I'm a planner. Meal plans, the family calendar, and of course, birthday parties. I sent the save-the-date email for my daughter's 5th birthday party months ago. We established her theme "Little Mermaid" sometime over the summer. I promise, she initiated this conversation. I guess the "planner" in me has rubbed off onto her. I start shopping for party supplies and stocking up way in advance to get the best deal. A little over a month before the party, I asked what she wanted for her cake. This conversation was prompted by the arrival of the latest Wilton's catalogue. We hovered over the laptop and typed "little mermaid cake" in the Google search bar. Hundreds of beautiful cakes popped up on a variety of sites. As we searched the first site, coolest-birthday-cakes.com , we scrolled down to this cake:
"That's it!" my daughter announced. "Are you SURE?" I asked, nervously. You see, on her 1st birthday I spent hours working on a 3 dimensional barn cake for her farmyard- themed birthday party, only to have it fall apart as I decorated. An hour before the party I was shoving kabob skewers through the cake, trying to hold it together and propping up the whole sad affair with soup cans that I pretended were meant to be a silo. I was in tears. My first baby's 1st birthday party...I wanted it to be "perfect". I was in over my head and I took it all waaay too seriously. In retrospect, it seems silly. Would she remember or even care what that cake looked like? No. Would my friends and family in attendance, (who already love me...and not for my ability to construct a confectionary barn) think less of me? No. Nonetheless, I was devastated. My husband still references "the barn cake disaster".
At least now I can look back and laugh.
Just so you understand why I was so nervous about Ariel's Castle, I will shame myself with an image of this barn cake. Okay, maybe I can laugh, but this image still haunts me.
Over the years I have redeemed myself and turned out some perfectly lovely birthday cakes for both of my daughters. However, I have not attempted another cake so challenging (or 3-dimensional). This time I decided to start early (Monday before the party) and be prepared. There were no instructions included with the picture of the cake that my daughter chose. No recommended pan dimensions, no supply list, not even a helpful hint. I was winging it. Just in case something went wrong I wanted to have time to either start over or obtain another cake. I began by selecting the cake pans. From this picture you can see just how very organized I am. NOT! I pulled every cake pan out of my baking cupboard and then sat down on the floor and sorted through them to see what I would be able to use.
I like to be able to visualize how the finished product will come together. So, once I selected the pans, I set them up. I decided to use my largest springform pan for the base. Then, I had two smaller round pans, one slightly larger than the other, so I choose those for the "castle". The towers posed a bit of a dilemma. Then I remembered that when I was younger we used to "can" quick bread in pint sized jars as holiday gifts. If I could bake quick bread in a jar, I thought that I could probably bake cake in them as well. I searched my basement for wide-mouth pint jars. As I looked around, I suddenly remembered that I had taken all of my pint sized jars to my grandma's house when we canned salsa last month. Oh, well. I grabbed two jars of salsa and decided to empty the jars and serve chips and salsa at the party. I grabbed the Ariel cake topper that I'd purchased on my last trip home to make sure that she'd sit securely on top of her castle. Finally, satisfied that everything fit, I was ready to begin baking.
With the birthday girl's help I greased and floured each pan.
Then we mixed up white cake mix according to package directions. This cake ended up using three boxes of cake mix! The first two mixes were enough to fill 1 springform pan, the two smaller round pans, and the pint sized jars. Once I stacked the baked cakes together I realized that the base needed more height, so I mixed up the third and final box of cake mix and baked one more layer in the springform pan. Here's the birthday girl mixing her very own birthday cake. Now, don't feel bad that I made her bake her own birthday cake. Like her momma, she loves being in the kitchen. She volunteered...actually begged!
We poured the batter into the cake pans and put them into the oven. Each pan had a slightly different baking time, so I started the timer at 30 minutes and started checking after that. The two smaller cake pans were ready first, then the pint jar towers, and finally the springform pan.
Once the cakes were ready, I cooled them in the pan first, then turned them onto a cooling rack. You know how cakes and cupcakes get that nice round shape to the top while baking? That's not always good when you're trying to stack and frost them. The curvature takes away from the stability of the cake. I took a serrated bread knife and cut away the extra to make each cake level on top. Don't throw away that extra cake! I made a chocolate-cream cheese birthday cake trifle out of the trimmings. I'll try to post that recipe soon. Since I began this project on a Monday, I couldn't have the cakes sitting on my countertop getting stale before the Saturday party. After the cakes cooled, I carefully and tightly wrapped each cake and put it into the freezer. Birthday cake should look and taste good, right?
Tune in tomorrow for the final, decorated product!