So, it's about an hour before guests are to arrive and the birthday boy, Noah, is out on the deck helping his dad decorate for the party. There's a banner that said "Happy Birthday" on the clothes line, a colorful homemade pinata stuffed full of candy dangling above the grass, and a row of be-jeweled handcrafted party hats lined up awaiting the little guests. All of a sudden, Noah, who has observed almost all the preparation and can hardly contain his anticipation, stops and looks up at me with a worried look on his face.
"Mummy!" He says anxiously. "We need CAKE!"
Of course I had to laugh, first of all because it was obvious in his mind that no party was complete without a cake; and secondly, it was too cute of him to worry that his mama just might have forgotten such an essential part of his big day. Little did he know what I had been working on while he was asleep the night before and what was hidden away in the fridge...
We had a lovely party, despite it being rather hectic, and there was everything a good party should have, even if you're just three years old: good friends, good food, good weather (!) and plenty of laughs.
The little ones played croquet in the late afternoon sun while I put the finishing touches on the massive taco bar in the kitchen. Then we laid out an assortment of autumn squashes, gourds and pumpkins in the grass and worked up an appetite playing 'Pumpkin Hop' (which is an age-appropriate game for 2 and 3-year old's, in case you were wondering why you hadn't heard of it.)
After stuffing ourselves with tacos, soft wraps and tostadas with plenty of salsa cruda, the children took turns trying to bust open the pinata. Apparently I construct a solid pinata, because, despite the best efforts of two little boys with big sticks, it required the arms of an uncle to spill its guts. I don't think that is a sight Noah will soon forget: raining candy. For someone who is seldom allowed sweets, it was amazing to be allowed to fill his pockets and mouth right then and there. He's been taking about it every day since and has suggested a few time that we make 'another pinata'.
By now Noah had only asked me about birthday cake about five times and finally it was time! As I set the rather large cake in front of him he shrieked:
"Mummy, I need a FORK!"
To which I informed him that there were certain rituals such as singing 'Happy Birthday' to be performed first.
So as soon as the song was sung and the candles blown out, he repeated his request, equally as loud. The urgency of this child! There's no question, by the third birthday, they know what it's all about.
I figured this was probably the last birthday that I could get away with decorating the cake however I wanted, as next year there could very well be a request for a 'Cars' cake or some pre-historic creature cake that I will have to attempt. I had known for a while how I wanted to decorate this cake since my son's name is Noah...and well, you can probably figure the rest out!
The design is made out of rolled fondant, colored with food colouring paste, cut out with an x-acto knife and painted with more food coloring. The eyes are black sesame seeds and the 'sand' is maple sugar. This part was so much fun to do!
Noah had requested 'chocolate-chip cake' at some point prior to the big day which made me decide to go with a Banana Chocolate-Chip cake. The maple frosting was merely inspired by a late-night rummage in the pantry where I happened upon some specialty maple products such as sugar, spread and syrup and thought hmm..., maple would be great with the banana.
Turns out it was OK! And Noah loved it. I think we'll be converting this recipe into cupcakes very soon.
A little off the food topic (although they did require cooking) are these homemade take-home gifts that I made for the guests. I didn't want to give out another plastic toy that was doomed to just break and end up in a landfill somewhere, but wanted a 'greener' gift. My recipe for play dough came in handy here as I made several batches and colored them into pretty colors. I packaged the balls in Tupperware, something that can be reused long after the play dough is finished, and attached a little plastic cookie cutter for making shapes with the dough.
Here are the recipes, free of charge as usual!
4 cups of plain flour
4 cups of water
2 cups salt
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 tbsp cream of tartar
-Gather the necessary ingredients and mix the dry ingredients together.
-Mix all of the ingredients in a large pan and heat it over medium heat.
-Stir constantly until the dough feels like stiff, smooth, mashed potatoes. At this point, take it off the stove. Once it has cooled enough, knead it until it is blended smoothly.
-Divide the dough into several balls. Add food colouring to each ball and knead until colour is blended in. This works best if the dough is still warm.
-Store the dough in an airtight container or bag.
Banana Cake (adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)
1/4 lb (1 stick) sweet butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips
-Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans.
-Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg yolks and beat well. Add mashed bananas, mixing thoroughly.
-Sift dry ingredients and add to butter mixture. Stir until just combined in. Add buttermilk and vanilla. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Fold into batter gently. Sprinkle in chocolate chips and fold together.
-Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
-Cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold and cool on rack for 2 hours.
-When cooled, place one layer on a serving plate and frost with Rich Maple Frosting. Cover with second layer and cover cake with remaining frosting.
( I doubled this recipe and made 2-11'cake pans)
Rich Maple Frosting
1 lb (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
250 grams (1 pkg) cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons pure Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons coffee cream (10%)
4 cups powdered sugar
-Cream the butter and the cream cheese together in an electric mixer. Add the brown sugar, vanilla and maple syrup and beat for about a minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Be sure mixture is smooth, ingredients are well incorporated and there are no syrup streaks in the icing. Add 2 cups icing sugar and mix slowly. Add the cream and mix until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups icing sugar and mix well.
-Frosting will be quite thin.