Cake Trials and a Decision

Leading up to the big third birthday I did a lot of thinking about what kind of cake or cupcakes to make, or even buy. I had plenty of ideas but couldn’t decide which would be best. I wanted it to be perfect. It had to be special and wow the birthday girl. Regular cupcakes or cake would have surely done the trick just as well but I felt it needed to be something different. I didn’t want regular cupcakes with lots of froo-froo frosting ontop, there had to be a special something to them.

Early on I battled between make or buy, make or buy. Seriously it went back and fourth for a while. I’d think I made a decision and would then change my mind again. It’s just how I am. Eventually I did end up deciding to make everything myself. It’s more time consuming but definitely worth it. The problem was still living up to previous years. Doing something special and definitely tasty.

A look back:

First birthday cupcakes for our oldest. Total cheater cupcakes: box cake mix and jar frosting. It did the trick and at that point I had never made cake or frosting from scratch. The most I did with cakes seemed to be coloring frosting, playing with froo-froo swirls ontop of cupcakes and occasionally making fun frosting flowers.

The birthday girl got her very own design and color. I went with white simply because it wouldn’t stain her clothes or her skin. Yes, dyed frosting can be troublesome especially store bought. A warning to all, store cupcakes or cakes with colored frosting is scary. I sometimes wonder if they add an entire bottle of coloring with how badly it dyes your skin, teeth and in general your mouth!

A year later I had of course another birthday to plan for. While flipping through Martha Stewart’s cupcake book I came across what I thought to be a seriously adorable idea. Another total cheater batch of cupcakes but the cookies were from scratch. The cupcakes made the dirt, frosting made the grass, lollipop sticks made the stem and sugar cookies made the flowers. I ran into some issues with it on the day of. I like cold cupcakes, so my test cupcake worked well but I found that the cookie didn’t fare so well as they need to be covered or kept at room temp. I kept the cupcakes room temp and placed the cookies within them, but the cupcakes were too soft and fragile to withstand the heaviness of the cookies shaking above. I was sad, but people didn’t seem to mind one bit. If only I had thought to wrap the cookies in plastic or had bags to tie off around them, all would have been well nice and chilled in the fridge. So if you try this design, you have your warning of what may or may not go wrong for you.

So you see, though my designs weren’t crazy I still had something I felt I needed to live up to. No going back to basics or at least that’s how I felt. The most important part was making something tasty though. I could cheat and use box cake mix and jar frosting. That is what I use to do, but I swear the frosting recipe isn’t the same as it was even a year ago. There isn’t anything wrong with using box mix or jar frosting, but once you make it from scratch it’s hard to go back. It’s so surprisingly easy and has a far more amazing taste than standard store prepackaged stuff.

I had never done a layer cake. Shocked? This is where I started my third birthday cake trials. I cheated – again. I just happened to still have some handy prepackaged stuff, why not use it instead of wasting ingredients if I wasn’t totally sure how this would turn out. If the idea worked out, I’d make the cake from scratch in the future. Layer cakes are a royal pain in the butt. Okay maybe it wasn’t as much the layer cake part but far more the crumb coating and frosting of the cake. Major. Pain. In. The. Butt. I know practice makes perfect but I just was not up for continuing with this method after trying the first time. It was a good experience and I know I can do it now but I do not have the patience for it.  Bake, freeze, crumb coat, sit, frost, freeze or chill. Too much time is needed for this method and I’m so all about not wasting time. When I want to make something it’s got to be then, not make, sit, make sit… you get the idea. Now or never. It was yummy but I’ll stick to cupcakes.

So I was now still jumping back and fourth between – should I just order a cake from somewhere or make cupcakes? At this point I decided I wouldn’t be making a cake – partly because frosting cakes is a pain but also because I absolutely hate when everyone asks for different sizes. The worst of the bunch is ‘just a sliver please’. I don’t cut slivers and never will. It’s just another reason why I love cupcakes so much. Perfectly portioned pieces of delicious and cute cake.

I had half a bag of chocolate mix left. I always divide it in half since a whole box of cake mix is just too much. It’d give me a nice chance to try a few more designs, cupcake style. Some colored frosting and a sprinkle flower for one – so cute but the frosting didn’t swirl well. Damn you Duncan Hines… I know you changed your recipe. I don’t have any actual proof outside of history and personal experience with using it, but it really bums me out that there is something different and not good about it. Well, the simple green cupcake I thought was cute but didn’t live up to my expectations. I had such high hopes for it.

The same batch I made some special chocolate butterflies to adorn the cupcakes. I thought these turned out super cute and were an absolute possibility for the actual day. I still wasn’t sure as it was more time consuming than any idea or design thus far. Possibly even more time consuming than the layer cake.

And yet again I had another plan. I was in a cake mood so I sort of turned it into a cake trial. I used my favorite go to white cake recipe. Perfection, seriously. Moist, not too heavy, not too flaky. I don’t like super soft flaky cakes. The purpose of this trial was a two, no, three parter. First: try making cakes that have a more level top by baking at a lower temperature for a longer time. Second: mix up a batch of Wilton’s buttercream. Third: try some piping techniques. The baking portion of this trial went well. The cakes were moist, not heavy, not flaky but that’s just how this recipe is anyway. Having far more level tops made frosting easier. If you have a dome and want a flat top, you need to slice off the top to level it off. That can be troublesome. I won’t always bake cakes or cupcakes this way but it was something fun to try, to see it if really worked.

The frosting: it tasted great or at least I thought so. Everyone has their own opinions on what makes a perfect frosting so you be the judge. It’s super easy to mix up, requiring very few basic ingredients. The downside to this frosting is that left out at room temp it will get a slight crust. Perfect for a crumb coating but not for the final coating. Keep your cake or cupcakes covered and you’ll have soft frosting without a single sign of crust. Lastly, the piping: here was the fun part. I hadn’t ever realised how easy and fun piping borders could be or even how totally easy piping stars on an entire cake could be. I thought it was cute but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for a whole cake, at least not for a birthday. Maybe for another time. I do have visions of cake covered with several different color stars or flowers. I’d be pretty, cute and fun.

In the end… what did I decide to do? Lots of butterflies and even some special 3’s. It was fun, festive, totally cute and worth all of the effort in the world. Maybe next time I won’t bounce around so much debating over designs, possibilities and whether or not to even make the item myself. Naah… I’ll never stop being indecisive. It’s just how I am.

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5 Responses to “Cake Trials and a Decision”

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    JulieD — August 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Your cupcakes look great…the swirl is perfect. What tip do you use?

    And yes layer cakes are time consuming but I think totally worth it. :)

    @thelittlekitchn

    • Rachel — August 2nd, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

      I have three favorite tips and honestly can’t remember which one I used for the final bday cupcakes. Wilton’s 1M and Bake It Pretty’s jumbo star and closed star tips.

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    umbreen — January 19, 2011 at 1:18 am

    i love your butterfly cupcakes! how did you make the butterflies?

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    in katrinas kitchen — June 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Enjoyed reading this post!! :)

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