Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Birthday Cake Obsession

I am systematically making sure that my boys become nerds. First step: Immerse them in a food lifestyle like few other kids have.

Splash Mountain Cake: 100% Edible

OK - maybe here in the Bay Area and some other places it isn't so uncommon for a child to have tried more different ethnic cuisines by the time they are six than I even knew existed by the time I went to college. Or to have fois gras be a favorite food, or to insist that we do a family dining review after every meal, homecooked or out. It's my fault, but it's also my obsession.

So here comes the birthdays. When I was little my mom made homemade birthday cakes. I remember a few, but as the baby of 5 there are no pictures to prove it. My husband however has a fully populated baby book with homemade birthday cakes flickering before a gleaming boy. Somewhere along the line I got the idea that I wanted to make custom cakes for my boys. A's first b-day was a bust, when I tried pate choux for the first time - pate flat... Second, well that was the flu - but I managed a quick easy 2-D Nemo cake. I's first birthday, I tried to make a car with leftover cake from A's birthday. Hmmm....not sure what it looked like. I spelled I's name wrong on his 2nd birthday cake. This was not a good trend.

But I couldn't let go, and by golly now I am having fun. So this year, my kids made their requests. After reminding them that it is not Ace of Cakes (no I couldn't make the inside of Splash Mountain along with the outside as well), I prepped, baked, kneaded and relaxed to make three custom cakes.

Aaron loves Mayan archeology and Indiana Jones. He wanted a Mayan Temple - rocky road flavor: chocolate cake, marshmallow filling and roasted nuts with chocolate frosting. I decided to make some of it with marshmallow fondant, which was a mistake. I didn't blend well. Forgive the iphone shot...

Cake: Shirley Corriher's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake adapted to be gluten free
Frosting: Southern Custard with Cocoa
Filling: Toasted almonds and Italian Meringue
Decor: Marshmallow fondant. Died toasted coconut, toasted almonds and cake crumbs.

Isaiah had two requests about 2 seconds after A's birthday party ended. He wanted a Disneyland ride to commemorate our trip there and NO fondant whatsoever. He doesn't like it. For the next six weeks we discussed flavors, he made lego models, the obsession was spreading...and the winner was:

Splash Mountain Cake
Cake: Dark chocolate cake from hereFrosting: Chocolate Buttercream (French style)
Filling: Chocolate Buttercream with Morello Cherries
Decor: Modeling Chocolate, Coconut, Buttercream Frosting

And it was David Gabriel's first b-day. I couldn't stop...the kid likes two things...meat on the bone and breastfeeding. You'll never guess which on I decided to make into a cake. We had a big BBQ bash to support J's smoking habit (BBQ smoke that is), and fed around 75 with these cakes.

Fried Chicken Dinner Cake(s)
Cake: Banana layer and Black Magic Chocolate Mesquite all gluten free
Frosting: Brown Butter Caramel Cream Cheese Chocolate Frosting
Filling: Chocolate Banana Ganache
Decor: Toasted Coconut, Meringue, Buttercream, Panuche

Black Magic Chocolate Mesquite Cake: Gluten Free

Adapted from Hershey's Website


2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups gluten free flour (for this I used a premade rice based mix - more later)
1/2 cup mesquite flour (this is a lovely coffee, toffee, chocolate flavor)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs - room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1/4 cup + 2 T melted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To bake the cake:
1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

2. In a LARGE sauce pan bring water, cocoa, and baking soda to a boil over medium heat. I hope you picked a large sauce pan or you will be cleaning up a lot! When it foams up, take off heat and cool down. (NOTE: this step blooms the cocoa powder and accounts for the over-leavening per Shirley Corriher's Bakewise)

2. Stir together sugar, all flours, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add cooled cocoa mixture. Add eggs, buttermilk, butter, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Brown Butter Caramel Cream Cheese Chocolate Frosting

Recipe by Sheryl Davies

Salted Caramel

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt, kosher or sea

  1. Place sugar and corn syrup in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.
  2. Stir together until sugar is incorporated and sugar begins to get hot
  3. Leave sugar alone, until the bottom layer melts, then gently stir or shake, until the caramel is a rich amber color.
  4. Pour the heavy cream into the mixture.The mixture will bubble up significantly.
  5. Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add salt. Stir until combined over heat.
  6. Allow to cool to room temperature
Brown Butter Caramel Cream Cheese Chocolate Frosting
2 sticks butter (divided, room temperature)
8 ounces or 1 package of cream cheese (reduced fat is fine)
1 T vanilla extract
5 to 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup salted caramel
6 oz. 72% chocolate (I used TJs)

Place 1.5 sticks butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. The butter will melt, the foam, and once the foam subsides will begin to brown. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up solids from the bottom of the pan, until the butter is a rich chestnut color. Strain while hot and cool completely.
Place cream cheese and remaining 1/2 cup butter and vanilla in stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until fluffy. Add cooled brown butter and beat.
Add 3 cups of the powdered sugar to the mixture, beat until fluffy.
Add salted caramel, and beat until well incorporated.
Add powdered sugar one cup at a time, until the frosting is sweetness you desire. It may be a bit loose.
Melt chocolate, and cool slightly. Add cooled chocolate to frosting and beat.
If you need to stiffen the frosting you can add more powdered sugar, if it is too thick, you can add a T of cream at a time.
You can store in the fridge for a week or at room temperature for a day, but bring to room temp and beat again before using.


  1. I love the chicken dinner cake. The 'pixelation' of the yellow frosting to make the corn kernels was brilliant!

  2. Splash Mountain makes me want to simultaneously eat the cake and take the rapids.

    Smoked Meat is Heaven's Treat !

    Very creative. Enjoy.