But it can be difficult to hide the seams of a piece of fondant, Sideserf explained, so her preferred material for sculpting the outer layers of the cake is modeling chocolate—which is also Portaleo’s favorite. “It feels just like a polymer clay, and I can sculpt with it just beautifully,” Portaleo said.
Portaleo added that “as the cake industry explodes, there’s a tool for everything,” but she prefers to keep her workspace sparse, using choice wooden tools that are similar to those she used back in her ceramics days.
In videos and on her show, you can see Sideserf using food-safe sculpting tools to shape and carve into modeling chocolate, and then adding pigment—which can involve painting, markers, airbrushing, or flicking drips of gel color.
Armatures and materials to add structural soundness to these cakes is often integral, especially in the case of large creations. While she had long used wooden dowels, Portaleo now swears by threaded rod, a metal material you can buy at home improvement stores; the rods are typically used by contractors to add stability to structures made from wood, metal, or concrete. “It’s so much stronger and gave me so much more flexibility for structures,” she said. It’s helped her create things like a 200-pound writhing orange octopus cake for the Georgia Aquarium, and a four-foot-tall dancing panda for Zoo Atlanta.