Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pink-guins and a Beautiful Chocolate Cake!

My daughter turned four recently. Her birthday is the single point in the year when I don my party planner's hat. To decide on a theme I started thinking of all the things she liked at the time. Thanks to Happy Feet and Madagascar, she liked penguins then, so I thought it'd be cute to make some sweet lil penguins - in the form of cake toppers, cake pops and cookies.

Straightaway, I knew I wasn't going to stay true to nature and make my penguins black. Though it's one of my favourite colours, I wanted a more childlike, cutesy colour scheme. Pink and purple popped into mind instantly. I know it's a cliched combination, but the more I considered it, the more I liked the idea of making pink-guins!

I'd planned to do a plain white cake with pink-guins, and pink and purple polka dots, but when I visualised it, I felt that it might need a third colour to liven it up. I was leaning toward silver, but I wasn't fully convinced it was a good choice. For inspiration, I visited one of my favourite craft stores hoping to pick up some ribbon for the goodie bags.

What I found was this:

It's a roll of masking tape, or washi tape, that is mostly used in paper crafts. Pink and purple dots, along with brown and that beautiful, vibrant, perfect golden yellow. Jackpot!

I used the tape for two things. Firstly for the goodie bags.

And then on the packaging for the cookies that went into the goodie bags.

Now about the cake itself. I gave the choice of flavour to the birthday girl, and the reply was immediate: chocolate! How much I loved her in that moment! Then it changed to chocolate and strawberry, then one layer of chocolate and one of strawberry, strawberry layer on top, chocolate down and ..... I didn't like which direction this was headed in, so I said two layers of chocolate with strawberry buttercream in the middle, which met with reluctant approval. Here's how it ended up looking.

The igloo was a simple vanilla cake baked in this bowl-shaped cake pan I bought because it was ridiculously cute. But the credit for the igloo concept goes to my sister. The idea struck her the moment she saw the the pan. And the credit for the flowers goes to my daughter. I'd wanted to do polka dots, but a birthday cake without flowers is taboo apparently. But kudos to her because I think the flowers worked out beautifully, better than the dots would've.

The only part of this whole penguin parade that didn't turn out as I'd hoped were the cake pops. 

They look ok enough, but problems with getting the texture of the chocolate coating right combined with a lack of time and energy had me go through the dipping stage hastily, without much finesse. Anyway, despite their less-than-perfect appearance, they were delicious and the kids loved them, which is what matters in the end.

And now finally, as mentioned in the title of this post - the beautiful chocolate cake! I'd been trying out various chocolate cake recipes off the Internet lately but not really liking any. Then I found this gem in a book I borrowed from the library. Let me tell you why I love this cake: it's quick to put together, it's moist and delicious without being overly rich, it keeps wonderfully. Best of all, even after being stashed in the freezer for a month, once it was thawed, it tasted as beautiful as on the day it was baked.

The birthday cake above is two of these cakes sandwiched with strawberry buttercream. Apologies for not having any pics of the inside of the cake.

Devil's Food Cake (from Good Housekeeping Great Cakes)

100g (3 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, softened
225 ml (8 fl oz) milk
1tbsp lemon juice
225g (8 oz) plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
50g (2oz) cocoa powder
250g (9oz) golden caster sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (160 fan oven), gas mark 4. Grease two 20.5 cm (8 inch) sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. Alternatively use one 9x13 inch pan for one rectangle layer.
2. Pour the milk into a jug, then add lemon juice or vinegar and leave for 5 min. Sift the flour, bicarb of soda and cocoa powder together.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter with half the sugar until light. Gradually beat in the eggs, then mix in the rest of the sugar. Add the reserved soured milk alternately with the flour mixture - around a couple of tbsps at a time.
4. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins and level the tops. Bake for 30 min. Leave in the tins for 10 min, then turn out onto wire rack to cool.