Let them eat cake

May 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the birthday cakes my mother baked for me. A few that stand out are the “doll” cake (if you’re unfamiliar, the cake is mounded and has a hole in the center where the doll goes — it comes about up to the doll’s waist — and the cake and the doll’s upper half are frosted to look like a ballgown), the bunny cake (shaped pan, and a bajillion little frosting dots to decorate it), and when I was a little older, a delicious poppy-seed cake. Whatever I asked for, Mom made, and I always loved it. I’ve continued this tradition with my kids, especially Becky (mostly because Zack hasn’t had a party yet that wasn’t just family).

Darth Vader cake

The Force is strong in this one

First there was the Darth Vader cake, which was also my first experience with fondant (I cheated and used the DV cake pan to mold the fondant. I also bought enough to make two cakes so I could practice, which turned out to be a Very Smart Idea.). To be fair, that was really the cake Mommy wanted to make — Becky only cared that the cake was blue, which — thanks to the miracle of food coloring — it was.

"She may not look like much..."

Last year, though, she requested a Millennium Falcon cake. This was considerably more challenging as I had to actually sculpt the cake. I got it done, though, and am still pretty proud of the job I did on that one.

This year, she wanted an Ariel cake. In case you don’t have a small girl-child, Ariel is the name Disney execs gave to the Little Mermaid when they bastardized the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale (the irony of my daughter loving the movie that completely ruined my favorite childhood fairytale is not lost on me). I am always up for a challenge, but I also know my limitations, and “cake shaped like a mermaid” is definitely outside my artistic range. So I suggested that perhaps we do something similar to last year’s Millennium Falcon cake and instead of Ariel herself, the cake could be a castle and then we’d just have the action figures, which would later be hers to play with. She readily agreed (Mommy is no dummy — I knew I’d get her with the toys), but asked that the cake be pink. Not a problem.

Castle cake, unfrosted

One of the castle cakes, pre-frosting

See, I knew that Williams-Sonoma had a cake pan that’s actually shaped like a castle, and I figured I’d just pull the same trick I did with the Darth Vader cake pan. This was going to be easy. Except it never is. First, it turned out that the castle cake pan is smallish. This one was easily solved…I’d just make a 13×9 sheet cake base. Not a problem. I decided to frost the sheet cake to look like the ocean and then decorate with aquarium plants to really give it that “under the sea” vibe. Once Becky found out there would be two cakes, she requested that the base be strawberry and the castle be vanilla. Also not a problem. I baked both cakes (from a mix — I’m still working on perfecting my cake baking skills) Thursday night so they’d be nice and cool for me to decorate Friday night and ready to go Saturday (her party was at one, but I wanted plenty of cushion built into the schedule).

Frosted base cake

The frosted base cake.

Friday night rolled around and I got the frosting made (cream cheese, because the birthday girl digs it) and the base cake frosted (after repairing the giant hole in the middle where it stuck to the pan). The rest of the evening went a bit like this: Roll out the hot pink fondant and try to put it into cake pan. No good — couldn’t get it down into the pan without tearing it. Reroll and drape over cake, then put pan over cake. Still no good — the details on the cake pan were just too fine and delicate to show without there being plenty of pressure to make an impression. Press cake down into pan in attempt to get impressions. Cake and fondant both ruined. Curse loudly and colorfully and send Daddy to the store for more cake mix and cream cheese (because clearly fondant ain’t going to cut it, and now aren’t I glad that I bought that cake decorator gun on clearance last month?). Mix new cake, pour into pan and put into oven, sit down on couch to relax. Realize ten minutes in that I forgot to grease and flour the “nonstick” pan and cross fingers that it really is “nonstick” but it’s already almost midnight so I won’t find out until morning.

Morning comes and I attempt to remove the cake from the pan. I’m not really sure what they mean by “non-stick” but it’s definitely not related to whether the contents of the pan will stick to the pan, because they will, quite tenaciously. More cursing, and also being glad that Daddy got two cake mixes when he went to the store the previous evening. Third cake mixed, pan prepped (I can be taught), into the oven. From the oven immediately into the fridge, where it has plenty of time to cool while I whip up another batch of frosting. Most of the frosting gets tinted pink, with a little set aside for brown (the door), light blue (windows), and lavender (trim). Cake is cooled, pops right out of pan and I plunk it down on the frosted base.

Frosted castle

Look! A pink castle! (Pre-accessorization, obviously.)

Now is the moment of truth. See, I really don’t have a lot of any experience frosting things in a decorative manner, but I really, really want to preserve as much of the stone detailing as possible on the castle — that’s what makes it so neat. So I try a few shots on a plate for practice and it looks pretty good. Time for the real thing…and it worked! It came out really great. I will say that cream cheese frosting is not the best choice for elaborate frosting stuff like this — it’s a little too soft, which is why the castle looks a little melty. But really, I love how it came out. It got lots of oohs and aahs, and two of the moms at the party asked where I bought it!!! Most importantly, Becky absolutely loved it.

Completed cake

And here it is again, fully accessorized.

Becky with cake

One awesome cake, one happy birthday girl.

Zack has already requested a train for his birthday in November. Should be fun!

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