Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Lightning McQueen Cake

This week Snoodie turned THREE!

And yes the years go by so fast, and how can he be so big already, and all that stuff...but that's not what we are here to talk about. 

We are here to talk about the cake that almost killed me.

People, if there's one thing I've learned about motherhood it's that one has to be INCREDIBLY careful about where one sets the bar in life. Because the simple fact is that once you've set it too high, there's no going back.

Let me give you an example. 

My mother always made homemade Halloween costumes. I'm talking the Statue of Liberty crafted completely from hand-dyed green sheets. I'm talking Circus Clown with hand-stuffed floppy feet and whimsical red mop wig. I'm talking Wonder Woman with each hand-cut star carefully sewn upon blue polyester shorts.

The woman was a major talent.

But the woman also had a problem. Because once she began producing these sensational garments, she was on the hook but good. Year after year, her kids and neighbors would anxiously await the revelation of her annual costumnal creations, and so she had to deliver.

Now, I find myself facing the same problem, as evidenced by the fact that this past Saturday I spent 12 hours crafting a cake for my son's 3rd birthday.

A little history:

For Snood's 1st birthday I kept it simple with this adorable plate of whimsically sprinkled cupcakes.

When birthday Number Two came along, I decided to up my game. Snoodie was in a train phase, and I thought that I could make a totally awesome cake that he would love.

And I so I set about crafting this:

Not bad right? Cars carrying loads of candy and animals into the hungry maws of sugar-crazed two-year-olds! What could be better? 

Well, I'll tell you.

How about a three-year-old birthday cake in the exact shape of Snoodie's all-time favorite race car hero - Lightning McQueen?

I can see now that this cake undertaking was likely overly ambitious from the start.  But without the benefit of this hindsight, I decided to give it the old college try, with a worst case scenario of making a last-minute jaunt to Baskin Robbins for a replacement.

I began by making two 13x9 sheets.  I piled one on top of the other and then, armed with a small replica of Lightning McQueen, I began to carve the cake freehand.

Problems became evident immediately. The cake was SUPER crumbly, which I hadn't really prepared for. This meant that precision sculpting was pretty much impossible. Also, while I had the body shape fairly well established, I was finding the detail work (like the fenders and spoiler) to be pretty much impossible to reproduce.

I desperately attempted to prop up falling pieces of cake using toothpicks, all the while clinging to hope that perhaps the "crumb coat" would prove my salvation. For those of you not familiar, the crumb coat is a thin layer of icing that is placed on top of the cake in order to ensure structural integrity and provide a clean surface in advance of the "real" icing and decoration.

Unfortunately for me, my crumb coat only seemed to exacerbate my cake's structural problems. Rather than fusing the cake into place, the crumb coat in my case was causing increased amounts of damage. By the time the spoiler came off entirely on my icing knife I realized that drastic measures needed to be taken.

It was time to ask myself a question from which there would be no return. And the question was this: 

Was I the kind of woman who was going to make fondant?

Shockingly, the answer to this question was YES.

Hours later (for the record when the fondant instructions say, "knead in the powdered sugar until a dough is formed" they mean do this for approximately FOREVER) I rolled out the final product and was, to say the least, disappointed to realize that I hadn't managed to produce enough to cover even 1/2 the cake.

:( <----- frowny fondant-related face

The above photo, taken roughly 6 hours into the cake-making process, depicts the half-covered cake, the laptop used for fondant recipe consultation, AND the empty wineglass (self-explanatory).

I reluctantly pressed forward with another multi-hour round of fondant creation and eventually managed to produce enough to coat the entire cake. I also, for the record, had a red food dye coated kitchen that looked like an entire bakery and several crime scenes had exploded within it.

But I also had a fully-iced cake complete with sculpted fondant eyes, goofy smile, lightening bolts, headlights and tail number.

Did I say sculpted fondant?  Yes, yes I did.

Did the cake look like Lightning McQueen? Not exactly. Maybe like Lightning McQueen after some low-level radiation exposure, but the point was that it was done.

And more importantly, Snoodie loved it and ran around the house the whole next day screaming joyfully,

"My Right-nin MaKeen cake is da best!!!"

...and the 12 hours didn't seem that long after all.

I guess what I'm saying is - score one for Mommy!

That being said, I'm DEFINITELY buying his Halloween costume this year.