‘Tala’ Mystery Cake

This is kind of a long story. Get a cup of tea….

When I first started my blog in 2018, I went looking for inspiration in my family’s cookbook collection. But after exhausting every one of my mom’s retro cookbooks and recipe files, I turned to Pinterest. I know there are many more recent and trendy social media sites, but Pinterest is still, without a doubt, the most useful for my image research. It holds a treasure trove of vintage cookbook images which have given me so much inspiration over the years. But there was one particular image I found in the early days of the blog that stuck with me and inspired the cake in this post.

I mean, where do I start? I immediately loved the weirdness of this cake. At first I thought that those cone-shaped icing structures were meant to mimic the body shape of the ant, but the ants are actually not original to the image. The original packaging looked like this…

So someone (I don’t know who) added ants and changed the lettering on the packaging. I don’t know why they did that–that’s still the big mystery of this project– but ever since I laid eyes on the ant cake, I knew I wanted to recreate it. Enter the next big mystery: how to make the cone-shaped royal icing structures. (This one I figured out, read on).

Another Pinterest find, this image is from the same brand as the turntable–a heritage English baking brand called Tala. Tala was founded as a Victorian kitchenware brand in 1899 and still exists today. It wasn’t until I found this image, featuring pink molds on nails, did I know that there was a marketed product designed to make the cone structure from the original image. Then I went to another favorite site, Etsy, and bought a vintage booklet from Tala that provided even more information about these royal icing structures.

I discovered that these products are called “net nails” and the brand considers this type of icing work “raised trellis and flowers.” There are four different shapes: the oval/basket, the pyramid, the flower nail and (the one I care about) the border shape. So my next thought was to simply find a set of these vintage net nails and use them to construct the cake. I have some experience making raised royal icing shapes, so I thought it would be fairly simple once I got my hands on the net nail.

Reader, I did not get my hands on a net nail. I scoured the internet and even found several old listings from second hand vintage dealers, but I could not find any inventory available for sale. So I did what I always do when I have a creative problem, I called my Dad. Math is not my strong suit, and the thought of trying to recreate this shape brought back horrific geometry memories that physically made my head ache. I even tried to do some mathematical sketching on paper which ended in wild embarrassment. It took my dad all of two days to make me a foam mold of this shape that I could pipe onto. Thanks, Dad!

The next part of this project went very slowly. Once I piped the shape onto the lightly greased foam, I had to let it dry for at least three days before I could release the shape by very carefully squeezing the two points together. The first few broke, but actually the more I did, the easier the release became. Several weeks later I ended up with this…

The ants were fairly simple, just fondant and royal icing legs. I opted for just black ants as I liked the high contrast. Then I made a cake, frosted it, and without really breathing, carefully placed the shapes onto the border of the cake.

If you’re still reading, I admire your persistence. And also thank you! These type of projects obviously don’t come together very quickly but they’re hugely satisfying to me. Lastly, If anyone has any information that may lead to my acquiring Tala net nails OR finding out who the hell put ants on the turntable packaging, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I will reward you… with cake.



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