A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spiderman Birthday Cake and a Birthday Party

I feel obliged to state for the record that I am not a cake decorator. I'm not good at it, never have been. It's not for lack of trying, however. I just lack in the skill department, we can't be good at everything, right? I also lack in the patience department. 

Please don't see this is a ploy or a fishing expedition for compliments. I'm just being honest. I don't lack in self-confidence. I know I'm good at other stuff and I am okay with not being a talented cake decorator. It's not up for debate. It's a fact.

So when my son saw the Spiderman cake in the Co-op bakery showcase and declared that that's the one he wanted for his birthday, I resigned myself to spending the absurd $70 for a dry, tasteless cake covered in that sickly sweet icing that I hate so much.

And then that voice in my head started in on me. Damn I hate it when she pipes up. She said things like, "How hard could it be?" "You should really try this." "He's only 3, he won't care if it looks hideous".

To be fair, the cake in demand was nothing more than a square block in the shape of a building with a little Spiderman figurine standing on top. I mean, C'mon.  Even I could manage that, or so that bitch in my head kept telling me.

So I set about the planning. I baked 3 cakes in a 13 x 9 inch cake pan and froze them. I started googling for ideas. I bought a Spiderman figure. There was no turning back.

In the very least, I knew my cake would taste good, I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe that always turns out moist and delicious. Then I started contemplating the icing. As luck would have it, I was blog surfing and stumbled upon a recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream icing on WhiskWhiskWhisk. I'd never attempted a Swiss Meringue Buttercream but the author used words like "gorgeous" "silky" and "smooth" to describe this icing and also stated that it held up well and wasn't too sweet.  Bingo. That's exactly what I wanted.

I built my cake while it was still frozen, so I'd know how I wanted it assembled before I began icing it.
The icing was actually quite easy to prepare. I was initially alarmed by the fact that you have to warm the egg whites to 140 degrees but it didn't take long. After whipping the whites to a stiff meringue and then adding the butter I was delighted to have the the most delicious icing I'd ever made. Seriously. It was rich, buttery, and silky smooth. And not too sweet. It was also easy to work with, as it held the cake together making the assembly of my 'sky scraper' much easier than I had anticipated. Thanks for the post WhiskWhiskWhisk, I'm a fan.

The only issue I had was that I iced the cake while it was still partially frozen. The icing is primarily butter - butter hardens when spread on cold surfaces. It worked to my advantage as far as acting as a glue for holding the layers, but it did make it pretty much impossible to get a smooth surface. A minor glitch in my plans.

I completely forgot to take pictures earlier in the day and was rushed to get a good shot without the benefit of good lighting (or time for that matter) before we cut into it.  So what you are about to see are crappy real life shots. Not the nice ones where we clear our counters, use natural light, remove the background clutter, use the right lense, or have pretty little props. These pictures are a more accurate representation of what actually goes on in my kitchen when you're about to serve cake to an impatient 3 year old and have a house full of people.

So, with no further excuses, I present to you my very humble rendition of a Spiderman cake. Or a sky scraper cake with a store bought Spiderman mushed into the icing on the top. 
Those are Hershey's chocolate bar squares representing the windows. 
In case it wasn't obvious.
Here I am proudly presenting my 'masterpiece' to the birthday boy. He was MIA. 
Too preoccupied with his new toys. 
We won't be discussing how bare my walls are today either. 
It's a problem but it's not relevant to this post.
Once we were able to tear him away from his toys and over to the crappy cake masterpiece, the little jerk immediately grabbed the Spiderman figure from the top of the cake and began licking off the icing. Not unlike how a dog marks its territory by peeing on something. 
How proud we were. 
What's a party without cheap paper face masks?
And, really, what's the point of having a dog if you can't her and force her to wear one of the cheap paper face masks?
That's my niece. Self-appointed gift opener assistant. And very efficient at her job. 
She takes it seriously.
And there I am trying to break up a dog fight without dropping my camera. 
Why did I get another puppy?
So that's it. A summary of our Saturday night. Great friends, family, dinner, a funny looking cake, way too many presents, and a dog fight. My, how things have changed. 

Perfect Chocolate Cake Recipe:
(adapted from Hershey's website)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cups cocoa (sifted)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup freshly brewed espresso or coffee
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
Whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (or coffee of espresso). Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(Source: WhiskWhiskWhisk, adapted slightly)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) of egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 pound of butter, cut into cubes (I decided to use salted butter and skipped the pinch of salt, but you could use unsalted butter and add salt if you prefer)
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine the egg whites, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl and place over simmering water. Beat with a whisk continuously until the sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches temperature of 140 degrees. Remove from the heat and place on the mixer. Whisk on medium speed until meringue is stiff, and the mixing bowl is cool to the touch. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter a few cubes at a time on medium speed. If the meringue is not completely cool, the butter will melt. Continue beating until all the butter is incorporated. (At one point it may appear as if the mixture has broken, looking curdled and separated. Continue mixing, it will all come together.) Increase speed to high, add the vanilla and beat until smooth. 

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