Friday, August 13, 2010

Cake Marathon

Tomorrow, we are having Lauren’s first big birthday party.  She’s going to be 5 and has invited all her friends from her class in prep; we are taking 26 children to the local indoor soft play centre called Zoom.  Being a winter birthday and not being sure how the weather would be, I didn’t take any chances.  Perhaps if we are in a bigger house next year, we’ll consider something outdoors.

Lauren’s never had a party like this before; this was partly our reluctance to host one for toddlers in a small house with almost no garden and partly because Lauren never asked for one before now.  Lauren has always been a shy child and didn’t really enjoy parties when she was younger.  She ended up clinging to me and not playing with any of the other children at most of the parties we ever went to – if not for all of it then at least for the first 30 minutes.

Since coming to Australia, she has really gained in confidence and is so much more at ease with herself.  I remember taking the girls to the park in the first week we were here – I noticed that the girls were too shy to approach the other children to play with them.  I was really sad to see it.  However, within a short time of starting school and nursery here, they were different children.  I think it’s partly to do with the relaxed and friendly way of life here – their school friends were quick to befriend them and make them feel welcome, and the fact that they are happy and settled, and thus more confident.

So she asked me for a birthday party, and I agreed that she could have one.

When I went to organise her cake, I had initially planned to order one through the local cake shop Delany’s; I’d been told that it was very good.  When I walked in and saw their sample book, I had to agree – each cake is unique and designed to the customer’s specifications.  I could see the staff constructing and decorating the cakes by hand behind the counter.  The cakes were really amazing!

However, I felt I couldn’t justify the cost at the moment as we are saving hard for a house purchase, and the cakes start at about $70 AUD, getting progressively more expensive as the cake becomes more decorated and complex.  Maybe one for a special birthday, like an 18th or a 40th!

I was left with no other option but to make my own.  Sadly, I am not artistic – I have an eye for colour and design but I cannot draw or paint to save myself.  This did not put me off (well, perhaps a little!) and armed with my trusted Jane Asher book, I set about making Lauren a cake she could be proud of.  My previous attempts had all been rather more humble.  This was Lauren’s first ever birthday cake.

Birthday 001

Although I can make a tasty cake, I find the decorating part really difficult – when my brother Jason and my sister-in-law Charlotte asked me to make their wedding cake, I stipulated that I was happy to bake them but someone else had to decorate it.

Lauren loves fairies and princesses – one of her favourite cartoons is “Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom”, from the same company responsible for Peppa Pig.  Just like the Peppa Pig cartoons, there is a lot of great humour aimed at adults as well as children.  I love Ben and Holly too!

So it was from Ben and Holly that I took my inspiration for the cake.  I was going to attempt the Fairy Forest Cake.

Following Jane’s instructions, I baked a large 10 inch chocolate sponge to form the base of the cake.  I always tweak the recipe to lessen the amount of sugar and also added a dollop of crème fraiche to keep the cake moist.  Having gone to a few birthday parties, the cakes and the icing tend to be overly sweet, which I really dislike.  Here was the end result.  You can see all the icing that I’d made up ready to go in the background.

Cake 002

First, the butter icing went onto the top and sides.  I then had to roughen the surface on the top to make it look like grass.  So here is the cake with the “grass” on.

Cake 005

As well as the cake, I’d made some butter cookies the day before in the shape of trees, plants, flowers and butterflies.  I had to raid the girls’ Play-Doh set to get the cutters – their play cutters were all in the correct shapes for the cake (my cooking ones were sadly much more boring).  Naturally, I washed the cutters before using them on the cookie dough!

A few hours later, I’d decorated the cookies with the brightly coloured Royal Icing – painstakingly applied with a small paintbrush for better control and some texture – and applied the necessary sparkly cachous (the metallic edible beads).  Here is the finished cake in all its glory, complete with 2 fairy princesses and a little fairy with her fairy cat.

Cake 012

I wish you could have seen Lauren’s face when she came home from the park to find her cake – she was in awe and loved it!  I have put the cake at the back of the kitchen worktop to protect it from prying fingers. 

The trip to Zoom in the car will be interesting tomorrow – I have no cake box!  Thank goodness it is only a 5 minute drive away…