Hogwarts Spellbook Cake

When my daughter decided that she wanted a Harry Potter-themed party, perhaps unwisely, I promised to make her whatever kind of cake she wanted… and she chose a three-tiered cake that looked like stacked spellbooks. Made of three different flavors of cake (lemon, chocolate, and marble). Iced in buttercream, not fondant. Oh, boy…

The toughest part was definitely going to be getting nice, smooth, flat book covers without using fondant. Not that I blame her– frosting is definitely tastier– but it was going to be difficult. I thought back to her Kitty House Cake, though, and decided that I would make the book covers out of graham crackers, which were naturally flat and smooth, and had some structure to them.

In order to keep the frosting as smooth and leather-like as possible, I decided to spread it onto a sheet of parchment paper– once spread, I pressed the graham crackers directly into it (for a 9×9″ square cake I ended up with eight crackers per side, plus two more for the spine), then pushed the frosting up over the edges so they would be colored on all visible sides.

Then I spread a bit more frosting on top to keep things sticky, placed my cake up against one edge of the “bottom” cover, and frosted it with white frosting to resemble pages.

Once that was smoothed out, I used the parchment to wrap the rest of the cover over and around it. Luckily for me, the width of the spine was just about the same as the height of the cake, so it worked out nicely. Since it was pretty chilly outside I then put the whole thing under a cover in my garage to chill down and firm up– necessary to be able to unwrap the parchment later without smearing. I will admit that the cakes, once frosted and crackered, ended up being a LOT larger and heavier than I’d anticipated…

I peeled off the parchment paper from each book and carefully transferred each cake to a sheet of cardboard– the bottom one was on a big cardboard presentation board, while the top two were on 8×8″ squares that wouldn’t show once stacked. I pushed drinking straws into the bottom two layers to support the weight of the cakes on top.

Then I stacked the cakes, slightly askew, on top of each other– and they held! They looked great! It was time to decorate. I used a grass tip to make brown fur on the Monster Book of Monsters, but the other two books were left smooth. To add some extra detail I made a batch of candy clay (more on that later) and rolled it out to make book spines, plus one frontispiece for the top book, which I painted with gold highlighter dust and vodka so the books would have legible titles.

And here’s the cake! I love it. Also, it was huge, so I was giving away cake left and right to the party guests, which I’m sure they didn’t mind one bit!

All in all, I think this experiment went well. True, I went through massive amounts of butter to make all the frosting (and the red was inedible due to the sheer amount of red food coloring I had to stir in to get it bright enough– note to self: use the “no taste” coloring next time), but the structure held, and the frosting-covered graham crackers were actually a nice extra treat to nibble on between bites of cake.

I’ll have to try this technique again, perhaps with a smaller cake next time!

Reader’s Digest(ibles): Pumpkin Pasties

To continue the Harry Potter theme, I baked up a quick batch of pumpkin pasties– basically mini hand-pies filled with spiced pumpkin purée. Previously when I’ve made pumpkin-filled desserts I have gone to the trouble of baking a pumpkin custard, basically a pumpkin pie filling, and then scooping it into whatever I’m filling (phyllo triangles, for example), but I was in a bit of a hurry with this one and it ended up tasting just fine, so I’ll give you the recipe as-is.

Not too sweet, these two-bite desserts have a nicely spiced filling and sparkle with coarse sugar on top. I actually like them better cold than hot– the pumpkin flavor seems to come through better that way– but they’re tasty either way!

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Mini Baked Alaskas

baked-alaska

Lately it’s been so hot that ice cream has been the order of the day– whether in a cone or on a stick, we can’t get enough of it! But it’s always nice to spice things up a bit, so when I found myself with an extra layer of cake and some egg whites (both left over from an ice-cream cake, by the way), I knew just what I wanted to try– baked Alaska!

I think I first heard of it as a kid when watching the movie “Annie,” as the cook is describing to Annie what’s for dinner at Mr. Warbucks’s house (Texas grapefruit, Virginia ham, Idaho potatoes, Wisconsin cheese, Washington apples, and baked Alaska). Curious, I looked it up and discovered that it was a delectable-sounding confection of cake, ice cream, and meringue that could be baked without melting! I also got a mini-lesson in the insulating properties of foam…

That being said, I never got around to trying or making it, until now! I don’t really have much of a recipe for anything other than the meringue– to be safe I made a Swiss meringue, where you heat the egg whites with the sugar to kill off any bacteria. But aside from that, you can use ice cream, fillings, and cake of your choice.

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Woodland Creature Cookies

Yet another treat I served at my daughter’s woodland creature party was a selection of woodland creature cookies– foxes, hedgehogs, and squirrels. I used my classic chocolate cutout recipe for the cookies, and frosted them with a 3/4-sized batch of a hybrid glaze/royal icing that I picked up online from Baking Sweet Hope. It’s a nice combination of the best of both icing worlds, and I had just about the right amount of icing to cover my cookies in several different colors without worrying about running short.

The original icing tutorial and recipe are both so good that I’m not going to try to summarize them here– just go check out her page!

I did make a few mistakes in the icing process– first, I think I thinned the icing too much, which prevented me from getting quite the amount of detail I’d wanted. I also tried to do too many cookies at once (at least on the foxes), assembly-line style, which messed with my details a bit as well. But in general I think the animals turned out well, and they tasted great! I admit that the hedgehogs were my favorite of the lot– which ones are your favorites?

White Chocolate Fudge Rocks

In keeping with the woodland theme, I wanted to decorate my dessert table with various items that you might find on the forest floor– but I wanted to make them edible. Candy rocks immediately came to mind, like the ones I’d used for the Kitty House Cake for a previous birthday party, but the available options were all rather small and I wanted to think bigger. Then I came across a recipe for homemade rocks made of white chocolate fudge– I was sold!

These rocks are really easy to make– you just melt together some white chocolate and sweetened condensed milk, then add cookie crumbs for some realistic speckles and mold the slightly chilled mixture before rolling in powdered sugar. Plus, they look amazingly realistic! I made a half-sheet pan full of rocks with this recipe, including some pretty large ones that I made by wrapping storebought brownie bites (or pieces thereof) in the fudge mixture to bulk them up– I figure that the fudge is sweet enough that no one would want to eat a solid piece of it as big as their fist.

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Hedgehog Cheese Ball

For my daughter’s woodland party I couldn’t *just* do sweets, so I made a few savory themed treats as well– case in point, this hedgehog-shaped cheese ball. Because who doesn’t like cheese?

I went with the standard sliced-almond technique for the spines, and for flavoring I took inspiration from recipe online and used half a package of dried onion soup mix as my main mix-in. With a few other additions for extra kick, it turned out creamy and flavorful, and went well with crackers. As an added bonus, any leftovers can be spread on toast and broiled for a delicious snack, or melted over pasta for a more substantial meal!

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Red Velvet Cinnamon Roll Zombie Guts!

I was casting about for an idea of what to bring to a Halloween potluck when I came across a video showing someone unrolling some canned cinnamon roll dough, arranging the coils of dough in a pan to look like intestines, and then topping the dough with cherry pie filling to look like blood. It looked delightfully creepy, but since I’m not really a fan of canned cinnamon rolls I decided to go a step further and make the dough myself.

A little searching online turned up this fabulous recipe for a similar dough made with red velvet cake mix– brilliant idea! Unfortunately for me it didn’t turn out quite as planned– the dough was very soft and sticky,* and after I rolled it up with the filling it refused to unroll so I could form the intestine-coils. I ended up just pulling the dough apart and plunking it into the pan– I didn’t expect it to turn out well, but by the time it puffed up in the oven it looked pretty great, particularly with the addition of some edible eyeballs (canned lychees). Nevertheless, I’ve adjusted the flour/water ratio below so you’ll hopefully get dough that’s easier to handle!

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Porg Rice Balls

porgs-tray

For May the Fourth I attended a Star Wars themed party, so of course I had to make something in-theme to contribute! I decided on these porg-shaped rice balls, which are rice balls rolled in crushed sesame, with nori accents and a chunk of cucumber in the middle for extra crunch. They turned out adorable, if I do say so myself, and were popular with party-goers, so I consider them a success!

While you can make these without any special tools, it’s a lot faster and easier to do if you have the right equipment. I used a nori punch for the facial features, and a rice-roll press to make my pieces evenly shaped and well-compressed. That being said, you can feel free to shape your rice by hand (wet hands make it easier) and to cut out eyes and mouths with scissors. I would definitely recommend using the parchment paper cutout to mask off the white parts of the rice during the sesame step, though!

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Kitty-Ear Headbands

kitty-ears-rainbow.jpg

As you may remember, I love throwing themed birthday parties for my daughter. There was the pink elephant party, and the mermaid party, and who can forget the insanity that was the princess party? This year, her chosen theme is Kitties.

While my daughter has several pairs of kitty ears that she enjoys wearing for all occasions, we thought that her friends might also enjoy their own sets of ears, at least to wear for the duration of the party. The ears would also make a great party favor, so it was off to the craft store to get felt to make some!

The process for making these was pretty easy– just gluing felt to a headband– but I’ll give you the step-by-step tutorial below.

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Game of Graces

So I planned a historical costume picnic this summer, and as part of the picnic activities I wanted to supply some fun lawn games for people to play. A little searching revealed a game from the early 1800s called the Game of Graces— involving throwing and catching a wooden hoop with crossed sticks. It was supposed to promote gracefulness.

graces

Apparently the game was originally aimed at girls, not boys (what, boys don’t need to learn to be graceful?), but I thought it looked fun, easy, and appropriate for picnickers of both sexes.

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