Monday 10 March 2014

Toadstool birthday cake, cake pops and party in the park

Birthday cake.  We spend so much time baking, icing, decorating and stressing.  Then it is eaten in the blink of an eye.  Sylvia's birthday cake this year caused me more sleepless nights than usual.  She asked for a toadstool house cake.  It is with a great sense of achievement that I present it to you today.

The cake required more red food colouring than ever before, baking cakes in pudding bowls, balancing a larger cake on a smaller one.  Finally when I had my head around all of this, I read that it was to be assembled at the last moment.  And we were having her party in the park.  I am not sure I am the best advocate of the cake because it gave me so much worry but it worked for me and made young eyes widen in appreciation!

Sylvia had been planning her party for months.  Games, party bags, cake etc etc.  Unfortunately her birthday fell a few weeks after she started school.  It meant we were busy with settling into school and new friendships in the weeks leading up to the party.  We invited family and some old friends early on.  Later on we invited a few new friends too.

Party bags are one of Sylvia's favourite parts of parties.  We agreed everyone would have a lollypop and she could choose a couple more lollies for each bag.  We also bought some cheap toys at the supermarket.  I wanted to get away from the focus on lollies and make some things for the party bags.  We made the bags out of craft paper, we baked our favourite gingerbread and made some bookmarks by photographing her favourite books. 

I had to go to a specialty cake decorating shop (Cake Deco in the city) to buy food colouring paste for the red buttercream.  While there, I was tempted by some pretty cake pop sticks.  So cake pops went on the menu.  I was inspired by my recent candy cane brownies.  They were made the day before the party.

I made the brownie, substituting chickpea flour for regular flour and baking for 30 minutes.  I mixed it with 40g cream cheese and a spoonful or two of icing sugar (and then wondered if the brownie would clump together without mixing anything in).  I dipped each stick in white chocolate before inserting in the cake balls.  After some time in the freezer, they were covered in white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed cherry and apple flavoured candy canes.  They were nice but so sweet without the peppermint candy canes.  Next time it will be dark chocolate on the outside.

The main event was the birthday cake.  It threatened to be disastrous from the start.  I decided to use the ultimate chocolate cake recipe I had used earlier in the year because it seemed so sturdy.  I had to use a cake four times as big as the previous version, so I have included the amended recipe below.

Choosing the right bowls was stressful.  This was the decision that meant the cakes balanced or not.  I found a 1.8 litre pudding bowl and a 1 litre pyrex bowl.  I am not used to baking in these bowls.  So I was nervous.  And rightly so.  The cakes took over 2 hours to bake.  I turned the oven down when I had to go out to pick up Sylvia.  I just kept going until a skewer inserted in the middle came out clean.  Meanwhile the cakes sunk lower and lower in the bowls.

I read online that sometimes cakes stick to pyrex so I lined the bowls with greased foil.  You can see above that they were terribly misshapen and covered in creases.  By now I was not only worried about how the cakes looked but how they would fare being balanced on top of one another.

It is times like these that I am grateful for icing to cover a multitude of sins.  I did a little cosmetic surgery on the larger cake to make the top a little more even.  A crumb coat was quite helpful in filling in some cracks and crevices.  (I made the cakes the previous day and did the decoration on the morning of the party.)

Even making the buttercream frosting was more challenging that usual.  I know from experience how hard it is to get a truly red icing.  I went into Cake Deco and bought a red paste.  The woman behind the counter told me that I had to be careful my icing was white and not yellow from the butter or the colour would be peach.  She recommended buying a European style butter.  I made sure I beat it long and hard when creaming the butter.

As you can see my red was very very red.  It is the reddest icing I have ever made.  (I probably could have used less red food colouring.)  I was pleased that E went over the street with Sylvia at this point.  She had helped putting on the doors and windows but I really needed to focus on the colour and final decoration.

The recipe said to divide the icing into two lots: a white and a red.  But I have never made one of these children's cakes without icing left over.  So I used less for the red icing and had enough to make green icing.  This formed the grassy area around my base of the toadstool.

The recipe we were following had these medium sized freckles.  They were hard to find so I made them by pouring white chocolate onto a tray and sprinkling it with 100s and 1000s sprinkles.  When it set I cut it into round with cookie cutters.  Sadly I let mine set a bit long and broke a favourite cookie cutter doing this.  I also found flower candles in Cake Deco and had a fairy doll of Sylvia's.

Once the cake was done, I rushed to complete the preparation for the party in the park.  Chopping vegies and packing all the food.  E bought Turkish bread and falafel over the street, as well as a soft white loaf for the fairy bread.

Finally the car was packed.  At the last moment I grabbed a tablecloth and was very pleased I did.  We got to the park and had forgotten the bread so I drove back for it.  Our lunch looked somewhat like this: Turkish bread, rice crackers, hummus, falafel, vegie sticks, cheezels, cake pops, mum's sparkly pink gf cupcakes, fairy bread, watermelon, grapes, birthday cake.

It was a fairly simple affair.  I had been so bound up in making the very sweet cake pops and the birthday cake that I was surprised when someone commented on the healthy food.  As always there was lots of leftover food.  The cupcakes, watermelon and fairy bread were big hits.  Leftover vegies were roasted and turned into a pizza topping on some leftover Turkish bread.  The cake pops stood proudly in some polystyrene foam packaging I had made hole in.

We had about 12 kids, with about half of these being cousins.  I had been worried about Sylvia being overwhelmed but she had a lovely time running about the park with the kids.  We had one game planned: pass the parcel.  My mum wisely advised we gather them for this before singing happy birthday and cutting the cake.  E brought his ukelele to play the music for pass the parcel. 

I brought the cake to the park in two pieces.  Putting it together was a nervous moment.  I took a photo quickly lest it collapse but it seemed to hold together well.  This seemed little short of a miracle.  It didn't stay together long because we then sang happy birthday, couldn't find the matches for the candles, stuck a knife in it and, before we knew it, the cake looked like this.

Having the party at the park was great, once we had carted everything there.  The weather was kind to us, and there was lots for the kids to do without having to organise lots of games.  Which is just right for Sylvia at the moment.  Everyone had a great time, especially the birthday girl.  It might seem a long time until her next birthday party but she already has started planning!

You can also read about the chocolate cupcakes with and banana cake that I made for Sylvia's birthday.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: WSC Pirate Treasure Chest Birthday Cake
Two years ago: Grrrr Dinosaur Birthday Cake (from Peppa Pig)
Three years ago: Dinosaur farm, white mudcake and teddy racers
Four years ago: Sylvia's green pram cake
Five years ago: Welcome little one!
Six years ago: Pomegranates - the cruelest fruit?

How to make a Pixie Toadstool Cake
Adapted from Anne Rigg's Birthday Cakes for Kids 

You will need:
Chocolate cakes (see recipe below)
Buttercream frosting (see recipe below)
Red food dye paste
Green food dye (drops is fine)
Sour strips (or liquorice strips)
Red or silver cachous
White freckles
Large white freckles (you can easily make your own*)
Jubes, icing flowers, tiny toy fairies for around the toadstool
Mini m&ms or other small pebbly lollies for a path

Bake two dome shaped cakes - Annie Rigg suggests a 1 litre and a 1.5 litre cake.  My larger cake was 1.8litre.  See below for a chocolate cake recipe.  These are best baked the day before decorating. 

Make buttercream frosting.

If necessary trim the cakes to make the tops and bottoms even.  I didn't trim the bottoms because I thought I might be in for further collapse of the cakes if I did. Have a very cautious go at balancing the large dome on the small one and check if it needs trimming to help it sit properly.

It isn't necessary to firstly crumb coat (very thin layer of icing like an undercoat) the cakes but I found this makes it easier to spread the final coat of frosting on the cakes, and is an opportunity to iron out any creases.  If you do a crumb coat, ideally put the cake in the fridge to set the icing but if you are like me and your fridge is full, leave it about an hour to let the icing set as much as possible.

Place the smaller cake flat side down on a cake board or plate.  Ice it in white (plain) buttercream.  Cut out little doors and windows.  Annie Rigg used cachous around doors and windows like frames but I did it for the doors and found them fiddly.  A thin liquorice shoelace would have been better perhaps?  I did like the cachous as the door handles.  Use a small blob of icing to stick them on.

Halve the remaining icing and colour one half red.  Place the larger cake on a flat plate.  Ice with red icing.  Dot white freckles over the red icing.  Set aside until you are ready to assemble cake.

Colour the remaining icing green and spread around the base of the white dome.  Make a path coming out of the doorway with small lollies that look like pebbles (such as m&ms).  *I made my own large freckles to place around the house (melt white chocolate, sprinkle with 100s and 100s, allow to mostly cool and then cut with cookie cutter - it is tends to crack if too hard so don't let set really hard.)  Use jubes, icing flowers, toy fairies etc to decorate.  We found some flower candles that we could stick into jubes.

Just before you are ready to sing happy birthday and serve the cake, place the red dome on the white dome, cross your fingers, have faith in your sturdy chocolate cake and pray it doesn't collapse.

Ultimate chocolate cake
Adapted from Drizzle and Drip
Makes 2 domed cakes

360g dark chocolate (I used dark choc chips)
400g butter
170g self raising flour
170g plain flour (I used wholemeal)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
320g brown sugar
320g caster sugar
1/2 cup cocoa 
6 eggs
150ml vanilla or plain yoghurt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 170 C.  Grease and line a 1 litre bowl and a 1.8 litre pudding bowl.  (Or you could use 2 x 20cm round cake tins if you are not making a toadstool cake, and they will probably cook quicker.)

Melt chocolate and butter in a medium mixing bowl (in the microwave or if on stovetop use a small saucepan).  Set aside.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Beat eggs for a minute or two until the colour is lighter and the eggs are frothy.  Briefly bean in yoghurt.

Pour melted chocolate mixture, egg mixture and apple cider vinegar into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.  Pour into the prepared bowls.

Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes (I did 50 minutes at 170 C and then about 1 hour and 20 minutes at 140 C because I left the oven on while I was out - this is not recommended!  However I can't give an exact time for baking), check with a skewer if cooked inside and if necessary bake about another 15 to 30 minutes.  The cake is cooked when it smells cooked, the side of the cake is pulling away from the side of the tin and the skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly.  Sit 15 minutes before turning out.  Cool on a cake rack.

Buttercream frosting
From Annie Rigg's Birthday Cakes for Kids

350g butter (preferably European-style), softened*
700g icing sugar (confectionery sugar)*
food colouring, as desired

Beat butter with electric beaters until creamy and pale - this could take a few minutes.  Gradually beat in icing sugar until all of it is mixed into the frosting and it is quite thick and creamy.  (If it is too stiff, add a dribble of milk).  Stir in food colouring to make the colours you want for the cake. 

NOTES:  I have used nuttalex margarine instead of butter for a vegan buttercream.  I also sometimes use cups to measure the icing sugar - 1 x 250ml cup of icing sugar is approximately 150g icing. 

On the Stereo:
Different Class: Pulp

I am sending this toadstool house cake to Jane of the Hedgecombers who is co-host of Tea Time Treats with Karen of Lavender and Lovage.  This month the theme is decorated cakes!

I am also sending the cake to Mummy Makes Cakes for her Celebration Cakes and Bakes event.


  1. This cake looks sensational Johanna! It is a triumph. Doesn't matter what it looked like without icing. The other food looks great too. Happy birthday to Sylvia!

    1. Thanks Cakelaw - I was pretty happy how it looked considering how I felt when I saw the cakes turned out of the bowls :-)

  2. Agreed with Cakelaw, this cake is so cool! Actually, it's encouraging to see all the process shots to know it didn't look perfect all along the way—but the final result absolutely looks perfect. I love the cake pops, too. I've been wondering why more people don't make them with brownies...I've still never made any myself but I think when I do, I'll be using brownies. :)

    1. Thanks Molly - I like the process shots because I hope it makes it seem ok to others if these cakes don't feel right along the way - it is the final result that matters! I haven't made cake pops much but I want to - must try brownies more as I thought they would great - just the white chocolate was a bit sweet

  3. Wow, that cake is fantastic! Well done! And it's so nice to see all the effort and planning you and Sylvia put into her party. I know some of my greatest childhood memories were planning birthday parties with my mum (party bags were a favourite of mine too!) and looking back I still appreciate all the effort my mum put in with food, games and sewing my costumes. I'm glad Sylvia had a great day, I'm sure she'll remember it for years to come :)

    1. Thanks Little Vegan Bear - that's really nice to hear you still have fond memories of childhood birthday parties - mine are a bit of a blur (did I have many?) I find planning the parties and cake fun - but I am not one for sewing - and when we went to another party recently I felt bad that I completely forgot about the suggestion of costumes - I still have a long way to go with party planning but at least I can do cakes :-)

  4. Holy shamoly, Johanna. What an epic cake. I am so thrilled you were able to pull it off. I would not have attempted anything so ornate!! But it turned out so cute! Way to go. :)

    1. Thanks Janet - yes epic is a good word for it - I was thrilled I pulled it off too

  5. a super cake! Yep, so much is involved with birthday cakes then whammo it's all over. My friend made a mushroom cake for her daughter's birthday at a park as well and she assembled it at home. Then she had to transport it in the car which presented a problem so she had to collapse a seat so it was flat and then balance the cake on the folded seat. Something happened and she had to brake, the top of the cake flew off but she somehow caught it :)

    1. Thanks Veganopoulous - yes it is over quickly - I think that is why the planning is sometimes more fun. And that is hilarious about your friend with the mushroom cake - I have had a few hairy moments in cars with cakes (try to avoid cakes in cars if I can) so I was rather paranoid about this one and glad I left it in two pieces before getting to the park - even if not so good for taking photos

  6. That is one fantastic labour of love! Well done! Sylvia must have adored it! :)

  7. What a great post- the cake is unique, whimsical and completely adorable- great job. I love the idea of favorite books made into bookmarks.

    1. Thanks Nupur - the bookmarks were really fun and quite easy to put together - have even made another one for the party we went to on the weekend

  8. It looks fabulous! You'd never know that you struggled with it in the background because the end result looks amazing! :D

    1. Thanks Lorraine - yes and it is about the end result after all

  9. Wow this was a real labour of love! I made a mushroom cake last year and the red Icing really did need a lot of red! I think the fact that your daughter got to help make it is really nice (I'm too much of a control freak)Thanks for linking up to #CelebrationCakesAndBakes, would you mind adding the badge?

    1. Thanks Mummy Makes Cakes - have added the badge - I like kids to be involved in baking but sometimes - especially with fiddly work - it isn't easy - I try to find a few things they can do so they can feel proud of the creation too

  10. Johanna, you have really outdone yourself with this cake - what a showstopper!

    1. Thanks Cindy - I felt this was one of my harder cakes to make but just right for Sylvia's age

  11. That is a cake to top all cakes! I thought the birthday cakes I had when I was little were impressive but yours blow all of them out the window! Amazing!
    It's so lovely how much effort you put into the whole party- from all the food to the party bags and the games. Pass the parcel was always my favourite :)

    1. Thanks Emma - I am sure your cakes were impressive! Sylvia really wanted pass the parcel and the kids did seem to enjoy it - though I was cursing our newspaper which has just gone from broadsheet to tabloid format which isn't so good for wrapping pass the parcel. Games aren't my strength so getting one together was an achievement for me.

  12. You are so amazing, Johanna!!! I know the greetings belong to Sylvia for her birthday, but, oh my gracious I can't believe how focused you were making such a beautiful cake. Kudos to YOU! And Happy Birthday to Sylvia. Her hand writing is excellent:)

    It sounds like it was a celebration everyone will remember:) Thank you so much for sharing, Johanna...

    1. Thanks Louise - I am sure this will be a party we will remember fondly - it was amazing everything worked when so much could have gone wrong. But I quite like the idea that kids don't need a party every single year :-)

  13. What an amazing party! You did such a great job on the cake. I used to love choosing my birthday cakes when I was a kid. Those party bags look like they are full of awesome loot!

    1. Thanks Cass - I love sitting down with kids to talk about which cake they want - and I felt much happier with the party bags this year than last year

  14. I imagine that cake made older eyes widen in appreciation too! It has certainly had that effect on mine. My Mum did great things with our birthday cakes when I was young (courtesy of the Women's Weekly children's birthday cake book), but this is a creation she never had to master and I imagine she is very thankful for that. It is extremely impressive and the party sounds very fun too!

    1. Thanks Kari - glad you appreciate the cake - I never had women's weekly children's birthday cake - despite dreaming about them as a child! (I still have the magazine clippings with pics of them) I think Sylvia is lucky I have made so many cakes for her cousins before I had to attempt any for her because I don't think I could have attempted this cake if I didn't have a bit of experience at such things.

  15. My oh my - you clever lady! What a brilliant cake - and the party looks wonderful :)

  16. Rather a lot of food colours... Even if I eat that stuff I feel the consequences. A dramatic looking cake.

    1. Thanks Francesca - it seems like lots of food colours but actually I think you would have appreciated that I gave people a choice of the top with all the red food colouring or the bottom of the toadstool which was free of food dye.

  17. Lucky Sylvia! The cake looks incredible, as does everything else!

  18. What a simply sensational cake! Star baker extraordinaire! Just wonderful, and what a lovely little party, you both are such good parents :)

  19. I am so impressed - not just with the cake but with the whole preparation for the party. It is an amazing cake too though and I hope I can manage to make cakes that good for my little ones in the future. I've just done my first cake and had such fun doing it but it was nowhere near as creative as yours.

  20. What a stunning birthday cake for Sylvia, you are pretty good at this stuff, I am not so I’m pretty impressed! My last birthday cake was a deconstructed cake: peanut butter brittle, ice cream, crumbs, etc. Happy Belated to Sylvia, wishing her a fabulous year!

  21. Wow! What a lovely birthday cake for your little girl. I always panic when my daughter tells me what birthday cake she wants and sometimes have to be very diplomatic in steering her towards something else (more simple). I am not too sure I would have attempted this!!!! Well done you!

  22. WOW! That is a very special cake what a lucky little lady :)
    Thanks so much for sharing it with Tea Time Treats!
    Janie x


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