Sunday, 9 January 2011

Party games

I made a party cake for Miss B's 5th birthday party this weekend. Actually, I made 4 cakes and 2 batches of biscuits, but that's by the by. This cake became something of an epic adventure for me and I thought I'd tell you about it.

Miss B started telling me what she'd like "for my Five Birthday" a full 12 months ago. It became more and more ornate as time went by. "I want a pink cake" to "I want a cake with ponies on it" to "I want a cake with ponies and flowers and fairies and a castle and a dragon for Z and a scorpion for L and my name and a letter B and some glitter."


I offered her the Hello Kitty cake I did for her friend, or any other single idea she fancied but not an entire fairyland.

She settled on a pony stable and flowers. I have a copy of the talented but mendacious Debbie Brown's 50 Easy Party Cakes. I've used some of her designs as inspirations before and I was aware that 'Easy' is pretty much exactly what they aren't. At all. However, fortune favours the bold, and she does have a pony stable cake in the book so I thought I'd give it a punt.

I started by baking a 10" square madeira cake, using the recipe I posted a year ago. Once it was cool I cut off the rounded bit, which I sandwiched together with some buttercream and gave to the kids as an after school snack.
I baked the cake on Thursday because I knew I would need a fair bit of time to tackle the decorating. It needed to stay moist until the party on Sunday morning so I soaked the finished cake in a vanilla syrup (about 150g of caster sugar and a 300ml of water simmered down to roughly half its volume with a dash of lovely Madagascan vanilla extract.)

I cut the cake into two rectangles and stacked them, cut side down, with buttercream between them. This is my stable. To give it a sloping roof I cut a wedge from the front of the cake back at about a 30 degree angle. The kids had this with a bit of icing after school the next day. It's a good life, being one of my kids. I gave the whole cake a thin coating of buttercream - think of it like skimming a wall with plaster - and put it on one side while I did the cake board.

I dyed a big lump of sugarpaste a bright lawn green and kneaded it until the colour was even throughout. On a counter well-dusted with icing sugar I rolled it out to an oblong slightly larger than the cake board. I brushed the board with a bit of water so the sugarpaste would stick to it and carefully draped the green icing across the board. Using a smoothing tool I got all the lumps, bumps and air pockets out before trimming the edges with a sharp knife.

If you do try something similar it is important to remember to clear the decks between each stage. Tiny bits of icing in the previous colour can't half mess up the nicest bit of icing work. I must have cleaned down the kitchen counter 10 times in the course of the day, and none more fastidiously than this next step - working with white sugarpaste.

I rolled out some paste quick thickly. Using my straight edge as a rough-n-ready ruler, I cut pieces of the sugarpaste and stuck them to the 4 sides of my cake, trimming each with a sharp knife before adding the next. To give my 'stable' a clapboard finish, I made regularly spaced vertical grooves around all four sides. Between each groove I pulled my shell modelling tool in a slightly uneven way to simulate wood grain. I put a dollop of buttercream to one end of my cake board and carefully placed the partially iced cake on it.

To make the stalls for each pony, I cut three rectangle 'windows' of white paste and peeled them off. I replaced them with identically sized rectangles of lilac sugarpaste. Handles for the stall doors were little horseshoes of darker purple. The roof tiles made by cutting lilac sugarpaste in the shape of flowers and overlapped.

Modelling the pony heads was a right faff. I'd done some a couple of days earlier that I was very pleased with but the scale was wrong when i looked at the size of the stalls. I needed to make much smaller heads; fine detail is something I find very tricky. It took me quite a while and some first class cussing to get three ponies ready to put in their stalls.

This was a brutal task - sticking heads on spikes rather than anything cute and fluffy. I poked two toothpicks into the head at roughly the angle I wanted the heads to be looking, lined them up with the stalls, removed the head g-e-n-t-l-y and stick the toothpicks into the cake with little points sticking out about a centimetre. Then I very carefully eased the head onto the toothpick points using the holes I'd just made. Applying any pressure to the malleable pony heads meant they went out of shape - one needed to be scrapped and redone because it looked like it had myxomatosis by the time I'd got it secure!

I cut up a new washing up sponge to use as supports for the heads while the icing dried. And then I had a large glass of wine.

The next day, Miss B and I had great fun with lilac, pink and yellow sugarpaste making flowers to decorate the stable and board. The centres of the larger flowers were the same silver dragees I used for the ponies' eyes and the colours were repeated across the cake. I piped her name and age and, with bated breath, eased away the sponge supports for the ponies.

This is what it looked like.
Well, nearly. It wasn't nearly as lopsided as that photo makes it look - I must have had the camera at a funny angle. Anyway, I was pretty pleased with it, my Mum made appropriate Oooh and Ahh noises when I emailed her the photo and it looked great at the party.

Miss B, however: "It's very nice Mummy. Can I eat the ponies? I think I've changed my mind and really I want a Hello Kitty cake like you made for Alice..."

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