December 8, 2013


So I've been a bit lax about posting. What can I say? Life is busy. So busy, in fact, that I blinked and my baby turned 3. THREE! He's sweet, sassy, curious, funny and full of attitude some days. We call him our "threenager."

One of my favorite parts of celebrating Eli's birthday is making him a special birthday cake. This year, I wanted to incorporate his favorite things (Thomas and train tracks) into it, and I just about died when I saw the perfect cake idea on Pinterest.

It came together really well, and it was surprisingly easy! I used Hershey's chocolate cake recipe for 4 9-inch cakes (1 batch makes 2 cakes), and my favorite buttercream recipe. I am really picky about my frosting because most buttercream recipes are too cloyingly sweet for me. This one uses a dose of salt and lemon juice, and I think it makes for a perfect frosting. I also don't like to fill my cake layers with frosting because I think it's too much. I prefer jam because it helps to balance out the sweet cake and frosting, and lends a nice bit of tartness.

The carving can be a bit of a challenge, but freezing the cakes made them easy to shape. I followed the advice on this website, which lays out all the numbers for you. I also fill my cake layers using this bit of advice I learned from my Wilton decorating classes. Instead of just slopping the jam/custard/etc in between the layers, pipe a barrier of icing around the cake and use it as a "wall" for your filling. This way, when you lay the top cake down, it won't squish out all the filling and make a mess. It also prevents the filling from leaking out the sides and ruining your final frosting coat. Works perfectly!

Eli's Train Cake -  Kit Kats for train tracks and M&Ms to help it look more finished. I'm really glad I used them because I ran out of frosting along the bottom edge of the cake!

The final product was really cool and incredibly delicious. Unfortunately, a few of his friends weren't able to make the party due to a snowstorm, so we have some leftover cake. I might have to go grab another slice...just to make sure it's still good. You know, for research's sake and all.

Cake Recipe found here

Buttercream Recipe
Adapted from Demolition Desserts, Elizabeth Falkner
Makes about 2 cups (I tripled this for my cake. I think that doubled would be good for 1 9-inch layer cake)
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted softened butter
2 1/2 c. or 10 oz. powdered sugar
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. plus 1 t. whole milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 t. fresh lemon juice (I put 1/2 t.)
In a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and salt for about 30 seconds and then add half of the powdered sugar and the milk to the butter and beat again until combined. Scrape down the bowl.  
Add the rest of the powdered sugar, the vanilla, and the lemon juice and beat until combined.  Scrape down the bowl again.  Beat on high speed for 5-6 minutes or until the frosting is fluffy.

Set a small amount aside for piping the train tracks, if you so desire. Gel food coloring is the best choice here, as it won't alter the consistency of your buttercream.
Creating the Cake Shape
Once the cake is cooled, stick the layers in the freezer for at least a few hours (overnight is best, so they can be made a few days in advance).

For the number "3", take each layer of the cake and remove an 8cm circle from the middle. I made a paper circle template, put it on top of the cake, and cut around it. Remove about a 1/4 of one cake for the base of the three and about 1/3 of the remaining cake for the top. Position to make the number, trimming as required. It's best to put everything together on a cake board, as the final product is heavy. I cover my cake boards with foil because I like the way it looks.

Pipe your frosting in a wall around the bottom layer and fill with jam. Top with cake. Repeat for the other part of the 3. Using a light hand, go over the entire cake with frosting for your crumb coat. This doesn't have to be perfect; in fact, the point of this is to lock in the crumbs so it doesn't ruin your final layer of frosting. Just get everything thinly covered and pop it all in the fridge for at least an hour.

Note: the inside of the 3 was more difficult to frost than I expected. It's the inside of the cake, therefore it was crumbier and took more frosting to cover. I was glad I made a triple batch of buttercream.

Cover the cake with your final layer of buttercream and while it's still wet, stick on the Kit Kats for train tracks. If you're using M&M's, do those around the base now as well. Pipe the train rails carefully, and then set it all in the fridge to chill. I stored it there overnight because I didn't want to keep buttercream out that long.