Monthly Archives: June 2011

Toodles cake tutorial.

As promised, here is the tutorial for the Toodles cake I made for The Munchkin’s “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” party last weekend. Check out the rest of the party here.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional cake decorator — as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t even taken a Wilton class — so I’m not pretending to be an expert, but I can give you a few of the tips & tricks I use. If you ARE a professional cake decorator, just skip straight to the part about flattening the Starbursts for the dots.

First, I baked a cake. (Duh.) I really like the Easy Yellow Cake recipe in the KitchenAid manual/cookbook. It’s easy, not too sweet, & holds up well while still staying moist. I’ve included the recipe at the end. A few days in advance of the party, I baked two 9-inch round pans & then carved them to my desired shape by finding some things in my kitchen that were the right size & shape & then using a sharp serrated knife to cut around them. In this case, I used a cereal bowl & the bottom of my meringue powder container. Then I double-wrapped each piece in two layers of Saran Wrap & put them in the freezer until I needed them. Freezing the cakes is important for 3 reasons: 1) It keeps the cake from going stale, 2) It allows you to break up the process so you don’t have to do it all at once, & 3) It reduces crumbs on the cut edges while frosting.

Then I made frosting. Lots of frosting. In this case, I used the extra left over from these Cars cakelets. In case you’re as dissatisfied as I am with my “add some powdered sugar &/or cream until it looks right but will probably end up being too thick anyway” method for frosting, try this: 2 sticks of butter, 6 cups powdered sugar, 2 tsp. CLEAR vanilla (best for dyeing), & milk or cream to desired thickness. Remember thinner is better for spreading. If you’re paranoid like me about running out, you may want to add half again as much of everything. I filled the cake with the delicious chocolate frosting I used for Mater, because I believe yellow cake just goes with chocolate frosting, but you can do what you want. If you’re not crazy like me & making a zillion cakes in 1 week, it’s probably not worth it to make up a whole other batch of frosting just to fill your cake.

Don’t forget to add a couple tablespoons of meringue powder to your frosting to help it set up & stay upt while & after your frost. Then use gel food coloring to dye it to your desired colors. (Tip: “Golden Yellow” is a lot more orange than it looks on the bottle. I think just plain old “Yellow” would’ve looked better.)

Now for the fun part!

First, take a cake board or some cardboard & wrap it in some pretty paper. This sounds silly, but it really does make a HUGE difference in the presentation. Pull your cake pieces out of the freezer & unwrap them, then slap a dab or two of frosting under the cake (all 3 pieces parts if they’re disconnected like they are here) to keep it from sliding off your pretty board. Fill your cake, if needed.

Put several pieces of wax paper around the edges of your cake to protect your cake board. When we’re done frosting, we’ll slide these out & cover any gaps with a pretty frosting border.

Now we crumb coat. Take some frosting (plain un-dyed white is fine, but we used the already-dyed stuff) & thin it with a tiny bit of milk. Use an offset spatula like this one to make a thin layer to trap the crumbs. Have a paper towel handy to wipe any crummy frosting off of your spatula so you don’t contaminate your frosting. It doesn’t have to look pretty. Then stick your cake back in the freezer for a few minutes. (P.S. Shout-out to My Husband The Closet Ace of Cakes, who almost always does all of my frosting spreading so I just have to do the pretty stuff.)

Then pull the cake back out of the freezer. Grab your frosting, offset spatula, a dish towel, & a bowl or pie plate full of hot water. Sound weird? Just trust me. Spread your frosting, then smooth it by submerging your spatula in the hot water & then drying it completely with the dish towel. The warm spatula kind of re-melts the frosting to smooth out any bumps for you.

Now for the Starbursts. When I was trying to think of what to make the dots out of, my first thought was fondant. But you already know about My Husband The Opinionated’s feelings on the subject; plus, I didn’t want to either buy 3 colors of fondant or go to all the effort of learning how to dye it myself. Then I remembered a cake that my friend Laura had made for my baby shower 2 years ago: she made flowers out of flattened Starbursts! Perfect! So I called her up & she shared with me how to do it.

Unwrap a few Starbursts & stick them between the layers of a folded sheet of wax paper. Microwave it all for about 7 seconds, just enough to soften them. Use a rolling pin to flatten them to your desired width & thickness, stopping often to pull them off of the wax paper so they don’t stick. For a larger shape, you can even melt two candies together, side by side. That’s what I did for the largest red circle.

Now here’s the funny part. To cut them to the desired shape, use… scissors! You can use a stencil if you want to get them perfectly round, but I found it easiest to just eyeball it. I wound up making way more than I needed, so we just ate the extras.

Position them where you want them on your cake, & trim edges to fit if they’re on the edge. You should be able to just press them into your frosting, but if they’re overlapping one another, just pipe a tiny bit of frosting on the bottom of your top one to secure it.

Now put your frosting into piping bags (I use disposable ones because I don’t decorate often enough for the nice ones to be a savings, & I just prefer the ease of tossing them) with a coupler in the bottom of each to make it easier to switch tips. The tips I used were a 5 writing, 18 star, & 16 star.

I Nnever trust my freehand artistry skills, so I always try to find things to trace. Sometimes it’s a little odd, but it works. For the “poles” on Toodles’ face, I used part of a Zicam bottle cap. For the circles inside his ears, I used my half-tablespoon. I make small depressions in the hardening frosting to trace.

Then I actually did freehand the gear detail on his ears, consulting a picture I printed off the Internet every single step of the way. I filled in all the red details with my writing tip, & chose to smooth the “poles” the same way we did the frosting base, just with a smaller spatula. But I think they ended up looking too much like the Starbursts, so if I did it over, I’d leave it textured like I did the gear details.

Finally, I used the smaller star tip to do a shell border around the top in red (I think yellow would have been more accurate to the show, but I was worried about running out) & then carefully slid the wax paper out (I used my small spatula to keep the frosting in place) & used the larger star tip to do a shell border around the bottom in blue. This cleaned up all the edges & just gave it a more polished look. I also wrote The Munchkin’s name on the front side of the cake using my writing tip, but I’m not going to show that to you because I’m not ready to reveal her identity.

So there you go! I hope that this tutorial is helpful; if you wind up using it for your Munchkins, I would seriously love to see pictures! Comment with links, or email me (on the “About” page)!

Last, but not least, here’s the cake recipe. Happy thoughts go to my good friend Mandy, who saved me by emailing it to me when I couldn’t (still can’t — hopefully it’ll show up after we move?) find my manual.

KitchenAid Easy Yellow Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup lowfat milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease & flour (I prefer Baker’s Joy or PAM for Baking — 1 step!) two 8- or 9-inch cake pans
  2. Add dry ingredients to mixer bowl. Add shortening, milk, & vanilla; use flat beater to mix about 1 minute at speed 2. Scrape bowl.
  3. Add eggs; mix about 30 seconds on speed 2. Scrape bowl.
  4. Beat at speed 6 for 1 minute.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pans & bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then drop pans gently on the counter to free the cake from the sides of the pans & invert onto a wire rack to remove. Cool completely.
  7. Carve, freeze, & frost as above.
Tidy Mom

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We’re moving!

After 4 years of law & professional school & lots & lots of waiting, My Husband The Lawyer can finally be called a lawyer! He just got his dream job, so we’re moving! See if you can guess where.

They have lots of these:

& these:

& we’ll be an hour & a half west of this guy:

We’re very excited about this new opportunity, but I’ll be sad to leave NYC & all the amazing stuff here.

Anyone from the area who can give me some tips?

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How to make a licensed character party look homemade.

Have you ever noticed that the parties featured on all those professional party planner blogs all have generic themes, like bubbles, cars, or even just colors? But your kids aren’t going to request a “pink damask” party theme; they’re going to request Hello Kitty, Superman, Elmo, or, say, Mickey. So how can you give them what they want while still adding a personal, homemade touch like the professionals do? Do it yourself!

The Munchkin and SIX — yes, six — of her playgroup friends all have birthdays within a few weeks, if you can believe it. So the moms all got together & decided that, rather than spend the whole month of June going to each other’s birthday parties, why not do a joint party? We just had to figure out the one thing all seven could agree on: “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”!

I quickly volunteered to be in charge of the decorations, & I did everything with a personal, homemade touch with just over $30! You can too!

Here’s what I used:

  • a few feet of grosgrain ribbon (you can see it in the banner in the photo above)
  • 3 sheets of posterboard (34 cents each at Target)
  • 3 rolls of streamers: red, yellow, Caribbean blue
  • 3 cheap vinyl tablecloths in the same colors
  • The Munchkin’s coloring books
  • a few minutes at Kinko’s
  • The Munchkin’s crayons
  • my friend’s Cricut & her Mickey cartridge
  • free Disney fonts I downloaded from online

That’s it!

I started by going to my friend Maile’s house, where she very graciously helped me cut out dozens of Mickey shapes. That shape is forever seared in my brain. It reminded me of when we learned about children’s book author Bill Peet, who got his start as an inbetweener in Disney’s animation department, but quit when he had a nervous breakdown while animating a Donald Duck cartoon & ran out of the building screaming, “No more ducks! No more ducks!” As I was gluing (& gluing. & gluing.) I thought several times, “No more Mickeys! No more Mickeys!”

But seeing it all put together was totally worth it. The Mickeys ended up all over the place, like on these treat bags. It was a great way to reinforce the theme in a less cartoony way. (I attached a Sharpie on a ribbon to the sign to let the parents write their kids’ names on their bags.)

I used more Mickeys & some brightly-colored cardstock I already had to make placecards for the dessert table. Please forgive the really horrible rubbing out of names… I haven’t spent the $24.95 for the good version of Picnik to do name-blurring the right way. But under the horribleness is each name in free Mickey font. The other 6 kids got Wal-Mart cakes in the Disney character of his or her choice, but we’re cake snobs in this house, & besides, I’d been envisioning this Toodles cake for months. So that’s what The Munchkin got. I’ll post the tutorial Friday!

The signs were photocopies I enlarged from The Munchkin’s coloring books at Kinko’s (for a whole $2.06 total) & glued onto pieces of posterboard. Then My Husband The Artiste & I spent an evening coloring them in while watching Newsies. (Could our family get any more Disney? Maybe I should look into sponsorship or something for all this product placement…) Here are some of them; the “Birthday Clubhouse” logo was designed by the aunt of one of the birthday boys, who’s a professional photographer & graphic designer. She used it for the awesome invitation she made, which I for some reason can’t edit my ghetto way & still save. I’ll try to get it from her so you can see all its awesomeness.

We put each of the characters on a pillar of the Clubhouse, which was the gazebo outside our apartment complex. Perfect, right?

Even more perfect was the fact that Mickey Park was right next door! The kids entertained themselves by playing on the adjacent playground, drawing with sidewalk chalk like Daisy, & fishing for more treats for their treat bags with a “handy fishing rod” my friend Wendy made from a paint stirrer, some yarn, & 2 felt hands glued on either side of a clothespin. Total cost: $2.

Finally, here’s the food table. We had two kinds of chips & homemade salsa from my friend Halley (one was a fruit salsa I am definitely making & hopefully posting in the near future), Mickey-shaped cheese (find them at Wal-Mart) & crackers, chocolate covered raisins, Swedish fish (I mean, “Gooey Fish”), fresh fruit, & Hot Diggity Dogs (find them at Costco).

I made the banner & table tents from more of that scrapbook paper & free Mickey font.

So there you have it! All you need is some paper, coloring books, & creativity, & you can have a beautiful birthday party & a very happy birthday Munchkin…

…or seven!

Don’t forget to come back Friday to see the Toodles Cake tutorial! Here’s a sneak peek:

works for me wednesday at we are that family36th Avenue

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Blog Lovin’ Award!

This weekend I got a great surprise in my email inbox!

Thanks, Mariajose of A Bit of Everything! I feel very grateful & humbled.

I’m still quite new to the world of blogging, so I didn’t even know what the Blog Lovin’ Award was, but thankfully she posted the directions right on her post!

Here’s what I get to do:

1. Thank & link to the person who nominated you.

Thanks again, Mariajose!

2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.

  1. The food on my plate can’t touch. I have a difficult time at buffets.
  2. I got so burned out as a music major in college that for awhile afterwards I didn’t listen to ANY music at all.
  3. I broke my back 4 years ago. Ouch.
  4. I’m pretty terrified of horses. (See #3)
  5. I’m allergic to olives. But not olive oil. Random, right?
  6. I have like the most sensitive gag reflex ever. (That was SUPER helpful during morningsickness…)
  7. I used to hate the word “blog” because I thought it was an ugly word.

3. Pass the award along to 10 deserving blog buddies.

  1. Smitten with my Kitchen – my friend Tanya’s cooking exploits, including great recipes for food storage items
  2. What Mandy Cooks – Mandy & I grew up together, & many of my recipes are from her!
  3. kalanicut – I knew Kalani when I was a teenager; now she has great ideas for living well, healthily, & happily
  4. A Christian Man’s Hope – Christian inspiration from my cousin-in-law
  5. Circus Tales – my friend Karen’s blog about her incredible experiences as an American-born Chinese mom living in as an expat in China
  6. Recipes to Run On – running inspiration, delicious recipes (many with WW points!), & how she’s making healthy choices in her & her family’s life
  7. Star Hughes Living – yummy recipes, fun crafts, great photos, & hilarious “MBA thoughts”
  8. Leah’s Thoughts – life as a working mom in Southern CA
  9. Chef in Training – delicious recipes!
  10. The Frugal Flambe – ditto!

Click over to some of these other blogs too! I’m sure you’ll find something interesting! Thanks again to Mariajose!

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Strawberry Spinach Salad.

Hi, all! I’m late posting today because we decided to take The Munchkin to see her first in-theatre movie, Cars 2, this morning to celebrate her using the potty for the first time! (Yes, we were planning on going anyway, but it was nice to call it a reward.) It was a little loud in the theatre for all of us, but we all liked the movie. Munchkin was also quite excited when she saw the Winnie the Pooh movie preview.

I’ll post about the weekend’s crazy birthday bash next, but I need a little detox from Sweets Week first.

This is my favorite salad. Period. I make it all the time during strawberry season. I love how fresh & light it is, plus it boasts lots of antioxidants! This is another great recipe from The Essential Mormon Cookbook, & just like with the last one, I halve the dressing recipe & still have plenty for at least 6 people. This is how I make it; if you’re making it for a huge church get-together or something, double it. Oh, & the dressing keeps really well in the fridge, too!

Honey Celery Seed Dressing

  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. finely grated onion (just take a cut onion to the side of your box grater a half-dozen times & use your 1/2 tsp. to scrape the resultant goo off the inside. You could also use dried onion powder or flakes, but I don’t know the conversion for that)
  • 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp. celery seed (if you have an aversion to the taste of celery, you can cut this in half)
  1. Add all but the last 2 ingredients to a blender cup & blend well.
  2. Lift the lid; gradually add oil & celery seed while blending.
  3. Toss with washed baby spinach, sliced strawberries (macerate them with a little sugar if you’re serving this outside to keep them fresher), & sliced toasted almonds (if you can find the honey-roasted salad topper ones in your produce section, those are the best, but my grocery store didn’t have them). Serve immediately. If you’re taking this to a potluck or waiting to serve it, leave the dressing on the side for guests to add themselves so that the spinach doesn’t wilt.
  4. Refrigerate remaining dressing to use later.

Get Your Craft On Tuesdays

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“Cars 2″ cakelets for the birthday Munchkin!

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just don’t have a child under the age of 10 in the house) Cars 2 comes out tomorrow! We’re not excited about this or anything…

I’m pretty obsessed with Nordicware molded cake pans (I’m sure you’ll see more of my collection over the coming months). Knowing this, & knowing that they came out with a limited-edition Cars 2 cakelet pan, & knowing that The Munchkin loves Cars & had a birthday was coming up, my dad sent her an early birthday present. So guess what we did today for The Munchkin’s 2nd birthday?

I baked the cakelets last night using the recipe on the insert that came with the pan. I love these inserts because they calculate the exact right amount of batter for each molded pan! So perfect. However, I realized quickly that leveling in the pan was out of the question; pieces were breaking off faster than I could saw. So I just popped them out of the pan as-is & trimmed them with a paring knife this morning.

Then I made the frosting.

7 sticks of butter, 4 pounds of powdered sugar, & a diabetic coma later, I had a ridiculous amount of frosting. I’m always so paranoid I’ll run out, that I make way too much. Though this time I made extra on purpose for The Munchkin’s Toodles cake for Saturday’s birthday party (I told you it was Sweets Week at our house!). For the vanilla, I used my “add some powdered sugar &/or cream until it looks right but will probably end up being too thick anyway” method — don’t recommend it. For the chocolate, however, I used this recipe from A Southern Fairytale. Super delicious, & the perfect consistency for spreading! I also added a couple tablespoons of meringue powder to each to help them set up more quickly, but should’ve added more to the chocolate.

Then we decorated. & decorated. & decorated.

The sheer tininess of scale was almost too much My Husband The Closet Ace of Cakes & me! We’d never frosted anything that small before. (Why not fondant, like they show in the product photos, you ask? Because My Husband The Persnickety views the sheer existence of fondant as an affront to his palate. Plus, I’m completely self-taught as a cake decorator & have never learned to use it.)

But The Munchkin didn’t mind one bit!

As long as Guido tastes good, that’s all that matters, right?

Finally we got into a groove & finished 5 of the 8 (The Munchkin was happy to take care of the rest). Do you recognize the characters from the new movie?

We used mini-Oreos for the tires (though you could use more of the black-dyed chocolate icing if you want), & mini-M&Ms for the eyes. I had bought a bag of regular M&Ms so we’d have the full complement of eye colors, but they were far too big for the size of the cakes. As My Husband The Comedian put it, “They could be Anime cakes…” So we dug out a still-sealed tube of mini-M&Ms left over from Christmas — yes, Christmas, but they were still good — so our eye-color choice diminished significantly.

I made the cake board the night before with a Wilton cake board (totally worth the investment — I’m still on the same package I bought 3 years ago!), construction paper, & a logo I printed out off the Internet. Free & easy!

The Munchkin requested that “Wight-Queen” be her birthday cake. He was just the right size for 2 candles!

She was so happy about her cakes. All day today, she kept telling everyone we met, not that it was her birthday, but that she made “Cars cakes.” So all the work & powdered-sugar-inhalation were worth it!

See you later! Ka-chow!

(P.S. If you’re heading to the theatre this weekend to see the movie, come back & leave a comment letting me know how it was — & whether it’d be too scary for a 2-year-old. Thanks!)

Tidy Mom

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Happy 2nd birthday, Munchkin!

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 years…

Happy birthday, dear Munchkin!

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