For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.
For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.
I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.
I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!
My daughter’s class is having a Halloween party and has requested parent contributions to the menu– naturally, I volunteered to bring a dessert item, and asked her what she’d like me to make. After a little debate about ingredients and logistics, we decided on pumpkin muffin balls decorated to look like pumpkins. And I can’t wait to tell you about an awesome discovery I made with regard to decorating icing– but I’m getting ahead of myself.
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.
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.
So far you’ve seen the progress photos for my daughter’s Birthday Princess dress, but what’s a princess party without a castle cake? I knew I had to make one, so I started collecting fondant cutters and images of pretty cakes several months before they’d actually be needed.
After much vacillating I decided to make it a two-tier round cake with two towers at the base and three on the top tier. Since there was plenty of leftover cake last year, I kept the same sized pans as before– 7″ on the bottom (three layers) and 5″ on the top (two layers). Color scheme would be white, pink, and purple, and I’d decorate it with climbing roses and lacy crenellations.
Fair warning, this is not a tutorial post– the process was so involved that I just couldn’t take the time to get pictures of every step and post recipes and instructions for all of the components. I may do individual posts on some of the techniques, though. So for now just sit back and enjoy the pictures and general instruction summary!
Once I had my basic design idea I started looking for fabric. I originally figured that I’d get some lavender-colored jacquard or satin, possibly a lace or embroidered sheer for a skirt front panel, and call it a day. If I’d had easy access to a decent fabric store this wouldn’t have been a problem; however, my local store is hit-or-miss, so I turned to the internet. In searching online for the best price for jacquard (shipping is so expensive!) I had another idea– cannibalizing an old prom or bridesmaid’s dress.
Pre-worn formal dresses, particularly pastel satin ones that are clearly bridesmaid’s dresses, have a limited shelf life and an even more limited price range, whether at Goodwill or on eBay. With a full enough skirt the price-per-yard can end up being significantly lower than buying it off the bolt– and the dresses often come with beading or embroidery that’s just not practical to do by hand. I started sifting through auctions online, and found the perfect gown.
For this year’s birthday bash, my daughter decided to go full-on girly and have a princess party. (okay, I admit it, I may have encouraged her for the sheer cuteness of it) And what’s a princess party without a princess dress, right?
Since I irrationally hate installing zippers and sewing buttonholes (also cutting pattern pieces from the horrible flimsy paper), I couldn’t resist picking up this ivory satin flower girl dress for $10 at Goodwill when I saw it on the “Halloween” rack back in October. It was the perfect size (or so I thought), it was nice and plain, and it would be a great canvas for the fancy princess gown of my her dreams. Sure, I could’ve sewn it from scratch, but $10 would barely have paid for the satin fabric, not to mention the pearl buttons down the back, the netting underskirt with lining, and the other notions that were already there in the existing dress.
Unfortunately, once I got it home and finally convinced (translation: bribed with the promise of candy) my daughter to try it on, I realized that while it was the perfect length, it was too small to button up the back by at least 2 inches. Apparently my not-quite-four-year-old is too big around for a size 5 dress. But never mind, I can improvise…
My husband is a huge fan of peanut butter and chocolate, and every year for his birthday I have to come up with a new variation on the combo for his birthday cake. This year is probably one of my favorites. There’s a thin layer of chocolate cake on the bottom, topped with a no-churn peanut butter ice cream studded with peanut butter cups and swirled with fudge. Then it’s topped with another thin layer of cake, which is covered in a layer of fudge-y peanut butter and chocolate ganache. Drooling yet? Keep looking at the pictures…
My favorite part about this recipe is that each component is so easy to make. The cake is a one-bowl recipe, no softening butter or separating eggs required. The ice cream is no-churn and has so few ingredients that you can whip it up (literally) in minutes. The ganache is made in the microwave, without any worries about chocolate seizing or burning or doing whatever else chocolate does when you try to melt it over the stovetop. Yet despite the simplicity of each component, the finished cake is a showstopper! The cake freezes just hard enough to stand up to the ice cream, the ice cream itself maintains much of its softness in the freezer (no rock-hard slices here!), and the ganache is just firm enough to give you a nice bite of fudginess when you put a forkful in your mouth.