Piece of cake, or massive mom guilt? – Part 1

Our son’s birthday was yesterday. The family birthday party is tomorrow. And, while this is not the first time we’ve thrown a family birthday party for our son, this might be the first year that I’ve thrown a sense of strategy into baking the birthday cake.

Some background: as we started planning our son’s first birthday party, I began scanning cake design ideas from local bakeries. And there are some cute first birthday cakes out there that don’t require a licensed character! As I started flagging favorites with little Post-Its, my husband asked, “aren’t you going to lovingly bake your son’s birthday cakes?”

Mom Guilt settled in for a nice long stay in my party planning psyche. Totally afloat, I cobbled together a strawberry cream cake that, while tasty and pleasant to look at, actually did not serve all the guests at the party. Mom guilt, meet hostess guilt.

Year two, the cake got bigger and the guest list a little smaller. Hostess guilt took a bath and Mom guilt was found lounging in the chaise lounge with some cucumber slices over her eyes.

And here we are. Year three. And there’s no party theme. (Mostly because He-Who-Did-Not-Want-To-Go-Overboard found himself suggesting ordering up some frog legs to serve after we sent out invitations with the drawing of a frog on them. That was our wake-up call.)

All told, we’ll be just under 20 cake eaters at the party, so a standard round layer cake won’t be enough. A quarter-sheet cake would serve enough, but didn’t have quite the presence for the party. So, what’s a gal to do?

Layers.

We started with baking two separate layers. I’ll confess up front, I used a mix. The very mix my father believes is the best available in any supermarket. I was a little uncertain about how well the cakes would release from the pans, so I cut a bit of wax paper to fit the bottom of the cake pan.

Hello, yellow cake!

Once the cake was baked and cooled, it was time to test whether or not it would let go from the pan. It did.

Free at last!

With both layers ready for assembly (I let them cool overnight), it was time to see if this harebrained idea would work.

As there was no other chocolate features in the cake, the filling had to be chocolate. It had to.

"Cheater" mousse: 1 pint whipping cream, 1 package instant pudding mix.

Made just enough to cover the top of the cake layer.

Then the stacking of the layers. Again, since my layering experience has been limited to rounds, I kind of had these nightmarish visions of the top layer suddenly calving on me and creating jagged pieces that I would need to magically repair somehow. Fortunately, that was not the case.

If only I could call this my lunch.

One thing to note: by this time, I had cut four strips of parchment paper and slid them under the bottom edges of the bottom layer of the cake. Experience has taught me that if I do not do this, I’ll be running a damp paper towel around the edges to make them look clean, muttering curses under my breath.

1 pound of butter. 1 pound of confectioner's sugar. 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. 1/4 teaspoon salt. That's it.

So, with the layers now cemented together, it was time to prepare the icing. I knew I would want to play with a little color on the icing, but before any drops of tint were added…

Crumb coat!

A light – very light – coating of icing was applied all around the cake. By crumb coating now, I’ve “primed” the surface for whatever artistic inspiration overtakes me when the time comes to decorate this cake.

But I haven’t decorated it yet.

No, dear readers. I know myself well enough that if I had tried to take this to the next logical step, it could have proven calamitous. Instead, we did some geeky measurements…

How high is this guy?

And proceeded to clear a space in the refrigerator where this cake-in-progress can rest until tomorrow, when the final touches will be applied.

Just chillin'.

So, now it’s on to a good 18 hours or so of tossing, turning, fretting and generally mediating on the next challenge: how do I make it look pretty on the outside? Communicate the promise of all that is yummy on the inside?

On the plus end of things, I can understand how cake bakers get a little obsessive and short-tempered at times.

Stay tuned, readers! More to come…

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