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Semele's Riches: Adventures in Birthday Cake, or, Green French Toast

Semele's Riches

Adventures in handmade childhood.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Adventures in Birthday Cake, or, Green French Toast

Green French Toast.  Yes, that is what we had for breakfast on Ian's birthday.  Your color display is not off.  Why you ask?  Well, let me begin at the beginning.

First of all, it seems we have now entered an era where cake is no longer exciting in and of itself.  Or so I came to understand on Tuesday, when Ian informed me that "Mommy, I want a train cake for my birthday."  And rue the day that I decided to do a Google Image Search for ideas with him in the room.

Now, if you've ever eaten cake around here, you'll have noticed that although I strive for a taste aesthetic that is nothing short of (with apologies) orgasmic, the appearance of said cakes is distinctly... homey.  I try to do a nice presentation.  I apply whatever treatment I've come up with tidily and, I hope, competently.  And there it stops.  I don't own a pastry bag.  I never aspired to own one.  Because while I admire a fancy looking confection, they usually bore me when it comes to the eating.  And I'm all about the eating.  So please understand how appalled I was when my son looked over my shoulder and shouted, "I WANT THAT TRAIN CAKE FOR MY BIRTHDAY! I WANT THAT THOMAS CAKE!"  Because he was looking at this cake:
Which is not merely rife with piped buttercream frosting.  It also uses a kit I didn't have time to order for said birthday.  And, the clincher, the instructions for assembly include AIRBRUSHING the grass onto this cake.  Sorry kid.  Mommy has never airbrushed in her life, and while she's delighted you are turning three (and by delighted I mean devastated that my baby is gone but proud of my big boy) she is not going to celebrate it by cramming to learn how to airbrush cakes.

The next day dawned and he was still talking about this cake.  Time to gird my metaphorical loins and figure out a way to pull this off without the kit, without an airbrush, and without making and piping not one but FIVE colors of icing.  A little more googling came up with a Thomas Carnival scene that I felt comfortable laminating and using as a backdrop, and a rootle through the train box pulled up one of Ian's Thomas engines to grace the top of the cake.  Now all I needed to do was figure out how to do a respectable job of icing the cake, when my last and only experience with piping frosting was a cooking class I took during the summer of, I believe, my sixth grade year.  I created a distinctly diseased looking rose for the top.  And the cake fell. So pardon me for not feeling that I should depend on THAT background for my one and only child's birthday cake.

Thank goodness for my friend Casey, who is my polar opposite when it comes to baking.  Not only is she willing to decorate cakes, she revels in it.  And she pointed out that the tracks are just chocolate frosting.  Which led me to the nearest grocery store where I found out that you can buy chocolate icing in a pouch with a nozzle, all ready to pipe.  You just need a tip.  You can also get white icing IN A CAN with a selection of tips.  Who knew?  So now I just needed grass.

Now, back to my philosophy of baking.  People fall into two camps when it comes to icing.  You have your "I eat sugar straight from the bowl" types who can't get enough, and you have your scrapers who ask for a middle piece and push all the icing off before they eat their cake.  I'm in the latter camp.  So I'm completely against the standard buttercream icing that is normally used to decorate cakes.  It's a waste of food for me, because I'm putting it all down the garbage disposal. So I went through my cookbooks for some other kind of frosting I could dye green and came up with Fluffy White Frosting, which is a confection made from beaten egg whites and surprisingly little sugar.  I thought it sounded perfect.

Come the night before Ian's birthday and, what with wrapping the presents and a few other things that took me a little farther into the evening than I had originally planned, it was midnight by the time the cake was cool and I was ready to try my hand at an egg white frosting.  Nothing daunted, I pulled out my mixing bowl, my hand mixer, the green food coloring, and the vanilla.  I started cracking the eggs and separating them exactly as I learned in Home Ec all those years ago.  And promptly broke a yolk into the bowl.  This is when it dawned on me that midnight might not be the time.  So I put the eggs, green food coloring and all, into a tupperware container in the fridge, made green buttercream frosting and iced that cake within an inch of its life.  Then I stuck it in the freezer and went directly to bed.  In the morning, I added a little milk to the failed attempt at frosting and there you have Green French Toast.  Ian loved it.  Actually, Ian loved the syrup, and would have been perfectly happy with cardboard if he was allowed to use it to eat syrup.

As for his cake, it turned out like this:

The cake itself was chocolate chip and quite good. The icing was exactly as disappointing as I expected.  Ian apparently saw no difference between what he requested and what I actually did.  Hooray for childhood.

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