Birthday Banquet: 8 Courses and Counting

It’s Big Sis’s birthday in May and I’m delighted to once again be in charge of planning a celebration for her.

Last year I created my very first ever dessert table for her, which was great fun to do and went down a storm with the family.  This year, determined to do something completely different, I’ve committed myself to creating and cooking an 8 course meal, with paired drinks.  When I told Chef J what I was planning, he started laughing and asked if I was drunk when I’d decided to do this.  The answer to this is no.  But I might have got myself into one of those slightly showy-off moods that certain company can trigger 😉

It’ll be fine.  It’s not like I’ll be doing it completely single handed – Petit Man and Medieval will be assisting with cooking, and Baby Bro, who knows about such things, will be putting together the drinks list for us.  I’m telling you, it’s gonna be totally do-able.  No, better than that – it’s going to be carried off with style, flair and aplomb.  And the kitchen will not devolve into a scene of devastation.  I’m far more excited than I am nervous.

In planning the menu I have, however, been careful to not go too overboard in the Estimation of Personal Ability department; dishes have been chosen and planned so that they can, on the whole, be prepared in advance and will  only need to be ‘finished off’ (assembled/heated/final stage cooked) on the day.

The menu is not completely fixed, and accompaniments, garnishes, finishing touches etc. are still being contemplated.  However, as things stands, this is what is being planned:

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Slaying a dragon with a high-heeled shoe

A whole lot of learning has been accomplished, a mass of experience gained and just over one year elapsed since the failed first attempt at a high heeled shoe cake.  Just look at the difference a year can make…High heeled shoe cake…well, a year plus having cutters and moulds plus using the appropriate medium!

This three tier stacked cake was for a friend’s 30th birthday.  From bottom to top the flavours are: vanilla Madeira with strawberry jam and vanilla buttercream; chocolate fudge cake with chocolate buttercream; firm carrot cake with fresh orange buttercream.

I’m generally pleased with the finished cake but there’s still a ton of room for improvement…not least, remembering to check that the top cake is big enough for the shoe!  I think I got away with this but it wasn’t the finished look I had in mind.

High heeled shoe cake - back viewForward planning, or lack thereof, is to blame for almost all the elements of this cake with which I’m unhappy.  Forward planning is not really to blame for the sightly barrelled shape of the top cake…that’s just down to needing to take a little more time.  However, the crooked ’30’, the marbling effect of the purple glitter (I intended to have it more solid), the off centre positioning of the cake on the board, the purple ribbon on the top cake instead of the intended diamanté…all of this was down to me not checking, measuring and thinking ahead.

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Petit Man Pizza

I actually had it in mind to make this for Petit Man’s birthday last year, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it and didn’t think I would have enough time.  As it happens, I’m glad I waited to get another year’s experience before trying it as I feel I wouldn’t have done nearly as good a job back then.  In the event, doing this cake for Petit Man was easy and fun.  I feel the effectiveness of the end result is positively out of proportion to the effort involved.
Pizza cake 4

Pizza cake 3

The cake was a single layer firm carrot cake, frosted with fresh orange Italian meringue buttercream, covered with fondant and decorated with hand made toppings.

Pizza cake 2I used thinly rolled fondant for the tomato sauce, and cut circular gummy sweets into strips for the green peppers.

To make the olives I cut slices from some of those soft, short and stubby, liquorice sticks you get in bags in the supermarket (do you know the ones I mean?!), then used a metal skewer to poke the ‘pitting’ holes in them.

Trying to get the colours and ‘fall’ of the pepperoni right took a bit of experimenting but I’m pleased with the end result, made using a mix of modelling chocolate and fondant.

For the mushrooms, I used scissors to cut shapes from white marshmallows, then painted them with edible food colouring.  (Fear not, the pink marshmallows did not go to waste; they were used as a my-mouth-filler.  Excellent for purpose, albeit temporarily.)

Finally, I used yellow Belgian chocolate curls for the grated cheese.

I loved how this turned out, but more importantly, so did Petit Man.

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Pet a cake, pet a cake

One of Mum’s friends asked if I could do a birthday cake for her Aunt’s 90th birthday.  It needed to be fairly traditional and relatively simple, so this is what I came up with:

Jessie's pets cake

This a three layer vanilla Madeira cake, filled with strawberry jam and vanilla buttercream, then covered with fondant.  I’m happy to note the continued improvement in smooth finish to the fondant covering.  The animals are fondant renditions of the lady’s pets.  Admittedly they’re not absolutely faithful replications, but I think they’re reasonably cute.

Jessie's Fondant dogContrary to appearances, Jessie does not have a pitbull…this is supposed to be a border collie…  Practice needed!!

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Frozen Party

One year on from the cake that got me hooked on fondant and  I was thrilled, once again, to  be asked to help make a special birthday for Barn’s niece.

Birthday girlThis time I not only made a cake, but also planned, designed and styled a whole dessert table, and several other elements of the party.  It was such delight to do!

Frozen Lunch BoxesSnow White has lunchSavoury food was provided in individual lunch boxes containing:

Freshly baked mini rolls filled with ham and cheese,
Olaf Noses and Blizzard Dip (carrots with cheese dip),
Sven Antlers (Twiglets),
Cherry tomatoes,
Crisps.

Definitely no poisoned apples involved!

DrinksDrinks were served in mini bottles with paper straws.

Left to right:

Melted Snow (water)
Princess Potion (apple & strawberry juice)
Winter Frost (blueberry & blackberry juice)

Icicle treeFrozen Table Decorations - Anna and ElsaThe centrepiece to the dessert table: Anna and Elsa stand in snow at the foot of tree laden with rock candy icicles (bubblegum and pink raspberry flavours).

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Strange Mix

This was one of those cakes where I wasn’t convinced about the initial design concept and, somewhat inevitably, was then not happy with the finished cake.

One of Barn’s work colleagues asked if I could do a Holy Communion cake for his daughter.  That in itself was fine…but then he said he wanted the top tier traditional and the bottom tier to involve Little Mix, the girl group (don’t worry if you’re not familiar with them, you’re truly not missing anything).  Flavours to be strawberry and chocolate, and her favourite colour is red.

Blending such a traditional and custom steeped occasion with a modern pop group is quite a challenge, and I don’t think I quite met it!

Bible and cross

The top, traditional tier was straightforward…well, it’s traditional isn’t it, so there’s plenty of guidance and minimal leeway!  I went for a diamanté keepsake cross and a hand crafted fondant bible. 20140705_230449

20140705_222742The problems set in with the lower tier.  I wasn’t at all familiar with the group, which didn’t help, but the real problem was their somewhat homogeneous appearance.  You know the the way the Spice Girls had their very specific individual personae and styles?  Little Mix don’t.  Or if they do, it’s so subtle it passed me by.

Modelling these figures was really hard, especially trying to get their skin tones right. Making them have hairstyles, doing their makeup and getting their legs in proportion were also major issues.

That one holding the ‘D’ caused me particular problems…she looked like a crazed witch and on top of that, her legs just kept growing and growing, like some weird snake thing.  I had to amputate her legs and re-cut her dress twice before I’d reduced the weight enough to stop this happening!

20140705_230520Deformed and freaky as they were, apparently Kady recognised them, and hasn’t (to my knowledge) been plagued with nightmares about Snake Woman.  All things considered, that’s not a bad result.

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Two birthdays and an anniversary

Cupcakes made for a group of friends celebrating together._DSC7509Red velvet cupcakes for a ruby wedding anniversary, topped with fondant and decorated with modelling chocolate lettering, fondant hearts and jelly rubies.

_DSC7538Birthday lemon cupcakes: some fondant covered, with modelling chocolate lettering and soft silver balls – some piped with sherbet lemon buttercream, sprinkled with edible silver glitter.

_DSC7539Birthday cupcakes made of chocolate sponge: some topped with fondant, decorated with modelling chocolate letters and soft gold balls – some piped with dark chocolate buttercream, sprinkled with edible gold glitter and soft gold balls.

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Vintage Sunflowers

When it came to styling and organising Mum’s 2014 birthday party I decided to go rustic with a yellow and brown colour scheme, using a sunflower motif throughout.Edited welcome signBirthday flowers in ceramic bootsBirthday flowers in a pair of ceramic yellow welly boots.  I spotted the boots lurking in the far recesses of a charity shop and gave the poor, elderly volunteer quite a shock as I let out a whoop of glee at their perfectness!
Birthday garden: water dish, centre front, beloved of small birdThe girl with the 500 other party plans still in her head!Birthday gardenThe weather was kind and people were able to sit out in the sunshine, enjoying the beautiful garden, whilst eating with friends.

_DSC7407Pack your own picnicThe savouries table was set up in a farmers’ market style – guests were provided with brown paper carrier bags and invited to create their own picnic.

market tableFreshly baked bread, crisp and juicy apples, a basket of speckled brown boiled eggs, cheeses wrapped in brown paper, pickles, miniature jars of chutneys, tiny tomatoes that burst in your mouth when you bit into them, and bunches of lively spring onions.

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A Cake of Two Halves

First versionThis cake was made for a friend who was godmother to the little girl being christened.  It was a three layer vanilla Madeira cake, filled with strawberry jam and vanilla buttercream, then covered and decorated with fondant.  The hood was made from rice krispie treats, shaped with the aid of a ball cake tin, also covered and decorated with fondant.

Strawberry cupcakes with pink baby feet piped decorations

Vanilla cupcakes with baby themed piped decorationsThere were also coordinating strawberry and vanilla cupcakes, decorated with fondant and piped sugar shapes.

Everything was boxed up and ready to deliver the following day, and then disaster struck…Disaster strikesJust before going to bed I discovered the hood of the crib had fallen off backwards, making this horrific mess 😦We can rebuildChristening Cake Part TwoHowever, I am British, so I did not falter; I called upon my birth bestowed stiff upper lip, girded my loins, then proceeded to strip off the fondant from the hood and back third of the cake, adding better supports, before re-decorating. I actually preferred the second, less fussy version.

Sweet dreamsKeepsake PlaqueHand crafted fondant and modelling chocolate baby and bear, and gumpaste keepsake plaque.
IMG-20140528-WA0001Eventually the cake was delivered intact and with a huge sigh of relief.  Later, this photo of it in situ at the party was sent to me, along with delighted feedback about how it looked and tasted.

All’s well that ends well!

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