A couple of weekends ago my daughter turned one and I threw her her very first party. I didn’t want to go overboard since I know she will never remember the day, but it is so hard not to get caught up with all the cute ideas on Pinterest, surprisingly I did restrain myself. I knew I wanted to keep the menu simple to make my life easier; if I have learned one thing this past year, it is that kids take up an insane amount of time and I no longer have the energy to pull off an over-the-top extravaganza.
In the past I could have easily knocked out at least 6-7 items for an hors d’oeuvre table (and I still can if I am at work), but when there is a toddler at my feet opening cabinets, dumping over bowls, and literally pulling on my pant leg so hard that they slip down to my knees, I simplify things. The key to this party was the timeline: 1:30pm – 3:30pm. Two hours are more than enough time for toddlers who are on a nap schedule, and starting at 1:30pm means that I didn’t have to serve an entire lunch!
Since my daughter loves pinwheels, that was the theme. It was super cheap and easy to create a bunch of paper pinwheels for centerpieces (just don’t ask my parents who reluctantly volunteered to help make them), and they looked really cute on the tables – thanks Pinterest! With a pinwheel theme, I knew I had to serve pinwheel sandwiches – so I made a chicken and pesto variety. I also wanted to serve some of my daughter’s favorite foods, which include veggies and hummus (I know, she is fancy like that, but what do you expect when her parents met in culinary school). And since this was my first time hosting a kid party, I was really excited to make strawberry lemonade with homemade mason jar sippy cups (the kids were still way more into the actual juice boxes, oh well).
The highlight of the food table though were supposed to be vanilla cupcakes and mini chocolate smash cakes. Since I simplified the rest of the food, I really wanted to spend some time on these and make them delicious. It had also been looking for a good excuse to try out a few recipes from the Miette cookbook I got last year. Miette is a bakery in the Ferry Building in San Francisco that specializes in delicate and feminine looking cakes. I love the photo of the double chocolate cake on the cover of the book, and I wanted to emulate it for the party.
The photo above is a pretty good representation of how the Miette cake looks, however their’s is 3-tier and has a small pink frosting rose on top. Although I was happy with the final outcome of the cakes, the process was much more than I bargained for! I told my husband that I failed as a baker that weekend. I started first by making the vanilla cupcakes; I knew something went wrong as soon as I saw that they had risen and doubled in size after just 7 minutes in the oven. When the timer went off 10 minutes later, all the cupcakes had fallen and looked like inverted mountains (that’s what happens when things rise too fast). So the entire first batch ended up in the garbage. Thankfully the 2nd batch (I used a different recipe) came out fine.
Next, I moved on to the double chocolate cakes. All the cakes in the Miette cookbook use 6″ cake pans. Earlier that day I made a special trip to Michales to pick up the small pans (because who owns 6″ cake pans?). I followed the directions exactly and put the cakes into the oven. After just 10 minutes in the oven, the cakes looked like the were rising too high for the pans. At first I thought maybe my oven was having issues, and I needed an oven thermometer. Then I read over the recipe again and I realized that the cake pans I should be using are 6″ round by 3″ high. What?! That is a ridiculously high pan for such a small cake. The pans I bought were 6″ by 2″ high, so they were nowhere near high enough, and the cake batter began to spill over the top and fall to the bottom of my oven…ahhhh! Rather than try to mess with the cake at that point, I decided to let it be and allowed it to continue to bake. After 40 minutes, my kitchen began to fill with the wonderful aroma of burnt chocolate, but the cake was finally done. Thankfully after it cooled, I was able to trim the crunchy top off and use the rest of the cake to make a 2-tier cake.
I baked the cakes the night before the party, so all I had to the day of the party was make the frosting. No problem, right? Except for the fact that I failed as a baker that weekend, remember? I was making true vanilla buttercream frosting which requires melting sugar on the stove to 248F. I’d say 50% of the time I can melt sugar no problem, the other 50% of the time I fail, and I fail royally. Three times the sugar crystallized on me and I had to start over! Finally my husband had to step in and melt the sugar for me. He got it on his first try (showoff), so I was able to finish the frosting on time. I was almost ready to throw in the towel and make American buttercream (butter whipped with powdered sugar). I am glad I persisted though because the frosting was so soft, smooth, and delicate – it really made the cupcakes and cakes look beautiful, feminine, and dainty. I’d like to say the same for my daughter, but as you can see by the photo she did a pretty good job at smashing it between her fingers and then into her mouth. If she could talk, I am sure she would say it tasted as good as it looked!
*After making these cakes, I visited the Miette website and saw that they sell the same 6″ cake pans they use in the bakery. The also sell the sugar roses and leaves to adorn the top of the cake with. Next time…
- DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CAKE:
- 1.5 cups (7.5 oz) All-purpose flour
- 1.25 cups (4.5 oz) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- 2 oz 70% cacao chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs (room temp)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1.25 cups (15 oz) sugar
- BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
- 2 cups (14 oz) sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 3 cups (1.5 lbs) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 TBSP vanilla extract
- FOR THE CAKE:
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter three 6-by-2-inch cake pans and sit with sifted cocoa powder. Tap out any excess cocoa.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.
- Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Whisk until the chocolate is melted. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, disk the eggs on high speed until foamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in the oil, whisking until combined. Raise the speed to medium and whisk until fully incorporated (about 30 seconds).
- Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the sugar and whisk until the batter is smooth and liquid, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix by hand, folding the batter until just incorporated. Use a rubber spatula and push the batter through a fine mesh sieve to remove lumps. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until the tops spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick comes out clean. About 30 minutes.
- Allow the cakes to cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and invert the cake on to the racks and continue to cool until room temperature. Wrap the cakes with plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days until ready to frost (or freeze up to 2 months).
- FOR FROSTING: Combine the sugar and water in a medium sauce pan and place over medium heat. Cook the sugar until it reaches 248F on a candy thermometer (10-15 minutes). While the sugar is cooking, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and whip until soft peaks form. As soon as the sugar reaches 248F, slowly pour it into the egg whites while the mixer runs on medium speed. Be careful to pour it close to the side of the bowl so the whisk doesn't splash hot sugar. Once all the sugar is incorporated, raise the speed to high and whisk until the frosting reach room temperature, 70-75F (this will take close to 20 minutes).Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter 1 TBSP at a time until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla last. The frosting will be smooth and thick. Use the frosting immediately or wrap it tightly in plastic (piping bag or tupperware) and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
- TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Once the cake is cool and cold (from being in the fridge), use a sharp knife or serrated knife to trim the top of the cake. There will be a slight dome, and you want to shave this off to make a nice flat top. Then carefully cut the cake in half horizontally so you have two equal cake rounds. Place the frosting in a piping bag with a ½" star tip. Starting with the bottom layer of the cake, pipe the frosting at a 90 degree angle around the edge of the cake leaving an ⅛" border. Continue to pipe frosting in a spiral inwards until the cake is covered. Use a small offset spatula to smooth the frosting that is inside the initial outer ring. Carefully place the 2nd layer of cake on top of the first frosting layer. Repeat with the frosting on top of the 2nd layer just as you did with the first layer. At this point the cake is ready to eat! I usually like to put it in the fridge for about 10 minutes just so the frosting can set. If you refrigerate it for any length of time, make sure to wrap it well with plastic wrap so it won't dry out. And allow the cake to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.