Sometimes it’s more fun and more interesting to post my failures and disasters than the bakes which turn out well, but the truth is that not all of my baking exploits are disasters; some of them turn out rather well, especially the birthday cakes, and my little boys think I am the most wonderful baker in the world. They think they can ask for anything for their birthday cake and I will make it. Phillip has asked for a Slime (Minecraft) for his seventh birthday. He’s seen what I’m capable of and he has requested a green cube with a face on it. I’m a little disappointed.
I haven’t fully documented any of my birthday bakes before, apart from posting pics on Facebook so I’m looking forward to getting a few out there. I’m going to be rather strict with myself and go back in a reverse-chronological order rather than skipping straight back to my favourite – Phillip’s 5th Birthday Cake (P5).
So let’s start with September 2014 – Daniel’s 9th birthday (D9)
Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures in the early stages so I don’t have anything to show you of how I put the cakes together, but my boyfriend was chatting on WhatsApp with a friend of his while I was decorating. She was asking about the cake so he started taking a few photos to send to her.
I took the unusual step of asking Daniel what he wanted for his cake rather than my usual trick of knowing what they’re into and deciding for myself what I want to do. Daniel asked for Wallace and Gromit. That’s fine; I’m sure I can do Wallace and Gromit.
I found a nice looking picture on t’internet (I think it’s from a CD or something) and decided how best to adapt it.
I work with Madeira cake. Years ago, a few short days before one of Daniel’s birthdays, my mother gave me a book about how to make birthday cakes for children and the author, Debbie Brown, recommended Madeira cake over sponge because it’s better able to take the weight of the icing on top.
A round cake is easy, obviously, you just bake it in a round cake tin, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the elbow on and didn’t trust the fondant icing to remain suspended well enough (also a problem with P5), so I decided to also bake a square cake the same size (or thereabouts – I just used the tins I already own) and use a couple of the corners to give a square bottom to the shape. I used the base of the round cake tin to get the curves to match and cut off opposite corners of the square cake to use, leaving a leaf-shaped cake which the guys at work demolished in short order.
I stuck the pieces of cake together with buttercream icing then carefully leveled off the top with a bread knife (if you can make the cakes the day before and chill them overnight they hold together much better when you cut them). I then spread more buttercream icing in a fairly generous layer over the top and the sides of the cake, not only does this help the fondant icing to stick but it is also useful for plugging any little holes and smoothing out the shape. Plus it gives people like me something sweet to eat once I’ve picked off all the sickly-sweet fondant. I make my own buttercream icing – it’s easy, if messy, and it tastes so much nicer than shop-bought buttercream.
On my very first cake, I made the fondant icing myself and coloured it with normal liquid food colouring. I have since decided that both of these things were a mistake. If you have enough time, dedication and arm strength to make fondant icing, you go for it! I’ll keep on buying mine ready made. Liquid food colours will make fondant icing sticky and will only produce pastel colours before you start getting into the realms of poisonous amounts. Colouring pastes such as these are the way to go if you are going to colour your own icing. For the last couple of years though I’ve been buying coloured icing whenever I have a large amount to do (my boyfriend is grateful for this as he used to be my chief kneader).
I started with a layer of plain white icing, even though not much of it was going to be on show; I just think it’s really the best way to do a Union flag. Next I took out a little red icing, rolled it really thinly and cut nice wide strips for the St George’s Cross and thinner ones for the St Patrick’s Cross. Please excuse the mess in our dining room – we had higher priorities.
Next came the blue triangles for St Andrew’s Cross, cut from a large blob (technical term) of thinly rolled blue, the trick is shaping it around the curves and corners – it’s best if you can sort of smoosh the icing together so it’s a little thicker but you don’t need to cut out corners to make it fit. Saying that, I was a little stingy with the blue so had to cut little bits out to fill in little gaps where the edges of the blob didn’t quite extend to the cake board. The important thing to remember here is that THEY ARE CHILDREN! They will love the cake and won’t care that the icing isn’t perfectly smooth; the only person who really cares will be you and the cake isn’t for you…
The next bit was like playing with play dough. Nick Park is a genius – his shapes are so simple but he imbues them with such expression! They are easy enough to copy roughly, the only limit on how well I copied them was how much time I had. Honestly I could have kept fiddling with them long past midnight! Because they were on a cake, all the shapes were a little flattened but there was still a huge amount of sugar there!
The devil is in the details and, while I’m sure you can spend a fortune on specialist tools, a short knife is perfect for marking knitting on a jumper or teeth. A little more red for the tie then the eyes; balls of white icing with little disks of black made from tiny balls I flattened with my finger. I (almost) always do the eyes last; I was told at one point, back when I was in a cross-stitch club, that if you do the eyes early on they stare at you throughout the whole project. Not so much of an issue with a two hour bit of sugar-craft as with a two year cross-stitch masterpiece but it’s a habit now. I had sort of finished by this point, then decided it really did look just a little wrong without Wallace’s left arm. Fortunately, I had plenty of white left over.
All that was left to do was hide the cake away until the following afternoon; stab candles into their noses and anywhere else one seemed to fit and present it to a room full of small children already hyped up on birthday tea:
I would love to do this kind of thing professionally but I’m not sure what sort of volume I could handle. At the moment I do it for the love of it and of the people I do it for but it might be fun to practice more than twice a year…