s a tip from a pro cake designer (me):
    Before covering the cake with fondant, make sure your crumb coat is evenly applied, covering all cracks. Then throw the whole cake in the fridge for about an hour, or if you have room put it in the freezer while you color your fondant. Roll the fondant out before you pull the cake out of the fridge. Working fast, get the fondant on the cake before it starts to get soft. Et voila!
    Hope this helps you!

  11. Willow November 15, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    Hey, thanks for the advice! I actually did chill the cake a little before my second attempt at covering it, hoping that the buttercream would firm up and make my life easier. I’d like to have had more thorough frosting coverage as well (I presume this is what you mean by the ‘crumb coat’) but was too lazy to make a second batch. In the future, I’ll know better. Those are great tips!

  12. Muhammad Atif July 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    There was no competition between the cakes Send gifts to Pakistan from UK.

  13. florist February 7, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    This is a very good blog! I have enjoyed reading it very much and will book mark the site. I hope you continue with the excellent posts. Enjoy

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