For my daughter’s kitty-themed fifth birthday party, the first thing she asked for was “a cake shaped like a house, that’s also a cat.” What could I do but give it my best shot? After all, coming after last year’s castle cake, it should be a snap, right?
The first thing I did was to bake two 9×13″ cakes using two batches of my standard chocolate cake recipe. I hoped that they’d rise high enough to make the main house cake block, plus sections for the roof. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen. Plus, I made the mistake of only checking one cake for doneness before removing both from the oven, not stopping to consider whether the one baked in the Pyrex pan might bake differently than the one baked in the metal pan. What resulted was two thin-ish cakes, one with a huge crater in the center. Ugh.
Besides which, despite the fact that a single recipe makes a 7″ diameter three-layer cake that looks plenty big enough for a dozen people or more, my double recipe of cake looked pretty flimsy when taken as a whole– not nearly enough for my anticipated thirty-odd guests, even if half of them were kids. Not tall enough, not enough cake– what was I to do? Bake more cake, of course. Another double batch, to ensure I’d have enough. Keep in mind that at this point I’d baked four cakes, each of which should’ve been sufficient to feed a dozen people.
I made a big batch of American buttercream (1 lb. butter, 2 lbs. powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, 6 tbs. heavy cream, 2 tsp. vanilla– beat until fluffy) and stacked the cakes in pairs inside two cake pans. I filled in the sunken center of the one cake with a spackle made of frosting and spare cake crumbs (my freezer is full of them) and frosted over it to conceal the dip. Once the cakes were stacked I put a thin coat of frosting on top and then wrapped them really well with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in. Into the freezer they went to firm up for carving!
The morning before the party I took the cakes out of the freezer, removed them from their pans, and stacked them on top of each other, frosted sides together. Oh, and I put a piece of cardboard between the two layers, supported by some bubble tea straws in the bottom layer, to to keep the cake from collapsing under its own weight. I re-wrapped them with the plastic wrap and let them sit on the counter for about an hour to thaw out a bit. Then I got out my biggest serrated knife and started slicing.
First I cut off the short end of the cake about 1/3 of the way down. This would be the “head” section of the house. (I planned for this and made my cardboard shorter than the entire cake)
To make the peak of the roof, I cut off the outer corners of the cake– not from the center, but from about 2/3 of the way out from the center on each side. I flipped the cut-off corners up to the top to make the central point. Then I cut down the smaller section into the correct size and shape.
I set aside the scraps to thaw completely. Once thawed, I crumbled them together with a little cream cheese and shaped them into vaguely paw-shaped blobs, then chilled them.
I re-wrapped the cake to thaw some more, and mixed up a double batch of my favorite cooked frosting. I will note that while I’ve found this frosting to be temperamental in that it’s separated on me on various occasions (usually at the worst possible time, see note below), it’s still the best frosting ever. Light, fluffy, creamy, and not too buttery or too sweet. Anyway, I used this frosting to first do a crumb coat on all sides of the cakes, and then to do a thicker layer on each “wall” of the house pieces. At this point I adhered the front section to the main house.
I realized at this point that I was running a bit short on frosting, which would prevent me from doing a really thick layer for the roof. To avoid lumps and unevenness, I decided to sharpen the roof edges by using a layer of graham crackers for a completely flat surface. An added benefit was that graham crackers soften with prolonged exposure to frosting and refrigeration, so they wouldn’t interfere with slicing later.
Setting aside a little of the white frosting for touch-ups, I divided the rest into 4 bowls and colored it with gel food coloring. I decided to do the roof first, piping round blobs of various colors in a row, then using the back of a small spoon to smudge them upwards for a shingle effect. Once I’d done a single row it was apparent that I wouldn’t have enough to finish my roof, so I alternated the rows of frosting blobs with rows of Necco wafers. I continued up the sides of the roof and decorated the very peak with a row of colored mini marshmallows. The finished roof wasn’t as polished as I’d hoped it would be, but it was cheerful and appropriately whimsical, at least.
Once the roof was done I made a batch of rice krispie treats, substituting a cup of Fruity Pebbles cereal for one cup of Rice Krispies. The colorful Fruity Pebbles made for a fun rainbow sprinkle effect. I flattened it out to about 1″ thick, and once it cooled down I cut out a chimney and affixed it to the back side of the house.
Then I got out some marshmallow cream cheese fondant and tinted it with more gel food coloring. I cut out two windows and a door to form the kitty face, and some ear shapes that I used to cover some cookies I’d made earlier for the kitty’s ears. I also cut out a bunch of teeny-tiny flowers to use for random decoration.
The majority of the fondant was tinted green, and I used it to cover the rectangular cake board I’d constructed the cake on. Once I had the board covered, I added some more green and yellow coloring, and covered up my paw-shaped blobs, which were now bushes. I stuck them to the sides of the house, using toothpicks to keep them flush to the surface.
I broke up some Necco wafers and adhered them like a stone wall to the bottom of the house walls, and did a broken-stone path at the front of the house, lined with chocolate rocks.
Whew! What a project! My daughter, predictably, loved it, and after exhorting the guests to take plenty of cake home with them, this was the result:
- I’ve determined that the reason my frosting keeps separating on me when I most need it for an event (but not when I’m just making it casually) is that I always make the milk/cornstarch slurry the day before when I’m going to make the frosting for a party. That way I don’t have to worry about the “cool to room temperature” step when I’m rushed for time. However, I always stick the slurry in the fridge and almost never manage to warm the chilled mixture back to room temperature before beating in the butter. I’m convinced that the too-cold slurry is keeping the butter from properly emulsifying, thus resulting in a separated frosting. So word to the wise– either make your slurry the day of, or make sure it’s actually at room temp before using it!
- That being said, even when the frosting comes together properly (which it did in this case), it doesn’t pipe well– the heat of your hands makes it separate over time. That’s probably why my roof blobs didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.