Van Gogh Inspired Autumn Cake Tutorial

Cake Tutorial by Leyda Vakarelov, Custom Cakes Atelier, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

This stunning, Van Gogh inspired autumn cake tutorial details step-by-step how to make a four tiered cake that combines an image of Van Gogh’s sunflower painting with ruffles, scrolls and yellow roses.

Tools and Supplies:


1. Prepare your canvas. This four tier cake consists of: 14”x5”, 12”x4”, 8”x8” and 6”x5” round tiers covered in fondant.

2. Second Tier – Use a 50/50 mixture of gum paste and fondant when working with the molds and Silicone Onlays®. In this tutorial, it will be referred to as sugar dough. Thin it out with a rolling pin before passing it through the lowest setting of your pasta machine. Allow the fondant to rest an hour or so, then cover your top and bottom tier in the sapphire fondant and the middle tier in white.

3. Use a pasta machine to thin out the sugar dough to level 5 for the onlay and level 3 for the molds.

4. Thin out a piece of sugar dough to level 5 and then airbrush it with a pearl sheen for more visual interest. After airbrushing it, let it dry for about 40 minutes. Note, however, that the time may vary depending on your environment.

5. Cut several pieces of sugar dough to use on the Filigree Damask Silicone Onlay®. Airbrush them all until dry to the touch.

6. Prepare the Silicone Onlay® with a light dusting of cornstarch. Most of the starch needs to be removed by tapping the onlay against a flat surface. Only a light layer of starch needs to stay in order to prevent the sugar dough from sticking to it.

7. Lay the sugar dough on top of the onlay with the airbrushed side facing down. Press down on the dough with your fingers before using the roller.

8. With a small rolling pin start applying short rolls using back-and-forth motion, sections at a time, to press the dough down into the onlay. Continue doing this until you see the little blades of the onlay mold coming through the dough.

9. Once the design of the onlay is completely visible and you can feel the onlay blades with your fingers, you can start carefully removing the excess sugar dough on the edges.

10. The sugar glue is being applied all over the surface. This sugar glue is a mixture of (2/3) corn syrup and (1/3) water.

11. With a sharp needle, remove the parts of the pattern that you do not want on the cake. This is completely your design choice!

12. Carefully remove all of the little pieces that you do not want. Be careful, because they are easy to blend in and escape your attention!

13. Continue to remove unwanted pieces, sections at a time. Be careful not to pull on the pieces that you want to keep. This may sometimes happen, so always watch how everything else behaves as you are lifting pieces away from the onlay.

14. The desired pattern has now been achieved and the onlay is ready to be adhered onto the surface of the cake.

15. The completed onlay will be adhered onto this 12”x4” round tier. The height of the onlay is exactly 4’’ so it will perfectly match the height of the cake.

16. The onlay has been adhered on the cake. It is very important to rest the onlay firmly on a flat surface so that the design comes out straight on the cake. Before removing the onlay press on it all around and gently massage it to help the design adhered well on to the cake. Don’t rush this step!

17. Start slowly removing the onlay by grabbing one end and pulling away from the surface of the cake. Keep your other hand behind, applying some pressure on the onlay to keep the covered design nicely in place.

18. When applying the onlay again, make sure to match up the little grooves (the markers) on the onlay with the pattern that is already on the cake. These markers should touch the edges of the previously adhered pattern to make sure that you don’t end up with large gaps from one application to the next. It is a good idea to practice with an empty onlay before the actual application.

19 – 20. Not everything is perfect and sometimes pieces of the pattern want to stay on the silicone onlay. So in this case carefully re-adhere those sections of the onlay and gently press on it with your fingers and then continue to pull the onlay away. Be careful as you re-adhere the dough, as the blades may leave impressions on the already adhered dough. You may see this imperfection, unfortunately in some of the pictures below. A mirror placed in front of the action can help you see if all the pieces of dough are adhering well on to the cake and if you are touching the dough with the blades.

21 – 22. When you add fondant to a cake its diameter slightly increases, so don’t expect to always get a perfect match on the last onlay application. You may need to make some manual adjustments to balance the gaps that may inevitably form.

23. The 8×8 tier has two symmetric design elements – picture frames – opposite to each other. The frames are composed of mold patterns from the Flourish mold collection. Two pictures printed on edible fondant are to be adhered in “canvas” prepared with dough and enhanced with Scroll Ensemble molds. Here we selected two paintings from Van Gough’s Sunflower series.

24 – 25. Third Tier – Here, make yourself a template in order to cut the canvases. The canvas was rolled to 1/8” thickness. Then it I cut following the template with a food-safe blade.

26. Apply some cornstarch on the mold with a fluffy brush and then tap the mold against a flat surface so that only a thin layer of starch stays on it. This step should be performed on the molds before every application.

27. The sugar dough has been thinned out to level 3 in the pasta machine. Lay it on the mold and then with a rolling pin press down on it. Again, remember to use short back-and-forth motion, sections at a time, until the blades of the mold around the edge cut through the dough.

28. Once the dough has entered completely in the mold, start pulling out the edges of the dough.

29 – 30. Press firmly all around on the dough to make sure that you capture all of the details of the design on the dough.

31. Carefully lift one end of the mold away from the surface in order to dislodge the dough from the mold.

32. Here you see both, the left and right swirl patterns set in the position for the canvas.

33. The edges of this pattern are being rounded a bit to achieve a smoother surface. This will help with laying the printed fondant.

34. The two mold patterns are glued to one of the canvases with sugar dough and the picture on the left will lie on top to give the picture a 3D effect.

35. Apply piping gel to the entire surface, except the edges of the canvas (sugar glue will be used there). The piping gel remains pliable to allow the printed fondant to slide while being adjusted. Meanwhile, leave the printed fondant on a warming stone to allow it to remain more flexible. This will minimize cracking.

36. Lay the picture carefully on top of the pattern.

37. Press gently with your fingers the sheet to mold it to the shape of the patterns underneath. This must be done very gently since edible sheets are extremely delicate and they tier easily. It may be helpful to use gloves to avoid smearing the ink. You may use some fine modeling tools to press the sheets into tight spaces. Be very careful, however, because the fondant sheets are dry and do not starch. They should be treated more like paper than like fondant. Some cracks are inevitable, and they contribute to the aged look of the painting. Larger cracks, where the white of the fondant may show, may have to be repaired with a fine brush and color dust dissolved in vodka. Do this after the cake is done and the sheets have dried a bit.

38. Turn the entire structure over in order to trim the excess fondant, but leave about 1/8’’ to cover the visible edges.

39 – 40. Apply glue to the edge of the fondant to adhere everything onto the structure. Trim more if you find it necessary.

41. Continue to create the rest of the patterns with the other molds. As you see, you can cut some time by working with several molds simultaneously.

42. Here you see all the patterns used in the frame.

43. Here you see the frame with the other picture. Create a template of the overall design to your desired size (see included file). This one had to be done with legal size paper to fit. Make sure that it covers exactly half the circumference of the cake.

44. Dust mold patterns that will make the frame. You may use dust with shimmer for a brighter appearance. Here we used a mixture of colors that appeared in the painting to create weathered look that goes well with the painting.

45. Apply some steam onto your colored patterns in order to set the color and to enhance the shimmer of the dust. Steam until you see the surface get shiny, but don’t let droplets form. Here you also see the border to be used on the top tier dusted with pearl dust.

46. Attach the template on the cake and secure with pins. Place the pins on key places of the design in order to use the little holes as guides when adhering the patterns on the cake.

47. Place the pins back in the holes created earlier for guidance and support.

48. Use the pins in order to support the picture. Glue may not be enough to hold the entire structure at first. Some support will be necessary until the glue toughens. Place the picture on a warming stone to make it easier to bend along the curvature of the cake. Be gentle not to crack the fondant sheets.

49. Prepare pearl strings, or an extrusion, to surround the canvas and hide the white edge. Here the pearls were dusted with pearl dust (how appropriate!) and steamed for luster.

50. Adhere the pearls around the canvas with sugar glue.

51 – 52. Start forming the frame pattern around the canvas. As you attach them, make sure to observe it from various distances from the cake to make sure that everything is symmetric. Also use some of the holes that were created earlier as guides.

53. Top Tier – The top tier is a 6×5 tier with a simple border pattern. Apply glue to the border. Carefully attach the border on the cake by using the flat surface of the turntable as a guide for keeping everything leveled. This tier fits exactly three border segments. The segments are designed to fit tightly.

54. Bottom Tier – The design of the bottom tier is a combination of ruffles (again a 50/50 mixture of fondant and gumpaste), and semi frilled bands of sugar dough. The pattern is inspired by Van Gough’s famous painting “Starry Night”. Here rolled the dough to 5 on the pasta roller and cut into circles (4”) with center wholes. The circles will be sliced and folded into ruffles.

55. Here you see the ruffles that are attached to the cake with sugar glue, starting from below.

56. Rounded segments of ruffles are created. Because some of the segments are above the table, it helps to secure the ruffle pieces with pins.

57. Cut 1 1/4” strips of dough and frill them on foam pad.

58. The frilled strips are positioned carefully around the segments of ruffles, to create the sense of fluid flow and swirl. The strips are bent and adhered with glue. To maintain proper shape, they should be supported with pins and strips of cardboard or acrylic.

59. Here is the assembled cake ready for final decoration with a floral design.

There you have it! A beautiful, 3 tiered cake that took very little time to make, but looks like you spent days on it!

Leyda Vakarelov is the owner of Custom Cakes Atelier located in Chapel Hill, NC. This small cake atelier specializes in unique artistic cake design with strong emphasis on artistic composition and detailed work.