Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Birthday is a Black Tie Affair.

Today I turned 29 for what will be the first of many times. I could write an entire entry about how my body is slowly failing me, but that would be incredibly depressing for a cake blog. Cake should make people rejoice with happiness, and I firmly believe that is why it is never served at a funeral. Unless you want to fondly reflect on that pumpkin chunkin incident that turned fatal for poor Uncle Cletus, leave the cake for bonafide celebrations like birthdays or making it to work on time. I was trying hard to decide if my 29th birthday cake should reflect my age and maturity (ha) and be serious and delicate for once, especially considering my 30th birthday is ripe for a tombstone-themed cake. Thankfully, a little voice in my head spoke up (I know I probably need years of psychotherapy, but it's my birthday, let me have this one). It told me do not go gentle into that good night--I need to embrace the youth that is still so prevalent in my soul, so I decided my cake needed to be fun and delightful. It needed to fill me with awe (or "aww") like the cute and adorable cakes my mother used to make for me as young girl did. I thought about what I liked as a kid for a possible theme, but I'm not into Barbies, Power Rangers, or the Spice Girls anymore (that's a lie- I still LOVE the Spice Girls, but wasn't feeling up to the task of creating a cake-likeness of them). So then I decided to think about what fills me with delight every time I see it now. Minions obviously, 50% off signs, and really fat animals...which led me to think about one of the world's most awkwardly adorable yet formal creatures- penguins. They combine both my love of cuteness and formal attire, so this was a no-brainer. I then thought about my favorite of all penguins, Kowalski from the Madagascar movies. A star was born.

"It is strategically... adorable."
Old age and decrepit hands aside, I really enjoyed making this cake. Seriously though, my hands still hurt from piping all those individual little stars. I now have a crab claw and not a left hand. At one point, I thought to myself whether it was actually necessary to frost the top sides of the cake since no one would see it in pictures...but I couldn't half-ass it. I had to go the distance and whole-ass it. I'm delighted by how cute this turned out to be, and BONUS, this recipe had leftover cake batter that I turned into six additional cupcakes. So I got to sample the goods a whole day ahead of time. You know, to ensure quality standards and blah blah blah.
Blah blah..ohh, pretty. Decorating tips found here.
Traditionally, I have strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting for my birthday. But I have become obsessed with raspberry this past year. I want it in my pastries, in my fruit cups, in my booze; you name it, I am gonna find a way to add in that flavor. I always thought of raspberry to be something for the adult palette as it was more robust and less sugary, so maybe I really am growing up despite my best efforts to still laugh at fart jokes and crack dirty double entendres as much as possible. One thing at a time, I suppose. I found a recipe here for a wonderful raspberry cake and decided it would go perfectly with my almond buttercream frosting. As per usual, I was most undoubtedly correct...which is the greatest birthday present of all.
Bonus, plenty of leftover raspberry jam! To put in your pastries, in your fruit cups, in your booze...
I like it when the hardest part of a recipe is having to stop my mixer to add things to it. Loooowww maintenance! This recipe does need cake flour and not regular flour. Cake flour is super fine and just adds an amazingly airy quality to the taste and density of the final product. I know this because the side of the cake flour box told me so. Here's what you need to be a raspberry fiend like me:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  • 3 cups cake flour (use the scoop and swoop method and spoon flour into a measuring cup. Do not pack it down.)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs at room temp
  • 3 egg yolks at room temp (thank God I don't suck at separating the yolks...just separating the whites for whatever reason)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam at room temp
  • 5-6 drops of red food coloring
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk at room temp
Start by preheating the oven to 350 and greasing your pans. This recipe makes enough cake for three 8-inch rounds, two 9-inch rounds, or one 9x13 with the bonus six cupcakes I mentioned. In the stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. While that's happening, blend the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Once the butter and sugar is creamed, add in eggs one at a time and then the food coloring, vanilla, and jam. Be sure to scrape your mixing bowl often. Finish up by adding in a third of the dry mix and blend well. Then add a third of the milk and blend well. Continue this pattern until you've blended in all the dry mix and milk.
Hmm, I see a dog butt in this photo. He's helping.
 If baking in a 9x13 pan, bake the cake by itself for 30-35 minutes and the cupcakes for about 15-16 separately. A smaller pan like an 8-inch round will take around 20 minutes. Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes on a cooling rack, then turn out onto the rack to finish cooling completely. Since I was cutting this into a penguin shape, I put my cake in the freezer for a couple hours to make trimming easier.
Nothing can be bad with this much butter.
About 15 minutes before I pulled the cake out of the freezer, I made my almond buttercream. I know I've given you this recipe a kajllion times, but that is because it is quite literally the most complimentary frosting ever (mean to the hips, but really nice with any kind of cake).
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  • 6 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 6 tablespoons of heavy cream, half and half, whole milk, skim milk, your choice depending on how rich you like things
Cream the butter for a few moments then add in two cups of sugar, the vanilla, and the almond and blend well. Add in two tablespoons of milk and blend. Add in two more cups of sugar, blend, and then two more tablespoons of milk and blend. Repeat one last time and you're done! Set aside and get ready to cut up that cake!
I never said I was good at drawing, okay?
I like to draw templates when I'm going to make my cake into something that's not in the standard wheelhouse of "round." I drew out Kowalski (obviously by hand) so I had something to cut around on my cake.
Like so.
Clearly his flippers are larger than the cake, so I held on to my scraps after cutting around my template.
Right now he just looks like a fat, armless robot. Oh look, another dog.

I cut some cake scraps to fill out his flippers and connected them to my cake with wooden skewers.
Then I gave him a good crumb coat. This is a must when you've trimmed a cake down!
 I let Kowalski sit in the freezer after the crumb coat for about 30 minutes. Penguins like the cold, this is a fact. Now hold on to your butts, here comes a crappy photo montage!
You're going to use EVERY bit of frosting for this cake, so sadly, don't eat any. Instead dye a small amount orange and place into a bag fitted with an open star tip. I used a Wilton #21. Place a fair amount of white frosting into a bag with a coupler and for now, another open star tip. Dye a LARGE amount of frosting black. Place into a bag that has a coupler on it and fit with a small round tip. I used a #3.
In yet another attempt to make things foolproof because I do fall victim to blonde moments, I used a toothpick to outline where everything needed to go for Kowalski to look like a penguin and not a failed science experiment, or worse, just a regular bird.
I started by outlining his mouth. I was going to do buttercream transfers for his eyes, but when I finished them, one eye was white and the other cream colored. I used the same bag of white frosting for this, so I have quite literally NO idea how that happened. Instead, I recommend outlining his eyes in black at this point and drawing in his pupils, too. Lesson learned. Frosting can apparently play tricks on you. Who knew.
Once the mouth was outlined, I filled it in with my orange frosting fitted with the star tip. This is simple, but time consuming. You just place row after row of stars until the area you want is filled. When done, I came back over and re-outlined his mouth in black to create a fuller, thicker lip line...just like you do every morning. Penguins, they're just like us! I also filled in his feet.
Once finished with his feet, I took the small tip off of my black frosting and fitted the bag with a #21 tip. This is why a coupler comes in handy. Then I outlined what areas would be in black.
And filled in the top of his body. My hand had gone numb at this point, so I took a break and ate a cupcake. It was the right choice.
Then I outlined the areas that needed to be white.
...Before filling in his body. I then iced my left hand (with an ice pack, not frosting, although I have done that on accident before) and ate dinner with my right hand. Eating with your non-dominant hand is like having someone else feed you, if that someone else is accident prone and really bad with a fork. I recommend trying it some time! Once dinner was done and my hand had been fully iced, I finished his body by piping the rest of the black frosting onto the sides of his body. Without eyes, penguins are actually quite terrifying. He kinda looks like he's happily going to devour your soul and steal your eyes all in one fell swoop. Moving on.
Since my buttercream transfers didn't work, I placed the small #3 tip back on my black frosting and outlined his eyes...which was hard to achieve evenness on top of all those stars. This is why I recommend doing this when you outline his lips and forgo trying to do the transfer.
Then I placed a #5 tip on my white frosting and filled in the eyes. I smoothed out with a spatula, and then added dots for pupils, and he was done. Kowalksi, you handsome sonofabitch, I could get lost in those wonky eyes.
This cake...I almost don't want to eat it because it's so cute. But I had a cupcake, so I know I'm going to eventually have to cut into Kowalski because he's too damn tasty not to. The almond + raspberry experience is real, and it is amazing. A subtle zing of berry and the richness of almond are pretty much my favorite combination of all time now (sorry, vodka and soda). So far the 8th anniversary of my 21st birthday has been incredibly enjoyable. I've had great well wishes, excellent gifts, and wonderful conversations with friends and family. As someone who is introverted and never wants anyone to go out of their way for me because it makes me uncomfortable, it is a really nice reminder that I am so loved (and tolerated) by my family and friends. I want to thank you all for making the last year I ever publicly celebrate a birthday so great. Now if you don't mind me, I'm off to eat another birthday cupcake and research how much botox is an appropriate amount of botox to still look lifelike but wrinkle free. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Here's looking at you, Kowalski. Yes, my slippers have ducks on them. I clearly like awkward birds, okay?

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