Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Labor of Love: A Fancy Cake for Brynn

There was a time when I thought that someday, I would have a little bakery where I made custom cakes for birthdays, weddings, christenings, you get the idea. I began baking cakes when my oldest daughter Emily turned 1. I wanted a special cake to celebrate her first birthday, and I remembered how wonderful it felt to have a cake baked for you by someone you knew. My father used to make our birthday cakes when my sister and I were little. He was quite the Renaissance man: in addition to the cakes, he embroidered our overalls with our names and butterflies in brightly colored thread, he did far more cooking than my mother, and he once convinced my mom to help him make strawberry preserves with berries we had picked at a local farm. I wish we had home movies of my mother at work on that project; it would be hilarious to watch. His were simple cakes: baked in a sheet pan, frosted in white, and then decorated with whatever we had requested. One year my sister had Big Bird, and I was into the smiley face of the 1970s. I wanted to do this for my girls, and each year, I have created a memory for them in cake. When they were babies and toddlers, I picked the cake design, and when they were older, I let them look through cake decorating magazines and on the Internet to get ideas, and then together, we would decide on a theme, an idea or a color. There was the teapot cake (my personal favorite), the cookie lollipop cake, the superhero birthday cake, just to name a few. I would begin work on the cakes a week or so before the party, freeze the layers, plan the frosting, and then without fail, I’d be up until all hours the night before. They would start talking about next year’s cake shortly after the birthday party was over. I loved it! I even made cakes for a 50th and a 25th anniversary party for my aunt and uncle and my husband’s aunt and uncle. They were huge, and, if I do say so myself, turned out quite beautifully. So naturally, I thought that this would be something that I’d love to do professionally. I even had a name picked out for my bakery: “KatieKakes.” Clever, no?

And then one day, a neighbor, whose daughter had been to my daughter’s birthday parties asked me to bake a cake for her husband’s 40th birthday. I jumped at the chance. She knew lots of people in the town in which we lived, and if my cake turned out well, maybe this would be the start of something! So I researched recipes for carrot cake, narrowed it down to the best one, baked it, frosted it with the most luscious cream cheese frosting ever, decorated it quite nicely, and delivered it. It was then that I realized that this professional bakery thing was not for me. While I enjoyed the process of designing and baking the cake, while I loved trying to get the frosting just right, I realized that it was the joy I got from doing something special for other people that was the real draw here. And while I was happy to make the cake for a neighbor, it wasn’t the same as making the cake for someone I love, and someone whom I will watch enjoying the creation. And so my cake rule was born: Only for Love!

Our dear friends’ daughter made her First Communion this weekend, and it made me so happy to help her celebrate a very special milestone by baking her a cake. In addition, it was the weekend of a bridal shower for my husband's cousin, and I was in charge of the cake for this event as well.  While it was a crazy week (I baked 6 layer cakes from scratch in addition making the frosting, fillings and assembling and decorating everything), it struck me that I am blessed to have so many people that I love enough to bake for.  I have always used the Wilton buttercream frosting, but I did not love the fact that it contained Crisco, so I wanted to try something a little different this time. I had an old recipe for something called “American Buttercream” that contained only butter, sugar, cream and vanilla, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was delicious, and is the frosting that I will use from this point on. The recipe follows, with some notes to help you avoid the mistakes I made while making it!

American Buttercream

1½ pounds unsalted butter
7½ cups Confectioners Sugar
5¼ cups heavy cream
Vanilla bean or vanilla extract

With paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, scraping down the bowl several times. Add sugar slowly, incorporating into butter to form a smooth paste. Warm the heavy cream to 98-100 degrees, and begin to drizzle in, with mixer running, very slowly. Continue to add until all the cream is incorporated, and frosting is smooth and full of body.


1. This frosting must be made the day you are going to use it. Do not try to make it ahead of time, refrigerate and use the next day, as it will separate, and you will have to dump it and start all over. Having said that, it is so smooth and easy to work with, that this trade- off is worth it.

2. There is no need to sift the confectioners sugar, even if you are going to use a fine piping tip, as I did for this cake. The warm cream dissolved it all, and there were no problems.

3. The recipe says to drizzle the warm cream in very slowly. Really. I am not kidding. I had to throw out 2 batches due to excessive eagerness which led me to drizzle too quickly. Then it is a big batch of liquid goo. There is real science going on here, people.

4. I did place the frosting in the fridge for about 7 – 10 minutes before putting it into the piping bag just to firm it up a little, but I was working with it on a hot day, so plan accordingly, but do not leave it in the fridge too long.

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