Gillian's birthday was last Wednesday. She's now 3. Oh, boy, is she ever 3. =) She's been working up to it for the past month or so. As usual, while I remember Brianna being a handful at that age, Gillian is so much more so. Three is an interesting age. Her behavior ranges from infuriating to highly entertaining, sometimes in very quick succession. It's hard to be serious sometimes when you're trying really hard not to laugh. Gillian, on the other hand, seems to think that everything is funny, especially when I'm trying to be serious about something. That's a lot of the infuriating part. *sigh*
This year she's old enough to really understand birthdays. The anticipation. The presents. The cake. Oh, yes, it's all about the cake. As is traditional in our family, she also got to pick what she wanted for dinner, which ended up being ravioli. We had a couple friends over to dinner (they're sort of surrogate grandparents to the girls), and about every 2 minutes during dinner Gillian would ask if it was time for cake yet. Like everyone but me, she requested chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. (I prefer vanilla cake with my chocolate frosting.) I also asked her how she wanted it decorated. She said with purple, which was no surprise, since she recently decided that purple is her favorite color. But then she surprised me and requested orange as well. Hmm, purple and orange on top of dark brown. Might be okay, might be garish, depending on how I approached it.
Then Brianna surprised me, by offering to share her princesses with Gillian. For Brianna's third birthday, she really, really wanted a Disney Princess cake like she saw at the grocery store bakery. I planned to bake her cake myself, though. I searched online and was able to buy a set of princess figures (the same ones as the bakery used) for about $10. Some of the best money I ever spent, since Brianna has continued to play with them and they've been washed and reused for all of her cakes since (see here for an example). I had already planned to make a round layer cake for Gillian, so I wasn't quite sure how I was going to fit the princesses on that. But it's rare for Brianna to offer to share, and I want to encourage that sort of behavior, so I figured I'd find a way to make it work somehow.
I planned ahead, and made sure I'd have the day off last Wednesday so I'd have plenty of time to bake cake. Next up was to decide what cake to make. The post for Brianna's birthday talks about my usual cake, which is from Cook's Illustrated. I wanted to try something new, but that's always a bit of a scary proposition for such an important occasion. =) I started looking through my copy of BFMHTY, and found the recipe for Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake. I threw the idea out to some of my baking friends on Twitter, and got positive responses. The only difficulty was that the recipe calls for 9" round cake pans. I have some, but they're not that great. I did, however, get new 8" pans not that long ago. Nancy very helpfully suggested that I could use the 8" pans and make a few cupcakes with the leftover batter. I did some quick calculating (looking up the volume difference between 8" and 9" rounds) and decided that I should make 8 cupcakes and then split the rest of the batter between my 8" pans. Since we're a bunch of chocoholics, I did add the optional melted chocolate (72% Ghirardelli) to the batter. My layers took about 30 minutes to bake, and the cupcakes were in for 18 minutes.
Next up, frosting. I'm not a big malt fan, so I knew I didn't want to make the frosting that was paired with the cake in the book. Dorie is always helpful about giving other options, and one was for a ganache frosting. Perfect. I loved the ganache layer from the chocolate caramel tart a few weeks ago, so I decided to use it for frosting. I did make one and a half times the ganache so I'd be sure to have enough. Then I just had to figure out how to decorate with purple and orange. I debated coloring white frosting for piping, then I had a great idea! I had seen Halloween m&ms a few weeks before. The colors? Black, neon green, orange and purple! (Yes, my candy dish now has a lot of black and green m&ms in it...) I made a quick batch of cream cheese frosting to use for piping and added the colored candies for decoration. The princesses got to adorn some of the cupcakes.
The verdict? The cake was wonderful! I'll definitely make that cake recipe again. It was a hit with the birthday girl and everyone else (the extra cupcakes got decorated with some m&ms and were taken to school for G's daycare teachers). I will change a few things next time, though. The tartness of the cream cheese in the frosting wasn't the best match with the ganache. The bigger problem, though, was that the m&m colors run when they come into contact with cream cheese frosting. Oops. Live and learn. =) And the cream cheese frosting gets a weird texture if it's left out of the fridge too long.
You can find the cake recipe here. And the ganache that I used for the frosting is part of this recipe. (I used 12 ounces chocolate, 13.5 ounces cream, and 6 tablespoons butter.)
One last thing... Besides chocolate and purple, Gillian also love monkeys. Not sure where that came from. The day before her birthday, I had the great thought to see if Build-a-Bear made monkeys. Why, yes, they do! So here's a picture of Gillian with her new best friend, Monkey Gina (thank you, Kayte):
p.s. My apologies to Erin, our TWD hostess for this week. I haven't made the Sweet Potato Biscuits yet. You can find the recipe on her blog.