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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcake birthday cake

I was generally an able student at school.  I was never gifted, but I did well in most subjects.  I leaned heavily towards the arts rather than the sciences, but even most sciences, I did OK generally.  Apart from Chemistry.  My loathing of Chemistry, if I'm honest, came from the fact I just didn't get it.  I was bad-ish at Maths, but if I concentrated - eventually - I'd get there.  With Chemistry, I could even see the stupid people in the room would understand a concept long before I did.

Now I'm older, wiser and fully Myers-Briggsed up, I understand that the reason I struggled with Chemistry was partly because I am unwilling to entertain concepts without practical application.  And of course, yes, Chemistry has practical applications - but generally not at GCSE level.  We were told by our Chemistry teacher, "Valency is all about hooks.  But not actual hooks.  There are no actual hooks.  Now you have to learn how many imaginary hooks each of these imaginary things doesn't have.  Understand?"

I mean, if I wanted to learn about imaginary things, I'd have taken Religious Studies.

So - other things I was terrible at: PE (I have never yet understood the notion of getting out of breath and sweaty for fun), Art (Mr Nunn was regularly bribed to "help" with my art homework) and Design, which was our school's name for woodwork.  Basically, I was rubbish at almost anything that involved co-ordination.

Which is why - long story short - I'm exceptionally proud of the birthday cake I made recently for the baby, who turned one a couple of weeks ago.  I will now do a long and boring post about how I created the Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday cake, and then I will smugly pin it to Pinterest, until someone points out that it would be more suited at a KillMe site.

I would like to say that I chose to do this cake because The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the baby's favourite books.  This is true.  But actually I chose to do the cake because it looked relatively easy.  I then hurriedly bought a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which she had never seen before in her little life, and read it to her ad nauseam in time for it to become one of her favourite books.  I am a terrible parent.

Also, because I would never make it as a food blogger because I forget to take photos, plus most of my cakes look a bit wonky, there will be huge stages missing.  Sorry.

First of all - the finished article, which actually I only have photos of because party guests remembered to take photos of it.  I told you I was crap.

The cake.  I'm going to tell you how I made this.
So, first I made a batch of chocolate cupcakes.  I used the Hummingbird Bakery's base, but I guess any chocolate cupcake would do.  I used chocolate to give an undertone of brown, as per the picture of the Very Hungry Caterpillar below.  There's something weird going on with my fan oven, and all my cupcakes end up with tilted tops.  Luckily, that's what a knife and a shitload of frosting are for.

This is what I was aiming for
I used gold foil cupcake cases, because I wanted it to look like the yellow outline of the caterpillar's body.  I got them on eBay.  I assume they weren't second hand.

Cupcakes made, now it was time for some bright green frosting.  I bought some of that Wilton green colour gel.  It's good stuff, but you'll need to wear gloves.  Two weeks later, something in my kitchen still has green food colouring on it somewhere, and whenever I touch it, I end up with vibrantly coloured hands for the next two days.  It's very odd.

I used a standard buttercream recipe because I find the Hummingbird Bakery's a little bit too runny for successful piping.  I added the horrendous colouring, some peppermint essence, and stuck the whole load in the fridge overnight.

Don't do that.  That was a mistake.  The next morning (the day of the party), the icing was solid and nowhere near the consistency needed for piping.  I ended up microwaving it to warm it up, which actually worked OK, but could have been a complete disaster.  I used a 1M Wilton icing tip, did a dot of icing in the middle of the cake, then a clockwise swirl, recovering the initial dot.  They looked OK.  For me.

So, next I made a sponge.  I had bought a small cake tin with a loose base - something like this (but again, I got mine on eBay).  It was hard to find a recipe for such a small sponge.  I used this one and whilst it tasted fine, I found it needed almost twice as long in the oven as the recipe suggested.  Weird, because the quantities were correct for that size tin.  Hey ho.

Next, I used two 12 inch cake boards.  Isn't it odd that we still use inches so much for baking?  I would never normally favour the inch over the centimetre.  But there we go.  I glued them together.  Then sellotaped them.  Then covered the whole freaking lot in white icing (which I had bought - ready to roll.  I'm not a masochist).  This was a fucking disaster.  I tried rolling it out on an iced surface first, and it fell apart as soon as I tried to move it.  The next try stuck to the table and I had to start again.  Then - finally - I decided to roll it out on the cake boards themselves, and that seemed to work OK.  I mean, yes it looked a bit shit in places, but isn't that the point of a homemade cake?

Then I iced a message onto the white icing.  I bought this icing kit, which came with a variety of nozzles, which worked quite well - though to be honest, you're never going to eat the icing covering a cake board, so I could have used a felt tip.  I marked out the message with a toothpick on the icing first.  I had to redo it originally because my initial writing was too small for the thickness of the icing.

After this, I had to ice the caterpillar's head.  I bought Tesco's bright red, ready-to-roll icing.  I rolled it out flat, stuck a bit of leftover buttercream all around the sponge (to make the icing stick) and then draped it over the sponge and cut off the extra bits.  It was easier than I thought it would be, though from this candid photo, you can see I'm a tiny bit stressed / pissed off / a tad fat. 

The rest of it was mostly an assembly job, placing the cupcakes to look like a caterpillar's body.  Mr Nunn helped colour some leftover white icing to make the sun, the feet and the eyes and nose (the colouring basically involved adding a few drops of food colouring to the icing and kneading until mixed).  Leftover red icing was used to make the antennae. 

And that's it.  Simple, eh?  (FUCK OFF.)
My very soul is covered in icing sugar. 

For the final presentation, I put a slice of watermelon (complete with hole) next to the caterpillar, to give it that Eric Carle look (see top photo).

Basically I am a genius.  I would say, "hire me to make you one" but I don't think I could go through that again.  Ever.  Next year she's having a Tesco Value Swiss roll with a number 2 candle stuck in it, and she can be grateful.

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