Sunday, June 26, 2016

Milestones Worth Celebrating

To me, there are several milestone birthdays worth celebrating: 16, 18, and 21. After 21, you inevitably sit and wait for death. But not my husband. He is so blissfully optimistic about age and birthdays, that even me with my heart made of what I assume is 75 percent ice and 25 percent cake at this point find it charming. I know my thirtieth birthday will consist of me sitting alone in a dark room, covered in blankets (both a literal one and one metaphorically made of sadness), listening to Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" while I scroll through old photos of my youth on Myspace. My husband took his thirtieth birthday party in a completely opposite direction; something to be said for those optimists. He's proud he made it to 30 and wanted everyone to celebrate with him, so we did. Of course, if a celebration takes place without cake, was it really even a celebration at all? Much like if you didn't Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook your every move of the day, do you even exist at all? The answer is a seemingly firm no. He only had one request: strawberry cake. Since this is also my favorite flavor of cake, it was rather easy to acquiesce to his request. But just plain strawberry cake would not suffice for such an important event. No. This cake needed flair! By the way, flair is what I'm calling booze now. Since I happen to be trying to clear out our bar and it's 75 assorted flavors of vodka before we move next month (which is surprisingly difficult to do when you no longer drink said vodka), it worked twofold. I found the perfect flavor to complement strawberry cake: Pinnacle whipped cream vodka--the puffy cloud flavor of vodkas. I've made a smaller scale thirtieth number cake for my sister's birthday 15 years ago (kidding, it was only two), but this time I actually had someone who was happy about turning 30 on my hands, so I did the whole go big or go home thing:
Like, really big.
It's like a giant piñata. Full of booze and cake. The only kind of piñata an adult could ever want, really. Most of our friends expect by now that I am going to bring some sort of crazy cake with me to a party, but this was a grand scale even for me. This is actually one and a half cakes to make up the big 3-0 (ha, get it?!). When I told everyone there was vodka in the cake, they looked at me like I was crazy (I mean, I am, but for totally different reasons). When I clarified it was Pinnacle whipped vodka and strawberry cake with Pinnacle whipped buttercream frosting, people understood much better and immediately asked for a serving. This was yet another case of adjectives and descriptors once again saving the day. If you tell someone it's a vodka cake, they probably assume you accidentally knocked over a bottle of McCormick's into your cake batter. Not a good time for anyone. But Pinnacle whipped vodka...dear lord: light, fluffy strawberry met with even lighter and fluffier whipped cream flavor. The vodka bite bakes out of the cake entirely leaving you with a cake that really does taste like a cloud. Or how I imagine clouds would taste. If they were filled with whipped vodka.
Yep, even out of the box. Doctored, of course.
So here's what you need to make the actual cake (just one, not one and a half):
  • One box strawberry cake mix
  • Two sticks of butter at room temp
  • Four eggs at room temp
  • 1/2 cup of milk at room temp
  • 1/2 cup Pinnacle whipped vodka at room temp
Dump everything in your stand mixer and blend on medium-high for two minutes. Pour into a greased cake pan of your choice. To make a 30th birthday cake, you need either one 6" round and one 6" square pan or one 8" round and one 8" square pan. This handy little chart here breaks things down for you. Just make sure your pan sizes are equal regardless of whatever numbers you need for your cake. I used 8" pans and baked in the middle of my oven at 350 for 20 minutes. I then later used half of another box of cake mix, two eggs, one stick of butter, 1/4 cup milk, and 1/4 cup vodka to make one more 8" round cake to finish the number 3 cake.
And your house will smell delicious.
Let the cakes cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing and placing back on the cooling rack. Set in the freezer for an hour (at least 30 min, but longer is better for cutting). At this point, make the half a cake in a greased 8" round by following my baking times and temps above. Follow the cooling and freezing process for this as well.
Ahh, the versatility of a Solo cup.
I started by making the zero first because it looked infinitely easier to do. Sometimes I have to psych myself up for the more difficult aspects of a baking project. No shame, yo! I took a frozen 8" round and placed a Solo cup in the center. Why do I have Solo cups lying around my kitchen cabinets? Valid question, I suppose...but why do you not? You never know when an impromptu party might kick up, and let's face it, if it's impromptu, the fine china will not be making an appearance.
Save your scraps! For one, you need some for the three, and also because plain cake makes for great breakfast. Unless you're into like whole wheat bagels and just wanting to watch the world burn. Strange hobbies, but okay.
Take the 8" square and cut it into thirds. You'll need all of these pieces, so unfortunately, no snacking yet.
Sudden urge to play snake on an old Nokia arising...
Take one of the thirds you just cut and cut it again into halves, and then assemble your zero:
Like so.
Things may not have baked completely evenly, so trim as needed to get your edges flush. Place this back in the freezer. Ready two 10x14 cake boards so you can place your assembled pieces on them for frosting later. I trimmed mine down to fit into a large cake box and covered them in decorative foil.
Kinda looks like a sigil of some sort...
Keep out the other two 1/3 strip of cake to assemble the three. Cut one of them into two equal pieces. Trim only one end off the other down to make a point (see below). Then take the round cake you baked second and cut two long pieces out from the edges (see above), using a Solo cup (see, totally practical kitchen tool) in the center to keep things even. 
If you look at the number three long enough, it stops making sense.
My first attempt at the pointed/arrow shaped piece you see in the middle of the three did not turn out long enough because someone (me) cut off the other end because someone (me) thought it was totally safe to snack on. Learn from me. Wait to snack until after you've assembled and frosted. The 1/3 slice from the 8" square cake is long enough to make the piece in the middle if you're not a greedy glutton. Take the two pieces you cut from the round cake and lay them around the pointed/arrow shaped piece. Take the other 1/3 piece you cut into halves and lay them at the end of the round pieces. Trim as needed to get all the edges flush. Place back into the freezer.
There's not even enough vodka for drinking here, so have a beer to celebrate your work thus far.
Haha, boy did I think that one batch of frosting would be totally more than enough! For one and a half cakes. With a thick crumb coat. With multiple colors. Why? I wasn't drinking the vodka. I swear. I had 3/4 of a bottle (like, in my possession, not in my drinking cup) when I began, and by the end of baking all the cakes and making TWO batches of frosting, there was literally not a drop left. So if you're going full-scale design, ensure you've got enough ingredients on hand to make a double batch. This recipe is for a SINGLE batch, so simply double all the amounts if needed:
  • 2 cups of room temp butter
  • 8 cups of powdered sugar
  • 6 TBS Pinnacle whipped vodka
Cream the butter until fluffy, then add four cups of sugar, three tablespoons of vodka, and mix. Scrape the bowl, repeat with the remaining four cups of sugar and three tablespoons of vodka.
And slather on the crumb coats...

You're gonna get frosted a little yourself.
I picked up each individual piece and frosted it, ensuring the ends that were going to be sandwiched to another piece had a very hefty glob to glue them together. Be sure to let your crumb coat freeze to ensure pieces don't shift during decoration.
Green and blue, best color combo ever.
I wanted a fun and summery cake, and my husband's favorite color is green. Mine is blue. This is the scientific process I used for selecting colors. I used four Tupperware to divide up even amounts of frosting. I dyed them light blue, blue, light green, and green.
This makes me want to go to the beach or make snow cones.
I placed my dyed frosting into four piping bags, each fitted with a 1M tip. Once my crumb coats had frozen, I moved the 0 to my counter and the 3 to my fridge.
I simply piped twp rows of stars in one color before alternating to the next: blue/light blue/light green/green.

This right here? Precisely where I ran out of frosting. Maybe because half of it ended up on my dishwasher below. Whatever the case, I was really upset to be so close to finishing one number when I ran out that I ate some cake scraps and smelled the empty vodka bottle. It functioned more like smelling salts, so I was renewed.
I soldiered on, finished my 0, and worked on my 3:

Well, it's an E here, but you get the point.
I ran out of everything but the dark green...which works out perfectly because I need it for my husband's other birthday cake he's getting on his actual birthday in a couple days. Small victories, people.
Side by side, I'm no longer vexed by the shape of the number three. I thought I might need to be evaluated psychologically for a bit there.
The party was a smashing success. The cake was a huge hit. The frosting had a nice zing from the vodka, but not so much so that it disrupted the harmony of the cake. Look at me, sounding like a pretentious baker! I was really happy with how this turned out. My husband was impressed, and he thanked me approximately five times because he loved it that much. Many people had seconds. On cake. That's when you know it's a good recipe. It kind of gives off a strawberry delight vibe when it comes to taste, but still with the consistency of cake and delicious buttercream (don't you come at me with that weak whipped topping--I am a true cake connoisseur). I loved it so much that I'm going to try another flavored vodka strawberry cake for my husband's actual birthday birthday cake. Because when you're unable to properly express your affection verbally thanks to your 75/25 ice/cake heart, you show your husband you love him by baking him all the cake in the damn world. Blog to follow in several days. But until then, I will continue to take my cues from my amazing husband and learn how to embrace a new decade of living. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I would do anything for my husband, including going temporarily insane from how weird the number three looks when you have to stare at it for five hours straight. Love is strange and wonderful.

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