A deliciously vintage-looking photo on cake designer Christine McConnell's website shows her getting attacked by giant tentacles crawling out of a retro pink refrigerator. Except the tentacles are made out of cake, and so are the menacing little creatures in the background. McConnell's designs are so imaginative, whimsically demented, and scary-good, it's no surprise she got called in by director Tim Burton's team to design the gingerbread replica of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, for the premiere party of his film by the same name (which opens on September 30).
Over the past few years, McConnell, a self-taught master of cakes, has garnered an Instagram following of more than 250,000, and managed to turn her love of baking and photography into a hot commodity. Just over a year ago, 20th Century Fox contacted McConnell, requesting a meeting. “They didn’t say what it was for — or who it was for," McConnell tells The Feast. As it turns out, the studio wanted McConnell to create a dessert masterpiece inspired by and for the Los Angeles premiere party for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children."
"When they told me it was for Tim Burton, I freaked out!" McConnell remembers. "And, they gave me carte blanche to do anything I wanted to do, which was great.” For the Instagram photo of her with Tim Burton (above), her caption says the experience is "the coolest thing that will ever happen to me."
McConnell went to work coming up with an idea, eventually deciding on an edible, two-foot model of Miss Peregrine’s house, a replica of the one featured in the movie. “I once baked a cake version of my parents' house. It was so heavy, but also so pretty. I saw the house from the movie and it was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. So I made a gingerbread version of it.”
The elaborate edible house, which cost McConnell $150 to create, is made of thin, spicy gingersnap cookies glued together with royal icing. Templates used for baking were sculpted from cardboard, and each baked piece was handpainted with icing and pieced together without supports or fondant. Tiny sugar glass windows adorn the spectacular house, and taste like Jolly Rancher candy. “I kept eating the pieces as I was going along. I had to remake a few things,” she admits.
In all, the visually stunning work of art, made solely by McConnell without helpers, took seven days, at fifteen hours per day, to make, plus an additional three days to photograph. “It was actually faster than I expected, so I will probably make even crazier cakes in the future. This is just the beginning,” says McConnell.
For another confection inspired by the Tim Burton film, McConnell created a cake shaped like the head of a Wight, a frightful creature that evolves into a Hollowgast after it has consumed enough peculiar souls. The vanilla cake, made with buttercream frosting and royal icing accents, is life-sized and set on a two-foot stand.
While the White cake resides at McConnell's home, you can catch her Miss Peregrine gingerbread house at the 20th Century Fox studios, where it's now display.
As for the future, stay tuned for McConnell’s small-screen collaboration with the special/visual effects company Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Wilshire Studios. “I’m kind of like a grown- up Marilyn Munster, making cool things and living in a house with monsters. It’s not a normal Jim Henson production in that it’s scary, but it will be really cool.”
All photos by Christine McConnell.
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