Yes, kids, it was birthday party day! Little Fella has had robots on the mind ever since he got his hands on a little R2-D2 toy from last year’s ComicCon (2007). It was in its blister wrap for a while, and then we had friends from out of town visit, and the four-year-old boy knew exactly what to do with packaging like that: open it up and play with it.
Last year we had a full-on airplane party, and it was a lot of fun and I made a cake that pushed the limits of my capabilities. It was dimensional and everything. Robots seemed a lot easier to make. Rectangles, dude. Rectangles. I went through the usual stages of overbaking, getting crumbs in the icing, and complaining about it, and redoing the icing late at night, but because I have learned to expect such things I plan around them. I baked Thursday, decorated Friday afternoon, and decorated again Friday night. There was that one panicky moment at the party in which I thought we weren’t going to be allowed to cut and serve the cake, because it had been given a name, but the allure of M&Ms proved too strong. The torso received the first cut.
Yay! Robot cake! Of course, none of it would have been possible without key products:
Products I Love
Buttercream Frosting from Powdered Sugar
This really only takes five minutes to make. Really. The vanilla makes it vaguely beige, but not unappetizingly so. And when you make it with whole milk, it’s really, really good. Considering that most people have milk, butter, and vanilla on hand, this is cheaper than buying a tub of icing, and the texture of it is so much easier to spread on a cake. You have to really like buttercream, though, because this frosting is sweet.
I like buttercream.
Seriously. Cake mixes never fail. If you aren’t making some kind of fancy red velvet, just put out the $2.50 for a box of Duncan Hines, or Betty Crocker, or even the generic store brand. I will say one thing, though–the brand-name fudge flavor I bought (from the red box–I forget which it is) called for a stick of butter instead of oil. The generic brand called for oil. Because for a variety of reasons I ended up with an extra cake and it was the generic one, I can’t do a side-by-side comparison. But it’s a lot more fun throwing a stick of butter into a mixing bowl than pouring some vegetable oil into it. Plus the bowl licking later is much nicer.
Wilton’s Sparkle Gel
Tres, tres cool. I’ve never bought this before, and only got it because robots are supposed to be metallic. I’d also bought Wilton’s accent color frosting tube, but it turns out you need their special nozzles which I didn’t have (I have nozzles from another brand). They are probably compatible with regular cake decorating nozzles that I remember playing with when my mother used to bake and decorate cakes for our birthday parties, but I don’t have any at home. The blue tube, then, was not usable. I’ve had bad luck with other decorating gel and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of using as much as I was going to have to, but it worked wonderfully. It was easy to keep a steady pressure on the tube and there were no air pockets inside that splattered. My ability to make a straight line depended only on my steady, steady hand. Thin patches were easy to go back and fix because there wasn’t a big clump that came out whenever you started fresh. A fantastic product. I bought it at Party City on impulse when I was there buying plates and stuff. I didn’t expect to use it at all and I am so glad I did. I am half thinking about getting the other colors to have on hand (seeing as how there’s an entire spare cake in my freezer, as well as a dozen frozen cupcakes).
It is also Certified Kosher.
Cake Decorating Spray
There are a couple different brands of this. I am amazed by the intensity of color they provide. I ended up not using a spray on this cake because the accent colors were the same color as the spray, but I’ve used it before. It looks really good when you tint the icing the same color first. The only caveat is that there is not a ton of spray in the can and that you can end up spraying your walls and counter top and blouse. I have the four main colors (red, yellow, green, blue) at home but there are many different colors available.
Products I Wanted but Didn’t Have
Those are the silver balls that you decorate cakes and cookies with, you philistines. And I wanted them, very badly, except I wasn’t sure if it would harm the baby and I couldn’t track them down at the grocery stores. Perhaps if I had asked for them by name instead of “those silver balls that you put on cakes that you aren’t supposed to bite” someone would have been able to point me to the right aisle. Oh well.
Angled Cake Spatula
I have wanted one of this for five cakes now, but every time I think of it, I’m at a regular department store and they don’t have this specialty item (by regular department store I mean Target or Wal-Mart), and then I forget all about it until the next time I am up late at night trying to frost a cake with a rubber scraper spatula or giant knife. Because when am I ever in a baker’s specialty store? I boast about baking with cake mixes, for crying out loud.
Products that Don’t Please Me Very Much
Turns out M&Ms come in at least three sizes. We got the medium because it was Fella’s cake and Fella asked for them because candy is candy is candy, right? Wrong. Medium M&Ms have too big a ratio of chocolate to candy shell. And because the chocolate–let’s face it–isn’t great. The appeal of the M&M is the candy shell for its crispness and color. Regardless, they make great display lights on a robot cake.
Foil Baking Cups
I just can’t use these properly. I do not want to follow the directions, for reasons I do not understand. They purportedly can be used free-standing, in lieu of muffin tins. The first time I used it I assumed the paper inserts were just to keep the foil pieces separated. I poured the batter right into the foil cup and there was no separating them from the cupcakes after baking. This time I put the paper separator into the muffin tin with the idea that I would put them in the foil after. The cupcakes separate from the paper fine, but they don’t fit nicely back into the foil. The foil is all loose and falls off. Maybe next time I’ll follow directions. I have like a hundred left because they always catch my eye and I never remember that I already have a few sleeves on hand. But, I repeat, I have a spare cake and a dozen cupcakes in my freezer. When am I going to make any kind of cake in the near future?
Meanwhile, there is more than half a bag of those sub-par M&Ms in my house. On the other hand, there is a lot of ice cream. They’ll probably go together quite nicely… next week. I feel a little sick right now and don’t want to eat cake, frosting, or ice cream ever again. Maybe frosting. I have a pint of it left. It’s almost a reason to get up off the couch and drive to the store to buy graham crackers.