Wednesday, 23 June 2010

30th Birthday cakes

On the 7th of May this year it was my sister-in-law's 30th birthday party. As a present to her, I offered to make her some birthday cupcakes. She gave me free reign on design and flavour, with the only specifications being that her colour theme was pink and could I please make a few gluten-free ones for my niece, who has celiacs.

For a long time I ummed and ahhed over which flavours to do, what decorations, what size, how many? There was an estimate of 70 odd people coming, so I tried to make the figures one-per-customer. I decided on a mixture of minis and regular sized, my original plan was -
12 gluten-free vanilla sponge with pink marshmallow icing,
36 mini red velvet sponge with cream cheese frosting and
24 chocolate cupcakes with pink vanilla buttercream.
This would make 72 in total... a lot of cakes for my little oven! So I gradually made them over the course of a couple of days.

First of all, I made the gluten-free sponge. This was easy to make and the results were great - light, golden, fluffy and sweet. I stored them in airtight tupperware containers, ready to be iced on the morning of the party. The next evening I made the mini red velvet sponges and stupidly missed out a crucial step in the recipe - the baking powder, so they didn't fill the cups properly. (Instead of using a mini muffin tin and mini muffin cases, I purchased some Wilton's Nut cups online - they are sturdy enough to be used alone on a baking tray). The mixture also didn't stretch as far as I had hoped, and due to the lack of fluffing up, I ended up discarding several of the smaller ones, and then my cream cheese didn't quite stretch as much as it was meant to, which meant I only ended up with 24 instead of 36. They did taste nice though, and once I had piped on the cream cheese frosting and covered them with some edible glitter and pearl dragees, they weren't too shabby, so I boxed them up and popped them in the fridge ready for the following day:

Then the morning of the party came. I made the chocolate sponges - the recipe I used was from the Primrose Bakery cookbook, and my goodness - the mixture made so much, I ended up making 36 and even then throwing some remainder away. It was a little fiddly as it involves separating the egg yolks from the whites and whisking the whites meringue style, then folding them into the mixture. The recipe also calls for melting down 70% cocoa solid chocolate, so they come out very rich, but very yummy, and quite light. Then I made a mammoth portion of vanilla buttercream, swirled through a drop of pink food colouring and took a third away to make the marshmallow icing. This involved chopping up a bag of marshmallows and throughly mixing them throughout. This icing then went on top of the gluten-free vanilla sponges and were complete after a generous sprinkling of pink edible glitter:

So after that all I needed to do was to decorate the chocolate sponges with the remaining pink buttercream. I iced 24 of them using a palette knife and topped them with glitter and edible sugar violets. For the remaining 12, I piped on a large helping of frosting and sprinkled them with yet more edible glitter and some pearl dragees:

To make an edible cake topper, I bought some pink fondant icing and sculpted a 3 and a 0, carefully speared them with toothpicks and stuck them in two of the cakes on the top tier. I also made a couple of stars in the same fashion and put them on the other two top cupcakes. So here they are, all 72 cakes, set up on my faithful old cardboard cake stand, which is still going strong:

And all in all, they went down rather well - although I did make too many, as there was quite a lot of other food there to eat! They didn't go to waste though, so I'm told ;)

  • As I was taking them on the train to Portsmouth, I invested in some reuseable cardboard cupcake boxes. If you should need any, I would thoroughly recommend as I found them to be quite reasonable, fast to dispatch and their service was good. They didn't send me a tracking number initially but they were very quick to respond when I emailed requesting one, and were courteous and helpful in their correspondence. The boxes have held up really well (I picked the corregated cardboard ones without the window, except for the 24 cup mini cupcake boxes, which only come with a window as shown above) and they are a nice size for transporting. They look nice too!
  • First time whisking up those egg whites went rather well, although it doesn't half make your arm ache... still, that chocolate cake recipe was delicious. I would thoroughly recommend it.
  • By staggering the cake baking and the decorating, I managed to bake a large amount of cakes in a short space of time (and in a small kitchen) - it was my largest order, so I'm happy that I managed to fulfil it.

  • The mini red velvets.. oh how I cried when I realised my mistake, because they were already in the oven at the time and I knew there wasn't anything I could do. Still, at least they were tasty, albeit a little flat.
  • I made the mistake of buying the 'better value' cupcake cases (you know the ones, 100 in a pack for the price of 45! etc). They were supposed to be muffin cases but they were quite shallow and thin. Not great quality and certainly not suitable for a big chocolatey cake like I put in them...
  • I ran out of butter when I was making the final batch of icing. I was only 70g short, but I was a bit miffed. Lesson learned - always buy a spare butter and icing sugar!
  • Too much of one mixture, not enough of another... I ended up with enough chocolate mix to make another dozen cupcakes on top of the 36 I made, and yet the red velvet mix I used, which should have made 36, barely scraped to 32... both recipes were from different books, and I suppose a lot of this is a matter of trial and error. In the end it all balanced out, but I think in future I will aim to make more mixutre than I need, so that I have spare if I need it.
Ideas for next time:
  • Buy mini marshmallows instead of cutting large ones up.. this is just a time-saving exercise though.
  • I was quite impressed with the nut cups trick for the mini muffins, but I think I will still invest in a mini muffin tin.