Monday, July 18, 2011

His Gift

Jack's birthday was yesterday. Since I've been crazy about baking, I decided to make him a cake. I decided this about a month ago, but I had gotten his favorite kind of cake out of him before that. Do you remember this post where I talked about messing with gum paste? It's time to put that little castle to use!

Jack told me his favorite cake is red velvet. This presented several problems: I've never made a red velvet cake, not even from a box, and that's not usually the kind of cake you find decorated. Jack dresses like a hippie every year for Halloween, so at first I thought I could do a tie-dye cake like this. But, red velvet to me is a more elegant cake, and I think finding it under something crazy like tie-dye icing would be a shock. Don't worry, I'll come back to the tie-dye cake.

So, I had to come up with something elegant to top a red velvet cake, and still be fitting for the person and occasion. Taking inspiration from one of my favorite blogs by an Etsy friend, I decided to play with gum paste. Jack had been talking about going to the beach a couple times this summer, and we had a lovely time in Cancun, so a beachy themed cake seemed appropriate. As you know, I made the sandcastle topper about a month ago. To keep it elegant, I didn't make a huge topper - it's about three inches across.

Onward to the cake!

Box cakes are fine, but I felt this would be more special if I made it from scratch. I found this recipe and went out Friday morning to get the ingredients I needed (minus the pecans because Jack is allergic and I've got my own decorating in mind). I wanted to make three layers (also something I've never done before) but I only had two cake pans, so I picked up another at the store as well. I hit the first problem. Shoppers was completely out of red food coloring. I did manage to find it at Walmart (and they're renovating and stuff was all over in no logical order, it's amazing I found it at all!). When I got home I realized I had picked up only half of the cream cheese I needed. Back to the store!

Mixing Batter

Now with three cake pans and all ingredients, I got started on the cake. I only have whole wheat flour; this is important for later on. It bakes just like regular flour, but I can taste the difference.

Adding Red Dye

The red food coloring in the mix was quite the thing! I kept thinking of the "bleeding armadillo cake" from Steel Magnolias. I evenly measured the batter and the three pans went into the oven.

Perfect Cake

Doesn't that look splendid? I was so proud of my pretty cake. Then I took the other two out of the pans.


PANIC! (Is this always going to happen when I'm baking? Can I make a cake without a moment of panic? PLEASE????) My two older pans did not release the cake, even though they were greased and floured just like the new pan. They came out from the middle, and the sides and bottom had to be scraped off. The cake was delicious! But, I only had one layer and that was not going to work! Because I had gotten started so late and I didn't have enough ingredients to whip up another batch (namely, the red food coloring was out), I ran out to the store again and grabbed a box mix and another new pan.

Take Two

I split the box into two layers so I'd still have a three-layer cake. I mostly did this because I didn't trust my old pans. I could have added more layers fine, but I didn't need another cake crisis.

Mixing the Icing

While the cake round two was in the oven, I mixed up the icing. It's pretty much cream cheese and sugar with a touch of vanilla. This is also my recipe for fondant but in different portions (more sugar, less cream cheese). I had to 'test' the icing with my crumbly bits of cake. Cook's prerogative!


My two box cake layers came out just fine so I leveled them (tested that bit too) and stacked them. The icing at room temperature was a little drippy, so I put the whole thing, cake and bowl of icing, into the fridge for 15 minutes. I then finished icing the cake while it was cool but not firm.

Iced and Lined

In trying to keep the elegant look of the cake, I made some shell-shaped chocolates to line the base. There's really nothing fancy about this kind of chocolate making. I used Wilton's Candy Melts that I bought at Micheal's in white and dark chocolate with a shell mold. Just melt, pour, and let harden. I froze them to speed up the cooling process and because they're very melty when being handled.

Shell Chocolates

I think Jack was most impressed that I made the chocolates. At first he thought I had bought them.

Castle Topper

So, I placed my little gum paste castle on top. I added a red gum paste bucket that I filled with brown sugar "sand" to complete the look. I then sprinkled the top with brown sugar, gold cupcake gems (tiny little flakes of golden sugar), and little candy pearls.

Completed Sand Castle Cake

Ta-da! The Completed Sand Castle Cake! The whole baking and constructing of the cake took a good seven hours. It would have been much less if it wasn't for the pan fail! Jack could tell that the middle layer was my from-scratch cake because it was a brighter shade of red than the other two. He also said it tasted better. Yay! That was the first time I made red velvet cake so I'm glad it turned out yummy. I thought that the whole wheat flour was obvious, but if that's what gave it a better flavor to Jack, I'll happily use it again.

We met some of his friends at his favorite Burmese place for dinner on Saturday and then saw Harry Potter. He and I spent Sunday, his actual birthday anniversary, lounging around watching old episodes of NYPD Blue. We also managed to get in a little True Blood (I think I'm one ep behind now) and A Game of Thrones (I'm way behind here, I've only seen 5 eps). I felt bad because we really didn't do anything for his birthday, but he said it was a perfect way to spend the day. If he's happy, I'm happy!

Next cake: Butterflies for my grandmother! Her 93rd birthday is Thursday.

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