baking
…let them eat cake…

…let them eat cake…

The days are long, but the years are short, someone once told me when I was in the trenches of toddlers and newborns and wondering if I would ever sleep again. Blogging long term feels a bit like that. Time slides on by, and then without realising, so so much time has gone by. A full decade ago, I wrote a post about a birthday cake. In the ten years since, we’ve welcome another baby, travelled all over Australia, sent our children to school, brought them home again, bought a farm, sold a house, planned a house. There’s been record breaking droughts and record breaking fires and floods cutting the road like clockwork. Pandemics and lockdowns and the passing of much love family members. A decade sees a lot of life.

Last weekend, we headed to the coast to celebrate yet another milestone birthday for that lady we love so much. A lot of our tiny house fit out is rather simple and make-do, since we were only supposed to be here for 12 months (thanks covid, for blowing up our plans). Between the wood fired oven, and my supplies in storage, I have neither the space nor the equipment to make and decorate cakes at the minute. Instead, I booked a local cake maker friend to make the cake for me.

I couldn’t not be involved though. If I couldn’t make the cake, I could at least make the topper. So that’s how I ordered it. Cake, icing, no topper. I had quite a few ideas on what I wanted to do, but as I worked on it, I simplified quite a bit, and added in other stuff. The original plan was loops of hessian, trails of gum leaves, and flowers made from book pages, with a “something” cut out on my Cricut.

The “something” was both the easiest and hardest part of the process. I would do an age cut out, using balsa. Once I decided that, I knew exactly which font I wanted to use, and got to work on my iPad. Using procreate, I typed the number and resized, then used a hard brush on a seperate layer to create an outline/background. When I was happy with that, I then duplicated that layer, and added a “spike”. The whole thing would be cut from balsa, but to help with the design process I made each layer a different, super bright colour so I could see the way the layers interacted. It made for fun explanations when I took it to the board for approval – “It will be like this but like, not those colours”. Then the husband looked over my shoulder and asked if I was going to paint the balsa and I had to explain the process all over again!

That was the easy part. The hard part was the cutting. Pro tip – they say minimum width of 1/4″ for a reason. It took 7 attempts, and turning the balsa sideways, and dropping the pressure, and monitoring the cuts to end it early if needed. It was an exercise in frustration for sure. But in the end I got it, and slapped some PVA on all three layers and whacked some books on top, and all the frustrations, in the end, were completely worthwhile.

With that sorted, it was onto the topper itself. I started with a pack of styrofoam balls and three rolls of hessian ribbon. The styrofoam was to give me something to work with, so I used a kitchen knife (definitely wasn’t my husbands favourite Masterchef chopping knife I promise shhhhh) to shear off the bottom 1/3 of the ball, to give me a flat base to work from. To avoid less-than-edible chunks of styrofoam ending up on the cake, I also cut two circles, 3″ wide, of Kraft cardstock on my Cricut, and used a tape runner to join them. The ball then got hot glued to the yardstick base, and I was ready to build!

Step one was to place the balsa cut out. Once I was happy with it, I pushed it in to create the hole for it, and then pulled it out. The ball needed covering with hessian – I ran one strip around the base, and used pins to add pleat-like folds around the top to shape it. To cover the top I simply pinned the hessian at the back, draped it over, and clipped out the section where the topper needed to be inserted, before pinning down the front. The loops were created in my usual, very technical, very precise way – pin, twist, decide it looks ok, pin some more and hope for the best. I started at the bottom for each loop, and varied the lengths and directions of the twists.

Once those were done, it had become a lot bigger than expected, so I ditched the idea of the flowers. Instead, I added some narrow raffia ribbon I had on hand, just weaving in and out of the loops as looked right. The final touches, the night before, were some sprigs of gum leaves. Unfortunately most of the leaves on our trees were either too large or too pock-marked, but I managed to find enough.

The next morning was cake pick up, and moment of truth. I had given a bit of a description of what I was planning, and the baker being a friend, I was able to text her a picture of the finished topper, trying to make the colours as accurate as possible. Aside from that, she was completely winging the colour, and…nailed it.

Look how perfect that colour is!! The cake itself was chocolate mud with caramel ganache filling, and a buttercream icing with gold leaf and stencilling. Not only does it look great, but it tasted amazing.

We were on holidays when we shared the cake, so no fancy settings or lighting, but even so – doesn’t it look fabulous? I was so thrilled with it, and the birthday girl loved it, so we’ll call it a win. Here’s to another decade of adventures and life and hopefully not quite so many “once in a lifetime” events.

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