Monday, June 25, 2012

"Ladybug Jitterbug": A Birthday Cake for Little Miss Meara

Using illustrator, I designed my daughter's
birthday invitations and printed them at
home on off-white card stock.
I used her dress as my inspiration.
I mailed them in green envelopes and used
cupcake stickers on the back.
(Papersource)  
In between catching up on adding my lessons from this past year to the blog, I of course want to keep everyone apprised as to what else I'm up to in the creative sense.  Lately, unfortunately, not a whole lot.  
OK!  Give it a rest.  I have been going full steam since... oh, since... what seems like forever.  After I finished my second year of teaching, and after starting two new jobs since my daughter was born, I am finally giving myself a "break." What does that look like?  No, I am not sitting on the couch every day with my feet up, eating bon bons (which consequently my husband just asked me... "What is a bon bon, really?"  My reply?  "Ummm, you know... chocolate covered ice cream nibblets?")  So, if you are also as curious as we were... here's a great little blog I came across when googling "What is a bon bon?"   Oh, thank you GOOGLE! 






"So what the heck ARE you doing?"  You ask.  
Last summer we received a CSA (Comminuty Supported Agriculture) from Windy Ridge Acres Farm in Woodstock, IL.  I loved getting our fresh share each week of veggies and fruits.  Though, some of it I had no idea what to do with, and some of it I had no idea what "it" was!  I learned so much- like how to use up tons of kale (kale lasagna, kale chips, kale and sausage pasta,...).  Even though I wasn't making a ton of art last summer, I really do feel that cooking can easily satisfy that creative outlet.  Indeed, cooking is in itself, an art form. 

Something to eat while you are making art, perhaps?  
This summer, I wasn't able to sign up in time for a CSA, so I plan on visiting our local farmer's markets throughout the weeks.  I know my husband was always pleased to come home to a creative, new, and fresh dinner each night (which maybe makes up for the 10 months of tombstone pizza, chicken nuggets, and other such "goodies" that we tend to serve up over my "working" months).  I never blogged about all of the creative solutions you have to come up with when cooking with a CSA share, but I probably should have.  C'est la vie!


Annnnnd, here is my segue.  
I did not have time to cook or prepare ANYTHING for my daughter's 2nd birthday party.  That is mostly because I was working, but also because the rest of the "free" time was used planning and prepping and making and baking her magnificent birthday cake!!  (I am biased, if you haven't figured that out yet.)  Baking was my creative outlet this time.  
(And... designing her birthday invites as seen at the top.)


About a month ago, my mom bought Meara a little nightie that has ladybugs all over it.  Meara loves it and we even started a little song that she does a little wiggle to:  "Ladybug, Jitterbug!  Yeah yeah yeah!"  (Not so original, I know).  I knew that for her 2nd birthday this year, I wanted to make my daughter a Ladybug cake.  I googled ladybug cakes, and I will admit... not so impressed by what I saw out there.  Yes, they were nice, and cute, and probably just fine.  BUT!  Not for me!  I fondly remember my cakes from my childhood.  It was the time when cake pans/ forms were popular.  Each year my mom would make me a really fun birthday cake.  Even at Meara's party, we were reminiscing over the different cakes that OUR mom's made us:  Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cone, Rainbow Carebear, Raggedy Ann, and the list goes on.  (Kudos, Mom!!)  
I was not about to make some rectangle cake and slap on some ladybug design!  Oh NO!  





The planning.
To the right, you can see my diagram/sketch for the plan of this crazy cake.  It would have 3 layers, and a ton of frosting.  My original challenge was to come up the red for the frosting without using red food dye.  Now, I am not super crunchy, but I am super sensitive about food dyes.  Long story, but I'm sure many of you are aware of physical ailments/behaviors connected with food dyes.  Because of my own sensitivities, I have just simply tried to steer clear of any such artificial food dyes for Meara (as much as in my control).  Pumping her frosting full of red dye did not really appeal to me- as that was what everyone suggested in order to get a true red frosting.  I researched other options, and even tested a few ideas the week before.  I tried crushing strawberries and/or raspberries and adding it to the frosting.  This made the frosting frothy and taste like a pretty good filling, actually.  I also thought about slicing up strawberries or raspberries and placing them all over the top to "look" like a red ladybug. That didn't really work in my favor either.  


I ended up going with the red food dye.  Yes, yes.  I know.  But I figure, once a year won't do much harm, right?  RIGHT?  I also covered the (mostly pink) frosting with little red sugar sprinkles to make the ladybug truly red.  My husband came up with the very genius idea of using Oreos for the spots.  I bought black licorice "red vines" for the legs and antennae.  My grandpa LOVED black licorice, but apparently my husband hates it.  I think that a lot of people don't like black licorice, so I was surprised to find it fairly easily at the grocery store.  I used peanut m&m's for the eyes.  




The cakes.
Yes, I did say... cakesssssss.  I ended up making:  1 Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix, 1 Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake Mix, and 1 Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix.  Yes, I made them from the boxes.  How much time do you think I have??? All three cakes were made in 9" round pans.


I baked the cakes on Thursday night and let them sit in the pans overnight.  On Friday, I cut the two Duncan Hines cakes in half and cut off the risen puffy parts.  (You know, when the cake rises in the middle).  I kept the risen cutoff from the chocolate cake and used that as the slightly rounded top to the ladybug shape.  I alternated the butter and chocolate cakes and used a cookies 'n' cream filling.  I placed the cakes in the fridge to set up for about an hour.  While that was setting, I took the fudge cake and cut it into two small semicircles for the head.  I filled that with the cookies 'n' cream filling and popped that in the fridge.


After about an hour, I pulled everything out of the fridge.  I cut up a large piece of cardboard, wrapped it in wax paper, and used it as my cake board.  (My husband suggested making a little decorative setting, like cut out grass, and sticking it to the board.  After this project, I laughed and said, "YOU can do that!")  I used toothpicks to hold the "head" to the "body" and crumb-coated the entire piece using a plain buttercream frosting.  Now, I am NOT a professional baker by ANY means, so when I use the term "crumb-coat" please forgive me... I have watched Cake Girls and Cake Boss a few times.  Like almost ALL of my artwork, I tend to just... wing it!  I do minimal research, then make things up as I go.  That is most of the fun anyway, isn't it?  The journey... 




The frosting.  
Last year, for Meara's cake, I wanted to make a super light frosting- I'm not a huge fan of the super sugary frosting on most store bought cakes.  For my wedding cake, we had chosen a "French Buttercream" frosting because it was so very light.  I remember researching different frostings last year, and trying one recipe that uses egg whites.  It was not until I actually made the frosting that I realized that any recipe for frosting that uses egg whites = meringue!  I had thrown out that frosting and tried again.  This year, I kept trying to figure out which recipe I used!  I found a clipping from Real Simple.  This recipe is good, and similar to most others I found give or take a cup or teaspoon.  Pretty much it's just butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and milk.  I used heavy whipping cream instead of milk and that helps the frosting to "move" (be more spreadable), and also cuts the butter and sugar while still keeping a light and rich taste.  


I doubled (or tripled?) the recipe and cut into three.  One, I added red dye; one I added green dye; and the last I added cocoa powder to which tasted great!!


The chocolate frosting was used for the ladybug head and "butt."  I piped the green frosting as the grass, covering up the bottom two-three layers of cake.  Oh boy- here's the fun.  It was very hot on Friday.  VERY hot.  Like... 90 degrees in Chicago.  Annnnd, well, we didn't have our AC on (it wasn't unbearable inside for most of the day).  But by the evening, I found out how warm it had to be in order for your frosting to literally start falling off of your cake.  Yep... as I moved around the cake, piping the grass, I noticed that the grass started just FALLING off of the cake.  UGH!  My husband was taking photos of the process (SO super nice, since I didn't even ask for them- though, he anticipated that I would WANT them), but I was yelling, "Get out of the way!  The frosting is falling!!!"  Another thing I hadn't anticipated?  Space, or lack there of, in my refrigerator.  While 1/2 way through with the grass, I had to stop, and clear off two shelves, raise a shelf and lower the other.  (Things you notice about your house at these times- I HATE my side-by-side refrigerator!!!)


With the cake and frosting back in the fridge to set up enough to try again, I flopped down on the couch and (im)patiently waited.  Finally, I was able to finish up the grass, though it didn't look as clean as I had hoped since I took some unused licorice and tried "pulling" the grass back into place (and hoped form some interesting grass texture in the meantime?).  


With the spots, legs, antennae, and eyes in place, I took a damp paper towel and cleaned up the board.  Back in the fridge for the night. 


Last year, I had forgotten to take the cake out early enough and the cake and frosting were still fairly hard when cutting.  This time, I pulled it out about 20 minutes before serving and it was perfect!  


PHEW!  Good thing we just barbecued for the meal!  :)







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