Saturday, January 17, 2015

Birthday Party Countdown ~ Saturday

Today came too soon. The night was interrupted by Jannah-Rae spiking a fever of 104.5 during the early hours of our sleep and subsequent multiple wakings. We finally got up at five although none of us was ready to start the day.

The first thought that came to me upon waking up, after wanting coffee of course, was to take out the cream cheese and frosting jar from the refrigerator. Earlier in the Fall, and knowing I would be making JR's birthday cake as usual, I had picked up a container of orange cream frosting from Williams Sonoma. It was on clearance and so I had walked out with an amazing product for a few cents over a dollar. It has been sitting in my cupboard since. Also sitting in my cupboard were sugar letters spelling "Happy Birthday" along with a few sugar balloons. I was still not sure whether or not I was going to use them, but had them handy just in case. These, too, were a bargain purchase from the grocery store in the development.

I had been toying with ideas for Jannah-Rae's cake since November. The one I had originally planned required a great deal of forward planning; it was a cake within a cake with the number 5 baked on the inside. I did not have a number 5 cookie cutter and went looking for one like a woman on a mission. When my mother in law finally attained one from her friend, I thought my idea was saved. Alas, it was too high and the inner cake did not fit in the final baking pan. I thought to buy a deeper cake pan, but that would have proven disastrous as the outside would have burned leaving an uncooked center. But I was not ready to give up on the idea yet as I had seen first hand how beautiful the final product looked. Earlier I had executed the idea using a flower in the center and it turned out great. There was no reason why I couldn't carry on with the number 5. So I went searching again, this time for smaller cookie cutters. I found a set at my old employer and brought it home; it was worthless. After baking the first cake and cutting it up, the shapes proved to be too small and light to hold their own in the dense batter; they floated around and baked in any which way. I was left with a cake looking like nothing. I scrapped the idea and pondered others.

Jannah-Rae asked for a palace cake with a prince and princess; I refused! I was not ready to give up the party for a princess theme or go down the princess route. I needed a theme-free fun cake that would both look and taste good. I pulled my favorite chocolate cake recipe out and sought to match it with good looks. I decided on chocolate malt balls facade. I had seen such cakes before and admired them and thought I could execute one without much fuss; I would make a three layer chocolate cake completely covered with balls of chocolate malt. Then, I changed my mind! After talking it over with Jeff we settled on two two-layer cakes instead of my original one three-layer and one one layer cakes; a three layer cake would have been difficult to tackle when it was time to cut and serve as we are rather inexperienced in that department.

When the kids went down for their nap at 9:00am I got to work. I whipped the frosting and stirred the jam. I began assembling. I had not thought to buy a cake circle, so I made one myself from a leftover cardboard box that I wrapped with aluminum foil. Then I lay parchment paper around it to protect the cake stand from frosting drips. I lay the first layer: it was the vanilla cake. While I had intended on making it a fully chocolate cake, I had run out of cocoa powder during the preparation phase and decided to do without. I thought it would be a nice modification to have a white layer a midst the two darks and now I used it as the bottom layer for the first, main, cake. I piped some frosting around the edges to safeguard any filling spillover and spread the strawberry jam inside the parameters. Then I brought over the chocolate layer. Once the jam had settled I began icing.

I am certainly not an expert on frosting. As a matter of fact, I make a terrible mess trying to cover a cake up with anything. I usually eat my cakes plain and simple, if I eat them at all. In reality I like to bake cakes but I hardly ever eat them. I serve them to friends and family but do not approach them much; it is the baking rather than the eating that entices me. I also wipe off any frosting from store-bought cakes and cupcakes. I think they go too heavy on the topping which is either too sweet or too fatty. But Jannah-Rae had asked for frosting and really having it was the only way I could get the malt balls to stick on the cake. So I had to figure out how to do it and I did. I laid a thin layer on and around and did not take much pain in its unevenness since it was all going to be covered with malt balls. But it wasn't!

When I commenced with the malt balls, I had a hard time getting them to stick. The first few balls kept falling off the sides so I feared the worst but kept on going. After the first row was up, I added the second and the third pressing them all into the cake as I went. Once the third row was done I was left with a gap between it and the top of the cake. Unsure of how best to cover it, I let it be and circled the top of the cake instead. Looking at the cake, I was satisfied with where it was it. And as I did not trust that the malt balls were going to stay put I decided to conserve my energy and use what time I had left to get the second, back-up, cake ready. Unable to leave the top plain, though, I reached for the mini M&Ms to personalize it.

The back-up cake was "plain" compared to the main one. Two chocolate layers separated by strawberry jam, leftover orange cream icing and mini M&Ms made it complete. Not having enough frosting left though meant that only the top layer got cover while the bottom one remained exposed. That was not an issue since I was only going to bring it out in the event that I woke up the next day to find all the malt balls in a heap at the bottom of the main cake.

The cakes now done, I moved on to set up and decorations. We hung up streamers, balloon and dangling swirls around the kitchen and in the basement, We split the "Happy Birthday" banner into two and hung one on the wall in the kitchen and another in the basement. Jannah-Rae wiped down the the rented table and chairs was wiped clean and set them up in their corner of the kitchen. We brought out the paper plates and plastic utensils, washed and dried the serving platters, prepped the ingredients for the popcorn maker, blew up the rest of the balloons, covered the cakes and turned out the lights. By then it was time for bed; tomorrow would be a busy day.

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