Saturday, January 5, 2013

What's Up, Dr. Seuss?

The holidays are over and I'm still exhausted, you? No matter how much time I have off, this year I was fortunate enough to have 4 days (win!), I'm always tired afterward. I don't know if it's the travel, all the holiday preparations (baking, shopping, etc.) or just that I'm getting older (ah!), but, I'm pooped. I need a vacation. As always this holiday season I was busy baking, but had all of my Christmas baking done about a week before C-Day so I could get all my cookie gifts put together and distributed before the holiday. Normally once I'm done with Christmas baking I'm done for the year. I like to give myself a little baking vacation since getting ready for Christmas is so much work. However, this year, I got a very special baking request that was due two days before Christmas. Although I knew it would be a busy time, I'm not one to turn down a friend, or the opportunity to make a little extra cash. I did do a lot of Christmas shopping this year!

A co-worker of mine asked me to make birthday cakes and cupcakes for his 3 children. They all have birthdays within a week of each other. The kicker is they're all the same week as Christmas give or take a day or two. Pretty amazing planning if you ask me. They were planning a party for December 23 and asked me for three 6-inch cakes and 40 cupcakes with a Dr. Seuss theme. They sent me all the specifics, chocolate cakes with vanilla buttercream, 20 chocolate and 20 red velvet cupcakes, as well as some details of what they were thinking for each cake. Cat in the Hat, Lorax and One Fish, Two Fish. With their suggestions and the help of Google, I mapped out my ideas and was ready to get to work.

I used the same trusty chocolate cake recipe I use every time someone asks for chocolate cake. It's my favorite and so far it's been a success. I made the cupcakes first, starting with the red velvet. Since everything else was going to be chocolate, I wanted to get the odd flavor out, out of the way. For the red velvet, I used this recipe from the lovely Paula Deen. I've used this recipe several times before and have always had great results with it. Plus, I love Paula. Who doesn't? I'm talking to you Anthony Bourdain. Once the red velvet batter was ready I baked 12 cupcakes at a time, thankfully I have 2 cupcake pans which made this process go much faster.

While the red velvet cupcakes were baking I started on the chocolate cake batter. I made a double batch of the chocolate cake thinking that at the very least it would get me 20 cupcakes and maybe one 6-inch cake, and it did. If memory serves me correctly, I even had a little batter left over. Once the red velvet cupcakes were done the chocolate cupcakes went into the oven. I did the cupcakes first because they have a shorter baking time than the cakes and this way the batter would sit out for the shortest amount of time possible.

Once the chocolate cupcakes were set I made a single batch of the chocolate cake batter for the remaining two 6-inch cakes. I had more than enough batter overall and ended up getting a couple extra cupcakes that I took into work the next day to get rid of. Each cake took about 50 minutes to bake, so it was a lot of waiting, but it didn't matter. While everything was baking I worked on making the fondant. I made 4 colors (white, yellow, red and orange) and ended up having way more than I needed. But, I'd rather have too much, than not enough. After Day 1 of cake making, I had 3 cakes, 40+ cupcakes, and 4 colors of fondant ready to go for Day 2.

On Day 2 I started working as soon as I got up because I wanted to be done as soon as possible. Day 2 took much longer than I thought it would. I knew it would take awhile, but I didn't think it would take as long as it did. I think I worked from 10a-4p give or take a half an hour. When you add that to the 5 hours of baking and fondant making the day before, it's a lot. Maybe I'm still tired from all of that?

So, Day 2, or decorating day started with making all the frosting. First, I made the cream cheese frosting for the red velvet cupcakes. I only needed one batch of that, and again, it was the odd man out so I wanted to get it out of the way. Everything else was going to be vanilla buttercream. To frost the cupcakes I used my icing gun with a star tip to make them look nice, and I bought a rainbow assortment of sprinkles. I thought bold colors were the most appropriate for Dr. Seuss. I also bought bold colored Wilton wrappers for the cupcakes. I was going for fun and kid friendly.

After the red velvet cupcakes were set I started on the vanilla buttercream frosting. I ended up making 2 double batches (I should mention, I used my stand mixer for everything, other than the fondant, for this entire project) just to make sure I would have enough. I had more than enough. I probably could have gotten away with 1 1/2 batches. Live and learn.

I frosted the cupcakes first employing the same method I did for the red velvet cupcakes. I wanted everything to be consistent. Once the cupcakes were all set and tucked into their respective boxes I went to work on frosting the cakes. I like to put the cakes in the fridge before I frost them because it makes it easier and helps to minimize the crumbs. The crumb layer is already a pain, but I like to make it as painless as possible. After each crumb layer I returned the cakes to the fridge so the icing could firm up a little and make the second layer easier to apply so everything would be smooth. After the icing of the first cake had set, I started working on the fondant for it. Cake number 1 was Cat in the Hat.

This was the hardest design for me to come up with because to me Cat in the Hat is so simple. There's not really much to do with it other than the obvious. I new I wanted to portray the hat somehow, but I also knew I didn't have the skill to make anything look like the cat. Working with only one layer also limited what I could do. They had suggested kites and perhaps adding some blue polka dots so I tried to work in all three of those elements.

Here's what I came up with. While it is plain, I was ultimately pretty happy with it. It wasn't my favorite of the bunch, but I thought it was cute and fit the criteria.

Cake number 2 was The Lorax. They sent me suggestions for colors, green, orange and truffula (I think I spelled that right) trees. I confess, I knew what the Lorax was, but I had to Google truffula trees, I had no idea what they were. It's been more than a couple years since my Dr. Seuss days, and since I don't have any kids yet, I don't feel that I should know what they are. After my Google searching I knew what I wanted to do. This design was actually the easiest for me to come up with, so it would obviously be the one that took the most time to execute. I knew I wanted to do the face of the Lorax on the top and on the sides I would do truffula trees going around.

It took forever, but this was the cake I was the most proud of and was the most work. I think if I were to do this one again I would add some outlines, but truth be told, I was already tired and I still had one cake left to go.

Cake number 3 was One Fish, Two Fish. One Fish, Two Fish I am familiar with and didn't need to do any Google search to know what I was dealing with, but I did just for research purposes. I also came up with the design I wanted for this one pretty quickly as well. I also took the time to print out shapes of the fish so I could cut them out of fondant and put then on the cake. That little dream didn't come true. After several failed attempts to "trace" and cut the fish out of fondant, I gave up. I either don't have the right tools, or this is just something that can't be done. For a few minutes I panicked because I didn't know what I was going to do. I couldn't have a One Fish, Two Fish cake with no fish. That wasn't going to work. I also knew that I wasn't going to be successful at cutting out the fish and if they didn't look like the actual fish the cake was going to look stupid. Then a little light bulb went off and I thought, why not just "glue" the fish I cut out onto the cake? Sure, it's not cake, but, it will look much better than anything I'm going to be able to figure out. And, just to clear things up, my glue, was frosting.

Honestly, I loved it. I felt a little bit like a cheated because it wasn't all edible, but at the same time, I couldn't argue with how great it looked and I knew that no matter what I tried to do, it wasn't going to look nearly as good as anything else I was going to come up with. And, overall, the client and the kids were happy, which is all that really matters.

As always, there is a lesson I take away from each of my experiences in baking for a "client" and in this case it was that no matter how much I plan out my designs and what I want to do, there is always going to be something that isn't going to work as I envisioned it would. But, don't panic, just take a breath, use your brain and try to come up with a solution. I was truly in a panic about One Fish, Two Fish. On the brink of considering a small cry in frustration fest, but I got it together and figured out something that would work. Go me, and may your 2013 bring you moments of enlightenment as well.