Sugar, white flour, and saturated fat may be the scourge of the Western diet, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world without cake, would you? And when I say cake what I really mean is cake with frosting – preferably buttercream. What a glorious combination! Above you can see my favorite cakes (and their inspiration) from Samantha’s third, fifth and seventh birthdays as well as a doll cake from one of my own much, much older birthdays. This makes me realize that my favorite cakes seem to come around every other year and involve some kind of building, you might even say a little architecture.
The castle and ballet stage cakes come from a wonderful book that I found in a used bookstore years ago. It’s The Wilton Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating by McKinley and Norman Wilton, published in 1969. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and if you happen to run across it or find one on the internet by all means buy it! Samantha and I have had so much fun with it. If I weren’t such a slap-dash cake decorator, I’m sure I could really teach myself a thing or two by actually following the instructions! And you see the sketch for the last cake? That’s Samantha’s; she’s already designing her own cakes! Though in the interest of time (none) I did have to simplify her idea and skip any embellishment. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind.
I used to make my cakes from scratch. My favorite recipe for yellow cake is here and you’ll find my favorite recipe for chocolate by clicking here. These recipes are pretty easy and fool-proof, but if you’re throwing a party in addition to baking a cake, a mix sure can help ease the stress. I really, really like the Trader Joe’s chocolate cake mix. No unnecessary chemicals and it tastes a lot like the Hershey recipe to me. I used the yellow for the first time on the last cake and people thought it tasted very good, but I did have a structural problem with one 6″ layer that I didn’t end up using. That could have been due to my own operator error during baking. For both these mixes I use safflower oil instead of butter. I prefer to leave my saturated fat for the frosting.
I’ve experimented with a few buttercream recipes over the last few years and lately I’ve come back to the recipe on the back of the C&H powdered sugar box. I used to think that sifting the sugar was key, but after trying a Martha Stewart recipe for buttercream that called for a lot of beating (as well as sifting), I tried the C&H recipe again (which doesn’t call for sifting) and just beat the heck out of it and it wasn’t half bad. Trader Joe’s also has a mix and I used that the other week. It’s fine, but maybe just slightly gritty. Think I’ll go back to my own next time.
For coloring, I use the India Tree natural decorating colors set above from Whole Foods. Yes, it is expensive! But it’s the best natural coloring I’ve found, so I fork over the money. Just make sure you check the expiration date if you decide to purchase some because at that price, you want it to last as long as possible.
Last, but not least, you can find just about anything else you’ll need for your cakes (like those pretty sugar roses on and the ruffle under the ballet stage cake) at The Cake Works on Bascom. They’re even having a 20% off anniversary sale on April 2. You can also find a number of Wilton products at Michael’s and maybe even more at the Diddam’s store on DeAnza. Whether you buy or bake, have fun with your birthday cake!