For those of you who have been following me know that I did a Frozen barbie cake for my girls’ birthday last November. It was the first time I had attempted a barbie cake and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The dolls were leaning because the structural integrity was so poor, the fondant seams were a mess, and the detailing was unfinished because I ran out of time.
I learned a lot from that cake.
A neighbor kid turned 5 earlier this month and had a Frozen party (of course!). For the first time I was on the fence about offering to do a cake. The baby has not been sleeping well; she usually wakes up 4 times a night, despite co-sleeping. This throws a wrench into any baking, because I usually get all of my cake work done at night once the girls are asleep. So with the baby’s schedule being so unpredictable, it seemed too risky to roll the dice this time. I would die if I wasn’t able to get a cake done after saying I would do it. Just when I was leaning strongly towards not doing it this time, my 4 year old asked me, “Mom, can you make a cake for my friend?” Looking into her big brown eyes brimming with excitement, I could not deny her request.
So I got in touch with my neighbor and told her that I would be happy to make her daughter a cake as a gift. “Maybe they’ll want something simple”, I said to myself. Kids love cupcakes, and cupcakes are easy! After browsing Pinterest, they sent me a picture of what the birthday girl wanted…
Definitely not a cupcake. Of course she wanted a barbie cake. What 5 year old girl wouldn’t want this cake? BUT I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN DO THIS CAKE!!!
After the initial panic subsided, I actually thought about it and realized that I could make this cake. Sure, my first attempt at a barbie cake was kind of a disaster. BUT – – I learned a lot from that disaster:
- Bake the top layer in a bowl. That way, the shape of the dress is already there and won’t need to be carved.
- Don’t make the frosting in between the layers too thick. You want a thin layer, really. Enough to act as glue and add some flavor, but nothing like what you would put in a tiered cake. Too much frosting causes instability.
- Don’t pick a cake recipe that is super moist, because it doesn’t hold up well to stacking high or carving. This has always been an issue for me because I believe that there is nothing worse than dry cake. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how pretty a cake looks if you get dry crumbs when you go to take a bite. The taste must match the beauty of the decorations, or else there’s no point. However, it’s very difficult to find recipes that are the perfect balance of moist yet sturdy.
- Chill out. No seriously–this cake needs to be chilled. Over and over again. So set aside enough time to do that.
- Details are key. I had to have enough time for the details of the dresses, otherwise it’s not a very interesting cake. Just a dome with dolls popping out.
That weekend was kind of busy for me, because aside from the birthday party, I also had committed to helping my mother-in-law with a jewelry party the night before. She is a stylist for Stella & Dot and one of her clients booked a party, where she brings all of her jewelry samples and the guests get to try everything on. These parties are always a lot of fun, but also a lot of work because my mother-in-law has a lot of samples. As in, it takes the two of us working together for an hour to set everything up. I knew that it was going to take up all of Friday night, and I knew that I couldn’t count on the baby sleeping. Since the birthday party was bright and early at 11 am Saturday morning, I knew that I had to get the cake done before I left for the Stella & Dot party on Friday evening or I would be screwed.
So I planned out my design. I found this YouTube video, which shows exactly how to make a single barbie cake. This is where I got the trick of baking the top tier in a bowl. Aside from the bowl cake, I knew I was going to need two 8″ rounds as well. I decided I was going to use this white cake recipe, swapping the milk for almond milk to make it dairy free. This recipe was perfect. The cake was strong enough to hold up to the stacking, but still moist and delicious. This will now be my go-to recipe for vanilla cake, because it’s kind of perfect in my opinion.
I decided to forgo the fondant this time around because it was already going to be challenging enough without adding the stress of frigging fondant. I wanted the frosting to be nice and firm, so I went with my fail-safe vanilla frosting. 4 ingredients: vegetable shortening, powdered sugar, a dash of almond milk and vanilla extract. Dairy free, delicious, and perfect for this job. One of these days, I’ll do a post with the recipe.
Elsa’s dress has a delicate ombré effect, which I decided to honor. Even though her dress doesn’t actually have snowflakes on it (those are only on the cape; can you tell I live with Frozen fanatics?), I couldn’t figure out a way to replicate the fancy ice shards seen on her skirt. If I was going to use fondant, I could have made scratches and dusted it with luster dust for sparkle. But scratch marks in buttercream just looked like I didn’t know how to frost properly. So, Elsa’s dress would need 4 colors: 3 shades of blue and white.
Anna’s dress has beautiful detailing along the hem of the skirt. The stripe at the bottom is a lighter shade of the blue of the skirt, but I wanted it to pop a bit more, so I decided I wanted to go with purple. A lot of artists had made that choice too, so I wasn’t too concerned about kids calling me out on it (except my own 4 year old, who is very detail oriented and noticed that it was wrong). The stems for the embroidered flowers are also a lighter tone of the blue of the skirt, but again I decided to go with a teal to make the design pop. I didn’t want to do all the work of piping all these details on if no one was going to notice them. Just like her sister, Anna was also going to require 4 colors: dark blue for her skirt, purple for the bottom stripe, and teal and fushia for the flowers.
Despite my well intentions of giving myself enough time to do this cake, motherhood got the better of me yet again and I wasn’t able to start it until Thursday night. Mind you, when I say ‘night’ I don’t mean right after dinner. I mean after the girls were in bed. Thankfully, God took mercy on my poor soul, and I was able to lay the baby down in her crib! Since I was going to be around people the next day, I had to make showering a priority. She was still sleeping when I got out, so I made a mad dash to the kitchen and got to baking! She slept long enough for me to get most of the batter done for the bowl cake; I had to fold the whipped egg whites in with her on my hip because she was not happy with Daddy.
I set the oven to 325° instead of 350° so the outside wouldn’t burn before the inside could bake. It ended up taking 70 long minutes to cook through, so if you do one of these cakes, be sure to plan for that extra bake time.
I hit the ground running Friday morning and baked the two 8″ rounds and made the frosting. The baking took awhile because I only have one 8″ pan. I contemplated using one of my 9″ pans so the cakes could bake at the same time, but I didn’t want to have to carve anything. I really didn’t want to mess anything up because I would not have the time to fix it. Coloring frosting takes for. ev. er. The dark blue for Anna’s dress didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The “dark blue” icing color that I bought looked more grey than blue. So I had to futz with it a bit, mixing in a lighter blue to get it to look blue. Note to self: buy more than 1 type of dark blue next time, so that I have more to work with!
Time was really getting away from me and I at least wanted to have the cake stacked and crumb coated before I had to leave. The last 8″ round was still a little warm, but I decided to flip it out of the pan anyways so it would cool faster.
That was a bad idea.
Luckily it split in a nice line down the middle, so I was able to save it.
I followed the lead of my YouTube video and used a circle cookie cutter to create a well in the middle of the tiers for the dolls’ legs. This was a huge saving grace when it came to structural integrity! With my first barbie cake, I just stuck the dolls in the cake without removing any first, and the moment I did that, the cake started cracking. Cutting holes in the middle worked beautifully!
I put my cracked cake at the bottom and patched it together with frosting. Luckily, it held up just fine and wasn’t a problem.
I put a thin layer of frosting on it to lock in the crumbs and popped it in the fridge while I went to the jewelry party.
In case you were wondering what I did with the baby while I was working – I stuck her in her activity chair on top of the counter.
As I anticipated, I didn’t get home until 9 that night. But God took mercy on me again, and I was able to lay the baby down in her crib! I went straight to the kitchen and started working again.
The first step was to wrap up the dolls’ legs in plastic wrap to protect them from the frosting. I did this by putting the dolls back to back and taping their legs together. Then I wrapped their legs in plastic wrap and spun tape around the plastic to make sure it would stay put.
I put the arms up so that they were out of the way, and then I slid them through the hole in the cake.
Using my spackling tool (which I only use on cakes, obviously), I marked where the two dresses met.
Next, I took my extra large cake icer icing tip (Wilton #789) and piped the icing for each skirt on in horizontal stripes. I used a small round #2 tip to get the icing on the dolls’ hips, and used a toddler butter knife to smooth it out on their backsides because it was too small a space for my icing spatula.
Next, I took my icing spatula and carefully smoothed the frosting. This was tricky with Elsa’s skirt in particular because of the ombré effect. I couldn’t just slab more icing on like I would with any other cake, because it would ruin the effect. You’ve really only got one shot at it, so make sure you use enough icing the first time you’re applying it and that you don’t scrape too much off when you’re smoothing it out. I started at the top, smoothing the flat part of the dome first. Then after wiping the spatula off, I lined it up vertically with the bottom of the skirt and smoothed the rest of it in one go.
I wasn’t able to get the frosting as smooth as I wanted because I couldn’t scrape over it more than the one time. But the ombré effect turned out nicely.
By the time I was done icing the skirts, the baby woke up. So I popped it in the fridge and called it a night.
The next morning I woke up early, hoping that I was giving myself enough time to finish the detailing before we had to leave for the party. Luckily, the older two girls ended up sleeping in until 9:30 so I wasn’t getting interrupted every 5 minutes. But the baby was wide eyed and bushy tailed, so I still had my hands full.
Since Elsa’s dress doesn’t technically have snowflakes on it and since I did the ombré effect, I decided that Anna’s detailing was more vital and focused on her first.
I started by piping a straight purple line along the hem of her skirt using Wilton tip #47.
Then I used my #2 tip and piped on the peaks.
If you wanted to be precise, you could use a ruler and toothpick to mark out exactly where each peak should hit. I free handed it because ain’t nobody got time fo dat!
Continuing with the #2 tip, I filled in each peak.
Then I smoothed it out with my handy dandy toddler knife.
Now on to the flowers. I started with the long stems, working it from the tip of the peaks up. Again, if you have the time, then you can measure and mark before piping. But I was really cutting it close, so again, I free handed it. After the stems were piped, I used a different #2 tip and did the simple pink tulip. Then I went back to the green and piped on the smaller leaf design that’s in between each peak.
This didn’t take that long, so I decided I had time for some snowflakes on Elsa. That was 100% free hand. I just took it one snowflake at a time, adding swirls to break it up. I then used a small closed star tip to pipe a line of white flowers along the seam where the two skirts meet so that it would look tidy.
I ended up finishing at 10:30! Luckily the venue was only 5 minutes away and my oldest girl and I were able to get ready fast.
The birthday girl loved it! Seeing her face light up when I brought it in made all the work worth it.
And that is how I was able to conquer the barbie cake.