Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Elmo Birthday Cake

My baby girl had a birthday recently and knowing that I've got lots more birthday cake making opportunities to come, I decided to do it right and find a buttercake recipe that tasted great with a wonderful soft texture yet was firm enough to hold together when I cut it to bits molding it to make car cakes or princess castles.

I found a bunch of basic buttercake recipes online and after looking through them all settled on 2 recipes which were very different and started baking.

Recipe #1
2 eggs
125g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Recipe #2
1/2 cup custard powder
2 cups self-raising flour
2 cups caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup milk
250g butter, softened
4 eggs

Since I was just testing at this stage I halved all recipe ingredients and baked them in loaf tins so they would both fit in the oven at the same time on the same shelf. Experiment #1 produced 2 cakes, both very dark on the outside. Recipe #1 gave a pale yellow inside which was firm - great for cutting, slicing and dicing, in fact perfect for molding pieces into a specified shape however....tasted very bland and dry. Recipe #2 gave a beautifully moist delicious cake which was so tender and light the slice broke in half as I was cutting it - not at all ideal for shaping a cake but boy did it taste good! This cake also took 10 mins longer to bake which produced a thicker crust so not only did the recipe need tweeking but also the baking conditions. Onto experiment #2.

First adjusting the recipe. Flour and sugar were fine, custard powder made #2 taste great to it would stay, and something in the middle for the butter. Also I switched to vanilla extract for a richer flavour and reduced the oven temp to try and bake the cake without over cooking the crust so much.

Experiment #2 produced just what I was after, a moist light yummy scrummy cake that was firm enough to cut and mold in to shape. The outside was still dark and the middle of the top of the cake had a big crack in it but I knew I could fix this by adjusting the baking conditions slightly again.

I'd been baking every few days over the week leading up to the birthday party so knew that I could refridgerate the cake but I'd have to let it come to room temp before serving it otherwise it'd have a stale texture. I could also just leave it covered at room temp if baked the day before the party but then I couldn't put cream in it before icing it as the cream would go off. In the end I baked it first thing on the morning of the party and left it to cool completely while organising breakfasts, showers/baths, and food and decorations for the party. I whipped the cream for the inside of the cake and put it in the fridge to chill completely and made a strawberry sauce by chopping a punnet of strawberries and heating it on the stove with a few tablespoons of caster sugar until the strawberries melted down into a delicious thick fruity sauce. I let this cool on the stove. Then about 30 mins before the party I made the butter cream icing and put the cake together. I was still icing the cake as guests started to arrive but it was only family so noone minded. So here's my version of buttercake:

M-A's Buttercake Recipe

1 egg
3/4 cup caster sugar
100g butter, softened (I took it out of the fridge the night before)
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup custard powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven (fan forced) to 170C. Grease and flour the sides and base of a cake tin then line it with baking paper.
2. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
3. Sift all dry ingredients straight into to the mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Beat on low to combine then on high for 6-7 mins (cake batter will lighten in colour and increase in volume) and then pour into the prepared baking tin (I acutally used a springform pan since I wanted really straight sides and it made it so much easier to get the cake out of the tin).
4. Put the cake into the oven and drop the temp to 160C. Bake for 40-45 mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. For a regular oven use temps 10C higher but you might need to adjust the baking time.
5. Allow it to cool completely before cutting or decorating. This cake came out perfectly cooked and with a much lighter golden crust - much more appealing if you wanted to serve the cake undecorated.

Butter Cream Icing
Beat 125g softened butter in a bowl until lighter in colour then add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 2 cups of sifted icing sugar in half a cup portions, combining each half cup before adding the next. Beat on high for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Colour as needed with food dye.

To decorate the cake:
I had made a few cupcake sized cakes as well as the big cake to use as eyes and a nose for the Elmo cake. I just cut away at them to make round eyes and a tear drop shaped nose. For the big cake, I sliced the top third of the cake off and carefully put it to the side. Then using a teaspoon and starting 1cm inside the walls of the cake, I scooped out the centre to a depth of about 1.5cm and spread the strawberry sauce over the base of the hole then filled in the hole with chilled whipped cream. I put the top third carefully back on and spread the top and sides with the butter cream icing which I'd made earlier and coloured bright red. I iced the eyes with uncoloured icing and then dusted them with icing sugar to make them really white and added a choc chip for the pupil. I also iced the nose with orange coloured butter cream icing. Using some baking paper with a semi-circle cut out of it as a template I sprinkled chocolate sprinkles in place of Elmo's mouth and then put the prepared eyes and nose in place. To finish it off I used my finger to 'fluff' up the icing to create his fur and vuala!!

Little Lady just LOVED it and on seeing it for the first time when singing Happy Birthday to her, she interrupted the singing to tell everyone "Mo! Mo!". I would have taken more pics of the inside of the cake but both kids and adults alike ate it so quickly I didn't get a chance. And it was delicious! I got loads of complements and apparently I'm now booked for my future nieces and nephews b'day parties...when my sister-in-laws get around to getting married and having kids that is. In the meantime I've got another 6 months or so before I need to start practicing Iggle Piggle for Little Sir's birthday.
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