If at first you don’t succeed… try again next birthday! My Thomas the Tank Engine cake story.


In my cake decorating journey, I felt that my son’s first birthday and second birthday cakes turned out pretty good, with a few lessons learned the hard way.  So I attempted a feat many have tried and failed… a 3-D train cake!  I’ve seen great successes online.  I’ve seen great *attempts* online.  So I want to show you my first attempt, and how I have learned what Fail stands for… First Attempt At Learning! And I want to share how perseverance prevailed!

Step by Step Pictures of Train Cake

For Aiden’s third birthday, I attempted Thomas the Tank Engine.  I had read online that freezing the cake made it much easier to decorate!  So taking this advice I baked the train cake using the 3-D train cake pan by Wilton.  I froze the cake overnight before decorating it the next day.  And… I learned that if you want to take that route in the summer, make sure you live in an air-conditioned home!  So, you know how you take a can of pop out of the fridge on a hot and humid summer’s day and condensation forms on the outside?  Oh. My. Gosh!  Take a frozen cake out of a freezer on a hot and humid summers day and cover it with fondant… and watch a cake disaster!!!  No amount of fans or paper towels could save my soggy melting fondant!

First try

Not quite what I had envisioned… but my royal icing flood work for the Thomas trains for the sides and my lettering turned out pretty darn awesome.  So, still learning!  And that’s shoestring licorice for the tracks!  And the main thing is… my three year old loved it!

As his fourth birthday approached, he informed me that technically he should have had *Henry* not Thomas for his third birthday, as Henry is train #3. And for his fourth birthday, could he please have Gordon, who is train #4.  So, not being defeated by a cake disappointment,  rather, using it as a learning experience, I gave it a go.  I was so pleased with the result!

Added detail to the board

I must have been confident, because this time, I took progress pictures!

Carving the trains

I used the same 3D train pan by Wilton.  I remembered that the last cake, and my ducky cake, were both a bit lopsided when they baked.  So I baked three cakes, and for the front and back, used the two best looking halves so it was not lopsided as it had baked.  As you can see, there was a lot of carving going on!  This was my first carved cake.  A resourceful mama would have make cake pops with the left over cake, but just the cake was was enough for me this year!

The carved train

Crumb coated Train Cake

I measured the length of the cake and cut out a piece of cardboard just the right size (I had a plan!).  I covered it with foil and built Gordon on it.  I stuck all the cake pieces together with icing.  I coloured the fondant and rolled it out, and covered it with Saran Wrap to stop it from drying.  Then I crumb coated just the part I was covering with blue fondant.  Icing can “crust” and I thought it may loose it gluey-ness before I had coloured and rolled out the black for the front.  I prefer Satin Ice Fondant.  It tastes so much better than Wilton’s!  I found it at the bulk barn, but now the fondant that they sell is Virgin Ice.  I like Virgin Ice Fondant too.   Both Satin Ice and Virgin Ice work well, and they taste so much better than a lot of other brands out there.

First section of fondant

In the picture above I’ve put on the first section of blue fondant.


Second section of fondant

And then I added the second section of blue fondant.


Black section of fondant

Here’s the black fondant on.  Man, that smokestack gave me trouble!  It broke off, and I had to rebuild it from some of the left over cake!  But resourcefulness prevailed!


Red Strip of fondant

Then I added the red fondant detail.


Royal Icng Peices

A few days before I had used royal icing to do some flood work.  I will have my full tutorial posted soon!  But in the picture above you can see the wheels I made, (big and little).  I made much more than I needed, as dried royal icing is brittle and delicate, and can break easily.  And takes 24 to 48 hours to dry, so there’s no making another if what you need breaks!  I also make the fours (much better detail than piping freehand on the side).  I also experimented with different “smokes”.  Thick and puffy.  Scribbly and thin.  And lastly, the big blue scribble was a practice challenge with my left over icing.  Because practice makes perfect!  And one day I may need some skills in creating large royal icing lace and taking off of the parchment without breaking it!


Wheels and Black Fondant Details

I added the wheels, and also cut out and added some black fondant detail.  I glued the red and black fondant on with a paintbrush dipped in water.  (I have a special “for cakes only” paintbrush in my cake toolbox.)  I glued the wheels on with royal icing.

the Four and the red piped detail

I added the red piping detail with royal icing, and glued on the fours.  Buttercream is more easily smudged, so I sill like to use royal icing for piping fine details.

Coal box yellow piped detail blue disk and smoke

In the picture above, you can see that I added coal to the coal car.  Some chocolate icing topped with crushed up chocolate cookie!  And I added yellow royal icing detail to the window, a blue disk thing that Gordon has, and I decided on the scribbly thin smoke!


fondant covered board

I had coloured some fondant green, and covered a cake board.  Onto the cake board goes Gordon!  It was much easier to build him not on the cake board, that’s why the board he’s on is so small… I still have a plan!


Added detail to the board

And I finished the board off with the pre-made fours, and also some piping detail.  My plan for covering Gordon’s board worked great!  I squeezed on some chocolate icing, and covered it with chocolate rocks!  The chocolate rocks are always a huge hit with the kids!  I always let them pick them off after the candles are blown out and before I start cutting!  I get my chocolate rocks also at the bulk barn, but they are available online too.  As you can see I added Gordon’s face.  There are no progress pics of the face creation though.

That Face and the chocolate rocks

I did the face in steps too, letting the fondant dry out a bit before gluing it on.  I painted the eyes with white food colouring (yes, white!  It helps to whiten when you’ve added a tad too much food colouring!  And worked great for Gordon’s eyes!  It’s also wonderful for whitening buttercream when you use real butter instead of shortening!).  And then I painted more detail on with black food colouring. (Almost any brand of black food colouring works when painting, but AmeriColor Super Black is my favourite for colouring fondant and icing.)  I had tried to make Thomas’s face the year before, and it really didn’t work.  So I was so happy that my second attempt worked out!  I also at some point added the buffer detail in the front of Gordon below his face.  I just cut out a black strip of fondant, and made circle marks in it with the back of an icing tip!  And when I stuck it on, it covered up an ugly seam I couldn’t get right!  Resourcefulness wins again!

Gordon cake from thomas the tank engine

I was so happy with how this cake turned out!  It took a few cake fails before reaching this point!  AND I’ve had cake fails since!  But I just keep going, keep learning, and keep trying!  And my son loves his cake even if it doesn’t quite turn out how I pictured in my head!

Definitely a labour of love.  Because I haven’t figured out how to make cakes quickly yet!  And I have such a mess to clean up after!  This cake took HOURS!  But it was so worth it!  How long does it take for you to do your 3D cakes?