As you may have noticed, every year for my husband’s birthday I try out another recipe featuring peanut butter and chocolate– his favorite flavor combination! This year is no exception! Not content with a simple cake with frosting, I decided to go in a slightly different direction and make a chocolate-peanut-butter cheesecake– but not just any cheesecake! A layered cheesecake, with a chocolate wafer crust and a shiny ganache glaze, adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb at Smitten Kitchen.
Granted, her recipe was a chocolate/coffee cheesecake, but it was simple to adapt by replacing the espresso with a few tablespoons of peanut butter, making for rich and decadent dessert. Annoyingly, my layers tended to separate at one or two spots when sliced– I’m betting my filling was just slightly overbaked, making it too dry to adhere easily– but the finished cake was still very impressive, and very delicious! Warning: the cake looks small on a serving platter, but even very thin slices can be tough to finish due to their richness!
So for her birthday party this year, my daughter chose “Woodland Creatures” as her theme. I admit to nudging her a bit in the right direction a few months ago because I thought it would provide an opportunity for lots of cute themed food, but she really got into it, even giving me a list of things she wanted to include. I’ll give details of how I made things in the next few posts, but take a look at the resulting dessert table…
Included above are a tree stump cake, meringue mushrooms, decorated animal cookies, white chocolate fudge rocks, moss-covered cupcakes, candy acorns, and pads of “moss” made of green-dyed sugar cookies. (Also edible pinecones but they didn’t turn out all that well so I’ll forego posting a recipe until I get it right).
I had *so* much fun putting this party together. I raided the 80% off Christmas decoration section at my local craft store to get the artificial greenery, but aside from that all of the decorations on the table were edible– my version of the infamous Willy Wonka chocolate room. Honestly, I think this is one of the best dessert tables I’ve ever done!
So, once I’d made my cake layers, my fudge frosting, and a peanut butter cream cheese frosting (no real recipe here, I just beat together 4 oz. each of butter and cream cheese, added about 3/4 cup of peanut butter and a splash of vanilla, and then added powdered sugar until the texture was right), it was finally time to assemble the cake.
First, I removed my frozen cake layers and set them on the counter to thaw. After about 45 minutes they were cold enough to be firm but thawed enough to be workable, so I used a long, serrated knife to level off the tops. I stacked them with peanut butter frosting and ran a thin crumb-coat over the whole thing before setting it in the refrigerator to chill for another 20 minutes or so. At this point I will note that I made a mistake in using crunchy peanut butter (what I had on hand) for the frosting, because peanut chunks do not make for a smooth crumb coat. Oh well…
For my daughter’s seventh birthday she declared that she wanted a Parry Gripp-themed party. Who is Parry Gripp? Try typing it in as a search term on YouTube and go down the rabbit hole of playlists…
The short answer is that he writes weird songs, most of which appear to be aimed at kids, with accompanying bizarre animated music videos. Current favorites in this house include “Neon Pegasus,” “Space Unicorn,” and “Pancake Robot.” There are actually a ton of food-related songs, which we used as inspiration for our party menu, but one thing my kid was adamant about was that she wanted a galaxy-mirror-glazed cake, which would relate to both Neon Pegasus and Space Unicorn. I’m not sure where she even found out about mirror-glazed cakes, but hey, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
So remember how last year I let my daughter tell me what she wanted her birthday cake to look like? This year I didn’t even have a chance to ask– she handed me a sketch one day and informed me that this was what I’d be making. It had three tiers (!), was decorated with berries and green icing, and had a fake warning on the outside saying that it most certainly did NOT hide any surprises inside… or did it?
Apparently she decided that what she wanted was a hidden pawprint to surprise her guests. It had to be pink, and it had to show only when the cake was cut into. While I had a general idea as to how to get this done, I turned to the internet and was happy to find a tutorial to give me some details as to how it could be accomplished! Here it is:
I’m not going to bother posting too many step-by-step instructions because honestly, the video is pretty good at explaining what to do.
So… about the title. I know, the word “mayonnaise” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when applied to a cake recipe, but using mayonnaise in cakes is actually pretty common, and makes sense– after all, what is mayonnaise but oil, eggs, and a little acid? And when you’re trying to add richness to a cake without adding dairy (sour cream is my usual go-to for stuff like this), it sounds like a great option.
I made a huge batch of cupcakes– half chocolate, half yellow cake– for a joint birthday party this winter, and when I say “huge” I mean “100+ guests HUGE.” And one of the birthday girls was allergic to dairy, so rather than single her out by making her a few “special” cupcakes, I decided to make the chocolate cupcakes dairy-free in their entirety.
I do have a dairy-free chocolate cake recipe that I use for all of my standard chocolate cakes, but honestly, when it came to making several dozen cupcakes I decided that it would actually be easier (if not cheaper) to start with cake mix. Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake mix is naturally dairy-free, it was on sale at the grocery store, and I didn’t have to worry about measuring out dry ingredients or buying expensive cocoa. Works for me! All I needed to do was doctor it up!
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?
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.
When I asked my daughter what flavor of cake she wanted for her fifth birthday, she told me “chocolate with cookies and raspberries,” so what could I do but comply? Not a huge project, but it was impressive (and tasty) enough that I figured it was worth writing about.
The cake is my standard chocolate cake, divided into three 7″ round cake pans. I didn’t have sufficient time for my usual whipped frosting recipe, so I threw some frosting together out of what I had on hand– it was a bit denser than I prefer, but still tasted good. There wasn’t really enough of it to properly frost the cake, but that’s where the cookies came in!
For Her Highness’s princess birthday party I wanted to carry the theme through in more than just the castle, so I decided to decorate some cookies to match. I thought about doing elaborate royal icing decorations like last year’s mermaid cookies, but eventually came to my senses and realized that with the extra-complicated cake I just wasn’t going to have the time. Instead, I decided to cover the cookies in fondant (like my Victorian cameo cookies) and try a new technique for decorating– the stencil.
Cookie stencils are very popular these days among decorators as a way to get an elegant, easily-reproducible design. I picked up a stencil set on Etsy that included a crown and a fleur de lis, figuring I could use both and still stay in theme.