Ellie’s Birthday: “How To Train Your Dragon” Cake

Do you ever have days when you just feel like you’r super failing at being a mom. Maybe the kids are all upset or you’re upset and you just can’t set things right. Days when everyone is falling apart. On days like those I like to remind myself that there are a few things I do know how to do. One of them is baking cakes. And so I present to you Ellie’s fifth birthday cake.

The title of this cake is: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless, flying through the isles of Berk at sunset. Featuring cotton candy clouds and rock formations made of Hershey’s chocolate and Skor bars.

Ellie decided a month or so ago that she wanted a “How To Train Your Dragons” birthday party theme. Well, I’m not one for buying all those expensive and ultimately useless decorations for parties, but I do like to make cakes according to the chosen theme. When she said she wanted a cake with Hiccup and Toothless I immediately thought of the scene where they are flying through the isle rock formations at sunset. I think Astrid is with them and she reaches up and touches a pink cloud. It’s such a beautiful scene and I thought that if I was going to have to do something with dragons, it might as well still be pretty. So eventually the idea evolved to making a cake that looked like the sunset. I think it turned out pretty well.

I followed this recipe by Bakerella for the cake. I was initially disheartened when Ellie said she wanted a white cake with chocolate chips in it, because I am a chocolate cake girl all the way. And also because I usually find white cakes to be really dry and just, umm, gross. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this one turned out. I used the sugar water spray method that she recommends, and it worked splendidly.  If you must eat a white cake, I suggest this one. (Or maybe this one, although it is very rich and therefore I didn’t want three layers of it for a kid’s birthday party.) For the frosting, I came up with my own whipped buttercream frosting recipe, similar to the one I used for Olivia’s Perfect Birthday Party Cake, but without cocoa.

Whipped Buttercream Frosting
Makes enough for one 9-inch, 3-layer cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cups whipping cream

With an electric mixer on low, cream the butter. Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar, in four or five increments, beating on low the entire time. Add the vanilla and 1/4 cup whipping cream and beat to incorporate. Once mixture is smooth, turn your beater’s speed up slowly until you are beating on high. Beat until frosting fluffs up and resembles whipped cream, 3-5 minutes. You can add more whipping cream if you want it to be lighter or if you need more frosting (the whipped cream adds volume). For this particular project, you want your frosting to have enough substance to hold onto the chocolate candy pieces. For other projects, you may prefer a lighter, fluffier frosting.

After baking and cooling the cake layers, I cut off the rounded tops and assembled them with the whipped buttercream frosting. I separated out about a quarter of the remaining frosting and set it aside in a small bowl. With the other three-quarters, I used food coloring to dye it pink. I frosted the top and down the side one layer with the pink frosting, making whispy sideways strokes with a decorating knife. I added blue dye to the pink frosting to make the purple for the middle layer of cake. I wanted to create an ombre effect like sunsets usually are – they start out light and pink and darken until they are blue at the ocean. After the middle layer was done, I used the remaining uncolored quarter of frosting and dyed it blue for the waves. When mixing the blue dye in, it’s okay to leave some white streaks in the frosting to resemble frothy waves. I whipped this frosting upwards to look like ocean waves.
I put the cake in the refrigerator overnight, but if you don’t have time for that, let the frosting dry out a little bit, about an hour or two, before breaking up pieces of Hershey’s chocolate bars and Skor or Heath bars and pressing them into the frosting in the pattern of cliff and rock formations. I started at the bottom of the cake and worked upwards so that the top pieces would have something to support them. I saved the biggest pieces for the tops of the rocks so they could stick up above the cake top a bit. Just before the party started, I added cotton candy clouds by sticking various size pieces into the pink frosting. It looked all beautiful and wispy for a little bit before the cotton candy absorbed some moisture from the frosting and crystalized. That made it darken and flatten out, but it was still really pretty and sunsety. (You can see it in some of the pictures.)
Finally I topped the cake with a toy Toothless and Hiccup, which Ellie can play with now that this cake has been eaten.

I felt very proud of how this turned out. Mostly because it was actually pretty simple to do, once I wrapped my head around the idea. I am all about cakes that look super impressive, but are actually relatively easy to accomplish. Those kinds of cakes make me happy. And I think it made this little five-year-old pretty happy, too.

Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Bourbon Sauce

This is one of my favorite summer treats to make. It’s an adaptation of a recipe from Emeril Lagasse’s strawberry shortcake with a bourbon sauce by Craving Chronicles. We had it a few weeks ago at book club. (Book club days are my favorite days.)

Strawberry Shortcake
Serves 10-12

  • 1 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 3 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 pounds strawberries, rinsed and sliced
  • 1/2 cup orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier)
  • 2 1/2 cups whipping cream
  • 5 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with butter. Set aside.

Beat together eggs and milk with an electric mixer until frothy. Add 1 1/3 cups sugar and beat on high for 7 to 10 minutes, until thick and pale yellow.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Gently fold together the flour mixture and the egg mixture. Carefully stir in the melted and cooled butter. Pour into baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes, until cake is risen and golden brown and a fork inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let stand at room temperature to cool.

In a bowl with a sealable lid, combine strawberries, orange liqueur and 2 cups sugar. Close the lid tightly and shake everything together until well combined. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, shaking or stirring every so often, until sugar is dissolved. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve the dessert.

Whip cream on high with an electric mixer until thick. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form when you lift out the beaters. Keep whipped cream refrigerated until ready to serve.

Chocolate Bourbon Sauce

  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon or whiskey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine cream and brown sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and cream just starts to boil. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted. Stir in bourbon and vanilla until smooth.

To assemble:
Cut shortcake into 1 inch squares and divide evenly between serving dishes. Smother in strawberry syrup. Scoop plenty of whipped cream on top and finally drizzle with chocolate bourbon sauce and garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.

Perfect Birthday Party Cake (With Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting)

Last weekend for Olivia’s third birthday party I made this Perfect Birthday Party Cake. I’ve made a lot of delicious desserts in my day, but this one takes the cake. (Get it? Haha.)

Anyway, I found this recipe and tried it with my sister a few weeks ago for my birthday. And it was awesome. So I made a few improvements, and served it at Liv’s birthday party. It was such a fun time! Steve’s family got snowed in and couldn’t make it, so we called up our friends at the last minute to come eat food and cake with us and I think it was the best birthday party yet! (Which either means we’re really lame or our friends are really cool. I’m going to go ahead and hope it’s the latter.) We even lost power due to the storm, but Liv and all her little friends just kept playing. And reading books by candlelight. And examining the globe collection. It was lovely.

Because Olivia loves Lightning McQueen so much, I wanted to give her a Lightning themed cake. So I found some race car cake toppers online and they were the perfect thing. Although she was a little sad when she saw the cake but couldn’t eat it until her party. I told her she had to wait for her friends to come. So when her first guests arrived, she opened the door for them and then ran over to her cake and said, “My friends are here! Let’s eat my cake!” When she finally got some, I don’t think she was disappointed.

Perfect Birthday Party Cake
Makes one double-layer 9 inch cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup minus 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup hot, strong coffee
  • 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
In a medium-size bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift together with a fork and set aside.
In a liquid measuring cup, pour in 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Add milk until you have reached the 3/4 cup mark. Set aside.
With a mixer, beat eggs. Add vinegar and milk, yogurt, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Beat until well combined. Add the dry ingredients in four increments, stirring well between each addition. Add the hot coffee and stir to combine. Add the mini chocolate chips and stir to distribute evenly throughout the batter.
Wrap the sides of each cake pan in a strip of wet cloth (like a torn dishtowel or an old t-shirt.) (This added moisture will help keep your cake from rising so much in the center, so you won’t have to worry about cutting off the rounded cake top.)
Divide your batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake layer comes out clean. Let the layers cool completely in their pans before assembling your cake.
Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
  • 2 cups (4 cubes) butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream (plus a little more, if necessary)

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand with an electric mixer), soften the butter on low speed. (Do not turn your mixer on too high or air will get into your frosting and create bubbles.) Once your butter is very maleable, add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, one cup at a time, stirring slowly and thoroughly between each new addition. Add the vanilla and stir. Add the whipping cream and stir on medium for about ten minutes, until frosting is light and fluffy. The longer you go, the more whipped the cream will get, making the frosting that much more delicious.

If it seems that your frosting is too thick and won’t be easily frosted with, add more whipping cream, a Tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.

Assemble your cake with a layer of frosting in the middle, and chocolate sprinkles to top it off!

At the end of her party, I asked Olivia what her favorite part was and she said, “Eating cake.” I think she and I are going to get along just fine.

Ombre Vanilla Speckled Cake

Mallory and I have been taking a calligraphy class these past few weeks. It’s so much fun. And hard work. Man, sometimes I just feel like my letters have little minds of their own. But I’m working on reigning them in. (More later? Perhaps, if I ever make anything good enough to show you.)

Anyway, at the beginning of our class we realized one of our classmates, Megan, had been in our cake class last summer. As we reminisced about cake class, our calligraphy teacher let it (subtly) be know that she had a birthday at the end of the month and she had always wanted a cool cake with flowers on it. Well, it’s the end of the month. So last class, Mallory and I made her a cake and decorated it. We chose to do ombre roses for the frosting and it turned out soooo cool. Plus, the cake tasted pretty good, too.

I made the cake based off a Mrs. Field’s recipe. This is one of my favorite cakes to take into the “unknown.” It’s perfect for presenting to a person or group whose tastes you might not know. Not everyone loves chocolate as much as I do (although I can’t understand why), and some people have aversions to fruit and other things. So a vanilla speckled cake is really the way to go. It is rich and good, without being too chocolatey or not chocolatey enough. Your really can’t go wrong with this baby.


Vanilla Speckled Cake

  • 3 cups minus 6 Tablespoons flour, thoroughly sifted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vanilla Greek Yogurt
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons milk, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans and set aside.
In a medium bowl, use a fork to sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the vanilla yogurt. Add the egg yolks one at at time, beating well between each. In three additions, alternately stir in the flour mixture and the milk, beating well to combine after each addition. Fold in the chopped chocolate. (Yes, it is actually important that you finely chop your chocolate chips, otherwise they will be too heavy and will all sink to the bottom of the cake while it is baking. And folding means that you use a spatula or wooden spoon to gently lift your batter in a cranking motion to incorporate the chocolate chips – it is not stirring.)

Divide the batter (it will be thick) between the two pans and spread until even. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook this cake – it is very dense and so burning it would really not work out well. Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes and then on wire racks for 20 minutes. Level if necessary. (That’s when you cut off the rounded top of the cakes so they will fit together well. You can do it with either a long knife or a cake leveler.)

To frost the cake, we made the regular vanilla buttercream frosting. Usually, I add some almond flavoring, but I didn’t because I wanted to keep this one nice and vanilla-y.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon clear vanilla extract
  • 4-6 Tablespoons milk or water*
  • Food coloring of your choice (we used Wilton’s Violet)

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter on low. Still beating on low, gradually incorporate the powdered sugar and vanilla. Add the milk or water, one tablespoon at a time, until you have reached your desired consistency of frosting. Add a small amount of food coloring, still beating on low.
Once you are happy with the lightest shade of your ombre palette, ice the entire cake using a spatula or knife, so as to avoid icing holes where the roses don’t quite line up.
Begin with a center rose and then add an outer circle of your lightest shade. Then add more food coloring to the frosting to darken it slightly and make the next circle of roses. Keep adding the food coloring after each row is done. This way, you don’t have to worry about dying your different colors ahead of time and possibly running out of a certain shade… because that would be a very difficult mistake to fix.

The all-over roses were really quite simple (well, at least for Mallory. She’s a rose pro. I’m still working on my certification.), but they turned out so beautifully. I think even if I am just frosting with chocolate icing from now on I am going to use this method, sans the ombre effect. It looks so finished and put together, and isn’t really as time intensive as some other decorating methods.

Anyway, I just loved  how this cake turned out. Thanks, Mallory, for making my ombre rose icing dreams a reality. What would I do without you to execute all my perfect plans? I felt pretty cool walking into calligraphy class with this looking so awesome. 🙂

Salted Caramel Soaked Chocolate Cake

Some of my “creations” are more like “happy accidents” in the kitchen. This particular one was inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe that took a few turns and ended up being this. But what can I say? Sometimes you get distracted by hanging out with cool people and can’t be bothered to follow directions precisely.

Despite it’s alterations from the golden standard, this cake turned out, well… divine. We had it for breakfast. Twice. After long nights staying up with girlfriends, you need a little something to get you going for the rest of the day. So eat it for breakfast. Or don’t. It’s good as a dessert, too.

Salted Caramel Soaked Chocolate Cake
For the cake
  • 1 box Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake Mix
  • Eggs, water and oil as directed on box

For the salted caramel

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold salted butter, chopped into large chunks
  • Sea salt
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
For the chocolate frosting
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  •  1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • Sea salt
  • 1 pound (2 2/3 cups) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare three 9-inch cake pans. Combine the cake mix as directed on the box and distribute batter evenly between the three pans. Bake as directed, about 25-28 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the caramel: in medium-sized non-stick pan, bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring only occasionally. Once the sugar is boiling, watch it carefully until it turns to a medium amber color. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the whipping cream (be careful – it will bubble up). Allow to cool for about 12 minutes and then stir in the butter chunks until completely dissolved. If the caramel is not thickening up at all, you may want to add some powdered sugar. You don’t need it to be frosting consistency, as it is meant to soak into the cake. Add sea salt to taste.

Prepare the frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and water until completely dissolved. Using a mixer on medium speed, beat butter, powdered sugar and a generous pinch of sea salt until pale and fluffy. Melt chocolate chips in a microwave proof bowl for 30 seconds, and then in 10 second intervals, stirring between each. Gradually beat the melted chocolate and then the cocoa mixture into the butter and powdered sugar mixture. Once completely combined, let stand for 30 minutes to set up.

Level the cooled cakes. (That means: take off the rounded top so that each layer fits perfectly on top of the other. You can do this with a cake leveler or a long knife.) Pour the salted caramel over each of the layers before adding the next. Use a spatula to distribute evenly. Once all the layers are assembled and the frosting is ready, frost the cake. Allow it to set for about an hour so that the caramel soaks down into the cake, making it moist and delicious. 

As you can see, the caramel soaks into the cake, it doesn’t stay on top of each layer like a filling would, so in the end it doesn’t even look like you had layers. This is the part where we started making up our own stuff very late at night and it turned out scrumptious.  However, if your caramel thickens up and doesn’t soak through, I’m fairly certain that would taste pretty awesome as well.
You could also garnish this baby with sea salt. Maybe even pink sea salt if you’re fancy.

The best part of this cake is the sweet and salty (obviously), but also that the frosting is very decadent, but paired with a lighter cake. So it really is the best of all possible worlds. You should try it.

Olivia’s Birthday: Green and Blue Cake

Pretty cakes make me happy. Pretty doable cakes make me even more happier. And cakes that use no fondant and only delicious buttercream frosting make me happier still.

The whole theme of Olivia’s first birthday party was based around the fact that I wanted to make a cake like the one described in Mockingjay, the third book of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. If you’re familiar with the series (and you should get to be if you aren’t already), Peeta makes a cake for Annie and Finnick’s wedding that is covered in blue and green waves to commemorate their home district, which is known for fishing. Here’s the version I came up with – and Mallory executed for me. Lovely, isn’t it?

I made your run-of-the-mill Betty Crocker Devil’s Food cake for the tiers and then, frosted it with buttercream deliciousness.

Perfect Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4-6 Tablespoons milk or water*

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter on low. Still beating on low, gradually incorporate the powdered sugar, almond and vanilla. Add the milk or water, one tablespoon at a time, until you have reached your desired consistency of frosting. If you want to color your frosting, do it now, still beating on low to keep air bubbles to a minimum.

The waves were created using a medium star tip. We used  Wilton Tip #18.

*This is all about preference. Your frosting will still taste great no matter which of these you choose. I even use almond milk and that tastes great. If you use milk, however, be sure to keep your cake refrigerated.
**To make this a chocolate buttercream, add one cup cocoa powder, which is what the chocolate frosting pictured below is.

I shared this recipe at some of my favorite link parties! See the “Sharing” tab!