Having no layer cake building experience, I found some tips on Pinterest on how to make the cake layers pretty flat. There are all sorts of things you can do, from wrapping your pans with wet towels (fiddly!) to slicing the domed parts off with a sharp knife (wasteful!). I would try those methods if I was doing something that needed to be super-precise, like a wedding cake (I will never bake a wedding cake!) but since it didn't need to be as flat as a tabletop, I went with the simplest method: lowering the baking temperature and extending the time. I baked the layers at 300 for an hour and found that to be perfect.
I had been having nightmares (really) about running out of buttercream before I was finished frosting the cake and then having to attempt to color match my frosting halfway through, so I decided to use something other than buttercream for the filling. Since H is a complete chocoholic, I went with chocolate! I used Pralinutta in the Dark Cocoa flavor. I had never tried Pralinutta before, but it's a Belgian product similar to Nutella. I went with it over Nutella because I wanted a pure chocolate taste in case there were folks who didn't like hazelnut. I spread a very generous amount between the two layers -- almost the whole jar. And I have to say, this was a very good idea. :-) It gave the cake some real chocolate oomph.
I used this "crusting buttercream" recipe. For the practice cake, I used only vegetable shortening, which had a really good consistency, but a slightly greasy mouthfeel. So the second time, I followed the second directions, to make it with half butter. I thought the flavor and mouthfeel were much better. I will say, I slightly overwhipped the frosting the second time, so there was too much air in it, which made it harder to work with and not as firm. But it wasn't so bad that I couldn't still use it. I will just watch more carefully next time. I colored the frosting purple with a neon gel food coloring. Unfortunately it was a little less purple and a little more gray than I would have liked. Oh, well.
Here it is with the crumb coat (which should have been thicker, I realized in hindsight).
And here it is with the base coat of frosting. I skipped this step in my practice cake and you could sort of see the chocolate through the ruffles. Now I realize it would have been better to just use a much thicker crumb coat. I had one little area where the frosting drooped and I think it wasn't sticking to this layer as well as it would have stuck to a crumb coat.
I used this tutorial as inspiration for the ruffled frosting. I kind of hate linking to that tutorial because her ruffles look so much nicer than mine. ;-)
|Frosted with ruffles. The cake is straight -- it's the frosting that is crooked!|
|That frosting color looks really gross in my badly-lit kitchen! Sorry.|
I was slightly worried about not having enough cake to go around (unfounded worry, of course) so I ended up making a bit more of everything and having a few cupcakes. H discovered those sitting out on the dining table where I had them resting so the frosting could harden up a bit, and brought one to me, asking, "Can I have a share of this?" I guess asking to "share" it was supposed to make me not notice that half the frosting had already been eaten off. It sort of worked -- I couldn't even keep a straight face while I was scolding her.
I may have been a nervous wreck about transporting the cake to the party, and I may have been rather snippy to N about his driving, which was surely going to ruin the cake I worked so hard on oh my gosh! But it got there completely fine and transferred to the cake platter fine, and my little gymnast girl cake topper went on just as planned with no hiccups! Hooray!
|Doesn't that purplish icing look more appetizing under better lighting?!|
|Little Gymnast Girl still looks like this more than a week later, and is now on display in my laundry room, haha! I just couldn't bear to throw her out.|
H and her little friends had a totally fantastic time at the gymnastics birthday party. I have to say, I am so glad I chose to go the easy route. I had been doubting my choice not to have the party at home until the week of, when suddenly the third trimester aches and pains hit me hard and I realized I would have been an exhausted, barely-able-to-walk mess if I had had to worry about having a party at home. In addition, I know I saved money in the long run, because having it there forced me to keep it simple in terms of food and decorations (and the venue only charged $140 for the party itself, which I thought was incredibly reasonable). AND, let's not kid ourselves, the kids had probably a million times more fun jumping on trampolines and flying into the foam pit than they would have had at our house.
Despite all the fun she was having, H never quite got the cake's siren song out of her head! As soon as her daddy told her it was "almost time for cake," she was OUT of the gym like a shot, headed straight for the cake table! We had to chase after her to make sure the cake survived long enough to blow out the candles. Fortunately, she hadn't been able to attack it. ;-)
|She ended up needing a bit of help from her Papa O to blow out the candles. And I don't think we even remembered to tell her to make a wish.|
|But I know her wish just would have been for cake, so it was a moot point.|
The verdict: Making the cake certainly saved some money over the cost of a similar cake from a baker, even though for this first outing I had to buy pans, cardboard cake circles, piping supplies, etc. Obviously next time the savings will be even more. What really surprised me was how fun and satisfying it was to do! I will certainly be making cakes at home again in the future.