All-Natural Elmo Cake

A dear friend recently asked me to make a cake for her daughter’s two-year-old birthday party.  Who is the most popular monster around when you are two?  Elmo!

I figured Elmo would be a good choice, because not only is he universally popular among the two-year-old crowd, but he is relatively simple.  An odd-shaped head, round eyes, orange nose, and open mouth are his defining facial characteristics.

I knew right away that I wanted to stay away from red frosting dyes and make an “all-natural” Elmo.  I was surprised to find very little advice online about how to accomplish this.

Here’s how I did it:

Not confident in my ability to create Elmo’s head shape just by carving a sheet cake, I bought the Wilton Elmo-shaped cake pan.  It is sold at Michael’s and AC Moore.  Be sure to use a coupon, since it retails for about $12.

I baked a yellow cake in the pan, using a lot of flour baking release spray.  Once it was cool, I frosted it with a simple white icing recipe.  I did need to double the recipe to fully cover Elmo.

I spoke with bakery staff at Whole Foods and Doron Petersan of Sticky Fingers Bakery, (thank you!) who both advised me that there is no such thing as an all-natural red dye that would get anything close to the color of Elmo.  While I might be able to make a pale pink, I would need another alternative for realistic Elmo fur.

Strawberries are the perfect red shade and they provide a bit of texture too.  Be sure to cut them in the different shapes.  You’ll need small pieces when you get around the eye and nose area.

For the nose, I used a hollowed-out half of a navel orange.  For the black pupils of Elmo’s eyes, I used upside-down dark chocolate Hershey Kisses.

The black mouth presented more of a challenge.  I used black licorice, which I trimmed into a mouth shape.  I recommend using kitchen shears for the trimming.  You may also want to leave the licorice out on the counter the night before so some of the tangy smell goes away.

The cake was a big hit!  My only disappointment was that the strawberries leaked juice and by the time the cake was served, there was a small puddle of strawberry juice around it.  I’ve baked with strawberries and raspberries since, and I continue to have this problem, even though I am drying the berries thoroughly.  I’ll have to continue to experiment with this.

Also, be aware that your Elmo cake won’t fit in a standard 13×9 cake carrier.  Oops!  Lesson learned.

Now for next year’s challenge: Who’s the most popular character when you are 3?!