It looks like we might have made it to the end of the chicken pox. Two small boys down in three weeks, many tears shed (mostly mine), large doses of cabin fever and one birthday that fell on a bad day celebrated instead at the weekend. I would like to be folded into a suitcase and posted to the nearest yoga retreat with vegan food and a vow of silence right now. But I’ll settle for a cuppa and the tv to myself.
I steered Teddy away from a Star Wars cake request (think big bro had had a word in his ear). I’m a fan of age-appropriate celebratory baking, so I started big upping the idea of Minion birthday cake a few weeks ago.
In order to build excitement and inspire me, we made a sneaky trip to the cinema to see Minions once his spots had dried out. He was not contagious at this point and we sat miles away from anyone in the sparsely attended showing. I needed a few things for his birthday tea party before we set out for home. It may have been paranoia but I felt the death stare of a thousand mothers with strollers as I wheeled my spotty child down the gleaming halls of the shopping centre. We hastened to the car and I went to a local supermarket on the way home instead. The kids went feral and a kind older lady saved my poxy week. She coaxed my errant children away from whatever display had entranced them when she (probably) saw me bite my lower lip and blink back tears of frustration. She chatted to me sympathetically when she saw that Ted was recovering from a bad dose. As I went toward the checkout I muttered “damn, wrong popcorn” to no one in particular and she popped up thirty seconds later with the other flavour box. As I argued with the self service till and fielded the thousand questions regarding usage of same from the five year old, she stopped Ted escaping to the car park with a sharp cry of “Teddy! Come back in here to your mother”. Now not everyone would appreciated her tone but it did the job and I could have hugged her. I’m sure the other patrons assumed she was the kids’ granny.
The cake was duly baked that night. Teddy stood by the oven convinced it was party time now any second.
“Can I have cake?…Is de cake cooked in de ovin?…Is it time for my tea party?”
I went for a buttermilk cake this time, specifically a Nigella Lawson recipe from her Domestic Goddess book. I don’t love madeira to be honest and Emily from The Nest assured me that not only does this cake hold the weight of icing, it also lasts well – very important when you need to get things done in advance. I’m pretty sure it will be my go to for occasion baking from now on.
Nigella Lawson’s Vanilla Buttermilk Cake; With A Colourful Twist.
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
200ml buttermilk (or 75g yogurt mixed with 125ml semi-skinned milk)
1teaspoon vanilla essence
125g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Grease and line your cake tins. I used 2 x 22cm ones.
First weigh your empty bowl, then sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt together.
Mix the buttermilk (or yogurt mixture) and vanilla in a jug. I used the yogurt mixture.
Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour with the last one. Gradually add the rest of the flour with the buttermilk, one after the other, until thoroughly mixed.
Weigh your bowl with cake mixture in it now. Subtract the weight of the actual bowl and divide by 2.
Split your mixture into 2 bowls, and dye one blue and one yellow – Minion style!
Pour into the tins and bake for about 30 minutes or until well risen and pale golden brown. (My oven tends towards hot, and they were done in 25 minutes)
Let sit for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. I’ve made coloured cakes before – do not despair if they don’t look great when they’re baked – the wow factor is all in the finished cake.
Once cooled, I stored this with a piece of parchment paper between the layers in an airtight container over night.
I made up a massive batch of buttercream frosting for this. So massive that half of it is in my freezer now. You could always buy one of the Betty Crocker tubs of icing instead, but pretend I never said that okay?
Using a hot palette knife (ideally; I just have a big wide knife I use the non-bladey side of) spread frosting between the layers, on the top, and round the sides. This will form a “crumb coat” – perfect for fondant icing to stick to.
Roll Out Icing
Dye All The Icing. Now, I have a good stock of gel colours to hand, but I set off to SuperValu (who stock a great range of baking products now) to buy white and yellow roll out icing, with a plan to dye the small amounts of other colours I wanted. They had every colour except yellow. I thought maybe there was a run on Minion cakes, but I couldn’t even find a shelf tag to indicate they ever had it. Gel colours are great though – I had dyed Dominic’s Perry the Platypus the perfect teal shade, so I was happy enough to buy 2 x 400g blocks of white icing and dye the lot. Note: Bob actually has one green eye and one brown eye. Sue me; I ran out of steam.
I did this two days before the party, and stored the dyed icing in airtight containers. Wear latex gloves for this. We have a box in our house for bicycle mechanics and icing-dying. Niche, but useful.
After that it’s basically playdoh skills and a lot of patience. Dust your work surface lightly with cornflour or icing sugar before you roll out your icing, it will stop it sticking and and you crying.
I have no fancy icing tools at all. I used sharp knives, the back end of scone cutters and my fair hands.
I stuck the boys in front of Netflix because really, I didn’t want their particular brand of help. That didn’t stop Dom from making many, many trips to check on my progress, demand snacks and ask when his cousins were arriving.
And that’s it.
Ted, meet Bob.