Carpet bombing, cake-style

It’s kid birthday season again in our household.

With both kids’ birthdays in the last ten days of October plus Halloween, our family is currently lost in the October vortex. The decorations will remain hanging in our house for a week and a half, much cake and ice cream will be consumed and presents opened, and then massive doses of sugar devoured on Halloween itself.

A true recipe for temporary insanity.

Ever since each of my kids turned one year old, every year, I’ve baked a mini birthday layer cake for them, using six inch cake pans. But not just once – there is always a family party where we celebrate my kids’ birthdays plus my niece’s birthday; then, a kids party; not to mention the two kids’ actual birthdays themselves.

We eat a lot of cake in October.

This year, I came to my senses and decided not to bake the birthday cakes for the kids’ party with their friends.

But I still lacked some sense in that I decided to not just bake three mini-cakes from scratch for our family birthday party, but select unique flavors for each, so our party guests would have a choice – one cake would be a white cake with chocolate frosting; another cake would be a spice cake with orange cream cheese frosting; and the third one would be a German chocolate cake with coconut-pecan frosting.

Why not? I’d figured out last year that all it takes to adapt a regular layer cake recipe for the mini pans was to halve it. Simple, but true. I was itching to put the theory into practice and adapt some regular recipes for mini-cakes.

So, once again, I chose to ignore the KISS principle (Keep it simple, stupid).

The day before the party, in addition to cleaning the house and running errands to four stores, I made a double-batch of soup, mixed ingredients for several loaves of bread, and baked the cake layers for three different cakes.

My day passed by in 10, 15, 30 minute increments, measured by the kitchen timer. As always happens when I’m tackling multiple cooking projects in one day, by late afternoon I got to the point where I was muttering to myself, “What was I thinking???”

But I took a deep breath and finished the job. Then collapsed onto the sofa.

On Saturday, it was time to face the frostings.

The fluffy chocolate frosting that was nearly my undoing last year turned out okay this time, a little soft due to the warm kitchen, but fluffy enough to do the trick.

Ignoring the dastardly villain brandishing a sharp spear behind him, Iron Man faced his toughest challenge yet trying to retain his footing on a slippery chocolate slope.

The orange cream cheese frosting was easier to keep at the right consistency. Behold the spice cake for my spice girl, a six year old verging on tween…

Then it was time to tackle the coconut pecan frosting for the German chocolate cake. This cake was the wild card. I had prior experience making the other two cake recipes, but this one was a new recipe which I then customized to the small cake pan size.

Baking this chocolate cake recipe the day before was a bit of a pain, as it required melting chocolate, separating the eggs and beating the egg whites, extra steps I don’t normally have to do when I make cakes.

Plus, there were two components to frosting the cake – the coconut pecan frosting, plus a chocolate frosting for the sides of the cake. I just chose to make a full batch of the fluffy chocolate frosting I was using for the first cake, and then used the 2nd half of it for frosting the sides of the German chocolate cake.

The coconut pecan frosting was so delicious I couldn’t resist eating some with a spoon; the negative was that it was still a bit runny at the time I frosted the cake. But it would have to do.

Turns out twelve-year-olds don’t need toppers.

The guests arrived for the party later that day – presents opened; soup, bread and salad consumed; and then it was time for the cake and ice cream. My family was intrigued by the various flavors I’d made and wanted to try some of each cake.

Trouble was, it’s difficult to cut up these tiny cakes into small pieces to begin with, let alone do it quickly while 15 guests wait to be served.

The first two cakes were easy enough to divvy up but the German chocolate cake totally collapsed once we cut into it. After the fussiness of the recipe itself, it was disappointing to see the cake flame out like it did. It was a train wreck.

Whatever. No points for presentation but hopefully it would taste good.

My sister and I were slicing up the cakes as quickly as we could, and soon had most of the cakes plated. Then I had to stop and snap a photo because, honestly, this cake panorama was so completely ridiculous. We were serving enormous portions of cake to everyone; nobody would possibly be able to finish what was on their plate.

I was carpet-bombing my guests with cake.

Most of the guests gamely tried to plow through the cakes. But, as one family member commented, the flavors of these cakes were each so very different; eaten side by side, they didn’t necessarily go together well.

Only my dad had the good sense to request only one tiny little slice of the white cake. Then he followed up with a request for a sampling of that mysterious apple butter that he’d read so much about.

***

I really do enjoy cake but don’t make it much the rest of the year, primarily because the four of us can’t eat a whole regular-sized cake before it goes stale. But a mini-cake? Yes we can!

The mini-size cake yields at least 8 generously sized portions, perfect to serve for a small dinner party or even just for the family, whenever you feel like having some cake.

My favorite of the three mini-cakes I made for the birthday party was the spice cake. Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are synonymous with autumn in my mind. The addition of ginger and cardamom in this Epicurious recipe lends an additional exotic touch, plus the orange cream cheese frosting is truly decadent.

Here’s photo of this cake’s interior from when I baked this cake another time earlier in the month.

Links to the three recipes:
1. Vanilla Baby Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Frostingcake recipe & frosting recipe

2. Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting – the Epicurious recipe is for a full-size cake; if you wish to make a mini cake like this one, just halve all of the ingredients for the cake and the frosting

3. German Chocolate Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting – a Food Network recipe. Again, this is a recipe for a full-size cake – halve the ingredients if you’d like a mini-cake. I loved the frosting recipe but didn’t care for how the cake itself fell apart. So I probably wouldn’t recommend this recipe.

My guess is that the cake collapse was either due to too much runny frosting between the layers, the tenderness of the cake from using cake flour, or something to do with folding in the egg whites.

If I make this type of mini-cake again, I’ll try a different recipe, and use a dark chocolate frosting on the sides, since the fluffy chocolate frosting was a bit too sweet in combination with the coconut pecan frosting.

***

This time of year always kills me. After all that’s gone on this month – birthdays, family events, Halloween, fascination with chocolate plus massive deadlines at my daytime job and haphazard meals on the run, my eating habits have taken a dive. Once Halloween is over, it’s time to get back on track.

So, I’m going to take a little break from blogging and social media for a bit to cool off my brain circuits and get some rest. But never fear, I’ll be back.

A piece of cake

With one party down and one to go, I was all charged up to bake again on Sunday morning.

First off was the white frosting for the cupcakes. The frosting I used on the cupcakes comes from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. In that cookbook, it’s used for the Coconut Layer Cake (which, by the way, is completely decadent and delicious).

I used it for the cupcakes because this frosting is just gorgeous, with a satiny gloss and luscious curves. The perfect backdrop for Halloween-themed cupcakes -it’s Casper gone uptown.

This frosting is best made and eaten the same day – it starts to break down after several hours. Still, while it’s at its peak, it is a glorious, marshmallow-y confection.

White Frosting
From the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook


Ingredients:
3 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 plus 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

First, some notes on the eggs. This cookbook notes that eggs beat up better when at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about an hour before making the recipe.

For me, simpler is better when it comes to tools for baking. You can buy an egg separator gadget, but really, the easiest thing is to break the egg and let the whites run through your fingers into the mixing bowl. Take care not to let the yolk break at all.

Combine the egg whites and vanilla in your mixing bowl and let them sit while you prepare a sugar mixture on the stovetop.

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, water and cream of tartar

and heat on a medium-high setting until it comes to a rolling boil (the liquid will turn from opaque to translucent at this point); remove it immediately from the heat.


Beat the egg whites and vanilla with a mixer on a medium-high setting until foamy, about 1 minute. Then, gradually pour in the sugar mixture in a thin, steady stream while continuing to beat the egg whites.

Once you’ve added all of the sugar liquid, continue beating the mixture on medium-high

until stiff peaks form but the frosting still appears moist and shiny (this’ll take about 5 minutes)

Frost your cake or cupcakes immediately.


Now for a few Halloween sprinkles to see what it’ll look like when the kids decorate them at the party. Nice! That’ll do.


After the cupcakes were frosted, I set about making the mini-cakes for each of the kids (at the party, these were for the kids to blow out candles, then the parents ate the cakes, while the kids ate the cupcakes {lest you think I let them each eat a whole cake by themselves :) } ).

For the kids cakes, I baked the Baby Cakes recipe which appears in the cookbook, Birthday Cakes: Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers. This is a two-layer cake baked in 6 inch cake pans. You can find 6 inch pans at specialty cooking stores or online.

I love this recipe, because the size is so cute, plus it’s nice for serving a small number of people, or small people, or both.

I wish I could find more recipes tailored specifically for this size of cake, because it’s perfect to accompany a family meal or intimate dinner party. Alas, this is the only one I’ve found. When I’ve wanted other flavors, I’ve resorted to using box mixes and just guess how much to fill the pan, with sometimes freakish results as seen in my previous post.

Oh, I know I could probably scale down scratch recipes to fit these pans, but that would require using math, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, on to the recipe:

Baby Cakes
A Flo Braker recipe from Birthday Cakes: Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers


Ingredients:
1 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with the oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and butter and flour the cake pans. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.

Cream the butter with a mixer on medium speed until it’s soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one by one. Add the vanilla, then shift the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until blended.

Divide the batter among the two cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then remove from pans and cook completely on a wire rack. Frost when cool.

***

I made the Fluffy Chocolate Frosting recipe yet again from the Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor cookbook, this time convinced that using the stand mixer with its oomph-atic power would be just the trick to make the frosting fluffy.

What’s that saying about insanity? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

Well, I mixed…

and mixed….

and still it was no fluffier than the previous day. In fact, it was worse. Very, very runny.

Screw it, it will have to do.

And it did do; it was fine, along with the cupcakes.

Because, really, in the end, who cares about baking perfection? All you need is to please the ones you love.

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