April is a big birthday month in the extended FreshHomeCook family unit! Included in there is our baby girl Maisie. She turned two this year & I can tell you I have no idea where that time went! I love birthdays, being able to get loved ones together & share the joy & celebration. As with any celebration in my family there must be CAKE!
It appears that my partner & I have become birthday cake aficionados! It all started with setting ourselves up to make a Brown Bear (as in Eric Carle’s brilliant book) for our son’s first birthday, some four years ago. While we are not exactly professionals, with each birthday we seem to get just a little more complex & just a little better. We work well as a team, I am the better cake baker & icer (if that’s a word!) & J-man is the shape designer & decorator!
Last year, for Maisie’s first birthday I made a Dragonfly cake, thanks to the lovely ladies at Cake2theRescue. After making that cake, we realised we could do the design & making ourselves with a little planning & a whole lot of fun (kind of)!
For our son’s fourth birthday we made our own version of Willbee the Bumblebee that was a big hit! This cake was based on Maisie’s favourite character from Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom, a cartoon on ABC4Kids, Gaston the Ladybird. Truth be told, J-man & I love this show as much as the kidlets – it is made by the same good folk that make Peppa Pig & is just as unpretentious, fun & very funny! If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth seeking out an episode to watch. Oh wait, here’s one I prepared earlier …
Did you like the show? I bet you managed a smile of two from it – we always do, especially where Nanny Plum is involved!
But, as always I digress. Back to making cake!
Instead of going for the more traditional butter cake this time, I decided to make a mud cake recipe I had used for J-man’s birthday last year. He is a huge fan of all things caramel & as it turns out mud cake is great for shaping as it does not crumble when cut. That might have a lot to do with the amount of butter & white chocolate in it! As far as cakes go, this one is so easy to make, freezes beautifully & tastes incredible! Perfect birthday cake material.
The cake has a rich, lasting caramel flavour that melts on your tongue. The appearance is bubbly, but when sliced is dense & intensely moist. Add buttercream frosting & some fondant & you have a cake that will please both the big & little people alike!
As a word from the wise, the way we went about decorating is not process for the time pressured, or faint hearted. It has a lot of components & it is MESSY, very, very messy!
We used a vanilla buttercream frosting, then added food dye gel to colour the different body parts. You can buy pre-packaged & coloured frosting if you prefer & this would definitely save you some time & a whole lot of clean up!
Call me crazy, but I like going through the process of making my own & knowing what ingredients have gone in it. It also tastes much fresher. If you do decide to go the same way we did & you don’t want pink & black stained hands for a few days afterward, I suggest some gloves might be in order! It is a matter of adding small amounts of colouring to the base frosting & mixing it well until you get a shade you are happy with.
The frosting is easily spread by using an icing knife, or similar flat bladed utensil. Just boil some water & have it in a jug, then heat the knife before spreading & it will help the frosting glide over the cake with ease.
Now, given the ladybird was a simple semi-circle shape & we had quite a bit of cake left over, we decided to use the left over portion to make a little rainbow shape using vanilla buttercream frosting & a whole lots of Smarties®. As with the red frosting, it is a matter of dolloping it onto the cake, then using a hot knife to spread the frosting over the surface until it is even & as smooth as you like it. The candy sticks easily to the frosting, so while J-man was busy shaping the fondant, I got busy making a rainbow.
Go team FreshHomeCook!! 🙂
I was not so fussy with using a pre-made fondant. I have tried making my own in the past without much success & we had some in the freezer from my son’s last cake, so I went with that. I don’t like to suffocate any cake in fondant – I don’t like the weight it adds & I don’t really like the taste. It is very useful to add touches, but I much prefer to use small amounts. In this case, it was for the front part of the ladybird’s head & the dots on the back.
As with the frosting, it is a matter of adding the dye gel in small amounts until you have a shade you are happy with. Then using a cookie cutter & baking paper as your stencil, you can cut the fondant to the right shape & size. It will easily stick the frosting & before you know it, you have the makings of a ladybird!
So, after a couple of hours & a lot of clean up later, we had our cake! It won’t win any prizes, but I have to say we were pretty chuffed with the result & the look on our daughter’s face when she saw it made it a true winner for all of us.
Here’s how it went;
- CARAMEL MUD CAKE;
- Spray oil of a little softened butter
- 250 grams unsalted butter, chopped
- 2 cups brown sugar (I used Rapadura)
- 1 cup milk
- 200 grams white cooking chocolate
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1/2 cup self raising flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
- BUTTERCREAM FROSTING;
- 200 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups icing sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk
- red food dye - (I used a gel style)
- I used a store bought roll of basic white fondant* & cut what I needed off, the rest went in the freezer.
- black food dye - (I used a gel style)
- licorice strap
- Smarties® (candy covered chocolate shells) - I had about two bags on hand for this.
- CARAMEL MUD CAKE;
- Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius (non fan forced)
- Lightly grease & line the base of an approximately 20cm round non-stick cake tin. (if your cake tin is not non-stick, line the sides of it also).
- In medium saucepan, place butter, sugar and milk over a medium heat.
- Cook until butter has melted, stirring occasionally.
- Add the white chocolate & whisk until chocolate had melted & the mix is smooth. DO NOT BOIL.
- Also, don't worry if you still see flecks of white chocolate in the mix, this is fine.
- Remove from heat & transfer to a large mixing bowl to stand for at least 15 minutes to cool.
- Once cooled, sift the flours over the mixture & stir to combine.
- Add vanilla extract & lightly beaten eggs & whisk together until smooth & glossy.
- Pour the batter into the cake tin.
- Bake for about 55 - 60 minutes - (60 worked well in my oven).
- Remove from oven & loosely cover with aluminium foil. - (the centre of the cake will be quite runny, this is fine, as you are only about half way there!)
- Return the foil covered tin to the oven & bake for a further 60 minutes.
- The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before removing.
- If cooking ahead, like I did, wrap the cake in several layers of cling wrap & place in the freezer until you are ready to decorate it.
- BUTTERCREAM FROSTING;
- Using an electric mixer & a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on high speed until it is light & fluffy. Scraping down the side a couple of times to ensure all the butter is incorporated. (This took me about 5 minutes)
- Add the icing sugar in a half cup batches, mixing well after each addition. Again, scraping down the sides before you add the next batch.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer & add the vanilla extract & milk. Fold these through the mix with a spatula until just combined.
- Halve the frosting into smaller bowls, ready to add food dye.
- Take out whatever you intend to use as a serving plate / surface. We used a piece of off cut laminate board, covered with aluminium foil. Have this close at hand.
- Using baking paper, stencil your desired ladybird design onto a piece that fits the size of the cake.
- Trim the cake - a cold cake is easier to trim, so keep it in the fridge right up until you want to start - to the shape stenciled using a serrated knife (like a bread knife).
- Please note - the following parts get MESSY - food dye is MESSY & STAINS EVERYTHING! Only use items you are not worried about getting STAINED. Gloves would also help, if you don't want pink patches on your hands for a few days after (like we had!). 🙂
- Add red food dye to half of the frosting, mixing very well with a wooden spoon, or similar, until you get the shade you prefer.
- For me, I used about 2 teaspoons of the gel, it may vary greatly depending on what you decide to use. My advice would be start with about one teaspoon & then add small amounts until you are happy.
- Dollop the dyed frosting on top of the body of the cake, then using an icing knife dipped in hot water, start spreading the frosting over the top & sides of the cake. Keep moving the knife gently & dipping it back into the water as it becomes harder to move the frosting over the surface of the cake. Slow & steady wins here, just keep a smooth motion going, scrape off any excess & smooth over until you have the kind of surface you want.
- Transfer the frosted cake, gently, onto the serving plate in the spot you want it to stay. There is every chance some of the frosting will smudge the board, but this can be wiped off with paper towel, or left alone, depending on your level of perfectionism (mine is somewhere in the middle!).
- Please note - once again, using Black dye gel is MESSY & STAINS, so use surfaces & tools you either know will not stain, or you don't mind stain on, including your hands!
- Using a surface, or chopping mat / board, sprinkle with icing sugar & place the fondant down.
- Using a toothpick, dip the pick into the black dye gel & then insert this into the fondant in various spots.
- Gently knead the fondant & watch as the colour begins to change. Keep adding the dye gel in small amounts using the toothpick until you reach the colour shade you want. Try not to overdo this, as the dye can leach back out of the fondant once left to sit.
- Using a rolling pin rubbed with icing sugar to prevent sticking, roll out the fondant into a thin sheet, about 1/2 centimetre thick.
- Using the baking paper stencil, mark out & cut the fondant to the desired shape for the head of the lady bird. With the remains, roll out again, then using a round cookie cutter, or similar, cut out the circles for the back.
- Gently lift the fondant onto the cake & press into the frosting cutting away any excess.
- Use the licorice strap to make antennae - cutting a strip to the size you prefer, dab a small amount of the un-dyed frosting to the end & gently press into the surface of the cake.
- Use licorice strap to make legs, cutting strips to the desired length & using un-dyed frosting to stick the legs to the surface of your serving plate.
- Add a little white fondant with black dots for eyes, once again using a little of the un-dyed frosting to stick it to the cake.
- Add two pink Smarties® for cheeks.
- Add either more licorice strap for a mouth, or, we dyed a little strip of fondant red & used that.
- THE REMAINING CAKE;
- With the cut off of the cake, we decided to make a rainbow using the other half the frosting & a whole lot of Smarties®! You could experiment with lots of different options here - this is just a quick, easy & very tasty way to present the remainder of the cake. Beside, what child doesn't love anything covered in Smarties®! Seriously?!?
- As with the ladybird, place the frosting onto the cake surface & use a hot icing knife to spread the frosting over the top & sides until is is smooth & completely covered. Transfer this to the serving plate.
- Add Smarties® in rows of colour, or however you like really, until the cake is covered.
- Store the finished cake in a cool dry place - avoid refrigeration, or the fondant will sweat & then the colour will leach.
- The cake can be made well ahead of time & freezes brilliantly until ready to use. On the 'decorating' day, just take the cake out of the freezer & transfer it to the fridge until your are ready to get messy!
Just to show you a little of the reaction on the party day, here is our beautiful girl!
Oh, just a little note, when you use food dye, it can leave your guests looking a little like they need lessons in applying lip stick! 🙂
I hope you like this one as much as we do.
Who is your favourite kids show character? Do you go all out with making birthday cakes?
Thanks for stopping by.