My dad is from Portugal, loves drinking wine and just turned 60. He knew I was making a cake for his birthday but did not have a clue as to the cake design. He was completely surprised and couldn't believe the bottle wasn't real! I felt a little bad in that the cake was getting more attention and was being photographed more than the birthday boy but in the end, I was extremely happy that they all loved it. I learned a lot along the way for this being my 1st wine bottle and alas, below is the entire process documented as best as I could. I have also included some tips so if you were to try making one, you can avoid making the little mistakes I made.
Step 1 - Make the wine bottle out of gumpaste or fondant at least 3 days ahead:
I used a real wine bottle as a mold that I dusted with corn starch to keep the fondant from sticking to it...a lot of corn starch. I actually used MMF (marshmallow fondant) but I'll just "call" it fondant here for ease. Kneaded some brown fondant with Tylose (helps it dry harder and faster), rolled it out to about 1/8" thick, then lay it over the top half of the wine bottle making sure there is plenty of corn starch between the fondant and bottle. Smoothed out the fondant over the bottle and trimmed off the excess.
Tip 1: be sure to trim it at the half way mark down the side of the bottle so that you can just slip the fondant off the bottle once dry. You can make 2 halves separately then glue them together with sugar glue if you want a 3D bottle.
As you can see, my bottle was not very neat and I should have made a better effort at trimming the excess off straighter.
Tip 2: Allow at least 2-3 days for drying time to avoid the fondant from losing its shape.
Inpatient as I was and just eager to see how the bottle was working out, I pulled the fondant off the bottle after only 1 day of dry time...and couldn't put it back onto the mold without risking it cracking. It looked great...at 1st, but a few days later, the bottle warped a little along the edges and the neck curved a little to the right...I had to disguise the curve with careful placement of the grape leaves (our little secret but you can see it here in the picture).
Step 2 - Decorate the bottle:
The bottle was painted with clear piping gel tinted burgundy (AmeriColor Gel Paste). My attempt at trying to get it to look glossy. The piping gel was a little thick so I thinned it out with some almond extract which helped it go on smoother but you can see some of the brush strokes...there must be a better way. You can also use Vodka instead of the almond extract. I've heard of spraying edible lacquer to get it to shine but I didn't try to got out and find it. For the label, I mixed burgundy and black gel colors with almond extract and hand painted the lettering. I used a very thin brush and it took 2 hours just to get all the lettering painted...way too long but then again, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I wanted it to look as close to perfect as possible. Half hour of it was spent on the silver since I had to keep layering it to get it to look solid and stand out nicely.
Tip 3: I find with using straight black gel colors, it has a green tint to it but mixing it with a little burgandy gives you a deep, true black.
Step 3 - Make the wood panels for the box and for the base board at least 2 days ahead:
For the side panels of the box, I made 2 shades of fondant, a light brown and beige mixed with a little bit of yellow and red too to give it some variance. Rolled each color out into a thick snake them twist them together and kneaded it a little bit until it started to marble. Then rolled it out flat to around 3/16" thick.
Tip 4: Don't knead too much or else the marble will blend away. Rolling it out will help it marble more anyways.
Tip 5: You don't want to roll it out too thin or else you risk the panels from breaking apart.
I cut out 4 panels: 2 panels at 14" x 4" and 2 panels at 6" x 4". Layed them over parchment paper, then over a cookie tray to dry. Let it sit for about 5 minutes to dry a little then take some tools and score lines down it, poke holes into it, dent it, etc...just stress it out and get it to look like wood.
Tip 6: Letting the fondant sit for a couple minutes before scoring and marking it, it will help the design stay. If you start scoring it too early while the fondant is too soft and pliable, the marks will smooth away.
As for the base board, I used a 14" x 14" marble tile since I knew I was going to get it back. I washed it thoroughly, taped 4 play dough container lids to the bottom as feet (benefits of having kids and finding ways to reuse what I had...they worked perfectly), then covered the entire tile, top and bottom, with contact paper (the stuff you use to line your drawers with). Although heavy, it was very solid and sturdy.
I used a dark, chocolate brown and marbled in the left over from the side panels. I rolled it out and covered the board into 4 sections leaving the middle uncovered (14" x 6"). Used piping gel to help the fondant adhere to the board then let it sit for a few minutes before scoring and marking it up to look like wood. After you are done, let it sit for at least 2 days to harden and dry completely.
Tip 7: I should have cut the fondant into 2.5" wide panels and lay them in alternating rows to look more like a real floor where each panel's graining is unique.
Step 4 - Make the grape leaves at least 1 day ahead.
I made my own grape leaf stencil by sketching an outline on a sheet of paper then laid it over a piece of thinly rolled out green fondant (be sure to dust the back of the paper with corn starch to keep it from sticking to the fondant). Then used a pointed tool to trace out the outline over the fondant. Peeled off the paper, and then cut out the design. I then used a very small, 1/2" star shaped cutter, to roughly stamp out the edges around each leaf. Used a ball tool to smooth and slightly curl the edges over a cell pad, then laid the leaf over crinkled foil to dry. I rolled out thin snakes of fondant for the twigs, twisted some around some pens and lay them over the foil to dry. After they dried overnight, I dusted them with moss green and sunflower petal dust then steamed them for the color to stick and give it a little shine.
Step 5 - Bake, torte, fill, and crumb coat the cake 1 day ahead.
The side panels of the box were cut to make a box 14" L x 6" W x 4" H. Since I had only a 9x13 pan, I baked 2 cakes then trimmed them down to 6" wide and used the extra to add to the length. Torte each layer to 1-1/4" tall and filled with 1/2" of Mango Mousse = 3" tall cake. I placed the cake over a 14"x6" board that was covered in foil. Used piping gel to help the cake and board stick together. Wrapped the cake up tightly in cling wrap then put in the fridge overnight for the mousse to set and the cake to settle. The following day, I covered the cake with Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC) using the board that the cake was sitting on as a guide to getting the correct size. Put the cake back in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour for the IMBC to harden and make it easier to work with. IMBC does not crust; it's just like butter where it is hard while cold but soft at room temperature. I needed the IMBC to be hard so I can set the side panels on the cake and be able to take them off to trim them to size without taking the frosting off with it.
Step 6 - Final Assembly:
Use a very sharp blade to trim each panel to size and gently press up against the IMBC. As the IMBC comes back to room temperature, the fondant will stick to it better. Gently place the bottle in the middle and fill the area around it with white chocolate shavings. Place grape leaves and twigs around using piping gel where needed to help it stay all stay in place....ta-da!
I'll never forget at how happy he was with his cake...Happy Birthday, Dad!