Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hot Air Balloon Party: The Cake

A quick pinterest search for rainbow parties led me to this cake and I knew then that I had found the cake I was going to make for the kids' party. I was intimidated by making a cake with multiple layers because I'm not a baker and I tend to take on insane projects that are too involved for my own good.

I ended up finding a good tutorial on Meaningful Mama and ran with it. The cake took me three days to make and it was a decent amount of time to do a little at a time and not be crazy overwhelmed or cut corners. Had Joe not taken off of work the Thursday and Friday leading up to the kids' party I would have done this in four nights.

On day one I made the cake mix and baked each layer. I found the recipe for the cake -- which was outrageously yummy -- also on Jodi's (Meaningful Mama) blog.  The recipe is half homemade, half box  and one hundred percent ridiculously easy to make.

To ensure that all of the layers were the exact same size I portioned out the batter into six separate bowls prior to color mixing and baking. It was a little tedious, but paid off in the end. Two boxes of cake mix filled six 8" round pans halfway, which was perfect because I didn't want the cake to be too tall. 

I used the Betty Crocker color gels to change the color of the batter. The primary color set was used for the red, blue yellow and green and the neon color set was used for the purple and orange. They seemed to work A LOT better than traditional food coloring, which was making the batter a bit more watery. For some of the layers (red, blue, purple) I used a full tube of color, or pretty close to a full tube. 

{ official cake taste tester, how awesome is her hair? }

To ensure the layers would come out of the pans easily I greased and floured the sides and I traced the bottom of the cake pan onto parchment paper and then cut out the circle and placed it into the bottom of the pan. Once the cake was baked I let it cool I ran a butter knife around the rim of the cake pan to make sure the cake wasn't stuck to the sides and simply turned the cake over onto my paper towel covered hand and the cake fell right out. I peeled off the parchment paper and transferred the cake (paper towel side down) to a cooling rack. The paper towel ensures that the cake won't get "grill" marks on it while cooling.

After all six layers were baked I wrapped them in saran wrap and then in foil and stuck them in the freezer. Freezing each layer made them SO much easier to frost.

On two day two I frosted the layers and the outside. I practiced making frosting when I made the kids' preschool cupcakes earlier in the week. Honestly, I made and threw away four batches of frosting before I found one that I liked. My fifth batch was a Martha Stewart recipe (duh, why didn't I just google her in the first place?) for Fluffy Vanilla Frosting.

Okay, so a little confession. Martha says to sift your sugar and have your butter be room temperature. My butter was actually more like soft ice cream and I didn't sift my sugar. Honestly I kind of forgot to and it didn't seem to make a difference. The frosting came out really thick. So I thinned it out with milk until it was easily spreadable. A double batch of frosting needed almost a full cup of milk to be thin enough to spread onto the cake. I bought 10" cake circles from Michael's which made frosting and, more importantly, moving the cake a breeze.

My mother-in-law put together the layers and the initial frosting coat for me while Joe and I decorated the night before the party. She alternated putting the cake layers upside down and right side up so that she could fill in the unevenness in the cake with frosting and ensure that the top layer was upside down (and, therefore, flat). On a lot of the blogs I read before attempting this cake they shaved off the uneven "domed" part of the cake with a cake knife. That just seemed like more work than it was worth to me.

Once all of the layers were assembled and the entire cake was covered in frosting we put the cake back in the fridge to let the icing harden overnight. I also put the extra frosting in there too. According to Martha, the frosting can be refrigerated for up to 10 days in an airtight container. Before I used it the next day I let it sit out on the counter till it was room temperature and then I threw it back in the KitchenAid to beat it again so that it was smooth.

On day three I put on a final layer of frosting using a large spoonula and then I did the sprinkle topping. The cake number was inspired by this picture I found through a google image search. To bring it to life, I printed out a large number 2 on regular paper and traced it with parchment paper. I then cut out the number and pressed it onto the top of my cake. To make sure the sprinkles didn't get all over the cake, I wrapped the sides with parchment also and then I shook away. Once I was done sprinkling, I lifted the corner of the number two with a butter knife and slowly peeled away the parchment paper.

Then I slowly peeled away the parchment on the sides and ran a clean spoonula around the cake to smooth out the puckered looking frosting.

I stuck the cake back in the fridge until about an hour before the party because I was afraid it would cool too much and topple over (which never happened). The balloon candles were actually left over from a cake that Joe made me a few years ago. I meant to use long tapers, but when we put them on the cake they just looked dumb. Our cake plate is a Marshall's find. I love it because you can lace ribbon through the outer edge, which I have been doing for nearly every party we've had. The ribbon was a lucky find at Walmart, of all places.

The cake tasted as good as it looked. And it looked really good, if I do say so myself. I was surprised it didn't come apart with each slice that I cut, but I think it held together so well because it was kept so cool prior to the party AND because my mother-in-law did an amazing job frosting the layers together.

The cake, in total, cost me less than $25 to make, including the cake pans, cake rounds, ingredients, food coloring, and ribbon. And it was so pretty and so fun. The kids went nuts over it (and so did the grown ups!).

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