Long ago, when I only had one little girl, my friend Naomi and I made a birthday cake. It was a pink and white choo-choo train with a smiling face, smokestack and different cars topped with flowers and sprinkles. It took us about 400 man-hours.
The next year we did a pink castle with a moat, bridge and chocolate wrought-iron gates. It had vines and turrets. That one took about 4000 man-hours.
I now have three girls who have grand expectations about their hand-crafted super-mom cake. They get to make a thematic request, but they have to leave the specifics to me. Sometimes I am able to keep it a surprise, other times I have to do it with their help. I have simplified things significantly – usually I can get ‘er done in several hours if everything is baked and ready to go. I often work late at night and alone… like a ninja.
So, we recently had a very successful butterfly party for the 5-year old. This was my masterpiece. I used a gluten-free chocolate cake recipe and coconut cream frosting. The only glitch I encountered was a result of my rebellious streak: in the frosting, I substituted 1/2 the volume of real maple syrup for agave. As a result, my frosting had a murky taupe hue. I turned to Wilson’s paste food colouring to create a brilliant yellow “fix.” I wanted white, but yellow was better than tan, I assure you.
The butterfly wings, flowers and the 5 were piped melting chocolate. I piped the wings in a series of intersecting loops on parchment paper and refrigerated them overnight (but a few hours would have sufficed). I just stuck the wings into the icing in sets. White chocolate has none of the healthful justifications of pure dark chocolate – coloured melting wafers are often not chocolate at all, just hydrogenated vegetable oils and flavouring, so buyer beware. For the five-year old, I needed to have colourful butterflies, but if someone wanted to make me a coconut cream frosting birthday cake with brown butterflies made from my favourite 90% dark chocolate bar, I would not be complaining. I’m just sayin’.
I did try to put brown chocolate bodies on the butterflies on the sides, but the warm chocolate melted efficiently through the frosting and my sliding butterfly bodies were a futile exercise. So, I left them abstractly body-less and they were lovely. Next time, pipe the bodies onto the paper with the wings and insert them cold. Chances are, however, that I’ll never get to make the same cake twice.
I have done a pirate treasure chest, a flower garden, a giant butterfly, a tree and treehouse, a Winnie the Pooh cake, a princess, a ballerina snowman, and a space cake… but now I’ve officially gone birthday super-mom gluten-free and primal 🙂