03 October 2009

cake counsel: kasper needs you (and so do I)

So Kasper is turning ONE in a few weeks and I'm still trying to decide what to bake. I clearly need help, most likely of the professional kind, but will settle (for now, at least) with some suggestions from you.

Here's my problem. I've never been a baker, and much less a baker of birthday cakes. Sure, once I did make an almost perfect replica of Cookie Puss for a friend's 25th birthday party after hearing he
r talk to a fellow former-Eastcoaster about how that cake pretty much define their childhood. It looked spot-on, but tastest dense and chewy (and not the ice cream part, mind you, but the cake) and the frosting was little more than wet powdered sugar spread so thick and hardened so completely you could hear it crack when we cut into it.

But for some reason motherhood has changed all that for me. When Jules was just a month old, I had the crazed idea that a new mom should celebrate her fledgling's first 30 days outside the belly with chocolate cake. I looked up a recipe online for some chocolate ganache thing or other and, while the cake turned out OK, the ganache shared Cookie Puss's fate. A yummy candy, it did make, but that wasn't quite what I was aiming for. Nice as they were, my friends ate it with smiles on their faces, and large helpings of ice cream.

When Jules turned one, I decided to mark the occasion with a monkey cake shaped like one of the monkey paintings I'd started hanging in his room a few months after he was born. It was cheeky and cute and maddening to make. The tail broke off in little pieces that I had to glue back together with my signature rock-hard frosting, and I had no platter big enough to hold it, so I eased it onto an ugly gray cookie sheet and decorated and served it on that. Still, it was a proud cake baking moment for me and, will make some lovely memories for him when he sees the pictures.

Year two I decided my gift to would be a calm and centered mama who was not working herself into a frenzy in the kitchen cursing some cutesy cake-like creation for her son. I bought an ice cream cake at Safeway, and a bunch of balloons and called it good.

Year three found me back in crazy-ville, baking up a blizzard of a polar bear while Jules was out playing with Bomma and Tante Leen from Belgium and Kasper, just three months old, gave me a brief period of silence while he dozed in his bed. Of course this one drove me crazy, too, but the cake was good and the frosting slightly better than previous versions. And if you didn't look to close, you'd miss the lumpy crumbs of cake under the frosting I'd try to camouflage with a dusting of powdered sugar.

With Kasper's first birthday fast approaching, I'm starting to panic. Do I slave away in the kitchen to produce a mini-masterpiece of mediocrity for my sweet baby who happened to bless me with his presence a little later in my life? And if I do bite the bullet and bake, what will it be? A Halloween-themed spider? A cutesy bumble bee? Something else? Or do I give him the gift of my sanity and pick up a few cupcakes at the local bakery and call it good? And if I don't bake, will this come back to bite me in, say, 16 years when Kasper's pleading with me to let him get his driver's license and pulls the "you always loved Jules best" line? See? SEE?

Any advice?


  1. Big Brother here...and I'm as baking challenged as my little sis. Mom was just as challenged. It seems you need to be a grandma to REALLY know how to bake something.

    I did run across something online...a cake recipe that is moist and tasty (so claims the site) and stands up to manipulation that makes it into something pleasing to a child.

    The site is...


    I like the 'Pail of Sand' cake (first one you get to when advancing through the pages on the site). It's cute, it's contained, and has possibilities beyond what the instructions/recipes suggest. For added decadence, I recommend custard between the layers, rather than the suggested apple sauce or pudding.

  2. I baked a cake for Logan's first birthday - but just normal and round - well lumpy and round. We ate it and bought a decent looking one at Safeway for the guests :) Every cake I've made has been ugly in some way! I feel your pain (and your mania) :)

    Here was my latest fiasco (I call it the red blood cell cake) although it *was* yummy!


  3. I've been thinking about this post and here are my two cents. It's the memories that count. If the pride and satisfaction of making the cake outweighs the effort, I say go for it. As for taste, as long as it resembles cakey-ness, who cares. Their tiny taste buds will not probably register whether it had the right balance between sweet, creamy, moist, etc. (Have you ever actually heard a 3 year old say "genache"?) All they care about is that it's sweet and they get to eat as much as they want. For all you know, they think it's the best tasting cake they ever had. And, in their short little lives, it probably is. The best part is that their young memories are just so malleable. You’ll have the pictures. You’ll tell them about how they squealed with glee and licked their plate clean. If you spin it just right, you’ll be the hero (of cakes, at least).

    On the flip side, if making the cake is going to put you in a mood that will not allow you to enjoy your little man’s first birthday, or insight feelings that the effort is not appreciated, then OUTSOURCE and enjoy your time spent out of the kitchen. AND, you are still in charge of the memories! You’ll have the pictures…of the balloons, and all the friends who came to share the cake, that you picked out and had his name put on special, just for him. You can still be the hero :)

    BTW, thanks for the Cookie Puss! I don’t remember how it tasted but I do remember that you made it just for me and that it made me feel special. XO

  4. Thanks for all the input! I think I've found the cake to make:


  5. nice compromise...store bought cake, home made icing!

  6. Oh...if you want to avoid the little frosting mess around the cake, cut strips of wax paper or parchment paper and put them underneath the cake around the edges before you frost, then pull them out after the frosting has set a bit.


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