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Spider-Man Birthday Cake

For some reason (I’m trying to think of something other than laziness) it always takes me ages to blog about birthdays. Many of you lovely readers have asked me about the Spider-Man birthday cake I made Nicholas for his third birthday (over 4 months ago!) and how I made it. Well finally it’s here.

Nicholas didn’t actually eat any on the day, or the days that followed. What he did do was pick at the bits of icing that was left on the cake board I lazily just put in the garage after all the cake was eaten. Every time he picked he’d tell me how great the cake was that I made him. He also tells random people about his yummy Spider-Man birthday cake so I guess even if he didn’t eat it, it was a success!
Spider-Man birthday cakeI made the same chocolate cake I used for Nicholas’ blue birthday cake, which is a very much reduced-sugar version of Angela Nilson’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake. As well as being my ‘go-to’ chocolate cake, its denseness makes a wonderful solid foundation for decorating, it stays moist for several days so can be made ahead of time, and its decadent rich fudginess means one cake can feed a lot of people.

This time I didn’t cut the cooked cake in two horizontally and sandwich together again with ganache; I wanted to make the cake decorating easier and, to be honest, this rich cake really doesn’t need any filling inside.

I originally planned to simply carve a round cake into an oval shape to create Spider-Man’s head, but then I stumbled across Amanda’s Cookin’ while researching Spider-Man parties on Pinterest. Amanda very cleverly cuts a round cake in such a way as to piece together a perfectly-shaped oval that leaves you with only two very small leftover pieces (if I’d gone with my original plan I would have wasted a lot of cake). And don’t worry about cutting your cake into pieces; once you put it back together and decorate it, nobody will ever know was been cut up.

For Nicholas’ first two birthdays I made my own icing (for his first birthday I made my first ever marshmallow fondant icing). This time around I kept it simple and bought ready made icing and it made the whole cake-decorating process SO much easier! And with this wonderful chocolate cake, nobody even notices the icing.

I used the ganache as a crumb coat which traps all the loose crumbs on the outside of the cake (and evens out any little dimples or cracks the cake may have) and helps the icing stick to the cake. I used white chocolate and tinted it red to blend in with the icing, but you could use dark chocolate without any colouring for it to blend in with the cake.

SPIDER-MAN BIRTHDAY CAKE

Prep time: 30-40 mins
Cook time: 1hr 20 – 1 hr 30 mins
Decorating time: 30-40 mins

For the ganache:
100g good quality white chocolate, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
150ml double cream (pouring type)
A few drops of red food colouring (I used gel colouring to get a strong colour)

For the cake:
200g good quality dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa solids, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
200g butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
85g self-raising flour
85g plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g light muscovado sugar
125g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
75ml (5 tbsp) buttermilk

To decorate:
500g ready-to-roll red fondant icing
cornflour for rolling out the icing
small amounts of white and black ready-to-roll fondant icing
black writing icing

To make the ganache, pour the double cream into a small saucepan and heat gently over a low heat until it’s just about to boil. Meanwhile put the pieces of white chocolate into a bowl.

Once the cream is almost boiling, take it off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add a few drops of red food colouring and stir through.

Put the ganache in the fridge to cool and thicken while you make the cake.

To make the cake, butter a spring-form 22cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to fan 140C/conventional 160C/ gas 3.

Put the pieces of dark chocolate and butter into a medium, heavy-based saucepan. Mix the instant coffee into 125ml cold water and add it to the saucepan. Gently melt over a low heat, stirring regularly so the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. (Or melt in the microwave on medium for about 5 minutes, stirring half way through.)

While the chocolate is melting, sift the self-raising and plain flours, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder into a big bowl. Add the light muscovado sugar and golden caster sugar and stir getting rid of any lumps.

Once the chocolate mixture has melted, pour it into the dry ingredients and add the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 1hr 20-1hr 30 or until a skewer comes out clean and the top feels firm (don’t worry if it cracks a bit).

Leave to cool in the tin (don’t worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, put it into the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up before cutting.

To decorate, follow Amanda’s easy instructions here to turn your round cake into an oval. This is what my cake looked like after cutting and shaping:
Round cake cut to make an ovalMove your cake to a serving plate or board (I stuck some Spider-Man comic strips onto a thick piece of cardboard and then covered it in clear sticky plastic). Using a knife, spread the ganache over the top and sides of your cake, using it to even out the top.

Dust your work surface with cornflour and roll out your red icing until it’s big enough to cover the cake (about 1/2cm thick). Gently roll it around your rolling pin, place it on top of the cake and gently unroll it. Lightly press the icing around the cake and trim off the excess. If you have any excess cornflour on the icing, brush it off with a clean dry brush.

Using the black writing icing, pipe the web starting from the centre and piping straight lines outwards and down the sides. Then add the curved lines. (This makes a great Spider-Man cake as it is.)
Piped websRoll out the small pieces of white and black icing, and cut out two eye shapes from each, making the white shapes a little smaller (I used a template cut out of paper as suggested by Amanda). Dab a little water onto the back of each black eye shape and place in position. Repeat with the white eye shapes.

Now you’re ready for a Spidey-good birthday!

Tips:

  • After you’ve poured the cake batter into the tin to cook, make a hollow in the middle almost down to the bottom; when the cake cooks it won’t rise so much in the middle.
  • Any leftover red icing can be made into Spider-Man cupcake toppers: use an egg-shaped cookie cutter and leave the pieces to dry for a day then decorate with black writing icing.

 

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Third birthday and a dinosaur adventure

I really enjoyed spending Nicholas’ third birthday just the three of us (and his party was 6 days later so my stress levels were still rather low!).

Hubby and I blew up lots of balloons and put them in Nicholas’ room while he was sleeping the night before so he’d have a lovely surprise when he woke up. Well that was my nice thought. Last year we left just 3 or 4 balloons and he got very excited. This year was another story.

We woke up to Nicholas making strange angry sounds and found him sitting on his bed looking very annoyed at all the balloons filling up his bedroom floor. Ok, I should have taken into account his need (typical for kids his age) for things not to change, especially in his room! Oh well…

To lighten the mood and get back on track with the festivities, he opened his main present from us before breakfast.

third birthday presentI continued the birthday tradition we started last year of pancakes and icecream with candles for breakfast, this year incorporating his adoration of blue. I made pancakes with a little blue food colouring a couple of days before and put them in the freezer so I could have a relaxed morning too (pancakes freeze wonderfully!).

blue birthday pancakesThen we headed into London to the Natural History Museum to look at dinosaurs. Nicholas was both excited and a bit nervous about seeing dinosaurs (I wish I could have gotten into his brain to see what he was anticipating), but as we queued, one of the museum workers did a wonderful job telling him all about the first dinosaur he’d see as soon as we went in – Dippy the diplodocus.

practising our dinosaur impersonationWe had a wonderful afternoon and Nicholas enjoyed himself immensely, even comforting a boy, probably more or less his own age, who was crying after seeing the big animatronic T.Rex.

meeting T.Rex

To finish the day, Nicholas was very happy to have his much requested blue chocolate cake (although I think he would have been just as happy with the bowl of blue chocolate ganache!).

blowing out the candles on his blue chocolate cakeHappy birthday to my gorgeous boy!

The ultimate (blue) chocolate cake

Nicholas is now a big three years old (although it depends on what he does or doesn’t want to do whether it’s “mummy, I’m big!” or “mummy, I’m little!”). And I promised myself it wouldn’t take me a year to blog about it (like his second birthday).

When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted on his birthday he very decisively requested a blue chocolate cake. I have to admit cheering loudly to myself. Even though I’m a big chocolate lover, hubby isn’t and has a tendency to sulk if I make anything chocolatey for other people.

We even had an argument one year when I requested a chocolate cake for my birthday but he wanted to make me his pineapple upside down cake (which I do love) because surely I’d be happier if everyone could enjoy the cake (um… I think I’m allowed to be a little selfish one day a year!). Anyway he did come through in the end and made me the yummiest chocolate brownies.

Back to the blue chocolate cake, this was the perfect excuse to make a lovely decadent cake I’ve had saved in my favourites for a while, Angela Nilson’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake. And having made it twice now, this is definitely my ‘go to’ chocolate cake from now on! It’s a deliciously decadent fudgy chocolate cake that stays moist for several days, so perfect to make a day or two ahead. Its richness also means you can serve up smaller slices making it feed more people.

Nicholas and his requested blue chocolate cake
I always read any comments people make when looking at recipes online. In the comments left by people who’d made Angela’s cake there were two very helpful suggestions made by different people: make the ganache that gets poured over the finished cake first so it can cool and thicken in the fridge; the amount of sugar in the cake can be reduced a lot.

It is amazing how much you can often reduce the quantity of sugar in recipes without really noticing a difference. Since I started experimenting with cooking more healthily after having Nicholas, I’ve successfully reduced the sugar for most of my favourite sweet recipes sometimes even reducing it by as much as 25%. Next time you do some baking, why not try taking out some of the sugar and see if you notice the difference.

The original cake recipe has 400g in total of sugar (200g each of light muscovada and golden caster sugars). As suggested, I used 250g in total, a very large reduction, and it was still a very sweet cake! I also omitted the 2 tablespoons of golden caster sugar in the ganache as I thought it was unnecessary and again it was definitely sweet enough. So a slightly healthier version of the original recipe ;).

The original recipe uses dark chocolate in the ganache. I used white chocolate to be able to give Nicholas his requested blue cake and it was a nice pop of colour having some blue sandwiching the cake together.

Being a bit lazy, I cooked my cakes in two separate tins to avoid having to cut through the middle later when decorating it. This also reduces the cooking time (another bonus!).

The ganache recipe makes a lot. I used it to sandwich together the two cakes and poured it over the top, but still had a small bowlful left. You could use the leftovers to ice cupcakes, or warm it a little and pour over ice cream or dollop over frozen berries.

Please try to ignore the big crack on the top!

THE ULTIMATE (BLUE) CHOCOLATE CAKE

Prep time: 30-40 mins
Cook time: 45-55 mins (mixture divided into 2 tins); 1hr 20 – 1 hr 30 mins (mixture cooked in 1 tin)

For the ganache:
200g good quality white chocolate, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
284ml carton double cream (pouring type)
A few drops of food colouring

For the cake:
200g good quality dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa solids, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
200g butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
85g self-raising flour
85g plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g light muscovado sugar
125g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
75ml (5 tbsp) buttermilk

To make the ganache, pour the double cream into a small saucepan and heat gently over a low heat until it’s just about to boil. Meanwhile put the pieces of white chocolate into a bowl.

Once the cream is almost boiling, take it off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add a few drops of food colouring and stir through.

Put the ganache in the fridge to cool and thicken while you make the cake.

To make the cake, butter two 20cm round cake tins (if using just one tin it needs to be at least 8cm deep) and line the base with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to fan 140C/conventional 160C/ gas 3.

Put the pieces of dark chocolate and butter into a medium, heavy-based saucepan. Mix the instant coffee into 125ml cold water and add it to the saucepan. Gently melt over a low heat, stirring regularly so the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. (Or melt in the microwave on medium for about 5 minutes, stirring half way through.)

While the chocolate is melting, sift the self-raising and plain flours, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder into a big bowl. Add the light muscovado sugar and golden caster sugar and stir getting rid of any lumps.

Once the chocolate mixture has melted, pour it into the dry ingredients and add the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour into your prepared tin/s and bake until a skewer comes out clean and the top feels firm (don’t worry if it cracks a bit): 45-55 mins if dividing it between two tins or 1hr 20-1hr 30 mins if baking it as one cake.

Leave to cool in the tin (don’t worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

If you’ve made one cake, cut it horizontally in half once cold. If you’ve made two, you might need to level the top of the one which will be your bottom piece (if that is the case, you must then eat the bits you cut off to ensure the cake is ok ;)).

Sandwich the pieces together with some of the ganache, then pour more ganache over the cake letting it fall down the sides and smoothing to cover with a palette knife. Decorate as desired.

third birthday 'selfie'

Tip: You’ll have leftover buttermilk after making this cake; use the rest to make wonderfully light pancakes (just do an online search for ‘buttermilk pancakes’).

Second birthday and a train cake

Nicholas turned three on Sunday. Yes, three, not two. It’s taken me a whole year to blog about the cake I made him for his second birthday…

Last year Nicholas was mad about trains so it was easy to choose the theme for his birthday party. It also meant I could make him an iconic cake. An iconic Australian birthday cake.

Growing up in Australia there was one book most mothers turned to when their kids’ birthdays came around. I don’t think I’m alone in remembering the excitement of looking through the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book and either getting to choose the cake myself or wondering which one my mum would make me.

Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book

And in this iconic book there is an iconic cake. This cake is so iconic there’s even a song about it!

So easy decision, the train cake it was.

Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake BookBut for some reason I wanted to make this iconic cake even more amazing. For some reason I always want to make things harder for myself. I wanted to make a train cake with a surprise inside. It took a bit of practising, but I managed to hide the number two and some stars inside the cake. I’m not sure it was worth all the stress and time, but I do think it turned out great!

Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake BookWe had train-shaped sandwiches, healthy carrot muffins, railway crossing fruit skewers and yogurt train carriages, along with a few other nibbles.

Train party food
And most  important of all, Nicholas loved his cake.

happy customer with his train cakechecking the buttercream icing

Although he may have enjoyed the Thomas train we hired more! (My goodness what a difference a year makes…)

Second birthday ride-on Thomas train