04 August 2014

The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery Birthday Celebration

Sugababe 2 loves puzzle mystery books. And The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base is by far her most well-loved one.  

In the story, Horace the Elephant throws an elaborate fancy-dress celebration for his 11th birthday, which is attended by ten animal guests as colourful and flamboyant as their host (including an Egyptian princess Cat and Punk Zebra among others).  When the guests and host return from 11 rounds of party games, they discover that the sumptuous banquet that Horace prepared is gone - every single cake, pastry and gastronomic delight - stolen. In the end, they have to make do with sandwiches and the birthday cake (which was thankfully not taken, since it was left in the kitchen). They never did find the culprit who stole the birthday feast, and the reader is invited to solve the mystery based on clues that are strewn all over the gorgeously-illustrated pages. 

As expected, whenever an unusual theme is adopted (especially one that hasn't been done before), some thought is required as to how it can be translated to a birthday cake in a meaningful way. I considered and rejected several ideas, including making the cake a clock face showing the 11th hour (too much emphasis on "11" when we were celebrating her 7th birthday), making fondant versions of the animals in the story (no way to  do this well given how beautifully detailed the characters are in the book), and making a copy of the birthday cake (a white tiered cake which looked too much like a wedding cake).

In the end, I decided to reproduce one of the cakes that Horace prepared as part of his birthday feast: the Chocolate Supreme. The cake consisted of two stacked rounds of a icy, dark, chocolate buttermilk cake (my easy, perfect go-to chocolate cake for birthdays), with drippy icing flowing down its sides and a traditional basket-weave design on its top.  The biggest challenge in making this cake was having to do 3 different types of frosting - chocolate frosting for the baseket-weave top and sides, a white swiss meringue one for piping swirls on top of the cake, and a drippy white one that had to flow down both layers.  

In the story, the Chocolate Supreme was one of the items that was stolen from the banquet feast, and I felt that it was appropriate to give a hint as to how that happened by making fondant versions of the cuprit(s), placed strategically around the cake.

The end result, while not looking exactly like its illustrated version in the book, came close enough. If there were any imperfections in its appearance, I happily excused them on the basis of this line in the book:

"And though it may be said perhaps, that Horace made a mess, 
The Feast that he created was Fantastic, nothing less."

And indeed that was the verdict delivered by the birthday girl, who declared that it was delicious. I must say that the combination of moist dark chocolate cake with vanilla and white chocolate frosting makes for a very pleasing, old-school combination.   

Despite the challenges of thinking up and making the birthday cake, The Eleventh Hour was the perfect theme for a birthday celebration.  My husband ingeniously came up with eleven clues (in rhyming verse, no less, just like in the book!) that our birthday girl had to solve in order to find her present. This, our puzzle-solver extraordinaire tackled with great enthusiasm together with her older sister. 

All in all, a perfect birthday cake and theme for my Sugababe 2 - a unique, creative and out-of-the box thinker who constantly keeps us on our toes.  Many times it feels like our precious little girl is a puzzle to us too, one that didn't come with the answers.  We wouldn't have wanted it any other way though.  Accompanying the challenges of deciphering her are the rewards of knowing her in all her beautifully layered and "fearfully and wonderfully made" detail.

Besides, I could never resist a good puzzle.



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