Cakestravaganza – Beyond your average birthday cake.

Evangeline super excited

A family of eight has a lot to celebrate.  At times it feels like we just go from one party to the next.  Seven of our birthdays occur within a 5 month span, and there are Holidays sprinkled in between too!  It typically starts with Earthbaby’s birthday, right before Thanksgiving, so it goes something like this: Earthbaby-Thanksgiving-SaintNicholas-Christmas-Smunchie-NewYears-Epiphany-Squigglebug *breathe* Valentine’sDay-Lollie-Storyteller-Jessica-Sugarbaby.  That’s a lot of partying.  So much, that we decided to ditch Saint Nicholas Day last year.

Yes, we have a lot to celebrate in our little home, which means a lot of cakes.  And in our family, the birthday girl (or boy) gets to pick out their own cake.  We’ve found out just how crazy creative our family can be when it comes to cakes!  As I am considered to be the baker in the family, when a cake request is made, all eyes typically converge on me, and I’ve had to learn to let go of my perfectionist fears and just dive in.  But more often than not, Jessica – who isn’t typically afraid of just diving in – and I end up collaborating to make these chefs d’oeuvre (French for masterpiece) together.  That’s how we’ve ended up making the following sampling of cakes this past year:

Yellow Cake: yellow inside and out, colored with turmeric.
yellow cake

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cake: ok, we didn’t actually make that one ourselves…
Ben & Jerry's cake2

Red Cake: this ended up being a red velvet cake colored red with beet juice – a first for us

red velvet cakeWhite Cake with Candied Violets: this was last year, but memorable, so I included it here.  We couldn’t find candied violets, so we bought an assortment of edible flowers and candied them ourselves.  The cake was beautiful, but the flowers looked better than they tasted.

flower cakeflower cake sliceOreo Cake: layers of chocolate cake and cream cheese frosting, with Newman’s Own sandwich cookies crumbled on top (this was made into cupcakes later also).  Added bonus: the frosting had texture: spikes, reminiscent of my hair, when it’s not in desperate need of a chop.
oreo cake

Marbled Cake: Marbled white and chocolate cake with marbled cream cheese and chocolate frostings. I’m so glad Jessica did the marbling for the frosting, as my marbling for the cake parts was more chunky than marbly.
marbled cake

Now we didn’t go to culinary school, and we are not, to my knowledge, related to Martha Stewart or Betty Crocker.  When Squigglebug declared that she wanted yellow cake with yellow frosting, Jessica and I turned to Google to find out what our options were, as we no longer use food coloring.  This led us to try turmeric as a natural food coloring option.  And Squigglebug’s desire to have a red cake this year challenged us to try beets for the color and to explore the possible origin of the ever-so-popular red velvet cake – steeped in mystery.  Each new whimsical idea leads to a kitchen experiment and a new experience for our family.  And more often than not, the experience is not only memorable, but enjoyable as well.

For the latest (next-to-last) challenge in our cakestravaganza this season, I encouraged Jessica to pick out a cake.  Naturally, she turned to Pinterest, land of all things bright, beautiful, and drool-worthy.  She found this:

chocolate hazelnut mousse layer cakephoto credit: http://www.ericasweettooth.com/2010/05/chocolate-hazelnut-mousse-layer-cake.html

My jaw dropped and I had to push back feelings of inadequacy.  She noticed and started to say that it wasn’t important, but that was just the motivation I needed to give this impressive cake a try.  In a large family, where it’s necessary to do things and go places together, it can be a challenge to carve out time to focus on just one person, so birthdays have become rather sacred.  They are a celebration of each unique member of our family; the one day a year where it is “all about you.”  Picking out a cake is one of the ways that we celebrate the value of each person in the family and each cake is a reflection of their unique taste and creativity.  So there was no question: the beautiful cake above HAD to be attempted.  And if it failed to live up to the ideal pictured online (and above), it would still be a sweet and sticky mess that we all enjoyed together in honor of the birthday girl.

For this particular recipe I had to find a homemade alternative for Nutella, as we no longer buy that taste of heaven because we only use fairly traded chocolate now.  This is what I used, and I was quite happy with the results.  So happy, in fact, that instead of making chocolate curls, we used the leftover homemade chocolate hazelnut spread as a topping for the cake (Jessica’s brilliant idea).  This was the first time that I turned two round cakes into 4.  And I would call the hazelnut mousse filling/frosting more of a hazelnut/coffee whipped cream.  Here is how it turned out:
layer cake with mousse

Jessica was hoping for a cake that wasn’t overly sweet, and this really fit the bill.  We’ve both been frustrated with how sweet frosting recipes turn out to be.  So sweet that even our girls have a difficult time finishing even one slice.  I mean, kids should clamor for more, shouldn’t they?  It’s just not right for kids to not beg for more sweets.  That was not the case with this cake.

Yes, in a family of our size, we have a lot to celebrate.  So does every size family.  And sometimes a fanciful cake is exactly what you need to bring everyone together around one person.

Even if it looks like this:

pink cake messcakecicleI intended to write this post last week, on the heels of Jessica’s birthday, but maybe it’s no coincidence that it’s finally ready today, on Sugarbaby’s first birthday.  Happy birthday, Baby.  I can’t wait until you come home with Mommy and we can celebrate you as a family.  I wonder how your cake will turn out.

~ Jeremy

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