Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake!

On second thought, that might not be such a great post title.  Didn't the first lady who said that ended up beheaded by her subjects?  Hmm... as I am referencing 3-5 year-olds at a birthday party (all sugared up and "fun")... definitely a possibility.

Anyway.  I like cake.  Eating cake.  Making cake.  Decorating cake.  Cake, in general, is good.  And hey, it has eggs in it.  Eggs and butter and sugar and flour... what is not to like? 

So, every year since Ava was born, I have made her birthday cake.  The first one was completely from scratch.  No box ingredients for my baby (yeah, we all know how long that "new parent" phase lasts).  Anyway, she hated it.  Tried to shake my completely from scratch cake and buttercream frosting right off her tongue.  No baby-in-the-cake pictures for me.  It was a cute cake though. I used everything I learned in the Wilton 1 class I took when Aaron was in Iraq (bored Navy wife = dangerous domestic).

Note the look of distaste. Time to up my game...
On Ava's second birthday, she was all about the wheels on the bus.  We sang that song and read that book over and over and over and over.  And now I can hear that song in my head.  Awesome.  So I found a picture of a bus cake and set out to make it.  I didn't really plan ahead... or have the right cake... or, well, do anything right.  So my three-dimensional straight-out-of-the-cake-mix-box bus cake fell over transitioned into a two-dimensional bus cake.  The yellow frosting was more taupe then school bus yellow... but Ava liked it (and actually ate it that year) so it was a success.

Toppled school bus
 Yeah, it was supposed to look like this:

I would use pound cake in a loaf pan.  Just sayin.

When Ava turned three, I was determined not to repeat my past mistakes.  This year, she was all about princesses.  And I found this picture.

Cake by SeeChicletRun at
As I was oohhing and ahhing... Ava came and looked at the computer screen.  "A coach cake!  A coach!  Look Mama! That is Cinderella's COACH!  And it is a cake!  And I can eat it allllll uppp!"  And I was sunk.  One look at that hopeful, innocent, beautiful little face and I was lost.  I asked her if that was the cake she wanted for her birthday and she danced off the couch with a joyful YES! So the studying began.  The school bus crumpling incident was still somewhat fresh.  Visions of a carriage accident rippled through my mind - and the mind of anyone I showed the picture to!

The caption talked about MMF (which resulted in a WTF? and Google search from me).  Okay.  MMF = Marshmallow fondant.   Gum Paste.  Round cake pan.  I ordered this cake pan from Amazon and tossed in an order for gum paste mix too (the scratch days from Ava's first birthday?  Yeah, long gone).  I checked out the original inspiration cake (holy bat $#!*;!  800 BUCKS?!?!?  Makes the round cake pan look like a solid investment) and Googled more.  I figured it would be good to know how to glue fondant to fondant (water)... or how to cover a cake with fondant (buttercream icing first, then fondant)... or how to attach gum paste to fondant (gum paste glue, which is basically watered down gum paste). 

I went to this cake decorating store.  Which is pretty much the coolest, most amazing hardware store for baking ever.  I mean ever.  If you know Seattle, and you know Hardwick's Hardware, then just imagine a Hardwick's for CAKE and you have got it.  Seriously, GO THERE.  You can thank me later.

I will admit to making a coach cake schedule (nerd, remember?).  I read ALL of the instructions that I could find for MMF (look at me using the acronym like a pro), gum paste etc. to determine when I had to start.  I started on Tuesday for a Saturday cake.  Yup, Tuesday.  Did I mention the part about how when I would be working on the computer, Ava would come sit on my lap and ask to see her coach cake?  Uh huh.  No pressure there. Besides, balls out, right? So Tuesday it was.

I make extra pieces, particularly of the wheels, because I figured I would break some.  I broke them ALL.  So then I had to Google things like "drying gum paste fast" and "food dehydrator gum paste").  But it all came together in the end.  And it pretty much rocked.  I know, I am so modest.

Ava's Coach
So when my friend Malia mentioned her daughter was going to have a tea party for her birthday, well, I begged her to let me make a teapot cake.  I had the round pans, all the recipes... access to a Safeway for the cake mix... why not?

This time I started on Friday for a Sunday cake.  I made the MMF and sculpted the sugar paste handle and spout on Friday and baked the cake on Saturday.  Interestingly enough, sculpting the spout made me remember Megan's bachelorette party... remember the play dough Meg? ;)  I stuck the skewers into wine bottles while the sugar past dried (who wouldn't?) and went to bed (you can put the skewers into either open or unopened wine corks). :)

And here is the finished product... which was pretty darn cute.  The mouse was completed on request and appears to be a "cakes by annie" tradition now.

All those cute vines cover serious fondant tears!

I learned a few things and thought I would share. 

1. The powdered gum paste is easier to work with than pre-mixed gum paste.
2. Adding a little shortening to the MMF makes it easier to work with (it tears less).
2 1/2.  Make your MMF in a mixer.  Kneading is for bread.  And grease EVERYTHING.
3. Covering round cakes with fondant is not easy.
4. Selecting designs that camouflage the difficulties of round cakes + fondant is good (i.e. pumpkins are supposed to be bumpy and teapots with vines cover-up the fondant tears)
5. Kids love cake and could care less if your school bus is upside down or not.
6. Make LOTS of extra gum paste pieces.  Lots. 
7. Stick bamboo skewers into gum paste before it dries to help you attach things to the cake.
8. Let your gum paste figures/pieces dry for a long time.  Think 2 days. Or you will be Googling things like "dry gum paste fast."
9. When all else fails, see #5.

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