30 August 2010

The Perfect Birthday Chocolate Cake

I promised I would share the recipe for the Despicable Me Birthday Cake I made for Sugababe 1.

This is also my go-to recipe for all my 3D birthday cakes. There are 3 very good reasons for this:

Firstly, chocolate cake is a real crowd pleaser.  I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the rate of consumption for chocolate cakes is about 3 times faster than for any other type of cake.  Or that people seem to have a separate stomach for chocolate that makes them go back for seconds.  My 3D birthday cakes tend to be pretty big, and if I want to avoid having leftover birthday cake for days after the event, chocolate cake it will have to be. 

Secondly, this recipe makes a large enough cake for me to construct a proper-sized 3D cake diorama. And allows me to fit all those cartoon characters that my Sugababes are so fond of requesting for their birthdays.  Also, this is the largest-sized cake that can still fit on the largest foil-wrapped cake board (and cake box) that is sold here. 

Thirdly, this is a buttermilk recipe.  You may already know how much I adore the tangy flavour of buttermilk cakes.  The other thing to love about buttermilk recipes like this one is how easy and failproof it is. No creaming of butter till 'pale and fluffy' or beating of egg whites to 'stiff but not dry'.  Not that I am doubting your ability to do those well.  But if you are like me, cakes have a cruel way of failing on me on the eve of big events.  I kid you not - I once had to throw out 24 cupcakes I was doing for a birthday.  I almost cried, not just because they were so flat, oily and ugly.  But from the sheer shame of it all.  I mean, cupcakes???  Not only were these very BASIC cupcakes, I had also baked from this recipe umpteen times without incident.  No matter how much I think I have improved in my baking skills, tragic events like these keep me humble.

So. If you have to bake a big birthday cake (which is really the size of TWO birthday cakes - think how painful it would be to have to redo that).  And do not want to discover that it is possible to suddenly lose your butter-creaming prowess because of Murphy's law.  Or if you have more important  things to stress over (like what expressions to give Gru's naughty little minions). This chocolate cake recipe will serve you well.
There are so many ways to fill, frost and serve up a good chocolate cake. 

For the Despicable Me cake, the basic recipe was transformed into a Coco-Nana Chocolate Cake.  Imagine dark, rich and moist chocolate cake layers with a hint of espresso.  Separated by generous chunks of sweet pisang mas ('golden bananas'), embedded in rich whipped chocolate. And frosted all over with a layer of fragrant coconut buttercream.  That combination of dark chocolate, sweet bananas and salted coconut .... I can't tell you how delicious it was.  I hope you try it and find out!

This was definitely one birthday cake I wish I had more left over.

15 August 2010

Despicable Me Birthday Cake: How to Make A Minion

After making so many minions for my daughter's Despicable Me birthday cake, I feel somewhat qualified (as Chief Minion) to give this tutorial. Before you embark on this venture, you should note that an alternative, but no less appropriate, title for this tutorial would be "How to Make Yourself A Minion".

So if you are still not deterred by that warning, here goes:

1 box Wilton's Pure White Rolled Fondant
3 - 4 strands rice vermicelli
Wilton Paste Colours in Black, Royal Blue & Golden Yellow

Before you start, dye your fondant separately into black, blue and yellow. (More for yellow, less for blue and even less for black). Reserve some white fondant. Depending on how many minions you wish to make, you may not need to use up the whole box of fondant. (I used less than one box for 15 minions). 
Also dye some strands of rice vermicelli black, for the hair.


Roll out a yellow piece like this!

Give him eyes ...
Roll out a flat rectangular blue piece and wrap it on him like a little diaper
Roll out 2 blue pieces like these (rectangles with bottom 2 corners trimmed)and attach it to his sides
You may have to do a fair bit of smoothening to make it blend seamlessly. I like to use a toothpick (moistened slightly if necessary) like a mini rolling pin to blend the edges.

Cut (not roll) 2 long strips for the overall straps
Add buttons to the front, and using a toothpick, render the stitching along the edges of overall and in the front (for pockets)

Roll out two long yellow pieces for the arms (note that they have long arms almost reaching to their feet) and wrap the ends in black for the hands.

Give him black goggles and black shoes.  He should start to look cute at this point ... so exciting!

Stick short pieces of vermicelli for his hair, give him eyes (I like to use a 10ml syringe (without the needle of course) to punch out equal size eyeballs) and draw his mouth with a toothpick.

Feel free to give your minions all sorts of different expressions:

Despicable Me Birthday Cake

Twice a year, I become completely masochistic about baking. Specifically, about baking my daughters' birthday cake.

In May, I made a 3-D Ponya on the Cliff by the Sea cake for Sugababe 2's birthday. I thought then that it was the most difficult, laborious baking project I'd ever done (the little goldfish were terribly hard to sculpt). It was rewarding, but boy! Was I ever so glad that I was not doing 3D cakes for a living.

Then August rolled round and I had to start thinking about Sugababe 1's birthday cake. Feeling a little phobic about having to make yet another 3D cake, I asked her hopefully if it was okay if we just had a small birthday celebration with family, and a simple strawberry shortcake birthday cake.

Who was I kidding.

Of course she said NO. She wanted to invite all our friends AND have a big 3D cake to boot.

First, she asked for a Strawberry Shortcake cake in the shape of ... get this - a STRAWBERRY. Not a flat strawberry but a standing up 3D strawberry. I told her that structurally, that wasn't going to work.

And then she asked for a Cars (Pixar) cake. That was not too hard actually. I thought I would just do a racing track in the shape of the number "5", put some cars on it and make little racing flags to decorate it.

However, I somehow couldn't muster up enough enthusiasm to do a Cars cake. After all, the movie was four years ago - it just seemed like a Cars cake would be terribly passe.

And this is where my tendency for masochism becomes evident. I started thinking out loud about other cartoons for a themed cake. And before I had the good sense to stop myself, I said the words 'Despicable Me'. Which is like only the coolest animated 3D film in recent memory. With only the cutest most adorable yellow twinkie-shaped critters you ever saw. Is it any wonder then that Sugababe 1 was instantly in love with the idea?

The full extent my folly only dawned on me when I realised that, it being such a new movie, there would be no Despicable Me cake toppers and toys available. Which means that I would have to sculpt everything myself. *Face palm*

Whaddya know. Love makes you do strange things.

Three days of backbreaking labour later, here are the results.

And the reward for me? How she smiled when she saw the cake, and then squeezed me so tight and said, "I love you Mommy, you're a genius!"

And just like that, my heart melts. And I gladly sign up for many more years of completely masochistic birthday cake baking.


Coming Up Next: How to Make A Minion and the recipe for Coco-Nana Chocolate Cake.

02 August 2010

Chocolate Banana Stud Cake


We recently implemented a reward chart system for our girls.  Basically, every time they successfully produce the desired behaviour (finish their food on time, go to sleep without fuss, etc), they will earn a fancy ink stamp on their charts. If they accumulate enough stamps, they get the reward they asked for.

Guess what reward Sugababe 1 asked for? Yup. A cake. And not just any cake, but Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Banana Stud Cake. No, I don't mean that she actually said that. She's only 4, goodness.  That would be too creepy.  What I mean is that she found the object of her desire while leafing through my copy of Rose's Heavenly Cakes and decided that that would be her reward.

I thought it was rather surprising that she wanted a 'reward cake'.  As opposed to toys, books or dolls. But a cake. Oh well.  Perhaps it's a little bit telling of what her mum spends too much time doing. Of course, Sugababe 2 asked for snakes. But that has nothing to do with me.

So, after 20 days of good behaviour, it was time for me to make good on the reward. (I should add that Sugababe 2 was very excited about this, she reminded me no less than 4 times that I had to fulfil my promise).  

If there was ever a cookbook author who was a textbook high "C" on the DISC profile (think Monica on Friends), Beranbaum might just be the one. Extremely meticulous, each of her recipes is detailed down to the last letter, so that you will know exactly what to do.  It is no secret that Beranbaum's recipes are rigorously tested, and that she approaches each one with the precision of a food scientist. That, coupled with the way she writes with such authority and exactitude makes me (admittedly a real meddler with recipes) guilty about varying it in the slightest degree. I mean, she doesn't just tell you to put in "one large banana".  She lets you know that she means 112 grams of banana. So I dutifully ate up the extra 22 grams of banana.

But hey, I am not complaining.  Her meticulous style means that your cakes will turn out as promised.

Just as mine did this time.

Chocolatey, extremely tender-crumbed and deliciously fragrant with banana.  Not like those heavy banana cakes that tend to be a little cloying, no. This one was full of flavour and yet light in texture and taste.  

Plus the white chocolate studs were just such fun to put on.


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