Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Piece of Cake

My mom always made our birthday cakes. And, of course, as a child, I wanted nothing more than the bakery concoctions with mountains of frosting and brightly colored roses that could induce a diabetic coma. However, as I grew up, I realized I don't like most bakery cakes (unless they're chocolate with chocolate ganache). I was attracted to the intricate designs. I wanted my cake to look pretty (not that my mom didn't do a great job. She did. There were no fancy roses or intricate piping though).

Then, when I was in college, Martha Stewart came into the picture, establishing an impossible xenith of decorating and home keeping. I have no where near the talent and skill it takes to be Martha, but dammit I'm gonna try. For years, I spent Christmas Eve frosting sugar cookies in six different colors of royal icing, just so they looked smooth and professional. They looked nice, but my mom's round ones with cream cheese frosting taste a whole lot better.

For my wedding cake, I chose a cake with fondant, just because it looked so smooth and nice. Just like Martha Stewart would make. I didn't actually eat any of my wedding cake that night. People kept coming up to me and asking what type of frosting it was. I smugly replied, "It is a buttercream frosting with fondant over it." Most people had never heard of fondant. I thought I was impressing them. Until the day after, when I tasted it, and realized it was horrible (fondant has come a long way in 13 years).
This was the only taste of the cake I got that day. You can see it in the bottom left corner.
And then I became a mom myself. I had three co-workers at the time who had taken the Wilson cake decorating classes and they made cakes. One of them even made the cake for my baby shower.

And as  mom, I wanted to make my own cakes. Of course, I wanted them to be fancy and professional looking. My first attempt for Jake's first birthday was not that successful.

What you can't see in this picture is the horrible time I had with the chocolate cake crumbing up. It kills me every year, trying to frost a chocolate cake (because that is what the kids ALWAYS want) with white frosting and not to get crumbs. Since 2005, I have tried several methods to reduce crumbing. My current one is to bake the cake, and then freeze it. Frosting it while frozen seems to help a little.

By Jake's second birthday, I was branching out into better designs. I'm pretty proud of the free-hand design on this one. I was still using canned frosting and the tube gel for decoration.

His third birthday had me thinking a bit outside the box, as I couldn't find how to make a Thomas cake without buying the pan and doing star tips, which scared the bejeezus out of me at the time. I was, however, stuck in the rut of using a 9 x 12 pan.

For Jake's fourth birthday, I finally changed it up. For the first time, I made my own frosting and started using gel coloring, rather than the liquid stuff. So many more color options and it doesn't thin the frosting out either. I also branched out into cupcakes this year. Go figure ... finally getting complicated when I have a baby in the mix.

With said baby, that meant I got to make two cakes a year. I finally tackled the star tip frosting for Sophia's first birthday. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. Of course, I went off the deep end and made candy to go with her cake as well.

Jake wanted an ice cream cake for his fifth birthday. Not much to look at, but it tasted pretty good. He had a friend birthday party that year, for which we used a store-bought cake. His party and actual birthday were about a week apart, so we definitely needed two cakes.

For Sophia's second birthday, I traced this picture on waxed paper and then frosted that, putting it right on top of the cake. Back to the 9 x 12, but I always liked how it came out. The purple looks blue in this picture, but it was definitely purple and red. Or rojo, as Dora would say.

I went back to cupcakes for Jake's sixth birthday. I started to get more creative and confident in my skills.


But for Sophia, I don't know what got into me. I was like a person possessed. This is where my rush-through-it and OCD battle, which is really tough. Two of my dad's favorite sayings are, "I cut it three times and it's still too short" and "Ready, fire, aim!" Both of those apply to me. However, when you have crazy high expectations of perfection, it leads to a lot of hard work, over ambitious projects and ultimately disappointment. It wasn't terrible, but certainly wasn't what I wanted it to look like. The project engineer needs to be fired. Still, Sophia remembers getting the princesses to play with, so that's what's important.


I borrowed a friend's sphere pan to do a Mets themed baseball cake. This really wasn't that hard and I think it turned out pretty good (especially considering his party was about an hour away, and I had to carry this all the way up there). I need to remember that sometimes, the simpler cakes come out better.

But I forgot that lesson by the time Sophia's birthday rolled around. Pinterest had hit the scene, which can be a cake-maker's best friend and worst enemy. Still, not terrible, and I ventured into fondant again, used glitter and candy flowers. I don't want to think about how much this cake actually cost me to make.



About one month after Jake turned seven, he was looking at a catalog that has birthday party supplies and said, "For my next birthday, I want Tom and Jerry. I am going to be eight, you know." Eleven months later, I found a company that does edible images and ordered it so Jake could have his Tom and Jerry party. He had a homemade ice cream cake again for his family party.

Sophia wanted a horse birthday for her fifth birthday. This was her first time having a friend party. One of her friends had a peanut allergy, so I was limited in the ingredients I could use. I also need to come to terms with the fact that I cannot make a straight line. 

Jake wanted a Star Wars birthday for his ninth. For some reason, I am not very creative in February when his birthday rolls around. However, I think my frosting ability has improved slightly. It could be because I've invested in better tools over the years (a lazy susan has made all the difference!).


I hit Pinterest again for Sophia's birthday, and was pleased with this one. Still didn't love the way my frosting tasted but I loved the way this one came out.

Ok, mom-fail moment here. I have no cake for Jake's tenth birthday. But before you pass judgement, we were in Disney for his birthday and he got a cake there. He didn't have a friend party (his choice), so there was no second cake. I did send cupcakes into school (of which I have no picture). Sophia's birthday is in August, so she never gets cupcakes for school.

Which leads us to Sophia's birthday again. The party is tomorrow. She is having a spa birthday party. The spa's theme is zebra print and pink, so that's what she wanted for her cake. She also wanted a tiered cake (despite the fact that there will only be seven girls there). So, I combed Pinterest, and this is what I came up with. I think it is my best cake ever. Don't look too closely. It is a bit crooked and my fondant could be trimmed a bit cleaner. But I totally love it. Totally.


And now, I finally have a decent frosting recipe. As it happens, I have a friend who writes stories about a fictional baker. This fictional baker has a real buttercream frosting recipe that is AMAZEBALLS. Completely and totally. Best part, you can have that recipe too. It's right here. Follow the directions. Use room temperature salted butter.

As much as I love these cakes (even the messy, ugly, crooked ones), what I love is that my kids love them. Sophia came in the kitchen today and looked at the half-done cake and said, "That is the most beautiful cake ever." She helped me make it and decorate it as well, dictating where dots should go and what size they should be. She also approves of the frosting.

I love looking back on the themes and remembering where the kids were at that time in their lives. What their interests were.

My cakes don't belong on Pinterest. They are more in the Pinterest fails category, but I don't care. My kids have loved them and that's what makes this all a piece of cake.

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