Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Its Beginning to Look a Lot like (The Nightmare Before) Christmas

I've been fortunate enough to make quite a few "milestone" birthday cakes this year...my niece's first, a friend's 40th, my sister's 30th, and last weekend, another friend's 30th. Had you told me all this would occur this past April when I started baking, I would've laughed at you. I mean, I still laugh (nervously) now because every time I am asked or volunteer to make a cake for an event, I am filled with dread that things will go terribly wrong and I will be forced to beg Walmart to give me a cake at the last minute, and then Walmart wins. I cannot ever let Walmart win. They already have stripped away tiny chunks of my soul every week when I am forced to finish my grocery shopping there without committing vehicular manslaughter via shopping cart- they cannot have my pride, too. And my pride was definitely on the line because this birthday cake was my first honest to goodness paid job as a caker. A lot was riding on the line. *Cue the Rocky theme music...*
Hello, Jack.
Whew. I think I stopped breathing for a combined total of about thirty-five minutes while making this cake. My lung capacity is apparently way more impressive than I thought it was. I am happy to report that minus several snafus on the birthday girl's night (like the restaurant saying the reservation was cancelled), the cake was exactly what her husband was hoping for, and she truly enjoyed it. My cake very well could have saved the night and fed us all if need be, but thankfully that was not the case, and we all got to savor a slice later in the evening.
I thought Devil's Food would've been Jack Skellington's first choice, for obvious reasons.
 Since it was finals week, I had spent Monday-Thursday grading final essays, final portfolios, final exams, and calculating final averages. My eye still twitches a little every time I hear, see, or type the word "final." Cringe. This meant come Friday after running errands, grocery shopping, and failing to avoid Walmart, I did not have enough time to make EVERYTHING from scratch, so I had to cake-jack a box cake mix to get that fresh bakery taste. Remember, add an extra egg, use milk instead of water, and use softened butter instead of oil and double the amount. The more you know...
"I'm in need of a layer of clothing."
Once my cakes had cooled off long enough, I made the standard white frosting so I could crumb coat and then add another coat to smooth out the sides...and guess who actually made a short video clip to show this process to you? Yeah, about friggin' time, amiright?

This only works with non-textured paper towels, like Viva brand.
I first smooth side to side, then top to bottom for the most part.
You don't have to apply much pressure to get this done. Freeze the cake after you've put on your final layer of frosting for about 30 minutes, and to smooth it just be firm and gentle, like scolding a toddler. I'd imagine anyway, since I clearly don't have any toddlers as I have time to make cakes for fun. I also get to sleep in on a regular basis, but I don't want to make those of you with toddlers long for your past, so let's move on.
He's toddler adjacent, and usually also somehow covered in a sticky mess. However, I do encourage him to lick the floors when I drop food, which I sincerely hope you don't allow your toddler to do.
I loved only having to dye one bag of frosting. It is literally my least favorite part about caking.
To decorate, I used open star tips again, like I did with Aurie's sock monkey cake. I put plain white decorator frosting into two bags, one fitted with a triple star tip, and one with a Wilton 18 tip. I mixed chocolate decorator frosting with black dye, and fitted that bag with another 18 tip.
Baby steps, I tell ya.
To make Jack's trademark mouth and fantastic resting bitch face (totally on point), I outlined everything with a toothpick. Since I was piping on his...bone structure? Let's go with that, I did not bother to cover the top of the cake with a layer of thick frosting to smooth.I started by working my way in...
I used the triple star tip to cover more ground in the bigger areas away from his eyes, nose, and mouth. I then came back in and filled in empty spaces with the 18 tip, and decorated around the eyes, nose, and mouth.
I then used my black frosting to outline the eyes and fill them in.Side note- getting a demented Spiderman vibe here.
"PIVOT! PIVOT!" - Ross Gellar
His nostrils each took two black stars a piece.
The eyebrows were done with one line of black stars each.

For the mouth, I filled in the grin with a single, long line of black stars, and then for the stitches, single columns of black stars. I then CAREFULLY, so as not to smudge the black everywhere, came back in and filled in the rest of the mouth with my white single star tip. I became so unbelievably still I wasn't sure I was even moving while doing this. There was still time to screw up elsewhere, but this is what I worried about most!
A rope or shell border seemed too dainty or girlie for Jack- so he got a row of spikes from my 18 tip. Just pipe stars, and pull up and away quickly to create a point.
Now, I suppose you could pipe Jack's signature bow tie on to the side of the cake, but I did one further and made a bow tie out of felt paper and a dowel. My middle name is Overachiever.
I snapped a dowel that would usually be used to hold together tall or odd-shaped cakes in half, and found the felt paper in HobLob's specialty paper aisle where the crazy scrapbookers live. Not to start a crafter vs. crafter war, but who gets that excited about paper? You can't even eat it...
I fail at remembering to rotate my photos...so, I free-handed a bat on the back of the paper.
And simply cut it out! Naturally, that would be the next step.
Then I got a dab of Gorilla Glue and firmly pressed the dowel on to the paper until it could stand on its own. I had a Leaning Tower of Pisa thing happening to me for awhile, so patience is your friend for this step. I could hear the dowel keep toppling over as I was plugging away at laundry, so I gave in and just held it in place for two minutes.
I couldn't get frosting to stick to the felt, but luckily I had paint pens leftover from our painted pumpkins, so I drew on the details before plunging the dowel into the side of the cake.

And walla, Jack is ready to party! I then took a 2 tip and drew on the birthday message in my black frosting (obvs.).
Yeah, I'm super proud of this cake, so here's another picture from a slightly different angle.
In all, this cake took 5 hours from baking to final touches to make. This seems like a lot, but there is waiting in there for cakes to cool, frosting to set, etc. The actual decorating and bow tie took 2 hours. I was only making my "customer" (that sounds cooler than "buddy") pay for ingredients, but he threw in a fat tip because I'm such an awesome cake maker..or he's just nice, whatever, let me have my moment. I had done a sample cake for them many moons ago, so I was thrilled to have a "repeat customer" for the first time. The tricky part was transporting this from Clovis to Portales while sitting in their back seat with a cake on my lap.
"The job I have for you is top secret. It requires skill, craft, cunning..." ...seriously, Jack, just don't fall off on to the floorboards.
We ended up taking the cake BACK to Clovis to devour at their house..mostly because I refused to hand my cake over to strangers to put in a fridge at a restaurant that "lost" our reservations. If they "lost" my cake, I'd be blogging from a jail cell. Happy to report that did not happen, cake was had by all, and the night(mare Before Christmas...sorry couldn't resist) was good. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!

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