Without a doubt, Avengers: Age of Ultron is set up to be one of the biggest films of the year; the exclamation point of Phase Two (sorry Ant-Man, I’m sure we’ll love you too). We at Nerd.Bar have been won over by home run after home run in Phase 2, so as the U.S. wide release premiere drew closer, we decided we needed to celebrate. And drink. And get fat. Cake was in order.
Now, it would have been trivial to bake a big round cake, ice out the Avengers “A” logo on it, and call it a day. But that would be boring, and nowhere near enough work. Being overambitious and foolhardy, we decided to eat Avengers Tower. The renovated Stark-Tower-That-Was, it’s been teased at since the Battle of New York 3 years ago when STRK fell off. The renovations had a cameo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we finally saw first looks in the trailers and TV spots of the last few months. Now, I had done a handful of decorated cake projects, but it had been years since, and no one else on the team had experience.
Nevertheless, I wanted to make it, and somehow managed to bamboozle the rest of the team into thinking this was a good idea.
How We Did It
We started by collecting as much reference info as we could about Stark Tower. Photos, videos, tumblr theories, anything. Based on its relative location based on landmarks, as well as a brief shot or two during the Battle of New York (hereafter referred to as BoNY) up Park Avenue, the tower was situated above a deconstructed Metlife building, the high-rise attached to Grand Central Terminal. During BoNY, you can even see the cranes next to the tower on the roof of what remains of the lozenge-shaped Metlife Building taking things up and down.
A particularly handy find was someone’s 3D model of the Metlife lozenge with Stark Tower on Top. No idea how the model was generated, don’t care as long as I’m not in trouble for it. Using these and other reference photos, we generated drawings of the building with relative heights and lengths. (GIMP’s Measure Tool was invaluable for this).
Deciding on a final height was a trade-off. More height meant better resolution, making it easier to do details like windows and trim. Besides, bigger is better, right? On the other hand, more height meant more to stabilize, and more weight to support lest the cake collapse in on itself under its own weight. Cost also scales exponentially with height, due to costs of covering the surface area of cake with ganache, fondant, and icing. That whole square-cube law problem. The final goal height turned out to be 20″.
Next came templating and support. Taking horizontal slices of the building at critical heights (every 4″ from 0-12″, 14″, and 16″, we cut out paper templates and marked the centers. Then subtracting for thickness of fondant, we shrank the design by a ~1/4″ margin from copies of these templates and transferred to 1/4″ thick foam board, which we cut out. Centers were then drilled out using a 3/4″ Forstner bit to get clean holes. These were tested on a plywood base with a 3/4″ dowel screwed in, built with the help of one of our friends with a wood shop.
To get the irregular and wide shapes we needed, we baked 4 9x13x2 cakes, nominal. Those home kitchen pans are all sloped, so you actually get like 8×12 of usable straight sided material after trimming and leveling. The cake recipe used was a doctored box mix recipe to give a denser crumb that wouldn’t fall apart under chilling and carving. Laying out templates, the cakes were cut out and chilled. From there, 9lb of 2:1 chocolate:heavy cream ganache were made, so that layers could be set down on the cake boards and stacked, using ganache as mortar.
The Metlife profile base was stacked separate from the curved tower, for ease of fondanting afterwards. Every 4″, boba straws were inserted through the cake and trimmed to level, and cake boards were set on top before adding more cake. This internal structure supported the weight so the cake itself didn’t have to (as the bottom layers would have squished down).
After the whole tower was stacked, the tower was carved to connect the blocks and round off corners. These final shapes were covered entirely with ganache and allowed to set. A base layer of fondant to keep it clean and stable for transport was applied to each piece, and they were stacked, finally, on the plywood base.
After transporting it to the party house, black and white fondant were rolled out to establish window strips, and royal icing was mixed to add vertical window framing. The blue window layer was rolled out in multiple sheets and paneled onto the cake, and trimmed to size. From there all “glass” fondant was painted with a mixture of vodka and corn syrup to get a glaze on. Metal trim was applied as fondant ribbons and painted with vodka and edible luster dust. The cake topper was finally put on as well, made of sculpted rice cereal treats, coated with ganache to smooth the surface, and fondanted as well with similar techniques.
All in all this was a sprint for us. This came out of a passing joke in a conversation 3 weeks ago, which is nowhere near a comfortable amount of time for amateurs to get this done in. I’d say at least on average an hour or two every night was devoted to research, calculation and layout until baketime. The final 4 days had me running on next to no sleep, and the cavalry you see in the video didn’t arrive until the final day.
By wedding portions, this cake could feed about 45-50 people. It was big, heavy, and terrifying, but I think overall, we did it. And even if the cake falls, you can be damn sure we’ll eat avenge it.