Caelan’s Birthday Party: Cake and Cupcakes

June 8, 2012

Obviously, I was going to make the cake/cupcakes for Caelan’s party. Given how many cakes I’ve made for other people’s birthdays, baby showers, etc it would have just been weird if I didn’t make a cake for Caelan. Plus, my mom always made our birthday cakes growing up so it seemed like the right thing to do. And, of course, I wanted to 🙂

Although, my mom also made our Halloween costumes and I think I’m going to have to let that one go. But I digress…Back to cake 🙂

I decided to do a cupcake tower/display for the guests and a smash cake for Caelan. Here are my inspiration pictures – party supplies from the theme I chose.

I had a ridiculous amount of indecision regarding how many cupcakes to make, how many flavors, which recipe, etc. I was annoyed with myself by the end, but for our 36 guests, this is what I ended up with:

  • 1 6″ round yellow cake
  • 1 batch of vanilla buttercream frosting (divided: blue, brown, medium brown, light brown)
  • 4 dozen yellow cupcakes
  • 1 batch of vanilla buttercream frosting (orange) – 16 cupcakes
  • 1 batch of lemon buttercream frosting (yellow) – 16 cupcakes
  • 1 batch of lime buttercream frosting (green) – 16 cupcakes

I used this recipe for the cake and cupcakes. The frosting is all from the same recipe, I just switched out some of the vanilla extract for lemon extract or lime juice for the lemon and lime versions. I made and colored all of the frosting the weekend before which was definitely the way to go. Having that all ready to go when I was putting things together at the last minute was awesome. Frosting the 4 dozen cupcakes took all of about 30 minutes.

For the smash cake, I printed out the monkey from the napkin (pictured above) and traced his face onto some wax paper. Then I laid that on top of the iced cake and traced the outline into the icing. I used various star and round tips to fill in the monkey’s face with the 3 shades of brown icing. It’s kind of a lot of effort to go through for a cake that’s (hopefully) going to be smashed by a 1-year-old, but it really didn’t take that long to do, and it was cute 🙂

A few weeks in advance, I made the cupcake picks. Using the noise makers (pictured above) for inspiration, I designed some cupcake toppers using MS Word. I cut them all out using a giant hole punch and I also cut out cardstock circles in coordinating orange, yellow, and green. A couple evenings of watching TV and gluing paper to toothpicks, and they were ready to go!

For such a large amount of cake and cupcakes, it actually didn’t take me that long to put together. Honestly, the biggest challenge was clearing space in our fridge for 2 large cupcake boxes and a cake box! But it was a good excuse to clean out the fridge 🙂

How to Color Icing

February 7, 2012

I’ve seen a few posts lately on Facebook and on my message board asking how to color icing, so I thought I would write up a quick tutorial.

When you think of food color, you probably think of this:

The basic liquid food coloring in the little squeeze droppers. This kind of color is great for coloring liquids (like for dying eggs) or for making pastels where you only need a tiny bit of color.

The problem with liquid colors is that if you need to make a dark color, you’ll need to use a ton of dye and the liquid will affect the consistency (and possibly taste) of your icing. So what’s the alternative? Concentrated gel colors.

The above pictured gel colors are made by Wilton and are available in tons of different shades. You can get them at stores like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or JoAnn’s (or online too of course). They cost about $2 for a 1 oz jar.

To give you an idea of the difference in concentration between the liquids and the gels, let’s look back to a full sheet cake I made about a year ago. I was making red velvet cake and I would have needed about 12 oz of liquid red color for that cake (to the tune of about $30). Instead, I used gel color and used about 1/2 an ounce (about $1).

So how do you use gel colors? It’s pretty easy actually. All you need is…

  • Bowl of icing
  • Gel colors
  • Tooth picks
  • Spatula and/or mixer

To color your white icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into the jar of color and then swirl the toothpick around in the bowl of icing. A little goes a long way, so just add a tiny bit at a time. Mix with a mixer and/or spatula.

If the icing isn’t dark enough yet, get a new toothpick and dip it in the color again, then swirl in the icing and mix. Repeat until you have the color you want. Color the whole batch at once since it will be very difficult to mix up another batch later and match the color.

The color will darken the longer it sits. Check out these cupcakes for example:


These were both iced from the same batch of icing (and cropped out of the same photo). The one on the left I iced first, then stuck it in the fridge. I also put the remaining icing (in a sealed plastic container) in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I put the remaining icing in the mixer for a few minutes, then iced the cupcake on the right.

Mixing the right shade can be a little difficult. Especially with a dark color, like red. True red is so difficult to get right! Wilton has 3 different shades of red to choose from: Christmas Red (kind of blueish), Red-Red (true red), and No-Taste Red (more coral-y). The fact that a no-taste version exists is proof that it takes A LOT of dye to get a true red. However, I always use Red-Red for my reds because I don’t like the lighter shade of the no-taste version and I have never noticed a taste left by the dye.

Below on the left is one of my very first cakes, when I still used liquid red food coloring (and before I learned how to pipe a shell border – yikes). The one on the right was made using a gel color.


For more info on decorating cupcakes specifically, check out my Cupcake Tutorial post!

C is for Cookie

January 11, 2012

[pictures from Kristy]

I made a baby shower cake last October for Benjamin’s mom, Kristy, when she was pregnant with him. It’s one of my all time favorites! So when Kristy asked if I could make cakes for Benjamin’s first birthday I was happy to do it AND she had a great idea. We used the pictures below (click on them for the sources) to come up with a plan for a 1/4 sheet cake and 2 dozen cupcakes.

I decided to use the yellow cake recipe I found over at Smitten Kitchen. I’ve used this recipe once before and I know it makes a nice dense cake which would be great for carving since the plan here was to carve the sheet cake into a #1. I added chocolate chips into the mix since Kristy wanted a chocolate chip cake.

I made up 1 batch of chocolate buttercream icing to fill the sheet cake and I made up 2.5 batches of vanilla buttercream for the top of the cake and the cupcakes.

For the fondant decorations, I used white and black fondant to make 25 sets of googly eye balls. I also cut out some large dots in red, orange, green, and blue for the cake. I used mini Chips Ahoy cookies for the cupcakes.

For the Cookie Monster topper, I decided to make it out of blue fondant and then use royal icing for the fur. I was sort of winging it here because I wasn’t sure if the royal icing would stick to the fondant, but it did. I used a grass tip (Wilton’s #233) for the fur for both the Cookie Monster topper and the cupcakes and it worked perfectly.

I made these cakes and their decorations over the course of 4 days. I meant to count how many hours I spent on it, but it was hard to tell. I took lots of breaks to take care of my son so that made counting hours tricky. I think it was about 8-10 hours total though.

As much as I am happy I took on this project and as proud I am of how it turned out, it reminded me that I do not have the luxury of 8-10 extra hours in a week for cake baking. It’s really hard to make it work these days. I am in awe of those moms out there who work full time, take care of munchkins, and still have time for a time-consuming hobby like this….’cause I really don’t.

Halloween Cupcakes, Take 2

October 31, 2011

I’ve only baked a handful of times this year since I’ve been preoccupied with other things (you know, my son, my husband, my wreck of a house, etc). The large blocks of free time that are required for baking are hard to come by these days! But I had the itch to bake and I had a relatively free weekend ahead of me AND Halloween was on the other side of that weekend which meant it was the perfect opportunity to make some Halloween cupcakes and pawn them off on my coworkers!

I made Halloween cupcakes before and these are similar, decoration-wise. But this time I wanted to try out a new yellow cupcake recipe. I looked at this handy comparison of 3 different yellow cake recipes from The Way The Cookie Crumbles, and decided to try Martha Stewart’s Yellow Butter Cake. I was hoping for a cupcake that had a bit of a dome to it because I need that sort of cupcake for an upcoming project, but it didn’t work out with this recipe. It’s a good cake, but it made flat cupcakes. Oh well, the search for a well-domed cupcake continues.

I used this vanilla buttercream recipe that has now become my favorite, and I mixed up several different colors in order to make jack-o-lanterns, vampires, a plain black for behind the spider webs, and the eyeballs. The eyeballs were an afterthought – I had some leftover batter so I made a few mini cupcakes and eyeballs seemed like a good choice for those. The spider webs are made of white chocolate. I forgot what a pain in the butt those were to make!! The white chocolate has to be exactly the right amount of melted for piping and I could barely complete one web before having to re-melt the chocolate.

Can’t Wait To Meet The Cheat!

August 14, 2011

Heidi is a dear friend who just welcomed her beautiful daughter into the world just this past week! We met about 3 years ago when we were both planning our weddings and have stayed in touch, along with several other girlfriends, since then. I was very excited to be able to make the cake for Heidi’s baby shower which was a couple weeks ago!

This cake was the first cake I’d made since Caelan was born. It was…challenging…but I was able to do it over a Friday and Saturday when Bill was home, so he could watch the baby while I baked and that worked out well. I don’t think I could make a cake without having someone watch the baby – it just requires too much time.

Heidi and her husband, Brian, nicknamed their baby “The Cheat” while she was pregnant. I decided I’d make a round cake and draw a picture of The Cheat on it. I was all excited about this idea until I saw a picture of her cake for her family shower and realized that it was almost exactly what I was thinking of! Not sure why I was surprised, it was kind of an obvious (and appropriately cute!) idea for a cake.

I have a set of cake pans that my sister-in-law gave me for making a 9” round checkerboard cake. I used box cake mix – one vanilla and one chocolate. Heidi said she liked chocolate so I made a chocolate mousse filling. I covered the cake with vanilla buttercream. I printed out a picture of The Cheat and traced it onto wax paper which I then used to trace an outline onto the cake. I colored some of the frosting yellow, black, and green to fill in The Cheat and do the writing.

This cake turned out to be one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I was really pleased with it, and I am normally so critical of my creations that I’m not often really happy with anything. Somehow I didn’t actually eat this cake. That often happens – I’m more interested in making cake than eating it – but I should really make it a point to sample my creations! But I’m happy it went over well at the shower!

Leslie’s Baby Shower

April 4, 2011

When I went on “cake hiatus” at the end of January, I still planned to make 2 cakes in the coming months. One will be for my sister’s bridal shower (which I am co-hosting) at the end of April. The other was for my friend Leslie who is expecting a baby girl in May (she’s due just 3 weeks before I am!). Her shower was this past weekend.

Leslie didn’t really have a “theme” for the baby’s room or anything so I Googled some pictures of pink baby shower cakes (no short supply of those) and got some ideas. I picked this one as my inspiration pic [source]. I really liked the display platform that this cake/cupcake combo was on. I don’t usually make anything special for the display, but for some reason I wanted to for this one.

I used a 14″ round cake base for the larger bottom part, and I used 5 stacked 8″ round cake circles for the middle section. I used hot pink laminated paper for the top of the cake part, and I hot glued some green ribbon around the edges of it.

Leslie said chocolate peanut butter was her favorite combo so I planned to do a vanilla cake with chocolate ganache filling and peanut butter icing.  Due to a very, very busy week and weekend leading up to this shower, I decided to cheat and use a box mix for the cake. I made a 6″ round cake and 12 cupcakes.

For the chocolate ganache filling, I used a recipe that I have used several times before. Though it was fudgy and delicious, I don’t think it was smooth enough. Maybe I didn’t mix it enough or maybe it was because I refrigerated it for awhile. For the peanut butter icing, I used a recipe from Annie’s Eats that I had been wanting to try for awhile. Peanut butter icing can be so rich, and this one looked lighter and fluffier so I wanted to give it a try. I thought it was delicious and very smooth and had a nice sheen to it. I thought it piped well on the cupcakes, but it was a little too thin for piping the border around the cake. It firmed up in the fridge though and it didn’t melt so overall it worked.

I tinted some fondant using Wilton’s Pink and Leaf Green gel colors and cut out some flowers and circles to use for decorations. I also made little “lollipops” to spell out “Congrats Leslie” which I wasn’t sure would fit on such a small cake, but I managed to make it work.

Maryland Terrapin Birthday Cake

January 31, 2011

I got an email from a friend with a link to a picture of a MD terrapin cake. She wanted to know if I thought it was something I could do and if so, she’d put me in touch with her friend, Kim, who was planning a birthday party for her fiance. I gave it a good bit of thought before I told them I could do it because I wanted to make sure that I could do it. I had read about tracing designs onto cakes like this and filling them in, but I’d never done it before.

Kim asked for a full sheet cake with red velvet cake and cream cheese icing. The first issue I came across was how much red food coloring I would need for a quadruple batch of cake – 24 tablespoons, or about 12 ounces. The normal little bottles are about $2.50 for 1 ounce. Time for plan B. I use gel colors for coloring icings since they are so much more concentrated so I thought I’d give that a try here.

I used a red velvet cake recipe that I’ve used a few times before. I made 4 batches – all 9×13’s. I replaced the 6 tablespoons of red liquid color in each batch with a heaping half teaspoon of red gel color. I was concerned about replacing the liquid also, but I wasn’t sure how much to add. I ended up adding 1 tablespoon of water (I probably should have added more).

Kim asked for cream cheese icing, so I made up 4 batches and tinted it using Wilton’s Lemon Yellow color. I also made up another double batch, divided it up and tinted it red, black, and brown. For the terrapin design, I had planned to trace the design onto a piece of wax paper and then lay that on top of the cake and trace it with a toothpick. But that would only work with a crusting icing and the cream cheese icing doesn’t crust. Hmm. So I decided to make up a half batch of vanilla buttercream and use that to crumb-coat the top of the cake so that I could draw on it.

The tracing of the design onto the cake went pretty well. I found that it was better to initially omit the detail in the drawing – like the mouth, the claws on the toes, and the details on the arms. I drew the outline and then with these two pictures on my laptop behind me, I slowly filled in the color (using open star tips) and added in the details kind of freehand. I am NO artist, so this made me nervous and I was checking the pictures constantly to make sure I wasn’t messing it up!

[The first picture is the picture that Kim emailed me to copy. The second one is from a Google image search.]

After the terrapin was done, I put the top coat of yellow icing on the top and sides. I couldn’t get as smooth of a finish as I normally would since I had to work around the design in the middle. If I had been using a crusting buttercream, I would have done the final coat of icing first and then put the design on top. But since I was using the cream cheese, I had to improvise.

I was really pleased with how this cake turned out – especially because I’d never used this technique before! I heard that the cake was a hit at the party too, so that is always wonderful to hear!