Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Adventures in Birthday Cakes, August 2015 Edition

My daughter’s 4th birthday isn’t until next Sunday, but the family is coming over today to celebrate her birthday, so last night I baked her birthday cake. Well, last night we baked her birthday cake. Because both she and her 5-1/2-year-old brother wanted to help. Well, “help.”

Actually, my son is quite helpful in the kitchen. He’s good at reading directions, and cracking eggs, and stirring batter, and measuring things. His biggest problem in the kitchen is that he’s a licker. And when there are batter-covered spoons and bowls about, temptation abounds. However, as long as I keep an eye on him, he really can be a help.

My daughter, however, is another story entirely. My biggest issue with her helping is that she is incapable of being quiet. She offers a running commentary throughout the process: “What do we do next, Mama Chef? Are these the bowls we need? Can I lick this? Gotta stay away from the stove, it’s hot. Are we making a purple cake? Can I put the sprinkles on? Did you buy purple sprinkles? Did you hear Opie barking? Where’s Daddy? Can I have my princess castle now?” And on and on. It’s hilarious, but exhausting. And distracting. But since I want both of my kids to be comfortable and competent in the kitchen, I invited them to help.

You could say that my daughter’s helping started before we even got as far as the kitchen. She had originally asked me to make her a “Starfire from Teen Titans Go” cake, which involves an elaborate animated character with large eyes and pink hair and which would require more artistic talent than I could ever dream of having. I was figuring I’d have to get some of that edible photo paper and ink and print out a picture of Starfire to slap on top of a sheet cake. And then last week, she changed her mind and insisted she wanted a purple cake. just a purple cake. No shapes, no characters, just purple. With butterfly candles, or at least some form of butterfly involvement. Needless to say, I was thrilled at the change of plans. So we went to the grocery store so I could pick up a white cake mix and some white frosting. And then, she spotted this. And this.

It’s endorsed by Duff Goldman. That’s a good sign, right?

It really is vanilla flavored and not grape. But your brain really, REALLY wants it to be grape.

And she fell in love. The only thing better than purple cake with purple frosting is apparently rainbow cake with purple frosting. Well, it wasn’t much more expensive than the plain cake mix, and it would save me from having to figure out how to dye the cake purple, so I figured why not?

So I had the kids wash their hands and put on their aprons, and we were ready to go!

We run a “shoes optional” kitchen.

I let them take turns breaking the eggs, and was impressed that I didn’t have to fish out a single eggshell. Of course, I realized after I had them break the eggs into the cake mix that I was only supposed to have used the egg whites, but eggs, egg whites…po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to, right?  Moving on. But not for long for one of our chefs, who was busted licking a spoon not three seconds after I warned him not to lick the spoon. Banished amidst many tears. Chef #2 was warned to learn from the error of her brother’s ways and managed to stir the batter for nearly a minute before deciding this baking without licking deal was boring and wandering off. 

I finished the mixing and lined up the series of bowls needed to divide the batter into 6 batches for coloring. I figured that Chef #2 would enjoy stirring in the colors, but once she realized that the beaters were now available for licking, she informed me that I could do it myself. 

Note the elegant set of matching bowls. Apparently we eat a LOT of lobster bisque from Costco. 

She’s a double-fisted batter licker. 

Most of the colors looked nice and vibrant, but that purple was kinda sketchy. 

The directions said to carefully pour half of each color of batter into the centers of the two pans, pouring carefully so as not to disturb the previous colors. It wasn’t as difficult as it sounded, and as I added each color, the layers below spread out to fill each pan like a giant pair of eyeballs. 

Yeah, the purple was still looking pretty sketchy. 

Giant eyeballs peering back at me as I’m peering at them through the oven door. Isn’t this a scene from a Stephen King novel?

While the cake was in the oven, I went downstairs to comfort the still sniffling Chef #1. And what better comfort than a spoon and a lickable bowl of his favorite color of cake batter? 

I swear, no Smurfs were harmed in the creation of this image.

And since Daddy is also a known fan of licking bowls, beaters, and anything else with batter on it…

Shoes-optional kitchen; pants-optional office.

Finally the oven timer played its happy little tune, the “toothpick inserted into the center of the cake” came out clean, and the pans sat cooling (and smelling delectable) until it was time to unmold them. And then: disaster struck!

This part of the cake came out of the pan…

 But this part of the cake didn’t.

Well, that’s what frosting is for, right? I’ll stick it back together, good as new. Shh, don’t tell.

Nah, nobody’ll notice anything.

A plain boring old round layer cake is…well, plain and boring, so I decided to cut the circles in half and put them back to back to make a butterfly shape. Cutting the unbroken bottom layer in half was easy enough, but cutting the broken top layer was a bit of a challenge. Luckily, the cake was moist enough that the pieces stuck together long enough that I could glue them in place with frosting. 

Frosting covers a multitude of sins, a fact for which I am very grateful.

A quick peek at the side view shows only a passing resemblance to the photo on the package, but the purple is at least slightly less dismal than before it baked. It does look significantly less like a bad acid trip than the photo on the package, so that’s a plus, right?

Finally, I coated the whole shebang with a thick layer of frosting to hide any imperfections, then it was time to add the final details: pink and purple sprinkles, as requested by the birthday girl; a candy cane with the curve broken off to form the butterfly’s body – but what to use for antennae? I didn’t have any Twizzlers on hand and I couldn’t find either the package of drinking straws or the bag of pipe cleaners that I KNOW are around the house somewhere. But as I dug through the kitchen junk drawer, I found a wacky curly straw that I had hidden because it’s a nightmare to wash. Aha! A few snips from a pair of sturdy scissors and I had myself two exotically curly butterfly antennae. 

It may lack the glamour and detailing of some of my past cake creations, but it meets all the criteria requested by the birthday girl: It’s purple, there are sprinkles, and there is a butterfly. I’d say it’s another winner!

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