It's not knitting. Not by a long shot. But it's how my mother-in-law and I occupied the better part of a week, and it definitely qualifies as an aesthetic entanglement! This is my kiddo's birthday cake:
Sharon has a long history of amazing cake creations -- just one of the many talents she shares with family and friends -- and when The Girlio's birthday rolls around each April 13, I get to join her in the fun. We've made cakes themed on rainbows, unicorns, and horse corrals, among other things.
This year C asked for a springtime cake with a field of flowers, a lamb, and a bluebird of happiness. She and Sharon sketched out the basics. I held on for the ride as the vision was fleshed out and expanded in Sharon's imagination, supplies were assembled, and the build was completed.
The base is a 14-1/2" round white cake made from mix (no, I'm not too proud to admit when I use a mix!). It takes 2-1/2 mixes to fill the pan, so the rest was used for cupcakes and a cake-batter cookie experiment I tried (not pictured, but the cookies were yummy, too).
Aside from all the driving around for shopping, the lamb cake is my big contribution to the project. It's an homage to a family tradition from my own childhood. My Grandma Catherine brought lamb cakes for all the kids' birthdays. My cousins and siblings and I would clamor for the head. Ironically, with this year's cake, nobody could bear to cut into the head, which is now among the last bits to be eaten. It's so cute!
When my grandma died, her cast iron lamb mold went to my Uncle Grant's family. For nearly 20 years I thought it had gone to my cousin, Brad, and I was only just corrected of my misunderstanding last year. The important thing is that it did not come to me, and I really really wanted it. Periodically over the years I'd looked for them, but I'd not gotten one. About two years ago I asked Sharon to see if she could find one for me. Because these molds are no longer made, it took her some doing, but for Christmas 2009, Sharon sent me a beautiful Griswold mold just like Grandma's.
The lamb cake recipe -- which is made from scratch -- is also from the Griwsold company. It's a heavier pound cake, and it's super tasty! Unfortunately, I wasn't on my best baking game and had to make the cake twice to get it right. I ruined the first attempt when I didn't turn off the mixer before adding the milk ... and then spectacularly sprayed it all over the kitchen when I nicked the measuring cup on a beater. I couldn't really tell how much milk actually made it into the batter, and I guess I overcompensated by adding too much because the finished first cake didn't hold together well enough to come out of the pan in one piece. It tasted fine -- and we ended up eating it -- but the great milk disaster required that I do it again if the lamb was to have a head at all.
The field is covered with 44 fondant tulips. Sharon spent two days on them. Each has a marshmallow center, a molded leaf, and painstakingly hand-formed petals. Hand mixing the colors, alone, was a labor of love! (In the image below, do you see how some have more than one color?) We originally thought we'd use gum paste for the flowers, but after investigating all our options at Home Cake Decorating Supply Co and chatting with some other patrons of the store, fondant won out.
Encircling the cake are birds nests and blue marshmallow Peeps. Lots of them.
The birds nests are one of Sharon's signature treats. We also had them at the baby shower when I was pregnant with C. Normally she uses potato sticks, but apparently potato sticks haven't caught on in the Pacific Northwest like they did in Ohio. We searched several stores but never found them. In lieu of potato sticks, Sharon used pretzel sticks this time. So the birds nests are chocolate-covered pretzels, shaped into little nests, and topped with speckled malt balls.
And did you notice the Sour Patch earthworm visible just about the Peep in the green coconut grass?! C insisted. Did I mention that she's 11 as of shortly after 2pm today?
The two bluebirds of happiness, which were also hand-shaped by Sharon, are solid fondant. One of the girls at C's slumber party ate the big one. The other is now drying and will hang as an ornament in C's room for awhile.
Eight excited girls dug into the cake at C's slumber party last Friday night. It was a great success. They made a serious dent in it, and we sent some home with parents, but there's still plenty left!