Have I mentioned that I have a particular dislike of the trend for the Competitive Birthday Party?
It's something that's always been around in some form, I guess, but it's a special sort of madness these days. Is it because something really eye-catching is required for ones Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest account? Or is it simply that we live in an era unparalleled in everyday affluence?
Whatever it is, I'm wondering where the parents go from a $3000 first birthday party. I heard about that one yesterday. Open bar, finger food (for the adults...nobody was sure what the children ate...if they ate at all), swanky venue, designer cake. What happens for the second birthday, the 12th, the 21st?? Do the stakes become higher as you go? Or does the dwindling bank account, and common sense, eventually kick in?
We grew up with a party in the back yard, a game of What's the Time Mr Wolf, Musical Chairs, and Pass the Parcel. Everbody's Mum made their cakes, and they were usually a Womens Weekly (ladies magazine here back then, and famous for their cake decorating instructions) castle, farm, or doll cake. If it was a posh affair, their Mum might buy a cream filled sponge from Coles. Coles only existed in the city centre at that stage, so a sponge from Coles was a rare and refined treat.
Cake decorating as an art form was decades away, but my Mum and Nanna were considered the experts at cake decorating in our neighbourhood anyway. Weddings, Christenings and 21st birthdays were all graced by a cake adored with their fondant roses or frangipani, with an appropriate plastic greeting, purchased at the aforementioned Coles, pressed into the top tier.
Of course those days are long gone, and whilst I do not pretend to understand why you need an open bar, and cocktail finger food at a first birthday party, thanks to Mum and Nanna, I do understand the importance of The Cake. The Cake is however, something that you really can manage yourself. Truly. No matter how complex it appears at first viewing, Pinterest, Google and YouTube are your friend.
I've made a few cakes in my time.
...there were the Tall Cupcakes...
...and the Giant Cupcake.
I loved making this sweet Owl for my second granddaughters first birthday, and it will forever be a favourite. It was far easier than you might imagine. Just a round cake, covered in fondant in two shades of purple, with two half circles for the wings, circles for the eyes, and ears and feet fashioned from more fondant. The placement of the whites and pupils of the eyes is what gives this little darlin' it's sweet expression.
This pretty pink Princess cake was for my oldest granddaughters first birthday. I spent four days on just covering the cake, smoothing buttercream and fondant, quilting the sides, and dusting with Lustre Dust. It was raining that week too, so it was a slow task. But that's okay. I gave myself that time. The crown was accomplished with a piece of wide lace and some fabric stiffener. Thanks to Pinterest for that idea.
...For her second birthday, it was the Peppa Pig cake, with fondant Peppa and Granddaughter. Thankyou to YouTube for helping me fashion the fondant figures.
For my daughter, I've made an Ombre Rainbow cake, seen above, again with help from another friendly bloggers tutorial. Another new skill. In case you're wondering, The Second Best Things in Life was another blog I had at that stage. It's not someone elses blog...lol!
The next year she requested a Downton Abbey inspired cake, seen below, meant to be a vanity set, with hairbrush and trinket box.
She adored this cake. It was a long way from perfect, and I actually received from very rude comments when I first posted the photos here. But the thing is, that I didn't post the photographs to impress anyone. The very thing that drew so much negative comment... that my cake decorating skills were not professional standard ...was the point I was trying to make. Comments were made like 'what's it supposed to be', 'is that a dog $#%& on top', and so forth. You get the idea. I didn't publish them, I just hit 'delete'. They just didn't get it. The only person whose opinion mattered, was my daughters, and she was thrilled to bits. That cake was made with love and patience, and if you've ever tried to get white fondant smooth, like this is, you'll have an inkling of how difficult it is for an amateur to achieve that finish. THAT WAS my point. DON'T get to thinking that you have to be a professional cake decorator, to put a smile on the face of your loved ones, no matter what anyone says. DO just have a go. You will learn and improve as you go along. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes.
My sister and I made this Wedding cake, pictured below, for our brother. It too, was not quite perfect. Again, getting that white fondant smooth, is a real art. So I am not saying for a moment, that the professionals do not deserve their asking price, because they do!
It's just that really...for your family...for creating memories...what's more important? A 'perfect' cake, that you paid a lot of money for (regardless of whether you could afford it or not), that was made by somebody else? Or one, that looking back in years to come, your family can say 'Mum (Sis/Aunty/Nanna) made that cake for me'.
This cake too, drew some unpleasant comments here on my blog. 'Did you make it from an Aldi cake mix too?' is one I particularly remember. Not on that day, no. But I have since! It's a nice cake mix! How can you be snobbish about cake batter for goodness sakes!
I made this Winnie-the-Pooh inspired cake for my granddaughter last year. The hand lettered calligraphy on the fondant butterfly, and the pressed and stamped embellishments were yet another new skill I'd taught myself. See? Just one new skill each time.
For my older granddaughter this year, it was a Frozen themed cake. I loved making this one. It was only slightly disappointing that the gel food colour that the 'specialist' in the Cake Decorating store sold me, swearing it was the correct turquoise colour for a Frozen themed cake, was actually more mint green *grumble*. It didn't matter though. Again, my granddaughter loved that cake too. Pinterest and YouTube were invaluable for this one. Those ice mountains are made from toffee, tinted, and dusted with Lustre Dust. Yep! New skill!
I made this rose topped cake for her for a separate family celebration. It was simply iced in buttercream, but I sprinkled it with my own custom coloured glitter sugar, tinted to match the dried Colombian Roses I had on hand to decorate the top. A simple cake band of parchment paper tied with toning organza ribbon made it look special.
...and inside, it looked like this! This time, I taught myself how to do a tie dye cake batter. It was easy!
So, you see, I keep learning as I go. Nothing I make is professional standard, nor is it meant to be, although I always strive to be better. I am more interested in creating memories, than I am in spending, or having my family spend, simply to impress others.
So. On to this years Topsy-Turvy (also called Wonky, Whimsical,, Mad Hatter, and Crooked) Sprinkles cake.
Pinterest, Google and YouTube are your friend for any new idea. I knew that my granddaughter wanted rainbow layers, and sprinkles, and that she loves My Little Pony toys. So I worked on a combination of those ideas.
I started on Monday for the cake to be ready on Saturday. This gave me oodles of time for decorating, and a couple of days up my sleeve for any disasters.
I baked four separate cake batters, tinting each a different colour. I used the same colours I used earlier this year for the older granddaughter, in the tie-dye cake seen above. Each batch of batter, was split in half, and baked in two round sandwich tins, giving me eight thin layers of cake, in four colours.
That was one afternoons work. I then froze them for 48 hours, until I was ready to proceed with the decorating. That's half the battle. Plan ahead. Do everything in small steps. Give yourself time to start over if the worst eventuates.
I then made a heatproof frosting, equal parts by weight of butter, vegetable shortening (crucial in the heat here), and icing sugar (confectioners sugar), and adding vanilla essence for flavour. I tinted it a very pale lilac, just so if it peeked through the sprinkles, it was still pretty. I refrigerated that until I was ready to start decorating the cake. I removed it from the refrigerator an hour before use, to allow it to soften.
Two days later, I defrosted the cakes, and sandwiched six of the layers with vanilla buttercream. I cheated and used Betty Crocker Vanilla Frosting, just because I know my family loves the flavour. Again, if you're saving money by doing-it-yourself, no matter what it is, you can splurge on a few special little ingredients. Sandwiching it with the Betty Crocker, gives the flavour, without having to cover the whole cake in it. That's good, because sorry Betty, your frosting wouldn't stand up to our sub-tropical heat in a pink fit!
I cut the final two layers smaller so I could stack the cake, and sandwiched them with the Betty buttercream as well. I then trimmed both cakes, to a slightly inverted (smaller at the base than the top) shape, and followed directions on a blog, on cutting a wedge from each, placing it back on the high side of the cake, and trimming it further, to give the crazy topsy-turvy look. Here's that link.
I crumb coated both cakes. This is just a thin layer of buttercream, that traps the crumbs so that you don't end up with them in your top coat. I chilled both cakes overnight. You don't need to chill the cake for this long, but I was approaching this in baby steps. So you see where you need time on your side!
A second coat, a generous one this time, of my heatproof frosting was added. I smoothed it using an offset knife, frequently dipped in hot water to keep it warm to facilitate the smoothing. Again, this took me some time. Probably about an hour for the two cakes. With practice, this would take no time at all, but I don't make decorated cakes often enough to practice!
I then had to cut the offset hole in the surface of the bottom layered cake, in which to position the smaller top layer. Again, I was assisted by YouTube and other friendly bloggers. I dithered over this step for about two hours, before working up the courage to slice into it!
You can see the vivid blue and orange layered cake underneath here...
I then positioned my top smaller layered cake, into the little cavity I'd created, first adding some frosting to help secure it. Then I made sure I sat the lower edge of the top cake, pointing towards the higher edge of the bottom cake. If you don't position them this way, it really does look seasick crazy. Some of the ideas I viewed didn't look quite right to me, and that's why. But if you like that look, then that's fine too. I prefer the 'centre of gravity' idea in the Wicked Goodies link I've provided. It just looks more pleasing to the eye to me. But that's an individual choice. It also happens to be more secure this way, too though.
So now I had a cake that looked like this. It wasn't quite as sharp and angular as I would have liked, but there was still work to do.
Sprinkles came next, and oh my gosh. I looked at lots of ways to do this and some were just plain scary looking to me. The favourite seems to be to take your cake, stand it on it's edge, and roll it in a pan full of sprinkles. This is supposedly to avert mess. I could just see that being a disaster in the making in the wrong hands (mine!).
I opted for the old fashioned way. I just chilled the cake again for half an hour, and then spread a towel under the cake, put the sprinkles in a bowl, and grabbed a handful at a time, and pressed them on. I didn't even have to press hard. The frosting just sort of grabbed them. I continued until the cake was entirely covered. This took about five minutes, absolute maximum, and I can honestly say that this is a technique that would cover a multitude of frosting sins if you do ever have a frosting smoothing disaster, or you find you don't have the time necessary to smooth your frosting. The addition of a simple ribbon at the base of both layers, a flower or other decoration, and some candles on top, and you'd still have a lovely cake.
For me, though, there were some misgivings at this point. The cake didn't actually look anything like the idea I had in my head, so an adjustment of my expectations was necessary. No, the angles weren't sharp. Yes it looked a bit more 'drunk' than 'topsy-turvy'. Did it matter? Well, let's just say, you shouldn't make your judgement, based upon a half decorated cake. I seriously considered starting all over again at this point. I was just so disappointed that it didn't look right. But as it happened it was all okay in the end.
I rolled out some fondant I'd tinted purple, and cut it with a pizza wheel, forming some ribbons to place at the base of each cake. I positioned them in place then dusted them with Lustre Dust. Lustre Dust is great for distracting the eye. I brushed some onto the sprinkles too.
A bit of a Google and Pinterest viewing ensued, and I raced out and purchased these toning lollipops and Liquorice Allsorts, which were the perfect colour to blend with the pastel sprinkles. Thankyou Pinterest. The little baby pink wafer flowers were something I already had. So now it wasn't looking quite so drunken, and the effect was a little more 'topsy-turvy'. The addition of the tall lollipops and number 3 candle on the left, made one side look taller, and the Liquorice Allsorts, drew attention to the disparate layers on the opposite side, making the topsy-turvy look, a bit more obvious. The 'distract the eye' strategy was working!
I was going to then fashion a fondant bow topper, but by now I really had run out of time to do that, and have it dry in time to use it. A fondant bow takes about 48 hours to dry. Longer in humid weather. So I took another cheaty way out, and purchased a $6 My Little Pony in a suitable colour, and a couple of rainbow lollipops, finalising the decorating of the cake with those. Naturally for the party, I removed the cellophane from the lollipops. I just didn't want them to go sticky between this photo and party day!
Note that with clever positioning of the embellishments, this cake now looks more angular, more topsy-turvy, and dare I suggest, more 'perfect', than it previously did. All I did was disguise the faults and accentuate the positive aspects. The curvy 'dips' in the frosting have disappeared, the pretty decorations now fool the eye, and the cake looks pretty much as I originally imagined. Disaster averted.
All in all, this cake cost about $30-$40 to make, mainly because I over-bought on sprinkles and cake boards, to have them on hand. I still have those, so I'll save on the next cake I make. A quote from a local cake decorator to make a similar cake was $450. It's a complicated cake. Rainbow layers, eight of them, topsy-turvy, buttercream and sprinkles, fondant ribbons...they're all time consuming and fiddly, so that's probably a fair price for a professional. Yes hers would have looked 'the business'. Would my three year old granddaughter have cared that someone had spent $450 on her cake. Not a chance.
Did she love the one I made for $30?
Of course! It was a huge hit!
A recurring theme here at A Tray of Bliss, is that you can have the beautiful things in life for less. Mostly that is through spending time, rather than money. I understand if you don't have the time, and that you are at a stage of life, where spending the money is the easiest solution. But if you want to save money and still have the lovelier things at your fingertips, you can do worse than just have a go, as we say here in Australia.
Since I started making our families celebration cakes I've acquired the following skills, through YouTube, Blogs, and Pinterest.
1. Dyeing cake batter for a Tie-Dye cake
2. Dyeing toffee
3. Making heat resistant buttercream frosting
4. How to smooth buttercream
5. How to roll and dye Fondant
6. How to put fondant on a round cake and a square cake
7. How to make fondant figurines
8. How to make a tall stacked cake
9. How to make a tall stacked rainbow cake
10. How to make a fondant shape and write on it in Calligraphy
11. How to make an Ombre Rainbow frosted cake
12. How to make shapes from cake and fondant, and brush them with edible gold dust
13. Using Lustre Dust to enhance decorated cakes
14. How to do faux quilting on the sides of a cake
15. How to make a stiffened lace crown
16. How to make fondant ribbons and bows
17. How to use simple shapes and embellishments to create a face and features in fondant
18. How to make a Topsy-Turvy cake
19. How to cover a frosted cake in sprinkles to enhance or disguise
20. How to use impressed stamping to create features like feathers on wings, or other embellishments in frosting
21. How to analyse the steps involved in a complex cake, and approach each step individually so as not to become overwhelmed
22. How adding decorative elements can help disguise faults in a cake
23. How to customise tinted glitter sugar to match other elements in the cakes decorations
24. How to not panic when the cake doesn't look exactly as I imagined, and how to use the online community to help me re-imagine my creation
25. And finally, how to ignore obnoxious comments on my blog....bahahahaha!
The first cake I made was just four years ago. In four years, I have acquired 25 new skills, and that's baking just 3 special cakes a year. One each for my daughter, and my two granddaughters.
What do you think? Have I persuaded you to 'have a go'?
Let me know. And send photos so I can feature you in a future post!