Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Heidi's Tips for Creating Kitchen Cakes

Cake TipsI don't know about you, but when I was a kid and my birthday rolled around, my mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted and then she called the "cake lady" to place an order. On the day of my birthday party she would go to the "cake lady's" house and pick up a white cardboard box filled with a cute and home baked confection. Throughout the years, I had Cinderella, Raggedy Ann, a box of crayons, and more. After the birth of my second child I realized "cake ladies" (and even good bakeries in our area) were few and far between and grocery store cakes were often gross and expensive (although I have been known to serve a few and the world did not come to an end).

When I realized that the "cake lady" was no more, and that the "cake fairy" wasn't going to deliver delicious, inexpensive, and theme-related cakes to my home on each of my children's birthdays, I decided to attempt to make birthday cakes for my kids in my own kitchen. I call them kitchen cakes. Preparing kitchen cakes for my family gives me a much needed diversion from folding laundry and is just the creative outlet I need to stay sane. I've yet to take cake decorating 101 at my local craft store (although I aspire to someday), but I have now manage to create about a dozen cakes for my children's birthday parties. Practice makes. . . well, not perfect, but I have made a lot of progress.

My kitchen cake resume now includes Pokemon, Wizard of Oz, Cars, Kirby, Mario, a monkey, and, most recently, a surfboard. The cakes are always met with huge gasps from my kids and lots of requests for second helpings from the party guests. Below is the process that has helped me add 'cake decorating' to my already full plate.
Heidi's Tips for Creating Kitchen Cakes
  1. A few months prior to the birthday: ask the birthday boy or birthday girl what type of cake they would love for their next party. Have them gather action figures, trinkets, and books that relate to their cake theme of choice. Use these items to get your creative juices flowing.
  2. A month or so prior to the birthday: search the chosen cake theme on the internet. Check out my group Kitchen Cakes on Facebook or explore the plethora of decorated confections on Flickr. As my kids are getting older they love looking at the pictures of cakes on the computer with me and offering their input. Our favorite cake pictures are always slightly imperfect ones made by amateurs. These photos serve as inspirations for me, but I never attempt to recreate them exactly.
  3. 3 weeks prior to the birthday: Record and watch all episodes of "Ace of Cakes" and begin to channel your inner Duff. Use all mental down times to contemplate cake.
  4. 2 weeks prior to the birthday: Decided on the flavor of cake you will be baking. I often use a box mix for my kitchen cakes and I'm not ashamed. I'd rather focus on the decorating. Also choose the flavor of icing. I always make a simple homemade icing. Domino's sugar has a nice recipe for basic butter cream that can be easily colored. Gather recipes as needed.
  5. 1 week prior to the birthday: decide on the pans, icing colors (I recommend gel colors), and embellishments that will be needed. Also consider what you will display the cake on when it is completed. I've put my cakes on pieces of cardboard covered with foil, cookie sheets, and my trusty cake stand. Stroll though your local Hobby Lobby or Michael's, and even the baking section of your grocery store. Keep your purchases to a minimum. Some of my most creative decorating techniques have been born out of necessity. I make sure I have a few basic icing tips, lots of gel colors, my trusty offset spatula, my mechanical pastry bag, tons of plastic disposable piping bags, and candles.
  6. The day before the birthday: Bake the cake, cool it completely, wrap it in plastic wrap. Clean the kitchen. Unload the dishwasher. Go to bed early. Set out butter to soften for basic butter cream if needed.
  7. The morning of the birthday party: Send your spouse and kids off on a grand adventure that involves being out of the house for as long as possible. Prepare tons of icing (better to have too much than not enough when mixing colors). Decorate the cake. Put on nice music and let your creative juices flow. Remember "progress not perfection". I never know exactly how my cakes will turn out, but I always love them in the end. Warning: At some point during the kitchen cake decorating process, I have to fend off a panic attack, but I have yet to have a failure.
  8. At the party: take tons of pictures, smile, enjoy yourself, eat cake!

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