Sunday, September 11, 2011

3rd birthday bumblebee cake

Our good friends are up and moving to Portland. We are truly going to miss them. Who's going to be our regular Friday night dinner dates? Their beautiful girl turns three in a few weeks, and they decided to combine the two events - an early birthday party with a goodbye party. It started out as a simple gathering with pizza and beer. Then the birthday girl had an adorable black and white dress with bumblebees on it... and all of a sudden, it morphed into a full-on shindig with a theme and tons of good eats (including homemade lumpia and adorable s'mores pops!). Nanette sent me a photo of Em's dress and some thought-starter photos. She asked for lemon with lemon curd and lemon or vanilla frosting. They were expecting 50+ guests, so I wanted a large base layer to feed most of the party plus a top layer shaped like a beehive for decoration and extra servings.

The beehive... a 6" layer stacked on an 8" layer, chilled and carved, crumb coated with yellow buttercream, and wound with yellow, extruded fondant. (This was the dumb part of the creative endeavor. The inspirational photos showed beehives covered with fondant, and I didn't realize until much too late that I could have piped it in a spiral with a large, round tip - and the same yellow buttercream - achieved the same striations I was going for with the fondant, and it would have taken approximately three minutes instead of the hours I spent extruding an ounce at a time of fondant. Live and learn. It still looked cute.)

The daddy bee, the mommy bee, and the baby Em bee.

Baby bee. My favorite part are the antennae. Delicate rice noodles, colored black with a food marker, with tiny dots of fondant on the ends.

I molded this adorable three and attached it to a lollipop stick as a little extra whimsical decoration. Then it broke into three pieces (coincidence?) and I had to start over. I probably should have made it earlier and given it a good 2-3 days to dry instead of a day and a half. My guess is the fondant wasn't dry enough yet when I started picking it up. Oops.

This lollipop-style three kept the color theme and was both smaller and sturdier. It's also attached to a lollipop stick with a bit of white fondant covering it (you want it to look good from all directions, and this disguises the stick a bit).

Cute little daisies, some with just a hint of pink to break up the bee color theme..

A quick note about the yellow fondant balls around the edge of the cake. To get them the same size - if you are anal like I am - roll out fondant to a consistent thickness. Cut out circles and roll them into balls. Magic!

Now we have to talk about the cake. Tasked with lemon, I decided to try a new recipe, and I found a vanilla layer cake from Piece of Cake, adapted from America's Test Kitchen, that sounded intriguing. It used a different method than I've ever used for making a cake. You stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and then blend in the butter, a chunk at a time, until the mixture resembles sand. Then the whisked egg whites, milk, and vanilla are blended in. (Lemon zest and subbing lemon juice for about two tablespoons of the milk turned it into a lemon cake.) Shauna of Piece of Cake notes that this method produces consistent results, but that wasn't my experience. Maybe I need more practice, or perhaps I should have beaten the batter longer, but the butter didn't incorporate as well as with the traditional creaming method. The three 12" layers came out perfectly, but my 6" and 8" cakes were bizarrely chewy; I guess they were underbaked? I re-baked them with my usual lemon cake recipe (and was relieved to see nice, tall, fluffy layers emerge from the oven!).

I filled the cake with homemade lemon curd. The cake and curd recipes balanced out nicely, one using 6 egg whites and the other, 5 egg yolks, so I didn't waste ingredients. And the tart curd was a good complement for the sweet, light cake. For frosting, I used my regular vanilla frosting recipe but swapped the almond extract for lemon extract for a hint of lemon flavor. I prefer to add lemon zest to kick up the flavor a notch, but I wanted a very smooth finish to the cake, so I omitted the zest this time.

Happy 3rd birthday, Em! We will miss you, your mommy, and your daddy!

ETA: one full recipe of the cake batter yielded a 1" thick, 12"-round layer. The 8" cake was made up of one full recipe of the regular lemon cake recipe (and was a good 3" tall), and the 6" cake (2-2.5" tall) was a half-recipe of the regular lemon cake.


Nanette said...

This turned out even more perfect that I could've imagined, Jami. And it was delicious, to boot!

We're so lucky to have you and your beautiful family in our lives, and we'll definitely miss all our amazing date nights!


Winnie said...

The lemon curd was deeeeelicious! Yum. I'm still daydreaming about it.

-- satisfied guest at Em's party :)

Dawn C. said...

OK, I think I'm addicted to your blog. :) I made your vanilla buttercream over the weekend. I am not a fan of traditional buttercream, but yours was DELICIOUS! New favorite! How did you get the buttercream to appear so smooth? Do you use the paper towel trick, or are you just really, really good at frosting? :)

jami said...

@Dawn - thanks! I'm glad you like the buttercream. It's pretty forgiving and easy to work with, though it can be pretty sweet. I prefer it to the butterier swiss/italian meringue buttercreams, but my absolute favorite is a combination. In terms of getting it smooth, it's just practice. I love the idea of the paper towel trick, but I have never done it successfully. I crumb coat my cakes, chill them, then frost them. I actually pipe on the frosting with a big open tip, which distributes it pretty evenly. Then I smooth and smooth and smooth with an offset spatula. When I have it close, I boil some water, put it in a tall glass, dip my spatula in to heat it, shake off the drips, and use the heat of the metal to smooth the frosting. Since I'm going to let it chill again after this, it doesn't matter if the frosting gets a tiny bit wet or melty - the goal is smooth - and it sets up perfectly in the fridge. I also sometimes run a paper towel very gently over the cake plate at the base of the cake to absorb any drips from the hot water. We can chat more by email if you have any questions.

jami said...

Also, Zoe Francois has a great video tutorial on how to smoothly frost a cake. She does it differently than I do, but her method works beautifully, too. Personal preference. Worth watching to get tips!

Dawn C. said...

THANK YOU for the tips! SO much!

24h Betreuung said...

WoW! that was really wonderful.. i really enjoyed your blog.

jami said...

Thanks, @Winnie and @24h!

mugs said...

I love your bees they are sooooo cute ive been trying to get 5 followers maybe you could help me out i need one more! Thanks Molly