When one of my coworkers asked me if I could make a Chinese Red Dragon Cake for her son's first birthday - who was born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon - I was secretly a little scared, and thought, how in the heck am I going to pull that off? You see, every cake design is a learning experience for me, because (almost never) does someone request something that I have already made and am somewhat comfortable with.
But I agreed to make it, and started looking up images of dragons. I looked at many, many images before I found one I liked, and that I thought I could replicate in a cake design.
After choosing the picture, I gave a lot of thought as to how I would decorate the cake. She had asked for a vanilla cake, with lemon curd filling, and lemon yellow buttercream, with a red dragon.
I thought of piping the dragon with buttercream, but wasn't sure I'd be able to make it look right. Also, red buttercream is so bold, and one mistake could have ruined the cake.
So I decided gum paste was the way to go. I made the head and feet first, just by using a knife and cutting the shapes free-hand, attaching the ear, tongue, claws and spiky bits with a little water. After they dried, I added a little embellishment with a black, edible food-coloring marker.
As for the body, I did not want to make one solid piece, which would be too cumbersome and would have to be removed before cutting the cake. So instead, I just cut a whole bunch of little circles for the dragon's scales and triangles for the spikes along his back, knowing that all those little pieces would be easy to cut through when serving the cake. With all the pieces dried, I arranged them on parchment paper to get an idea of how I wanted to place them on the cake.
So, once I had frosted the cake, decorating it was just a very simple matter of sticking all those little pieces into the frosting to create a dragon.
I was so happy with how this turned out, but more importantly, they loved it, too!