cake

Butterfly Cupcake Cake

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A week or so ago, my 4 year old got invited to a birthday party for one of her dance friends. As per usual, I offered to do a cake for her as a gift, because I just love being able to bless people. Especially with cake. I mean, what better gift can you give than one that is loaded with sugar?

The theme of this party was butterflies. Her mom sent me this pin from pinterest for inspiration:

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I agree with whoever wrote the description–the mini butterflies are overkill. Plus, they don’t even make sense. Why would a butterfly have other butterflies all over it? And what’s with the ginormous daisies (?) on the wings? Probably the cake decorator was just trying to jazz up an otherwise boring design. Needless to say, I was not very inspired by this picture. What I took from it were the two most important requests: they want a cupcake cake in the shape of a butterfly and they want the color scheme to be pink and green. Pink and green is my least favorite color combination. But, this is not my cake! The birthday girl wanted pink and green, so I was going to give her pink and green.

After a Google search for pink and green butterflies, I saved these two to base my design off of:

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I loved the color gradient in both of these, and knew that would be the best way to blend the pink and green together. I decided to do a light pink, a dark pink, a light green, and a dark green, to give it a smooth transition.

To make this cake I used:

I made an exciting discovery through making this cake–foam craft boards do not absorb the oil from the frosting, and therefore do not get grease marks! Plus they come in different colors and are much larger than your average cake board, which is ideal for cupcake cakes. But since they are so large, be sure to measure the width and length of your fridge shelf and cut that bad boy down to size with an X-Acto knife before you start building your cake.

First thing is to color your frosting.

Take your first batch of vanilla frosting and divide it in half and separate into two different bowls. Using a toothpick, add a little bit of pink gel color to one bowl and mix it in to get a light pink. Again using a toothpick, add pink gel color to the other bowl of frosting, but this time add just a smidge more so that you end up with a darker pink. Adjust both colors until you are happy with them, but be careful not to add too much gel color. You can always add a bit more to darken it, but you can’t take any out if you add too much and need to lighten it.

Take the second batch of frosting, repeat the process, this time using green gel color.

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When you’re done, you should have a nice gradient of color ranging from light pink to dark green.

Take your third batch of frosting and scoop about a quarter of it into a clean bowl. Then add some black gel color and mix it in. It takes quite a lot of the gel color to get a nice black, so don’t bother with the toothpicks on this one; just squeeze big drops in until you’re happy with the tone of black.

For the veining detailing on the wings, I decided to use grey, because I thought black would be a bit harsh. In retrospect, I think white would have been the best pick. If you want to use grey like I did, then take another quarter of that last batch of frosting and color it grey using a toothpick and the black gel color. If you want to do it in black, then instead of coloring a quarter of a batch above, color half of the batch black. If you want to do it in white, then obviously, don’t do anything to it.

Once all your frosting is tinted, it’s time to put the cake together. If you haven’t already cut your foam board down so that it will fit in your fridge, do that now. Since the board is so thick, I found it was easiest to score the board to get through the first half of it, and then go over the line with the X-Acto again to cut all the way through.

Then, assemble your cupcakes. Don’t attach them with frosting just yet; you’ll want to be able to move them around until you get the shape just right.

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Once you’re happy with your shape, carefully lift the cupcakes one by one and put a dollop of white frosting on the bottom and then reattach to the board. After you’ve done this to all of the cupcakes, fill in the gaps between cupcakes by piping white frosting directly into the holes. You don’t need to do this in between every single cupcake. Just fill in the larger holes so that when you’re frosting the “cake” the frosting won’t fall in between. You want to give the illusion that the top is one surface, so it has to be level and smooth.

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Then you need to let it sit in the fridge for 20 minutes so that the frosting can harden. This is a really important step so that the cupcakes don’t slide around on you.

While it was setting up in the fridge, I worked on the fondant pieces. I already had white marshmallow fondant on hand that I had made a couple weeks back, so I took some of that out and colored it black with the gel icing color. To do this I took a toothpick and dipped it into the gel color, then wiped the toothpick on the fondant. Then I kneaded it like a dough until the color was evenly distributed. Even though it was only a small amount of fondant, it still took forever to knead all the black in! Helpful tip–wear disposable gloves while doing this so you don’t stain your hands. Once it was black, I took a bit of fondant and rolled it in between my hands to make a long tube for an antenna. When I was happy with the thickness and length, I laid it out on the board to come out of the butterfly’s head. Then I repeated that process, trying to match the second antenna to the first as best I could. Since this was for a kid’s birthday, I decided to give the butterfly a face. Using a #5 Wilton decorating tip, I punched out eyes. Then I rolled out a little smile with my hands. I set the eyes and smile on a plate while I worked on the rest of the cake.

Once the frosting is set, it’s time to decorate. I started with the wings, so that if any of the frosting accidentally got smeared on the butterfly’s body I could just cover it up later. I put the light pink frosting in an icing bag, but didn’t bother with a tip; I just cut the end of the bag. I was using the piping bags so that I could better control where I placed the frosting, but ultimately was going to smooth over it with a spatula, so it didn’t need to be super precise. Then I piped columns of frosting up and down the two columns of cupcakes closest to the butterfly’s body. I covered the next “column” of cupcakes with the dark pink frosting.

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Then I took my offset spatula and starting at the body of the butterfly, slowly smoothed out the frosting. You’ll have to do it a couple of times, so be sure to wipe the spatula clean before going over it again so the dark pink doesn’t get mixed up in the light pink.

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Once the pink is smoothed out, get your light green frosting and pipe it onto the next column of cupcakes. I wanted the pink to bleed a bit into the green, so when I went to smooth it out, I started in the dark pink and dragged it into the light green. It took a few strokes and you don’t want too much pink in the green, so be very careful to wipe the spatula clean each time.

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Finally, pipe on the dark green on the remaining cupcakes to make the wing tips of the butterfly. Since the dark green has the least amount of surface area, I didn’t want too much of the light green to bleed into it. Use extreme caution on this last smooth out. Then take the black frosting and pipe it onto the body of the butterfly. Smooth it out with your spatula, being really careful not to get any of it on your beautiful wings. You can put the fondant eyes and mouth on at this time.

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Using my butterfly pictures as a guide, I took a piping bag that was filled with the grey frosting and fitted with a #2 tip, and piped the veining. I’m right handed, so the right side was easier for me to do. The left side did not come out perfect, but since I was using regular frosting, I couldn’t just peel it off and try again like I can with royal icing, because regular frosting doesn’t harden the way royal does. Due to all of my kids being sick with colds and ear infections (and actually having to take our 2 year old to the ER because it got in her chest and she was having a hard time breathing), I had to do all of the decorating for this cake the night before the 11 am party. Thankfully, the baby allowed Daddy to hold her so she actually slept, allowing me to bang this bad boy out. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to make royal icing so I had to use regular frosting. If you have the time, I would highly suggest using royal icing for the veining. It’s much more forgiving.

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It looked a bit harsh to me like this. So in the haze of 1 in the morning logic, I decided to try a new technique: brush embroidery. Please note that this was really stupid, and I do not in any way endorse trying new things at the eleventh hour when you have no time to fix any potentially catastrophic mistakes. But that’s just kind of how I roll. I’m a perfectionist, and if something doesn’t look exactly right, I can’t just leave it. Since it was soft frosting on top of soft frosting (this technique is supposed to be done with royal icing), I thought using an actual paint brush would blend the grey frosting into the pink and green too much. So I chose to use the tip of a toddler butter knife instead. To do the effect, you simply put the brush (or knife, in my case) and place it on a spot of the line. Then you gently pull the frosting, giving it a brush stroke look. Repeat a gazillion times until every inch of grey frosting has been brushed.

My gamble paid off, and it gave the effect that I was looking for! I like to think that it gives the wings the illusion of fluttering. It took forever to do, but I feel it was well worth it.

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To finish it off, I placed white nonpareils on the wing tips.

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There you have it! A beautiful ombre butterfly cupcake cake.

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The birthday girl was very happy, and her mom called it, “Stunning!” I was very happy with the way it turned out and really enjoyed putting it together. If any of you try your hand at this cake, please share pictures of how yours came out!

My Doctor Who Cake

Last July, my husband convinced me to watch Doctor Who. He had already seen all of the episodes of the recent seasons (Christopher Eccleston and on), and was hoping to get me hooked and caught up before season 8 started up. Being the nerd that I am, I of course became an instant fan. But the new season started a month from when I started watching, and I had a little over 100 episodes to watch if I was going to catch up in time. We only had 2 kids at the time, but I still didn’t have much TV time. Somehow, I managed to do it, which you could either see as impressive or embarrassing, your pick.

I love Doctor Who.

Now I want to get my hands on the original seasons from back in the day so I can be a true Whovian.

So when I was thinking of ideas for my birthday cake, I immediately went to the Doctor. I wanted to do a Tardis cake. Since my birthday is January 6th, I decided to go with a Christmas Tardis theme. We had the flu over Christmas, so I still wanted to hold on to Christmas because I had kind of felt cheated.

My conception art

My conception art

My mom found an awesome video tutorial on YouTube of how to make a Tardis cake.

I was only having a small gathering of friends and their kids over to celebrate, so I was sure the Tardis cake alone would be enough.

I am not very good at sculpted cakes. I have yet to find a cake recipe that holds up well to being sculpted. So I took a risk and tried a recipe that I had never tried before: vanilla pound cake. Since I was going to need 5 squares for my Tardis, I needed 2 square cakes. I only had 1 square pan though, so I had to do them one at a time, which took forever because the bake time for this recipe is an hour and fifteen minutes! My first cake burned on the bottom and along the edges. I was able to cut it away, but it made my squares smaller than the ones in the tutorial video. For the second batch, I reduced the oven temperature to 325°, and that cake came out perfectly. So if you try this recipe, I would suggest lowering the temperature. (It was a very tasty cake.)

It took to sculpting ok. But since my squares were smaller, I ended up doing 4 instead of 5. I was unsuccessful in leveling, so it wasn’t the sturdiest of structures. Despite me using a ruler, I still managed to cut each square a little differently, so they weren’t all the exact same size when I stacked them. Which left me to cut down my already small cake in an attempt to make it even on all the sides. My husband ended up helping me shape it down because it was not looking pretty.

I now did not have enough cake to feed the people I was expecting, so I changed the plan and made two 9″ chocolate rounds for my tardis to sit on, using my moist dairy free chocolate cake recipe. Instead of going with a Christmas Tardis, I decided to ice the rounds to look like Van Gough’s Starry Night with the Tardis sitting on top, recreating the iconic painting from the Van Gough episode. I was sad to have to scrap my Christmas theme, but excited about the new direction.

I focused first on decorating the Tardis, following the instructions from the YouTube video. The blue icing that I had on hand was not Tardis blue, unfortunately. Lesson learned: always buy a few different shades when you need such a specific color so you can mix up your own. But painting the fondant panels really helped with the color. In the video she used a paint powder, but I didn’t have access to that. So I just mixed a drop of water into gel icing colors inside a painter’s palette to get a more “paint like” consistency, and it worked really well.

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How many panels does it take to cover a Tardis?

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The panels post painting

 

I mixed white & black gel icing colors to make grey, and used that around the edges of the window pieces to dirty them up a bit. The Tardis has been around the block a few thousand times after all; she should look worn in.

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I wish that I would have painted the sign grey before writing the words on, but hind sight is 20/20.

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Obviously, I ran out of space for all the words. I had to make this panel slightly larger than the others just to get these to fit. But the important ones are on there.

I almost forgot about the door handle & key hole, but remembered with enough time to whip them up.

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The Police Box panels

 

My mom got me a fondant rolling mat system, conveniently called The Mat, for Christmas. If you are serious about cake decorating, you need this mat! The fondant didn’t stick to it at all.

I mean, look at that!
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Absolutely incredible.

Once all the pieces were cut and painted, it was just a matter of putting them on. I let my 4 year old help with this part. She was so careful & methodical while placing each panel. I saw a piece of myself in her in that moment, which was so beautiful to witness.

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We got the Tardis done 2 hours before people were set to arrive. That may have been enough time to frost the Van Gough design on the rounds if we were already dressed, the house was already cleaned, and if the baby would sleep the entire time. But none of those things had happened, of course. Time got the best of me yet again. It is not easy getting these cakes done when I’ve got 3 girls 4 years old and under to take care of.

But I couldn’t bring myself to slap plain white frosting on it; it had to have some kind of design to it. My new plan: pipe swirls to make it look like the time vortex. Since I was completely out of time (pun intended), I chose 3 colors: blue, purple, and white.

I stuck the blue and purple icings in their own piping bags and then shoved them side by side into another piping bag, so that they would come out at the same time.

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Too bad I ran out of frosting before the whole cake was covered.

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I only had blue leftover, so the colors were off balanced. Then I ran out of the blue!

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It was not looking like what I was going for. Out of pure panic I decided to add white dashes, partly to hide the spots of crumb coat that were peeking through, and partly to try to add a…wibbly wobbly timey wimey effect… Again, I was panicking.

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I stuck my leaning tower of Tardis on top and called it a day, because I had about 10 minutes to get myself dressed before people showed up.

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Let’s just say that it was meant to look off kilter because it was bumping around the time vortex…

Is it the worst thing ever? No. Did it look anything like what I set out to create? Not in any way. Did the perfectionist in me want to throw it on the street and run it over with my car? Absolutely.

But my main goal in life lately has been to not stress out. Especially on days that are supposed to be fun like my birthday. Despite everything that went wrong with this cake, I had a lot of fun making it. I mean, it’s a Tardis cake! Plus, my girls helped me bake and make frosting, on top of watching me work on all the Tardis pieces. I was actually surprised at how interested they were to just watch me work.

Of course having them in the kitchen with me meant extra messes…

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But the extra clean up was worth it, because it meant I got to spend my birthday with the 3 greatest kids on earth.

Good thing I took pictures of my cake right away, because while I was upstairs getting dressed…

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The Doctor crashed the Tardis on my stove.

At this point, I just had to laugh.

We ate the tie dye swirl cake at my dinner party and then the girls and I devoured the Tardis for breakfast the next morning (eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast the day after a birthday is my favorite birthday tradition).

Death of the Tardis

Death of the Tardis

Structural integrity has never been a strength of mine in cake decorating. But I’m working on it. I’ve decided to make a Tardis cake for my birthday every year until I get it right. I’m only 27; I’ve got plenty of time.

I’ll take the long way, Doctor; you meet me on the year I nail it.

Our Frozen Birthday Party

 

For those who have been following, you know that we’ve been at this party for weeks (months, if you include all of the Pinterest planning). I know that some people (probably most) think that I’m crazy for putting in so much effort into “just” a kid’s party. But birthdays have always been a big deal to me. As a parent, you put all of yourself into raising these amazing little humans, so I think it’s important to celebrate them once a year. Take one day out of the year to let them know how awesome you think they are. Pour as much love and positive energy into them while you can, so they might be able to stand up to a world waiting to tear them down every chance it gets. Throw them huge parties, because one day all too soon, they will grow up and not want to spend their birthdays with you. One day they will become pre-teens and want a “just friends” party. The way I look at it, I only get about 10 birthdays where my kids are going to want me around. Out of an entire lifetime, I get 10 measly birthdays. 12, if I’m lucky. So yes, I will go balls to the wall for my 4 year old because it’s important to me and it matters to her.

Since our kids’ birthdays are 6 weeks apart and I had baby #3 in between their birthdays this year, they shared a party. Honestly, after baby #3 has her own 1st birthday (because I don’t feel right making her share her first birthday), they’re all sharing a party. Hope they grow up to like the same stuff.

This year’s theme was a cinch to pick because like every other little girl, my now 4 and 2 year olds are obsessed with Frozen. With it being a sister movie, it was even more perfect. We picked the theme super early, so I had months to scour Pinterest for ideas. My Frozen Pinterest board was full in no time. Editing is not my strong suit; I’m more of a ‘I want to do it all’ type. But since this is my 4th go-around in the kid party rodeo, I knew that it is impossible to do everything. I did manage to do quite a bit though.

We didn’t have enough seating for everyone, so I wanted finger food because it would be easy to eat. Our menu included:

Mini Pizzas (although I opted to use shredded mozzarella instead of string cheese, and didn’t do pepperoni because Sam’s Club was out when my husband went shopping)

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Anna’s Honey Ham Sandwiches

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Crock Pot Mac n’ Cheese (our only non-finger food, but a must have at a kid’s party). Since it was elbow macaroni, I decided to call it “Olaf Noses Mac n’ Cheese”.

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Sven Nutter Butter Cookies

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Marshmallow pops, which I called, “Elsa’s Snowballs”. Marshmallows were a must because Ary LOVES marshmallows.

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Kristoff’s Ice Blocks, aka jello squares. Unfortunately the jello didn’t set right; the squares fell apart when you picked them up. I don’t know how I managed to mess up jello; probably the fault of making it at 2 am the night before.

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Olaf String Cheese

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Melted Olaf Vanilla Pudding. Now, I am not a dairy eater; I’m allergic. I have never had pudding before. So when I saw this idea on Pinterest, I wasn’t concerned about the fact that it was just a picture without any instructions, because it seemed very straight forward to me. I piped his arms and hair piece with melted chocolate on parchment paper in advance, bought candy eyes, and candy corn for the nose. The instructions on the pudding box said that it would set up in 5 minutes, and we were out of fridge space, so we mixed them up hours before the party. To my complete shock, the pudding came out yellow! So, Olaf looked like he got peed on. I had no idea that vanilla pudding was yellow; I thought it was going to be white. After the party I discovered via Google that homemade vanilla pudding comes out white. Because I totally had time to make yet another element from scratch. But I was told that he still tasted yummy.

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We also had Hershey’s kisses masquerading as ‘True Love’s Kiss’.

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Cheetos were also caught pretending to be Olaf noses.

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I kept it simple for drinks. We served beer and coffee for the adults, using my DIY disposable coffee cups.

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We also had bottles of ‘melted snow’.

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Our signature drink was Snow Cap Punch. We used half raspberry lemonade Kool-Aid and half Sprite, and threw dollops of Cool Whip on top instead of ice cream. This was a hit! Everyone loved it.

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Decor was simple, but effective. We had Frozen tablecloths, cups, straws, napkins and plates which you can see in the pictures above.

We stole one of the girls’ Frozen posters and their Frozen dolls and displayed them on the mantle of the fireplace with the ‘Happy Birthday’ banner I got at Target for $3 to create a lovely focal point.

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I put together collages for each of the girls, chronicling their last year. I also made a collage for Kinlie, who we named Arya after (you can read about that story in my post about Ary’s birth). We displayed all of them right next to the mantle, because people were most likely to see it there.

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Party City has awesome Frozen balloons with images of Elsa and Anna printed on them, so I got a dozen of those along with a dozen solid balloons, and mylar character balloons.

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Daddy put long icicle lights in the doorway to their playroom for added whimsy.

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I actually had too many games planned; we only got through 3 of the 5. But the kids had so. much. fun! The other two games weren’t needed. Better to have too much planned, then run out of ideas and have bored kids on your hands.

We started off with our ‘Pin the Nose on Olaf’ game. In retrospect, I wish I wouldn’t have been quite so cheap and had just splurged on the sticker paper for the noses. It was a little hard to get the noses to stick just right. But it wasn’t so bad that the kids couldn’t play. They had a lot of fun with this classic! Eowyn actually tied for the win : )

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Next, we did the pinata. I found the perfect Anna and Elsa pinata at Party City for $15. After my disastrous DIY Pintrosity of a pinata, I was happy to fork over the dough for a proper one! Obviously, the kids loved this! I got the good candy too–Milky Ways, Snickers, Butterfingers. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

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Then we did our ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ game. The kids had a blast with this one! They all made super cute snowmen too : )

Eowyn the Snowman

Eowyn the Snowman

Ary only wanted to put the hat on

Ary only wanted to put the hat on

One of our other games, ‘Snowball Fight’, was not needed because the kids created their own snowball fight with the used up toilet paper when they were done building their snowmen. The living room was covered in toilet paper and exploding with laughter! I love that they were having so much fun that they created their own game. When they tired of throwing toilet paper at each other, I told them the only way they would get cake was if they cleaned up every scrap of toilet paper. They had that mess cleaned up within minutes!

Our Frozen cake:

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For weeks leading up to the party, Eowyn had been talking about putting on a show for her friends at her party. She tends to be shy in social settings, so I wasn’t expecting her to go through with it. In fact, when the house first started filling up with people, she came up to me and said, “Mom, I’m a little nervous. I think I wanted a small party; there’s a lot of people here!” After the initial chaos of people arriving settled, she got more comfortable and had a lot of fun. Since it was a Sunday and the party started at 4 pm, people started leaving after the cake. Eowyn ran up to me completely distraught, “But Mom they can’t leave! I didn’t get to do my show!” So a few family members and a couple of our neighbors stuck around to watch her perform. I could tell she was nervous standing in front of everyone (there were about 14 people, including Tyler and I), but she sang Let It Go. Because she was so nervous, she ended up forgetting quite a few lyrics and even skipped an entire section, but she did it! Poor thing cried afterwards because she was upset over the part that she skipped. But I was so proud of her. My husband and I are both actors, so we know how hard it is to get in front of people and perform. I am a shy person myself; it’s taken me my entire life to break out of my shell. I was so bad that I wouldn’t even talk to my teacher in kindergarten! I see so much of myself in her. So to see her be so much braver than I ever was at 4 years old brought me to tears. I could not have been any prouder of her than I was in that moment. She was scared, but she conquered her fear. I know that that moment was a defining moment in her life; that will be something that she will never forget.

wpid-wp-1416977786954.jpegThis party was worth every hour and penny that I put into it, because it made my kids feel special.

I had so much fun putting everything together! If you’d like to read the posts on all the prep work I did, here are the links:

 

Adventures with Cake Pops: Ballerina Edition

The first time I did cake pops was 2 years ago. I offered to make the cake for my second cousin’s 2nd birthday, and my cousin said that she really wanted cake pops. I didn’t even know what cake pops were, but I had enough time before the party to do research and practice and I thought I could manage it. I mean, how hard could dipping a ball of cake on a stick in chocolate be? Turns out it is very hard. Good thing I had time to practice before making the real ones for the party because I was WAY in over my head with those innocent looking monsters. My first mistake was trying to color the chocolate myself; it seized up on me. Then I found out that you have to use an oil based food dye to color chocolate or else it…seizes up. I had pops that were falling off of the sticks when I was dipping them, cups of pops falling over while the chocolate was still drying, chocolate dripping EVERYWHERE, and time tick-tick-ticking away. Originally, I was supposed to do 3 different kinds of cake pops: baseballs, basketballs, and footballs. My cousin called me the week of and said that one of her friends could make football brownies, so that took one off of my list. Then a few days later I ended up calling her asking if I could just do baseballs because I didn’t know that I needed a special dye to make the chocolate orange and I didn’t have time to go buy candy melts and try to fuss with those as well. She really wanted basketballs too, so we compromised on a basketball cake and baseball cake pops.

In the end, I pulled it off but only by the hair on my chin. I was piping up until 20 minutes before we had to leave. But the kids LOVED the cake and especially the cake pops, and my cousin was so grateful that it made it all worthwhile.

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Despite all the stress these things caused me, I was happy with the result. But I was not overly anxious to try my hand at them any time soon either.

The next time I tried to make cake pops, it was to save the cake for my 25th birthday. The cake stuck to the pan and crumbled coming out into a huge mess of chocolate on the counter. With guests set to arrive within 2 hours, my initial reaction was to chuck it on the street and run it over with my car out of rage, but then one of my friends suggested turning them into cake pops. Or cake balls, as it turned out, since I didn’t have any sticks. All I had on hand was dark chocolate chips, and they didn’t really melt well so it went on thick. They were very rich, but still good. I refused to take a picture of them because they were hideous.

The next time after that, I was just trying to make use out of extra cake bits that I had shaved off while sculpting a large cake. I added too much frosting, and had to chuck them.

Our oldest daughter Eowyn started a new dance season today, and in celebration (and also to practice) I decided to give cake pops another try. I saw this pin on Pinterest and thought, “I can do that!” I saw a tip on Pinterest on how to get a perfect bottom for “upside down” cake pops: you put the pops on top of a candy melt after dipping them. Mine did not turn out as great as the one in the tutorial however…

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Unfortunately I stubbornly tried this with the first half of the whole batch before giving up on it. It didn’t look quite as bad after it got dipped 2 more times. However, I didn’t prep the pops the way she recommends in the blog post by flattening the bottoms beforehand, because I have this bad habit of skimming and looking at pictures. Perhaps this time I will learn my lesson (but probably not).

The biggest issue that I had was the same one that haunts me with every chocolate project: getting the chocolate to melt and temper properly. I forgot to buy a candy thermometer again, so I had to wing it as far as trying to guess when it was ready. I have no idea what was wrong with it for the first half, but I obviously did something wrong because they looked janky:

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The second half I got right though:

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The real problem began when I tried to dip them a second time for the pink coat. The white chocolate from the pops were melting into the pink chocolate in the bowl, and the pink that got onto the pops crackled and looked like a turtle shell.

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I thought that maybe I added too much vegetable oil to that batch of candy melts, and decided to scrap that bowl and start over again. The second time I didn’t add any oil, yet I was getting the same results. I was running out of time and only had one more bag of candy melts left, so I sent a picture of my monstrosities to a friend of mine who used to work in a chocolate shop for years asking what the heck I was doing wrong. She said that the chocolate was too hot, so I stirred it until it was cooler and tried again. But, it was still cracking. Then I learned from my friend that once you’ve overheated the chocolate, it’s trash; it will never go on smooth. So down the drain went another batch of candy melts. I only had one bag left, and Eowyn was going around saying, “Oh no, now my dance class will be ruined! You should have done it the way Angelica would have, Mom!” [Angelica being my friend]

Thanks for the vote of confidence, kid.

The pressure was on–I HAD to get it right this time. Angelica shared three tips with me that ended up saving the day:

  1.  Melt the candy melts in the microwave for 10-15 second intervals
  2.  Throw in a few white chocolate melts to help the pink stuff to melt smoothly (the candy melts turn out really thick)
  3.  Freeze the cake pops for 15-30 minutes before dipping them, to help the chocolate harden

I did everything she said, and found this YouTube video on how to make these ballerina cake pops (which I am still kicking myself for not finding earlier, so that I could have actually done it properly), and finally got the results I was hoping for! Mind you, they are not perfect, but I am still really proud of how they turned out.

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I threw the melted candy in a piping bag to do the laces and bow, but only had enough of the pink stuff to do half of the batch. The rest got a second dip in white chocolate and some pink sprinkles and pearls. Then I wrapped them all individually with treat bags that I found at Hobby Lobby (a pack of 50 for $2) and a pink ribbon tied in a bow and called it a day.

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All of the girls in Eowyn’s dance class loved their ballerina cake pops, and there were plenty left over, so I left the rest with the dance teacher for one of her other classes. In the car after her class, Eowyn said, “Thanks Mom for making my dance class so special! You’re the best!” Which of course, made it all worth it.

Things I learned on my adventure:

  1. DO RESEARCH FIRST! There are so many tutorials out there for different techniques that I don’t take advantage of. I see something on Pinterest and think, “I can do that!”, get overly excited and jump into it without trying to learn how to do it first. I would have saved myself so much time and energy if I had found that video before I was knee deep in burned pink chocolate.
  2. Buy a candy thermometer. Seriously could have saved myself $6 had I not burned the first two batches of candy melts.
  3. Add more frosting to the cake next time. It’s such a fine balance between too much and too little frosting with these things. But a handful of the sticks came out while I was dipping the pops, so I think the cake “mix” needed more frosting to bind it all together.
  4. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The only way that I will ever get better at cake pops is if I keep trying to make them. I can’t let myself get so frustrated that I never try again.

 

At the end of the day, I pulled it off. But I will keep working on perfecting the art of chocolate, because I want to be able to make beautiful things.

Cheers to future baking adventures!

 

My Eggo is Prego: 23rd & 24th Weeks

I warned you all that the 23rd week wasn’t going to happen. We were visiting family in California that week; I would have had to publish that post the day of our Disneyland trip. Not happening! As I also forewarned: both of these weeks were insane! Hopefully you can all follow my spastic mind as I try to rehash all of the many happenings.

Ok, here we go…

23 Weeks

23 Weeks

Wisconsin has decided to baptize me with all weather abnormalities as if it’s trying to scare me off or something. We’ve had what the natives swear is an abnormal amount of rain this June; streets keep flooding and the rivers have virtually no beaches because the water is unnaturally high. On the plus side, we have yet to use our sprinkler system. Having grown up in a dry, mostly hot state, I’m loving all of the free water! After you have to pay a lot of money to water your lawn, you grow to appreciate rain. So while all the natives are complaining, I say– bring it on Wisconsin! You’re going to have to do a lot more than shower me with the blessing of free water every other day to drive me away.

The day this picture was taken, we were on our way to a birthday party for the little boy of an old friend of my husband’s. They had rented a bouncy house, so of course it poured rain. Not just drizzled like what is seen in the picture; literally pouring buckets of rain. As a gift, I made a (pretty awesome, if I say so myself) Lego cake which was covered in fondant, and we had quite the time getting it inside the house because the moment we pulled up, all the heavens opened up and let out a torrent. Tyler and I were soaked through, but the cake made it with only a few droplets on it. Once the rain let up, the bounce house was re-inflated and the kids got soaked jumping and slipping and sliding all over it. It was a lot of fun, and the cake was a hit.

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Two days later, we were on a plane to California. Baby Ary does not travel well, and despite us booking a month in advance, the airline screwed up our seats for both of our flights, so it was a very long day. Ary was literally screaming on my hip when we walked onto the first flight, and so I thought it would be a cinch to get whichever poor soul who was assigned to the seat next to me to switch with Tyler. But low and behold, I manage to get seated to the one guy on this earth who thought it was a good idea to give me a hard time. “Excuse me sir, but would you mind switching seats with my husband so that we can sit together?”, I yell over a screaming Ary. The guy sighs and asks while rolling his eyes, “Well…does he have an aisle seat?” I try to control my face and fail miserably as I contemplate this odd creature that would actually deliberate sitting next to Ary in her fit-throwing state over moving to a possibly non-aisle seat. If it had been me, I would have taken the middle seat sandwiched between obese, sweaty men so long as it was away from someone else’s screaming baby. Once I realized that this guy was serious, I turn around and yell over Ary and across 7 rows to Tyler and ask if he has an aisle seat. “Sorry, but he has a center seat”, I reply to the odd creature. After more sighing and head shaking, he asks, “Well, can he get my bag up there? I’ll switch if he can get my bag up there.” At this point, I almost wanted to sit next to him and make him endure the wrath of Baby Ary for 2 1/2 hours just to piss him off. Luckily, Tyler was able to get his precious bag next to the inferior seat so the guy switched with him. But honestly, who would choose this pissed off baby just to sit in an aisle seat???

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I certainly would not.

Once we finally got to California, we had a great time seeing our family and friends. It was impossible to see everyone that we wanted to, but given that we were only there for a week, I’m so grateful for any time that we got to spend with our loved ones. We went to the LA Zoo, Newport Beach, and Disneyland. Disneyland was at the end of our trip, so the girls were pretty tired. But they still had the time of their lives! Thanks to their awesome parents who waited in line for 2 1/2 hours while they went on rides with the grandparents and Auntie, they got to meet the Frozen sisters. They also scored meetings with Minnie Mouse, Cinderella, Mulan, Snow White, and even got to have a tea party with Alice and the Mad Hatter. When Baby Ary saw Snow White, she went right under the red rope and ran straight to her! It was the most adorable thing in the world. Eowyn is usually so star struck when she meets the characters that she doesn’t talk to them, but by the 6th one (Cinderella), she opened up and actually talked to her! I was so proud that I almost started crying.

We almost got to see Rapunzel, but right as we were walking into the line, a Cast Member literally jumped in front of us and said in a snarky tone, “We’re done!” Now we understand that the characters can only be out for so long, and that if they make allowances for one kid then they have to do it for every other one that comes along. But we were 2 feet away from being in line, and there was no one else trying to get in line behind us. We tried to explain to the guy that we were from out of state and that Rapunzel was one of our daughter’s favorites, but the guy was not budging. He wasn’t out right rude, but he spat out his Disney script with an “I don’t give a shit” tone and sent us away to try to explain to our now crying toddler why she couldn’t meet Rapunzel when she was standing right there. We were so focused on distracting her after that, that it wasn’t until right before we left later on that night that it occurred to me to file a complaint at City Hall. The customer service representative that we spoke to was really nice and felt genuinely bad about what had happened to us. She asked how long we were going to be in town, but we were leaving in 2 days. Then she said, “Well unfortunately, it’s too late in the day to schedule a meet and greet. Do you know when you’ll be coming back for another visit?” If we had thought to go straight to City Hall right after the incident, they would have pulled Rapunzel for a private meet and greet for Eowyn! Disney has the best customer service. How I wish we would have thought about it right away! That would have made Eowyn’s life. So, if any of you ever have any problems while at Disneyland, go to customer service right away. As long as you’re nice and respectful, they will take great care of you.

Aside from the Rapunzel incident, it was a really fantastic day. And it would not have happened had it not been for our wonderful friends who signed us in for free, saving us almost $300 in admission costs, which we definitely could not afford.

 

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I ended up making 3 cakes while we were out there. One of my close friend’s son turned one and the person who was going to do the cake flaked on her a week beforehand. She asked if I could do the cake, and honestly I had really wanted to do it from the get go. So even though it was crazy squeezing it in, I’m so honored to have been the one to make the cake for this little guy’s first birthday. My friend and I joke all the time about arranging the marriage of Baby Ary and her son, Declan, so I wanted to be the one to make my future son-in-law’s first birthday cake. The theme was The Great Gatsby, so the cake was art deco inspired. Considering that I was working in a foreign kitchen with different brands of ingredients on vacation, I am damn proud of these cakes. Thankfully one of my best friends came over to the house that we were staying at after spending the day at the beach with us to help me finish it. We started at 9 pm, and she stayed until 1:30 am even though she lived 45 minutes away and had an appointment at 8 am the next morning. I truly have the best friends in the world.

Art Deco Fondant Cake

Art Deco Fondant Cake

Piping Detail on Art Deco Fondant Cake

Piping Detail on Art Deco Fondant Cake

Matching Art Deco Smash Cake

Matching Art Deco Smash Cake

One Happy Birthday Boy

One Happy Birthday Boy

My 24th week started on Disneyland day, so I forgot to get a prego selfie. My mom snagged one of me at the beach 2 days earlier though, so that will have to do.

24 Weeks

24 Weeks

One of my proudest pregnant moments with this one was at the beach. I’ve had this maternity bathing suit since I was pregnant with Baby Ary, but I started this pregnancy 15 pounds lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight with Ary. While I was swimming in the ocean, my bottoms kept slipping down! So at 6 months pregnant, I can proudly say that my maternity bathing suit is too big! My weight has been such a struggle since having kids, and I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on it. After Henderson is born, I’m going to work even harder to finally shed the baby weight that I put on with Eowyn that’s been clinging on for nearly 4 years.

The third cake that I made was an early birthday cake for my mom. She’s turning 50 in August and I have to miss it. I really wanted to surprise her with a beautiful piano cake, because she loves to play. Unfortunately, the fondant was not playing nicely that day, so her cake is on the Pinstrosity level. But again, I was working in a foreign kitchen, and at this point I was literally running on fumes (I gave it to her on our family get together which was the day after Disneyland). It still tasted delicious and she loved it, which is all that matters. For anyone who was under this false illusion that I’m super woman, take a good long look at this:

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I am not perfect. I cannot do it all. But, I always keep trying.

Our week in California went by like a whirlwind. We had a wonderful time, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to go home. We crammed so much into those 8 days, that we’ve spent this last week just trying to catch up on sleep. But I am eternally grateful to my grandmother, who paid for our airfare to come out; my dad and step mom who hosted all of our craziness, let us eat all of their food, and allowed me to turn their kitchen into a bakery; and my mom who treated us to many a lunches and a day at the Zoo. I am very happy to have had that time with all of you.

But of course, Friday was the 4th of July, so we had to crawl out of our post vacation hibernation to celebrate. My in-laws rented a boat and we invited some friends, and had a good old fashioned American 4th. We ate hamburgers for dinner and watched an awesome fireworks show from the middle of the St. Croix River. Of course, I had to make a cake, but I opted for cupcakes this time since it would be cumbersome to serve slices of cake on a boat.

Red, White, and Blue 4th of July Cupcakes

Red, White, and Blue 4th of July Cupcakes

The girls had so much fun watching the fireworks with their friends and it was such a treat to kick back on a boat for half a day. Because of the high waters, there was a no wake rule enforced, so no one could go faster than about 6 mph. That made it a long day, because it took us about 2 hours each way to drive from the port to the fireworks show. But when we were heading back after the fireworks were over, both the girls fell asleep and it was so peaceful to be cruising under the stars in the chilly night air. It was one of the best 4th of July celebrations I’ve ever had.

With all of the happenings the last two weeks, I really haven’t had a chance to focus on poor Henderson at all. Baby #3 has just been going along for the ride. I can say though, that Henderson loved the World of Color show at California Adventure. Baby was moving around from the beginning to the end! Maybe we have yet another dancer coming our way. I’m seeing a lot more of the movements, although I’m always alone when it happens so poor old Dad hasn’t felt or seen anything yet.

Here’s to a week filled with a whole lot of nothing, because this Mama is tired! Oh wait, I have to potty train Baby Ary. Shit.

 

Baby Stats for Week 23:

-Baby is about the size of a large mango

-Blood vessels in the lungs are developing

-Baby’s sense of hearing is sharpening

 

Baby Stats for Week 24:

-Baby is about 1 1/3 pounds and 12 inches long (about the length of an ear of corn)

-Baby’s brain is developing faster now

-Capillaries are forming under the skin and inside the lungs

-Surfactant (a substance which helps the lungs to expand) is beginning to develop

-Baby’s nostrils are starting to open up this week, so baby will be doing practice “breathing”

-Vocal cords are functioning now, so I’m likely to begin feeling hiccups soon

My Eggo is Prego: 22 Weeks

22 Weeks

22 Weeks

In keeping with the trend of this month, this week was quite busy. June ended up being PACKED, and it’s not going to let up until after the 4th of July.

This week started on Father’s Day (don’t worry; I put makeup on in the car after we took this picture). We drove to a town 2 hours away to spend the afternoon with family. My husband’s grandpa turned 80 on Tuesday, so it was a combination Father’s Day/Birthday celebration. We went to the same restaurant that we always gather at and feasted on their delicious family style fried chicken dinner. I (of course) made a birthday cake. Since it was for the big 8-0, I thought it would be fun to make the cake look like a newspaper and put headlines and facts from the year he was born. Unfortunately, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were all coming to power the year he was born, and the U.S. was in the middle of the Great Depression, so it was a bit hard to find “happy” headlines to include. Although nothing says ‘birthday cake’ like slapping ‘HITLER DECLARES HIMSELF FUHRER’ on it in big, bold letters.

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The restaurant had live music on their patio, so Tyler and the girls did an impromptu Daddy/Daughter dance after dinner. Moments like these are the stuff of life. I will never forget those 2 minutes where everything around us disappeared, and we were filled with pure happiness because we were together, just living on love. It’s moments like this that make life worth it.

The next day, one of my friends from California came to spend the week with us. I’ve been friends with this girl since first grade! She’s our first California visitor who has come during decent weather, so of course Wisconsin decides to make it rain the entire time. Luckily she was a good sport about it. We still had fun just hanging out together. Two of the days held in the rain until evening, so we were able to take the kids to the river and explore the downtown area a bit. My mother-in-law (who is a Stella & Dot stylist) had another jewelry party so we left Tyler with the kids and had a girl’s night out. I let my friend drink my glass of wine, considering I’m pregnant and all. It’s always nice to have an adult evening, and especially so if it includes gorgeous jewelry (if you’re interested in buying any jewelry, I’d recommend heading over to my mother-in-law’s website; I just love Stella & Dot’s stuff!) We also made it to the Mall of America, which is always fun! My friend loves shopping, so it was love at first sight for her. We took the kids to the Nickelodeon Universe theme park that they have there, so they had a blast. The week flew by though; it seemed like I had just picked her up from the airport, but then there I was dropping her off again! I am so grateful that she spent her vacation with us.

The girls and I at the river

The girls and I at the river

My friend with the girls on the carousel

My friend with the girls on the carousel

We’ve only been in Wisconsin for 8 months, so there are some things that I’m still adjusting to. Like not having toilet seat covers in public restrooms, for instance. This week opened my eyes to two different things:

  1. Don’t go to “the beach” and expect it to actually be there. Growing up in Southern California, the “beach” is always the beach. Here, the “beaches” do not run the entire length of the rivers; there are small sections of sand here and there. And apparently when you’ve had a horrible winter like the one we just had, it means that the “beaches” remain flooded much longer than they are supposed to. Imagine our shock as 2 California girls to find this when we decided to go to “the beach”: wpid-20140617_141215.jpg
  2. Bug spray needs to be put into your monthly budget come June. The mosquitoes and other flying insects intensify with the humidity. I found this thing in our garage the other day. I was completely disturbed because I’d never seen anything like this, so I did what any other rational adult would do: I took a picture of it, ran screaming into the house after failing to kill it, and then posted it on Facebook asking if anyone knew what it was. I thought for sure that it was native to the Midwest, but a bunch of my SoCal friends knew what it was. Apparently if I would have gone camping ever in my life, I would have seen one. But I don’t camp. I’m just happy to hear that they eat mosquitoes and not people. They’re called ‘crane flies’, in case you’re ignorant like me.

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The pregnancy continues to do well. Henderson kicks and moves more and more every week. Sleeping is difficult, but that’s to be expected when you have another person moving around your insides all night. This was my last week of the fifth month; it’s getting real now, guys!

 

Baby Stats:

-Baby is about a whopping 1 pound and measuring around 11 inches, about the size of a spaghetti squash

-The lips, eyes, and eyebrows are becoming more distinct

-The eyes are formed, but the irises still lack pigment

-Tiny tooth bubs are developing underneath the gums

-The pancreas is still steadily developing

 

I’ll leave you with an adorable family selfie. Here’s to another busy (but fun) week!

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Dairy Free Moist Chocolate Cake

I went 18 years before ever having chocolate. I was born with my dairy allergy, and like most people, my parents thought that all chocolate had milk in it. It wasn’t until I was cast in a play my senior year of high school that someone told me about dark chocolate, which does not contain milk. My character was scripted to eat her sister’s box of chocolates on stage, taking a bite out of each one and then putting them back. I brought up in the first read through that that was going to be a problem because of my allergy, only to be met with the prop manager looking at me with a quizzical eye and saying, “But you can have dark chocolate, right?” That play not only opened the world of theatre to me (which is still my life and passion to this day), but also gave me the best thing this world has to offer: CHOCOLATE!

Ever since that fateful day, I have been on a mission to learn how to make all the chocolate desserts I had heard so much about. Chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate, brownies, truffles, chocolate covered strawberries, and ganache are all things that I have successfully made without using a lick of dairy. One of my goals in life is to find a way to make a dairy free version of every chocolate delicacy that exists.

Which brings me to my all time favorite chocolate cake recipe. It’s moist, but not so dense that you feel like you’re eating fudge (or what I would imagine eating fudge would be like, as I have not figured out a way to make it without milk yet). It has a rich, chocolately taste that is to die for. Similarly to my vanilla cake recipe, I completely failed at getting the Pinterest slice of beautifully frosted cake shot. When I was photographing my process for both of these recipes, I was doing it for a birthday party and I did most of the baking after the kids had gone to sleep. Time was definitely not on my side, and I was focused on getting it done so that I could get to bed. Once I finally got the dinosaur cake to the party, the last thing that I was thinking about was getting a picture of a slice of cake. I was just relieved to have made it there with the thing still in tact! So please forgive my inexperience in writing food blog posts; live and learn!

This recipe is from my Hershey’s Recipe Collection book that my mom got for me ages ago. I love this book; it’s full of wonderful chocolate recipes. If you’re a chocoholic, then I definitely recommend it!

 

Ingredients:

-2 cups of sugar

-2 eggs

-1 cup of almond milk

-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

-1 3/4 cups of flour

-3/4 cup of cocoa powder

-1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

-1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

-1 teaspoon of salt

-1/2 cup of vegetable oil

-1 cup of boiling water

 

The one and only substitution to make this recipe dairy free was to swap almond milk for regular milk. Easy peasy. Of course, soy milk or coconut milk would work fine too.

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your pan, or put liners in your cupcake pan. This recipe will make two dozen cupcakes, or two 8″ rounds, or one 12.8″ x 9.5″ sheet cake.

Cream together the eggs and SIFTED sugar (you must sift the sugar, otherwise you’re likely to get lumps). I am a big believer in scraping the sides of the bowl before adding in a new ingredient. If you skip this tedious step, you will end up will lumps of batter on the sides that never got mixed in properly. So, scrape the sides of the bowl. Every time. Or you will regret it.

Next, SIFT in the flour and mix. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

Set your mixer to ‘stir’ and slowly add the milk and the vanilla extract. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

Then you SIFT in the cocoa powder and mix well. While it’s mixing, throw in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Once it’s all mixed in, slow your mixer down to the ‘stir’ setting once more, and add the vegetable oil. Then bump it up to speed 2 until it’s mixed in. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

Return the batter to the ‘stir’ setting and SLOWLY add the boiling water. Trust me, splashes of boiling water to the face hurt badly; take your time pouring it in. Once all the water is mixed in, scrape the sides of your bowl one more time and mix in the lumps until your spatula comes out looking like this:

The batter will be very thin

The batter will be very thin

Bake for 20-35 minutes (depending on if you’re making a sheet cake or cupcakes), or until the middle is springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

I didn’t even get a crappy pan shot of this cake for you guys… Epic fail. The next time I make it, I promise to get the Pinterest picture and update this pathetic post. But for now, you will have to trust me when I say that this cake is the best chocolate cake in the world. Unless you like dry cake, in which case you’ll hate this because it is very moist. But seriously, who in their right mind has ever said, “I’m really in the mood for chocolate cake. But dry cake; non of the moist crap.”

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My thoughts exactly Will Smith.

Dinosaur Cupcake Cake Tutorial

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I offered to make a dinosaur cupcake cake for the daughter of one of my friends back in May, and decided it was the perfect opportunity to do my first baking post on my blog. My friend wanted both chocolate and vanilla cupcakes incorporated, and I also ended up using both vanilla and chocolate frostings in the design. I will be including the recipes for both cakes and frostings, but will give each recipe it’s own post. Otherwise this would be the longest blog post in the history of blog posts.

Click here for my vanilla cake recipe. Click here for my chocolate cake recipe.

**The other recipes are still on my to-do list. I wanted to get this post published, because it’s been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder for weeks and I’m sick of sitting on it. Check back for the chocolate and vanilla buttercream recipes later.**

You will need a total of 20 cupcakes to make the dinosaur, a lot of chocolate frosting, a very small amount of black frosting, and an even smaller amount of white frosting. As you can see from the picture, I added “grass” cupcakes around the dinosaur. In retrospect, I wish that I would have used mini-cupcakes for the grass because, as you can see from the picture, there are empty spots where I couldn’t fit a regular sized cupcake. Or you could always pipe the grass directly onto the cake board, which would really be the only way that you could be sure to fill in every nook and cranny. Let me just state here and now that I am by no means a professional cake decorator, nor do I aspire to be. I’ve never even taken a decorating class. This is my hobby. I’m completely self taught, and therefore make a lot of mistakes because I’m making this up as I go along. But I learn from my mistakes, and get better with each cake I do.

Once you have your cupcakes baked and cooled and your frostings tinted and ready to go, lay out your cake board. I used an 11 x 14 size, but wished I had gone one size up because it was a little difficult to get all of the necessary cupcakes to fit on the board. Live and learn.

A quick tip–when you’re not using your frosting, keep the bowl covered with a damp paper towel so it doesn’t dry out. Be sure that the paper towel is not dripping though, because the extra water will ruin the consistency of the frosting.

The first step is to lay out the cupcakes in the desired shape (in this case, a dinosaur). I based my dinosaur shape off of this pin that I found on Pinterest. I went with a T-Rex because if you’re doing a dinosaur cake, you should pick the most badass dino out there. Plus, the shape is easy to translate into cupcakes.

Can you see the T-Rex?

Can you see the T-Rex?

Once you’re happy with the shape, SECURE THE CUPCAKES TO THE BOARD. This is a very important step. It would be a crying shame to do all this work just to have the cupcakes fall off the board during transit. Frosting is a cake decorator’s glue. Just put a dab on the bottom of each cupcake and place back on the board. Once that frosting hardens, those babies aren’t going anywhere.

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After all the cupcakes have been secured, the fun part begins. The trick to cupcake cakes is making the cupcakes appear to be one surface from the top. To do this, you have to carry your piping from one cupcake to the next. I went with a swirl design because quite frankly, it’s just the easiest to accomplish this seamless look. I chose to go with the Wilton tip #18, which looks like this:

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Oops–skipped a step. If you do not know how to properly insert a coupler into your icing bag, you unscrew the ring and push the coupler as far down the icing bag as you can.

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Then you’ll want to trim the bag where the bottom most groove hits (notated by the black arrow). After the bag is trimmed, gently push the coupler down until it fits snugly at the bottom, put the icing tip on, and secure it with the coupler ring.

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Fold the icing bag down halfway, and fill it with your chocolate icing, being careful not to allow too many air bubbles in. Don’t fill the bag more than halfway because if it’s too full, it will spill out of the top while you’re piping and make a big mess. Do your best to burp out any air bubbles, and twist the top shut tight.

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I decided to make my dinosaur brown instead of green like the picture of my inspiration cake, because I’ve seen Jurassic Park a million times and know that T-Rexs are brown. Plus I hate coloring frosting, and avoid it at all costs. Plus chocolate frosting is amazing.

To do the swirl design, start on a cupcake on the edge (ex: the one that will have the dino’s eye or mouth). Pipe a dot in the center of the cupcake and let it rise, and without releasing pressure, begin to swirl the frosting around that initial dot. Continue to swirl around until you reach the outer rim of the cupcake. You have to be aware ahead of time of which cupcake you are going to next so that you can continue the line from one cupcake to the next.

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As you can see from the picture, the next cupcake’s swirl will start from the outside and work in. Don’t try to connect this cupcake to another cupcake, because you’ll mess up the swirl design. You can only connect two cupcakes to each other. Then you have to fill in the gaps afterwards.

There was a section that got away from me while I was trying to fill in some of these gaps.

Ugly piping

Ugly piping

I took my flat icing spatula and carefully removed the offending sections.

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Then I tried again. I did straight lines from one cupcake to the next to fill in the gap, and made new swirls along the edges of the ones that needed it, doing my best to tuck the ends of the swirls in.

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The frosting “bridges” over the bigger gaps ended up collapsing on me, so I finally wised up and piped frosting down into the gap, filling it from the cake board all the way up, and adding swirls on top of it to make it look like it all flowed together. Of course, I did this fix literally minutes before we left, so I didn’t get a picture of it. But trust me, it looked a lot better. Learn from my mistake, and fill the holes up with frosting. It’s messy when you’re serving those sections but it looks so much better as a cohesive piece.

The Dinosaur after finishing the chocolate frosting layer

The Dinosaur after finishing the chocolate frosting layer

Now it’s time to add the details so that other people can tell that it’s a dinosaur. The detailing for this was actually pretty easy: one eye (since this is meant to be a profile shot), a mouth, claws on the foot and hand, and spine detailing.

I used the #7 Wilton tip for the eye.

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I then piped the outline of the eye, and filled it in. Easy peasy.

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For all of the black frosting details (the pupil of the eye, the outline of the mouth, the claws, and the spine detailing) I used a #3 Wilton tip.

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Tinting homemade frosting to black has proven to be very challenging for me in the past. I’ve only ever tried Wilton’s black icing tint, and honestly I don’t like Wilton’s icing tints. The colors don’t always turn out the way I hoped and they almost always give a funky taste to the frosting. I’ve used AmeriColor before, and I much prefer that brand. But I have to order it online because I can’t find it in any stores where I live. I didn’t have time to order any before this party, so I made life easy on myself and picked up a pre-made black icing from the grocery store and used that. I tried sticking the container itself directly in the piping bag, but it was too hard to squeeze. So I just squeezed it from the container into my bag. It tasted much better than the Wilton stuff and the color was a perfect black, unlike the purple-ish black you get with Wilton.

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For the mouth I piped a large V on one of the cupcakes, and then piped some short, straight lines in white (also using #3 Wilton tip) for the teeth. Easy.

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The claws were just triangles that I piped and then filled in. Easy.

Hand claws

Hand claws

Foot claws

Foot claws

I did all of the decorating work for this cake the morning of the party, so I was really pressed for time (we ended up being half an hour late to the party). In the moment, it seemed best (and by best I mean easiest) to just continue using the same tiny icing tip to pipe the spine detail rather than take the 30 seconds to switch it out for one with a larger opening. In truth, I’m not entirely happy with how this part turned out. It would have looked much better if the lines were bigger. Live and learn. I just piped a zig-zag going from one end to the other over and over again until it was completely filled in.

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And voila! Your dino is done.

On to the grass cupcakes. Like I mentioned earlier, I hate coloring frosting. It’s hard to get the color just right, and for whatever reason, it tends to separate on me (meaning that the frosting has white streaks through the color). Food coloring never streaks on me, and never gives my frosting a funky taste. But it’s tricky using it with frosting because of it’s liquid form; it will quickly make your frosting runny. So even though I knew I would get a better grass color using proper frosting tint, I chose taste over color and went with food coloring. So my grass was far from the perfect green, but it was still green and it tasted good. To pipe these I used the Wilton grass tip #233.

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The face of the cupcake shows through the grass piping, so you have to ice a thin layer with an icing spatula before you start piping.

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Starting from the outside, I piped little “tuffs” of grass in a circle around the cupcake, working my way in. Start your tip right on the cupcake and quickly pull up, releasing pressure fairly quickly. I never worry about every tuff looking exactly the same because it’s supposed to be grass for goodness sake. Don’t over think it.

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Once all of your grass is done, secure those cupcakes on the board, doing your best to fill it in.

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And just like that, you have an awesome dinosaur cupcake cake! And honestly–it’s not that hard. But it is sure to impress your guests! Mine was a hit at the party : )

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I know what you’re wondering: how did I manage to get all of this done with the kids? Answer: let them terrorize the house while I plugged away working.

Baby Ary sitting in my cookie cutter drawer.

Baby Ary sitting in my cookie cutter drawer.

You’ve gotta pick and chose your battles, folks.

Dairy Free Moist Vanilla Cake

Like the complete sham that I am, I neglected to get the quintessential Pinterest picture of a single piece of beautifully frosted cake for this recipe. This is my very first recipe post and I’ve already screwed up. What ever will I do with myself?

Although my “finished” product picture is just a crappy pan shot, please trust me when I say that this cake is DELICIOUS. I refuse to produce dry cake, so white cake had been a challenge for me for awhile. Every recipe that I tried was dry, uninspiring, and sad. No one wants to eat sad cake; cake should make you feel happy. This cake makes people happy. It’s moist, fluffy, and delicate, but not so delicate that it can’t hold it’s own. I use this recipe for cupcakes all the time, and they stay put together as you peel the wrapper off. It also works well for layer cakes, standing proudly without any sag.

Like most of the recipes I use, this is not of my own invention. But let’s be honest here–very few people can actually take credit for “inventing” a recipe, and most of them probably died a very long time ago. We all borrow from one another, adding our own tweak here and there. Any cake recipe starts with the same foundation: flour, sugar, fat [butter, shortening, oil], and leavening ingredients [eggs, baking soda, baking powder]. I think it’s silly for anyone to get their panties in a bunch over someone else sharing THEIR recipe; no one has exclusive rights to any one recipe because IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE. Many times. Before you were born even. But I digress. I will always give credit where credit is earned; I’m not here to try to take credit for anything that is not truly mine. However I refuse to feel guilty for “stealing” someone else’s recipes. If you don’t want people sharing your stuff, then don’t put it on the internet.

This recipe is from Allrecipes.com and can be found here.

Ingredients you will need:

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-1/2 cup of vegetable shortening

-3 teaspoons of water

-2 cups of sugar

-3 egg yolks

-1 whole egg

-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

-2 cups of flour

-1/2 cup of almond milk

-1/2 teaspoon of salt

-1 teaspoon of baking soda

-1 teaspoon of baking powder

-1 cup of boiling water

There was only one substitution I made to make this into a non-dairy cake: I swapped almond milk for buttermilk. Soy milk is a better substitution for buttermilk because you can “sour” it by adding distilled white vinegar or lemon juice to it. I usually add 4 teaspoons of either the vinegar or the lemon juice for every 1 cup of milk. So for this recipe, use 2 teaspoons. But, you cannot “sour” almond milk. It gets curdled and ruins the overall consistency of the cake. The reason I chose to use almond milk is because my youngest daughter used to have a soy intolerance. She seems to have grown out of it, but as she’s only 1, I’d rather be safe than sorry. The almond milk works fine as a substitute, but if you can use soured soy milk, do that instead.

First things first–preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you are doing a cake, then grease and flour the pan; if you are doing cupcakes like me, put the liners in (this recipe will make 2 dozen cupcakes, or two 8″ rounds, or one 12.8″ x 9.5″ sheet cake).

Then you’ll want to enlist the help of adorable tiny humans in aprons to be your assistants.

The sweetest thing

The sweetest thing

Now, in a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening with the water with the back of a spoon. They will not incorporate; you just want to soften the shortening. If you ever use a baking recipe that requires shortening, always soften it with water first. The ratio is 6 teaspoons of water for every 1 cup of shortening.

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Next, sift the sugar into the shortening/water mixture, and cream until fluffy (on my Kitchen Aid mixer, I start at the number 2 speed and work up to the number 4 speed for a minute or so). YOU MUST SIFT THE SUGAR. Unless you like lumps in your cake, in which case don’t bother with the sifting.

Also, the kids LOVE the sifting part

Also, the kids LOVE the sifting part

The next step is one that will repeat: scrape the sides of the bowl. To me, this is so important, because otherwise you end up with lumps of ingredients on the sides of your bowl that never got mixed in with the rest of the batter. So every time you add an ingredient you must scrape the bowl before adding the next thing. Yes it’s tedious and you’ll want to skip it every time, but trust me–it’s worth it.

Now it’s time to add the eggs. If you don’t know how to separate eggs, here’s how I do it:

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Crack the egg, and gently move the yolk from one part of the shell to the other, allowing the egg white to fall into a bowl. Now the rule with separating eggs goes as such: it’s ok to get a bit of white in your yolk, but you can’t have any yolk in your whites. If you’re making something that requires egg whites, there absolutely cannot be even a spot of yolk in them. The whites will not whip up properly if there is. Egg yolks aren’t as picky; they’re ok if a bit of the white comes along for the ride.

Add each egg yolk and the whole egg one at a time, beating well in between each one. The mixture will get fluffy, as such:

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Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla extract and mix.

Sift the flour in, and mix until well incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

While the mixer is on the ‘stir’ setting, slowly pour the milk in. After all the milk has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the salt, baking powder and baking soda, and mix. Then scrape the sides of the bowl.

Again, while the mixer is on ‘stir’, SLOWLY pour the boiling water in (please be careful; you don’t want to add it in too fast and get a splash of boiling water to the face). After all of the water has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl one last time and mix in any lumps so that when you lift your flat spatula, it looks like this:

The batter will be very thin

The batter will be very thin

Bake at 350 degrees in a greased pan for 20-30 minutes (depending on if you’re making cupcakes or a sheet cake). You’ll know that the cake is done when the middle is springy to the touch, and when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Trust me--they're delicious!

Trust me–they’re delicious!

Let the cake cool completely before frosting, and enjoy!

 

My Eggo is Prego: 16 Weeks

16 Weeks

16 Weeks

 

This week started off with a birthday party for one of Eowyn’s friends from dance class. We’ve become friends with the family, so the girls know each other from more than just dance. Cake decorating is a hobby of mine, so I offered to make the cake to help take some of the load off from the mom because I know first hand how much work goes into these kid parties. It was a dinosaur themed party, so I put together a dinosaur cupcake cake:

Dinosaur Cupcake Cake

Dinosaur Cupcake Cake

 

I photographed the whole process, so I’m planning on putting together a tutorial post on how I made it soon. Not gonna lie–I’m pretty proud of how this one turned out.

The party was fun, but Eowyn kind of had a hard time playing with the other kids. They didn’t really seem to want to play with her. The birthday girl and her sister, both of whom Eowyn has had many play dates with, were too busy playing with the other kids to include Eowyn. It was so heart breaking to watch our lovely little girl have such a hard time fitting in with the other kids. The mama bear part of me wanted to step in and tell those kids to include her, put I know that she has to learn how to socialize with her peers on her own. So I bit my lip, and watched the ever so painful process of my little girl learning a hard life lesson: sometimes, making friends isn’t easy. I used to be very shy when I was growing up, always feeling awkward in social situations with new people. Which made it so much worse for me to watch my baby girl go through the same thing. But, she is stronger than I was, for she never stopped trying to play with the other kids. And when they were off somewhere and she couldn’t find them, she didn’t pout for long. She just started playing on her own, or with her sister, or with Tyler and I. Although it was hard to watch her struggle, I was very proud of her for never giving up and finding ways to have fun regardless of how rude the other kids were being towards her.

The rest of my week kind of got consumed by sickness. Tyler and I came down with a nasty stomach bug Wednesday night, which hit us full force on Thursday. I got it worse than him, and spent the entire day in and out of the bathroom. Thankfully the girls did not get it, but that meant trying to take care of two energetic girls while being sick as a dog. Speaking of dogs, we also had to deal with our Aussie-Shepherd freaking out all day because of the never ending thunder storms. It was a very long day. Tyler’s mom risked infecting herself by coming to our rescue half way through the day, bringing medicine, gatorade, and soup with her. We were finally able to rest without the girls jumping on us, and she even stayed long enough to put them to bed and do our dishes for us. Such a God send. By the end of the day, I weighed myself out of curiosity and was shocked to see that I had lost 9 pounds! I didn’t even know it was possible to lose 9 pounds in a day. I think that’s the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. It was only by the grace of God that I was able to get through it.

The sickness only lasted a day, but I woke up on Friday feeling totally drained (I wonder why). I was having heart palpitations and was really light headed, so I went to the ER. I figured I needed IV fluids, but after some tests, they told me that I had done a really good job of drinking water despite being so sick because I wasn’t that dehydrated. I was just exhausted. My body needed rest and more fluids, but no need for the IV stuff. Considering I have a thing about needles, I was happy to go home un-poked. Just to be safe, they did an ultrasound of Baby. Baby was fine; he/she was moving around so much that it was difficult for the doctor to get a read on the heartbeat. The two times that I’ve had an ultrasound, the first thing that both doctors commented on was how much Baby was moving; as if it’s a tad abnormal to see a baby move so much so early. Looks like we’ve got a super active baby on the way… Which is great, because you know, our first two kids are so boring and low energy…

Ary on the cat tree, turning on the fireplace on the day that I was dying.

Ary on the cat tree, turning on the fireplace on the day that I was dying.

 

When "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" came on this evening, Eowyn was up in arms (literally; hence the broomstick), yelling, "Seize Mickey! Seize him! He's a thief! We have to kill him!" Don't ask for an explanation, for I will never have one.

When “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” came on this evening, Eowyn was up in arms (literally; hence the broomstick), yelling, “Seize Mickey! Seize him! He’s a thief! We have to kill him!” Don’t ask for an explanation, for I will never have one.

 

I think New Baby will fit in just fine in this house.

As for me, I’m going to go enjoy the quiet of this Saturday night by reading my devotional, and rest up so that I can (hopefully) have my energy back for Mother’s Day tomorrow.

Oh! Baby Stats; I almost forgot:

-Baby is the size of an avocado; 4 1/2 inches long head to rump, and weighing 3 1/2 ounces

-The legs are much more developed

-The head is much more erect

-The eyes are moving closer to their final position (they start at the side of the head)

-The ears are also close to their final position (they start at the neck)

-The patterning of the scalp has started, although there isn’t any recognizable hair yet

-Toenails have started growing

 

Happy Sunday, everyone! And to all my fellow mamas out there: Happy Mother’s Day!