A Chocolate Chess Board Cake with Sugar Clay Chess Men

Dearest Cousins…

What do you know, the sun has just decided to show face.. I think I may not speak with it though, how could it forget us for so long…oh wait it’s saying something..what..oh… hmm…It says its been taking lessons from a certain Ramit Mitra! If the person in question is reading this then they might think of showing face as well, its no fun being two cousins out of three…can you imagine a tricycle running on two wheels..it would be a bicycle then wouldn’t it! Enough chastisement now to business…

Well you are both aware that every year I try to make a surprise birthday cake for your nephew, keeping his current passions in mind…last time he was obsessed with Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter…I distinctly remember him telling me in all seriousness to call him Harry Sparrow, you know Harry as in Potter and Sparrow from Jack Sparrow! Hilarious but I had to keep a serious face and nod sagely.. so last birthday it had been the Black Pearl Cake with the treasure chest overflowing with jewels. This year he is obsessed with chess, playing it with his Papa, or on the computer or our mobile phones all the time. A friend of ours has lent him Bobby Fischer’s book on chess and he is learning the moves. So this time I wanted to do a chess board cake.

Chocolate Chessboard Cake with Sugar Chess Men


Initially I had thought about just making the board and using real chess men to decorate it. But you know me, I can never pass up a food challenge…and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make the pawns as well. In the end I did, after lots of trouble and heartache and jitters and mishaps..it turned out spectacularly well even if I do say so myself…do I hear clarion calls and trumpets..Thank you all..he he! On a serious note, it was a success in the sense that I had to make everything yourself. There are no short cuts available here, nothing ready made that you can buy at the shops. But I also made so many mistakes and had to keep patience and work with them, modifying or sometimes starting again from scratch.  It was a labour of Love but the best reward was the surprised sparkle in Riz’s eyes when he saw it and the hug he gave me said it all.

For the Dark Chocolate Cake for the chess board ( See previous post on Sinful Dark Chocolate Cake). You will needed to bake Four nos., 8 inch cakes for the chess board, and another extra cake for the Box. Let all cakes cool. Overnight is good, refrigeration of the cake even better for icing. You cannot ice a hot cake. Your icing will melt into a oily mess.

To display the cakes, cover a large wooden board with foil or silver paper . To make the chess board, cut a brown paper square of 12 inch which will serve as template. Using the template,cut cake to size and assemble. You will be left with extra pieces of cake. Reserve these for any emergency. Ice the main cake with Chocolate butter cream icing. You will also need to make the box and the lid cake. Just cut two rectangular pieces of cake. Scoop out a bit from the one that will be the box and position the lid on top. Ice with Strawberry Butter cream icing. (For all Icing refer to Black Pearl Ship Cake recipe).


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Sugar Modelling Clay for the Chess Men

Before I go on to describe this recipe, let me clarify that this was the first time I made this. I scoured the internet for a recipe whose ingredients would be available here. But unfortunately most fondant recipes ask for edible glycerine or marshmallows or corn syrup…none of which are available here. So I had to experiment a bit. The results were incredible for my first try, but there was a lot of heartache involved. I started two days in advance so that I had the time to modify…and boy did I need it. At one point my husband said that he was loosing patience just watching me! The weather too played havoc, height of monsoon and eighty percent humidity doesn’t bode well for any kind of sugar does it! But It was like a thorn in my side I had to get it done, I just had to. So you will have to bear with me if I say that the recipe is far from perfect. I would love for you to make it and tell me how to modify it or make it better.

Ingredients (White Sugar Clay)

Icing Sugar ( Sieved)              500 gm

Margarine                                  1 tablespoon + a little extra for kneading

Gelatine                                       2 tablespoon


Soak the gelatine in a spoon of warm water. On a double boiler melt the margarine, add the gelatine and stir . It should mix quite easily.Take  the bowl off the heat and start adding the icing sugar. This will take some patience and a lot of faith! The mix will be sticky and show no sign of  coming together, just keep adding the icing sugar. It will start coming away from the bowl. Dust your work surface with a little icing sugar, turn out the sugar clay and start kneading, adding more sugar till it becomes a nice pliable dough. It will happen, when, I cant predict.  If  it sticks too much to your fingers use some margarine sparingly to oil your fingers. Once the sugar clay is done, it should look nice and silken. It may be a little soft because you have been working on it. The sugar clay must be wrapped in cling film/plastic bags and then in a piece of cloth before putting it in a air tight box. Only then store it in the fridge. It can be stored in the fridge for days. When you wish to work with it, take it out of the fridge, break off the amount you need. Rest keep covered in cling and cloth. Contact with air will dry it out. Sprinkle your work surface with corn flour. Then knead the clay till it becomes pliable again. Always keep icing sugar with you. at this stage, if your clay is too soft adding sugar will firm it up. If it is too dry, dip your finger in margarine and knead. It was a trial and error method for me but it works! You can roll out the clay with a rolling pin, continuously dusting your work surface and the rolling pin with cornflour.

White squares for the chess board cake :I made only the white squares, as the chocolate icing on the cake will serve as the black squares. For a 12 inch  base cake, I needed  32 white sugar clay squares of approximately 1 and1/2  inches each. I rolled out the sugar clay as thinly as possible, then using my sons plastic ruler I marked out and cut the squares. Keep a large tray dusted with cornflour ready at hand, and arrange the squares on this as they are done. They will dry out nicely overnight. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.

For White Chess Men using real chess men as inspiration I modeled out the pawns. But I took a short cut! I could not imagine making 64 pieces, so I looked in the Bobby Fisher book and found a move  which showed the check-mate move with minimum number of pawns!! I made a few extra to strew around the board. I used bottle caps to cut out the base, used the rear end of brushes to give texture and design. The chess men too were left out in the open to dry which nicely did. For Brown Chess Men the same sugar dough was used. I kneaded in a little brown powder food colour into the white sugar clay. But there must have been some reaction, as this never dried, instead kept melting. Over three days I re-did them numerous times, every time adding more sugar. Finally they did stand. But they did not dry. But hey, they sang for their supper and that’s all I asked of them!  To Assemble the cake on your iced chocolate cake , assemble the white squares to make it look like a chess board. On the box cake, using a piping bag/icing nozzle pipe the details and the name. Arrange the chess men on the board and some outside and one or two in the box.

In spite of all the work, it is well worth all the effort and trouble. Riz wanted to play chess on it and didn’t want to cut it….I think when I sat back at night with my aching feet up on the sofa and looked back, I felt I would have done it again in a heartbeat…provided it was just once a year : ) I wish you to try these recipes, and tweak them along the way. Especially the colored sugar work. If you feel the whole thing can be made easier, just let me know…always love an easy way out ; )

Take care

Waiting to hear from you ASAP



7 comments on “A Chocolate Chess Board Cake with Sugar Clay Chess Men

  1. […] you asked me Didi, as to where have I been for past few weeks, in your previous post of the Chessboard & Chessman cake for our dear nephew’s birthday. Since I didn’t want to feel left out in the […]

  2. Indrani says:

    Ushmita, this was AMAZING!! What effort!! BUT, so well worth the pain! Keep posting…and keep amazing!

  3. nathalie says:

    Didi I need help I tried but it didn’t work

    • Hi Nathalie, sorry for not having replied to your comment..we haven’t been working on the blog since a few months as family issues and other things kept us very busy. Just saw your comment…please tell me which part didn’t work? Will surely try and help! Apologies again!

  4. What a wonderful cake, Didi; I do admire your ability to work with what you have available. The results were brilliant.
    I am planning a chess board cake and am busy researching the subject, hence me finding your blog. You have given me some great ideas.

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