Like the others, I also like this cake. Your artistic skills definitely exceed mine. I look at things like this and your Elmo cake and have no idea how you do it. I’m sorry it was such a frustrating experience for you, though.
As far as the cake, it did come out very dense, the outside was more ‘hard’ but the inside was soft .....
If I understand you correctly, the outside of the cake was baked more than the center, yes? I can’t tell what size cake this was, but did you use the cake strips around the outside of the pan? I’ve read that even for smaller cakes using the strips will help prevent this. Also, what type of pan did you bake this in (i.e. dark, stainless steel, etc.)? As you probably already know, using an aluminum pan with a dull finish will help prevent this, too.
I did notice it still cracked when I flipped it, apparently I can’t ever make a cake that I can flip without chunks coming off. Arggggggh!
Did it crack when right as you flipped it out of the pan, or after a few minutes from being out of the pan? Also, did you reinvert on to another cooling rack so it was bottom down and not resting on its crown after unmolding it? I’m guessing you follow all of Rose’s tips for baking, but I’m curious how let the cake cool in the pan after pulling it from the oven? If it was too warm and still soft that could be a reason for it cracking. Also, if you’re not using parchment paper to line the bottom of your pans, as well as greasing and flouring them before filling them with batter will help ensure the cake is released smoothly from the pan.
I can’t help with the fondant issues, but I hope someone else can offer you some advice there. Anyway, I still think it looks great overall and I’m sure your daughter will love it.