1920s Food Inspiration – Making Faux Food for “Rope”

Our director Emily Dix is busily making props for our upcoming production of Rope. She consulted the fabulous website, Food Timeline, for some ideas and then scoured pinterest for pictures of things that looked doable. Here are the results so far.

They may still need a few tweaks – I think the caprese skewers could use some “balsamic vinegar” – but not bad for a first go.


Let Them Eat Cake! – Making Fake Cakes

Here’s another fun faux food project I learned from Deb Erb at the Stratford Off The Wall Faux Food course.

What You’ll Need:

  1. Dense styrofoam (the type you use will depend on the type of cake you want. While it can get pricey, Deb suggested asking stores like Home Depot if they have broken pieces or scraps you can have discounted or for free)
  2. Cutting tools and file
  3. Super 77 Adhesive Spray
  4. Acrylic paint
  5. Benjamin Moore Stays Clear Acrylic Polyurethane (either Low Lustre or Gloss depending on the effect you want, I used a bit of both – from here on I’ll refer to this as “Stays Clear”. These come in paint cans – you may want to pour it into a smaller container for easier pouring. We used those condiment bottles from the dollar store)
  6. Non-silicone caulking
  7. Gel medium
  8. Spatula, large flat paint brush or jumbo popsicle stick

Optional Supplies:

  1. For strawberries: artificial plastic strawberries (I see these for sale online, and I suspect that in the right season you can get them at craft stores like Michaels, in the floral section), acrylic paint (red, yellow, orange – to give them a more realistic colour), Stays Clear in gloss.
  2. For whip cream: see my instructions in this post, or follow the icing instructions, minus the paint.
  3. Decorative cake plate or doily
  4. For marachino cherries: see my instructions in this post.
  5. For sprinkles: see my instructions in this post.

And again, get creative! Try fun foam for chocolate slices, or put a different type of berry on top. Substitute baby powder for icing sugar, or stick on some birthday candles or other topper. You are only limited by the scope of your imagination!

How to Make Your Fake Cake:

1. Prep the styrofoam base

Find a strong, dense styrofoam. If you want a crumbly cake, like carrot cake, go for one with a more textured middle. Decide on the size and shape of your cake. It is best to base it off of a standard cake pan size, so that it looks more realistic; I went with an 8-inch circle. If you can find pre-cut styrofoam in the shape and size you want, great. Otherwise you’ll need to cut it; I cut mine with a bandsaw. You could likely also use an exacto knife, though it would take longer. After you have the shape you want, round off the edges to give it a more realistic shape, like this:

Round the styrofoam into a cake-like shape
Round the styrofoam into a cake-like shape

File down the edges to give it the look of the top of a cake, one that rose to a slight dome in the oven

If you want a layered cake, like the one I made, repeat this. You may also choose to have a slice removed from the cake, as I did. Simply cut it out with the same tool you used to cut the initial piece (again, I did this on the band saw). When you are happy with the shape and size of your pieces spray the entire surface of each with Super 77; do not stick them together yet.

2. Create a lift for the top layer

If you are not doing a layered cake, skip to step 3. Cut out some thin foam, like Ethafoam  (that thin foam electronics sometimes come wrapped in. This term is also used to described the rounded foam used to seal around windows and doors) to a size just slightly smaller than the size of your cake. You want all the edges showing so that no one notices this foam lift. Attach with Super 77.

3. Paint the “cake”

If you are not taking a slice out of your cake, skip to step 4. Paint the inside of the cake with acrylic paint mixed with a low lustre Stays Clear. To get a realistic effect, it is best to use several shades, sort of sponging some of them on. You can pick out pieces of the styrofoam (before you paint) if you want a crumbly looking cake. I went over parts of mine with a high gloss Stays Clear to give it a moister appearance.

The inner "cake"
The inner “cake”

4. Make the “icing”

Mix up some caulking, gel medium, Stays Clear and acrylic paint in whatever colour you want your icing to be. Work with the ingredients until you get a smooth creamy mixture similar to real cake icing. You can add water if necessary. Sometimes if it gets lumpy, it’s easier to thicken it first with caulk, mix out the lumps,  and then thin it out with Stays Clear or water, rather than just continuing to thin it.

Caulking + Stays Clear + Gel Medium + Paint = icing
Caulking + Stays Clear + Gel Medium + Paint = icing

5. Ice the cake

Starting with your bottom layer (if applicable), apply the icing, being sure to apply a thick, generous amount. It’s up to you whether you go for a more homemade, rustic look (as I did) and leave big, noticable spread marks, or go for something more polished and smooth looking. When you have iced the top of your bottom layer, stick it under the top, and then ice the entire cake, starting with the top and moving onto the sides. You can apply the icing with a thick, flat brush (as I did for most of it), or use a jumbo popsicle stick (I used one for some of the side parts). You could even use a spatula. Just think of it as the same as when icing a real cake.

The foam lift and some "icing"
The foam lift and some “icing”

The iced cake
The iced cake

6. Decorate the cake

I chose to put whip cream and strawberries on mine, but you can really let your imagination go wild here. Look at pictures of cakes online, or better yet, use this as an excuse to buy one and copy it!

To make the strawberries I took artificial plastic ones, and added some depth by painting them a better colour and glazing them. If you can’t find plastic ones, you could likely mold some out of clay (though that may be heavy) or even carve them out of foam, then paint them. The devil’s in the details with this one; be sure to really look at a strawberry and see what’s there. Thinking about adding seeds, making the shape slightly uneven – the closer your copy is the better it will look onstage!

See the original colour underneath
See the original colour underneath

For the whip cream, I used more of the same kind of icing mix, without the pink paint (I did use a bit of creamy white in the mix, but the caulking itself could work as well) and piped it out through a decorative tip. You could use Dry Dex for this but it may be too heavy. Stick the strawberries in while it’s wet.

Strawberries pressed into "whip cream"
Strawberries pressed into “whip cream”

In the end, you should have something like this:

The finished product
The finished product

All done!
All done!

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For… Making Fake Ice Cream!

“Forget art. Put your trust in ice cream.” -Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love

A good quote! Thankfully, in this instance, art and ice cream combine for an even better result. This past weekend I took the Faux Food course at Stratford Off The Wall, taught by the lovely and talented Deb Erb. The course was a blast and I learned a ton of techniques in the two short days. I’m going to post some of my work here along with step-by-step instructions on how to make these good-enough-to-eat treats. Keep in mind, all of these are first attempts, and I certainly don’t consider myself a visual artist, so anyone should be able to make something at least as good as these, and any gifted artists out there I’m sure can make something far better!

What You’ll Need:

  1. A tall, glass ice cream dish
  2. Spray cooking oil
  3. Paper towels
  4. Plaster of Paris
  5. An ice cream scoop
  6. Acrylic paint (any colour, depends on your “flavour”)
  7. Benjamin Moore Stays Clear Acrylic Polyurethane (either Low Lustre or Gloss depending on the effect you want, I used a bit of both – from here on I’ll refer to this as “Stays Clear”. These come in paint cans – you may want to pour it into a smaller container for easier pouring. We used those condiment bottles from the dollar store)
  8. Paint brushes, mixing dishes & water (to clean brushes)

Optional Supplies:

  1. For maraschino cherry: plastic grape, bright red paint, Stays Clear, a toothpick, piece of foam (to make a drying stand)
  2. For Sprinkles: plastic beads (or any small, plastic, sprinkle shaped bit – we used some pieces from Deb’s car mat)
  3. For Sauce: water soluble, paintable caulking (NOT silicone) in either white or brown (depending on type of sauce), acrylic paint, Stays Clear (in a high gloss), Gel Medium in Satin Gloss, plastic bag or pastry bag OPTIONAL: Super 77 Adhesive Spray
  4. For whip cream: Dry Dex Spackling OR the sauce mixture listed above, but with more caulk to make it a thicker consistency, plastic bag or pastry bag (optional decorative tip)
  5. Metal spoon (for decoration)

How To Make Your Fake Ice Cream:

1. Prep your dish

Your first step is to prep your dish for the plaster.  Because you want the plaster to pop out so you can paint it, you need to coat the inside with a spray cooking oil. This will stop the plaster from attaching to the glass. Be sure to coat the entire inside (try rubbing it around with the paper towel) but do not leave any drips or pools.

2. Prepare the plaster

Mix up the Plaster of Paris according the instructions on the box. You should wear gloves. This can be a little time-consuming, getting the consistency right, but when you do things move quickly, so be prepared with your dish and ice cream scoop nearby.

3. Pour in the plaster

When the plaster has a smooth, soupy consistency, spoon some into the dish, filling it up about a quarter-inch from the top. Wait until your plaster mixture in the bowl becomes a bit thicker, and scoop up a ball of it with the ice cream scoop, plopping it on top just like you would with real ice cream. If you want to add a decorative element like a spoon stuck in the ice cream, stick it in now. Make sure the placement is right as once it dries you won’t be able to remove it without ruining the whole piece.

NOTE: This is the hardest part. There is a fine line between the plaster being too soupy and not holding its shape, briefly being perfect, and then being too hard and crumbly. It may take a few times to get it perfect. My “mint chocolate ice cream” got more of the consistency I was looking for (it was my second attempt) whereas the “Neapolitan ice cream” was first a little too runny, and then too hard and so crumbled on top. I waited until the plaster had dried a bit and rubbed away the crumbly bits (I used my fingers, you could also use sand paper, if it was already hard).

The oil coated dish is filled with Plaster of Paris
The oil coated dish is filled with Plaster of Paris

4. Pop out the plaster

Once the plaster has dried, carefully pop it out by grabbing the top and turning and pulling. If the plaster is hardened, and you’ve oiled the dish well, this shouldn’t be too difficult. You’ll have something that looks like this:

Pop out the plaster for painting.
Pop out the plaster for painting.

5. Paint the plaster

Now comes the fun part! Pick what colour ice cream you want, and get painting! Feel free to get creative and even layer different kinds on top of each other. I chose to make one mint chocolate chip, and one Neapolitan. Mix up whichever colour paint you choose along with some Stays Clear. I used satin for the majority of the ice cream, and then added some highlights with a high gloss finish after, just on the more raised bits, to give the impression it was starting to melt a little. Onstage, glossy will look better (and more realistic) than matte, so when in doubt go more shiny.

Combine satin finish glaze with acrylic paint.
Combine satin finish glaze with acrylic paint.

6. Add final touches

Once the paint looks the way you like, and you’re certain everything is dry, you can add elements like a cherry, whip cream, sprinkles, or whatever other toppings you’d fancy. Again, great creative!

I made a maraschino cherry by painting a plastic grape bright red and coating it with a high gloss. I stuck the end with the hole onto a toothpick that I supported in some foam, so I could paint all sides without leaving fingerprints in it. If paint isn’t sticking to your cherry, spray it with Super 77.

Maraschino cherry made out of a plastic grape, red paint, and high gloss finish
Maraschino cherry made out of a plastic grape, red paint, and high gloss finish

You can add fake nuts by crumbling up bits of cork, or sprinkles by using beads or other bits of plastic.

To add caramel or chocolate sauce, mix up the following:

  1. Non-silicone caulking (the type that is water soluble and paintable, like in the link above) in either white or brown
  2. Stays Clear in a glossy finish
  3. Acrylic paint

You may have to fiddle with this a bit to get the exact look you want. If you’re making caramel, try adding more Stays Clear and less caulk, to give it that translucent appearance. If you want chocolate fudge that’s thick and slapped on, add more caulk. If you’re looking for something that’s easy to drizzle, add more Stays Clear and paint, and you can even mix in some water to get the consistency you like. Practice drizzling onto another surface before you try it on your ice cream.

Neapolitan ice cream with whip cream, chocolate sauce and a cherry
Neapolitan ice cream with whip cream, chocolate sauce and a cherry

To add whip cream, use the following:

  1. The above mixture, but in white, with a thick consistency OR
  2. Dry Dex, no colour needed

Squeeze your whip cream mixture of choice into a plastic bag or pastry bag, and squeeze out onto your dessert. If you want it to look like whip cream from a can, you can use a decorative tip. If you are looking for something more smooth and “flopped on”, opt for a more liquidy mixture (likely with the caulking solution, not the Dry Dex) and just squeeze on a blob. If you want to attach a maraschino cherry or any sprinkles, do so while it is still wet.

Dry Dex starts pink but dries white
Dry Dex starts pink but dries white

If you want to add nuts or sprinkles without any whip cream, attach with more of the Stays Clear, a hot glue gun, or spray with Super 77.

In the end, you should have something that looks like this:

Mint Chocolate Chip and Neapolitan ice cream
Mint Chocolate Chip and Neapolitan ice cream

I’m pretty happy with how these turned out (though I plan on adding a bit more glaze to the chocolate sauce to make it more realistic). They look good, are easy to make, and are relatively sturdy. Of course, they are solid, so don’t work if you want someone to “eat” your ice cream onstage, they are a little heavy, and they can chip, but I think they’d be great for background, maybe a couple extras chatting away in a booth in “Grease” or something.

Got any interesting ideas or toppings you’d like to share? Post them here in the comments!

All for now,