Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

My grandmother turned 93 last Thursday. I was chided last year for driving all the way out there on a week day (which was her birthday last year too) so I was told to come on Saturday this time. My mother's sister was in town from Utah, and her brother and his wife were there, and my folks, and Jack joined us too. Since I knew I wouldn't see her on the actual day, I asked my mom if I could make a special cake.

When my Etsy friend Seddy posted this cake on her blog, I knew I had to make one for my grandmother. She used to collect butterflies. I remember spending visits at her home looking at all the butterflies - butterfly ceramics, plates, plaques on the walls, magnets on the fridge, paintings, bed sheets. Butterflies everywhere! When I see butterflies fluttering, I think of my grandmother and her vast butterfly collection. A lot of is has been given away when she moved from her house to the senior community apartment. I knew this cake would be perfect.

I had never worked with gum paste before, so I played with it a bit and made the sand castle that went on Jack's cake. I was pretty sure I could figure out how to make butterflies. Then Seddy posted this butterfly tutorial on her blog and I knew my grandmother's cake would be a reality! As you can see, it was more than a month ago that I started working on this.


Even before I saw Seddy's tutorial, my dad had helped me gather supplies: a butterfly cookie cutter, gel food coloring, paint brushes. So the first step was making butterflies, so they'd have plenty of time to dry and stiffen up (and so I could make several attempts if my gum paste skills proved inadequate).

Rolling Gum Paste

First, roll out the gum paste. I used my fondant roller and the smallest bands so each butterfly would have a uniform thickness.

Cookie Cutter

Next, cut the shape with a cookie cutter. I didn't actually do one at a time, this one was cut after I had gotten three or four out of the same clump. Just ball up the remains, roll it out, and cut again.

Painting Butterflies

Painting the butterflies was really fun! Seddy's cake sported thirty confectionery lepidopterans. I ended up with twelve and I was sure that would be plenty. I used four colors; teal, pink, purple, and golden yellow and painted them in layers. So, each butterfly got a base wash, then an accent of another color, and then a small detail with a third color.

Painted Butterflies

Seddy said her butterflies looked the best when they were all lined in black and I completely agree. Here are my painted butterflies!

Butterfly Boats

I set them gently into little boats made out of foil so they could dry with their wings slightly up. I think this really makes the in-flight effect. It wouldn't look nearly as neat if they were all flat on the cake.

They were all set aside to dry, then eventually put into a container until it was time to decorate the cake. The moisture from the icing can soften gum paste, which would make droopy butterflies! I didn't actually put them on until we got back from lunch and were ready for cake. The whole butterfly-making process took a good two or three hours, but I took my time with it, and found it a very relaxing and enjoyable task.

Lemon Cakes

Friday arrived and it was time to bake! My mother had heard of the terrible time I had making Jack's red velvet cake so she told me not to do anything fancy. If I used a box cake, no one would care. So, box cake it was! I don't think I've ever had a box lemon cake.

I wanted to do something special to the cake anyway, so I threw a handful of blueberries into the batter and added some frozen lime pulp. With all the heat we've been having, I figured a nice refreshing citrus cake would be delightful. I added some baking time to account for the blueberries and ended up with more of a dense pound cake. No big deal, pound cakes are yummy!


I prepared the layers. I used lemon curd in the middle, but lined it with icing to help hold it in. Lemon curd is a lot like the stuff you find in lemon meringue pie. We served it at the VA Renaissance festival on biscuits.

Iced Cake

As I was icing the cake, I realized that one can of lemon icing just wasn't enough. I threw the cake in the fridge and ran back out to the store. The can says it can do two 8 or 9 inch cakes. I don't believe it. I used about a can and 2/3.

The whole thing got thrown into the fridge for about an hour before I braved the heat driving to Jack's place. The cake sat in the fridge there too, so it wouldn't melt too much in the hot car the next day and it really would be cool and refreshing.

We came back from lunch. I gently nuked the remaining icing and started placing the butterflies. The icing on the cake was hard from being cold, you see, so I needed something slightly gooey to set the butterflies in. My aunt hovered as I worked. She was really amazed that they were edible and really impressed that I went with butterflies (because her mother collected them, of course!).

Butterflies on a Cake

The big light in my grandmother's kitchen burnt out just as I was ready to place the butterflies on the cake, so getting good pictures of the finished cake wasn't easy. My aunt took some also. Maybe her camera has a better flash than mine.

The Butterfly Cake

Ta-da! The completed Butterfly Cake! I'm glad I only had twelve butterflies, that was really plenty.


Doesn't that look delicious! Everyone said the taste of the cake was fantastic and the butterflies were beautiful. We did taste them too (poor butterflies!). Gum paste tastes like nothing, but sweet nothing, and the painted colors didn't really have any flavor.

There is a funny end to this cake. Jack and I took the rest with us. We met some of his friends in Rockville to see Captain America, and then I hung out as he and his buds played Godlike. We brought the cake so they could finish it. The icing liquefied in the hot car while we were in the theater! I'm pretty sure it was still tasty!

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