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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Marvel-ous birthday

 One of the great things about being a Foodie, and thus reading lots of recipes/food articles and following blogs and flogs and such, is that you are exposed to sooooo many Cool New Things that fellow cooks, bakers and Domestic Goddesses are whipping up in kitchens around the world. The downside of this is the limited time I have to potter around in MY kitchen to recreate and reinterpret the awesome things I see. So I do end up with quite a long list of  Recipes and Techniques to Try, which I then have to mull over every time I have a dinner or event to cook for, and try and decide which one I am going to try next. Dramas!

 So when I had a chance to combine two or three things recently, it was a bit exciting:  As Hannibal (from the A Team) used to famously say, “I love it when a plan comes together.
 Son 1’s birthday is in January and that means a Kids Party to plan and produce. The Party Boy gets to pick the theme (with veto right from me to ensure I think I can work within said theme) so over the years we have had various Superheroes, Star Wars, cars and such. Never one to have a broad theme, this year we’re having a Lego Marvel Superheroes Party. Yes, it is a party based on a Play Station game where all of the superheroes and villians from the Marvel Comic universe are rendered in Lego (check it out if you're into games, its heaps of fun)

Son 1, being quite a intuitive one, requested the usual party food as well as, “Mum, can you do some cupcakes too?”. Hmm, an opportunity to play with more decorating techniques? Well, as you asked so nicely, of course!! A quick Pintrest search of “Marvel Cupcakes” gave me a host or heroes to choose from, as well as various ways to create an Iron Man mask (though the Nerd in me did get miffed to see them alongside Batman and Superman cupcakes – they are DC Comic not Marvel, people!!). A quick review of the fondant and frosting colours available helped me decide who would make the grade and off we went.

I can't work out how to rotate this pic!!
 For Hulk I used green frosting, the rest had red fondant bases, with black fodant details or yellow and blue frosting, with the ol' faithful black (and white) writing icing for the detail.

 For The Birthday Cake, I was at a bit of a loss. In past years, I have done a Spiderman (see here ) as well as an Iron Man cake, so I was loath to repeat myself. The trusty printed Cake Toppers that have served me so well in past years were no help, as this game was only released 3 months ago and I don’t think the Cake Topper (or party decorations) people had caught up yet. Hubby suggested creating a scene from actual Lego figurines on top of the cake which was a great idea, but I wanted the kids at the party to actually Play with Captain America and Loki and such, so another idea was needed.

 Thankfully Ro at Nerdy Nummies came to the rescue with a cake that was so simple in its execution but looked so fantastic (my kind of cooking!) – a Lego block Cake
  And while I was re-watching how to make a Lego Brick, I was reminded of another cool technique I had seen her use: A Zebra Cake. Kind of like a cooler version of a marble cake, but I thought it was something that might really impress a bunch of 8 year olds.
 Now although I am a huge fan of Ro and her “nerdy themed goodies”, I do despair at her regular use of Box Cakes. I’m sure it an American thing, but I have about 3 or 4 cake recipes that are probably just as quick and easy (and yummier) than a packet mix. So I decided to use one of these. My standard Birthday Cake is a buttermilk cake that I found in Delicious magazine – it was a recipe for Cannoli cupcakes (you use ricotta cheese instead on cream cheese in your frosting), and I found that the cupcakes were nice and solid without being too heavy, and that if you combined the mix in a cake tin, you also got a lovely solid (not too heavy) cake that stayed moist for a day or two. This is very helpful when you are icing cakes over several days (which I often have to do due to work and child-minding time constraints!). To make a chocolate version, I just added 3 TBSP cocoa powder to my flour and off we went.
Chocolate and vanilla ready to go
 As I started alternately pouring the mixes into the prepared pan, I was reminded of how thick a mixture this cake makes; great for cupcakes and cake tins but not so good for mixing together in nice concentric circles.

  Hmmm – might have to find a runnier cake mix for next time. But it did still look zebra-ish as it went into the oven so that boded well.
  The loaf tin did make it take a looooong time to cook; over an hour in the oven, and the edges were getting quite browned, so perhaps runnier mix and round tin for take 2. But was looking good otherwise...
  Onto the decorating!!
  The first difference I noticed between mine and the Nerdy Nummies cake was the colour of the frosting. No matter how much of the colouring I added, I couldn't get it to that nice brick red colour (and I was using the proper cake food colouring). I think the frosting Ro used is bought pre-coloured, which would explain the vivid shade. As I had red fondant, I did toy with the idea of using that instead, but I couldn't get my head around how to cover the marshmallows. So I stuck with my red-but-slightly-dark-pink frosting and hoped that Son 1 wouldn't mind!
 Icing the marshmallows for the brick "bumps" was also a challenge. Ro dipped hers in the frosting, another example of where the pre-bought frosting was easier as it is much runnier than mine (I have used it once on a cake and actually found it quite difficult to work with!). The butter frosting was quite thick and tricky to get onto the marshmallow; I tried holding it on a skewer and covering it but that just ended up gouging out its centre. The technique that I had the most success with was loading up the curved edge with fostering, putting it on the cake and tidying up the top.
It worked pretty well, but I still got a bit of frosting on my fingers. But it still did the job and looked quite impressive.

 The party day arrived and we have five 8 year olds running amok for a few hours, eating fairy bread and such. They were all quite impressed with the cupcakes, arguing over who was going to get which hero. "Happy Birthday" and blowing out the candles all went fine, and so we headed to the Cutting Of the Cake; which did look suitably zebra-ish.


The cake wasn't cooked through.

 I will admit that I wasn't surprised; the cake had fallen in the middle quite a bit when it cooled which is never a good sign. But I basically had a crisp shell surrounding liquid cake - argh!! I think there must have been something wrong with my oven that day as my cupcakes had a few uncooked bits as well and I have made that recipe many times.

Not my finest hour...
 Thanks goodness this Baking Disaster was with a forgiving audience, who went "Wow!!", ate the icing and then went back to playing. I ended up throwing the whole rest of the cake out and feeling like a bit of a Domestic Duffer for the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully Son 1 didn't care as he got to have one of the Deadpool cupcakes ("My favourite, mum!").

 But I will not let this beat me. Obviously the buttermilk cake is not a good option for the zebra cake technique, and definitely not a loaf tin. I think the next time I try will be in a round tin, and using a chocolate mud cake recipe which I know is runny mixture; I will just have to check that my white chocolate recipe is of a similar cooking time.

Or maybe I'll just use a packet mix...