Can we talk about this birthday cake? Good. Great. I have so many thoughts.
This post is not a tutorial post. When I started this birthday cake I’d never used fondant before. Clearly I am not the authority on any kind of fondant anything, okay?
How it started
Around month 12 of the pandemic, I was juggling a million work meetings, and trying to make sure that my daughter logs into her Kindergarten meetings on time and all of the fun associated with everybody being home. On a particularly stressful day, I needed Mila to occupy herself for a couple of minutes– because my husband and I had conflicting meetings. So I said to her “Can you draw me a picture of what you want your birthday cake to look like?”
THIS WAS A ROOKIE MISTAKE. I am a lawyer, for crying out loud, I know better than to ask such open ended questions to the kid who enjoys all things artwork and crafting– she runs through crayons at a terrifying clip. This is a child that actually colors an entire coloring book. I must have bought 16 glue sticks at the beginning of the school year and had to buy more! Don’t even get me started on the sticker thing. Now we have a crafty-art loving five year old with lots of crayons, even more paper and time.
Oh, but there was one other detail that I did not know. What I did not know was that she had recently discovered Cake Boss on demand. And by “discovered” I mean watched enough episodes to comment on who’s the best baker, and to declare that one day she’s going to visit “The Bakery” and get her wedding cake from there. It’s obviously reasonable to say that Buddy Valastro played a small part in the chaos of this birthday cake. She watched him make a ski mountain cake and with her whole heart thought I could handle a bunch of flowers and a 3D rainbow on top of clouds!. Anyway, after SEVERAL drafts, this is the cake design that she settled on.
This design gave me a whole panic attack because there are many details to manage. A little bit about me. I can’t draw. You know how artistic people see a picture of a dog and see the shapes to create the dog? Yeah. I just see the dog and maybe the potential for personal liability –especially if it’s off of it’s leash in a crowded place. I talk to people about taxes all day long and I get excited about it. Whatever the direct opposite of “artistic” is, that’s me. I appreciate good design, but I never in 8 million years would know where to start.
If I had to describe my baking design style I would call it “natural rustic”. I am going to do the absolute least on the design elements. Every single time. I will however make sure that the thing tastes like the most amazing thing you’ve ever eaten in your life.
Like every mom of a 5 year old, I waited to see just how committed she was to that design (very!) and I floated the idea of getting it made at a local bakery (this got two thumbs down). Then I did what every type A millennial woman would do– I created multiple cake boards on Pinterest. My google algorithm thinks I actually know how to decorate cakes– jokes on them!
At first I thought I could pipe the flowers with buttercream and use a mold for the unicorn. I actually made “practice buttercream” buttercream that exists only to practice piping and I bought the fancy russian piping tips thinking they would be easier to pull off. Early test runs proved that would not work at all. I just don’t have the patience for it. Yes, I will make a 14 step brioche loaf and be thrilled to spend 2 days making it. Cake decorating is not my bag. I love watching other people magically pull together these show-stopping cakes, but for me the process just creates stress.
So with 5 days before the birthday I decided that I should learn how to use fondant. Clearly this was the moment when I lost my mind. Like I said before it’s not like nothing was going on at work or taking care of the family. Somehow, for the next 3 nights after dinner, Mila and I sat at my kitchen island and played around with fondant, cutters, dye, more cutters, rolling pins, scissors. We watched videos of other people making fondant flowers. Then we tried to make them. We tested out a bunch of tools to make flowers– a few worked, most of them didn’t .
It was complete chaos– but in the end, we spent so much time together just experimenting. It was a level field, where she brought her art- expertise to the table and we learned together. She taught me some things about patience. I tried not to teach her many bad words to repeat on Zoom kindergarten. We had a lot of initial failures, but we kept trying and finally we had some successes. We cheered each other on and we learned from one another.
Is this the prettiest cake you’ll see on instagram? Absolutely not. I broke that 3-D rainbow in the last 30 seconds before putting it on the cake. It’s 100% lopsided. But we didn’t care. In a year of being at home and surviving a pandemic, I am grateful that we had the opportunity to spend the time making that lopsided rainbow, because it brought a tiny bit of joy in spite of this insane year of such grief and impending doom. It was a cake we made together to celebrate the second pandemic birthday for my daughter.
I don’t anticipate that my cake decorating skills will get that much better over the course of this next year, but I am looking forward to whatever she comes up with for her next birthday cake. We’re building our own traditions and that’s really honestly the reason why I love baking.
Cake Design: Mila
Filling: Fudge Frosting
Icing: Classic American Buttercream