Thursday, September 11, 2008
garden party cake
two weeks ago, my sister called to chat as she drove home from work:
"so, what are you doing?" she asked.
"um... i don't want to tell you."
"well, okay. i'm making 1,000 blades of grass out of sugar."
[pause, then she asks:] "do you ever ask yourself, 'why did i think this was a good plan?' other people wouldn't think of doing this stuff! well, they might think of doing it, but then they'd come to their senses and not actually do it, because they're not crazy."
i have to admit, she has a point.
i often find that i have these grand ideas for things that "won't be that hard" and then somewhere around 2 a.m., i'm starting to reconsider. yet, despite all my crazy plans, i can only think of one time where i actually threw in the towel and went with a less-cool Plan B (which was my Wii cake, which actually turned out to be my most viewed project ever, despite the catastrophic failure of Plan A).
in this case, though, the 1,000 blades of grass weren't really so bad, maybe an hour to pipe and and 90 minutes to place them. and, hey, this math major got to use some numbers! (hmm, area of the cake plate, minus the area of the cake itself, times the number of blades per square inch... i did have to recheck my figures when the answer came out to be 960-something.) but the very idea... i'm fessing up, it's a bit nuts.
i was inspired by a filler photo (not one of the featured projects) in "kate's cake decorating", a 2004 cake book by kate sullivan. that book seems to be out of print, but a newer book, "fun & fancy cake decorating" appears to be largely a reworking of the older book (from what i can tell peeking inside it on amazon, anyway). i quite enjoy the book i have; if you have some basic skills from a wilton class or something, but don't want to make the same semi-dated ordinary cakes over and over (sorry, wilton! i know you're trying...), kate sullivan's ideas can help you transition into something a little more interesting. that said, i disagree with some of her specific methods (why the obsession with painting over untinted icing? it seems easier and tidier just to tint the icing, IMO), but everyone has their own way of doing things, and i never follow the methods as presented to me anyway! overall, i definitely got my money's worth from it as a source of ideas, so you might want to check out the new book. (hopefully that typo about putting approximately a metric ton of leavener into the otherwise amazing (!) chocolate cake got fixed in the second version -- at least, the lava flow of cake batter that's still charred into the bottom of my oven feels that it might have been a typo. can't say for sure.)
enough with the mini book review (so timely and useful, reviewing a book that is out of print!). this cake was for my mother-in-law's recent birthday. we wanted to do something special for her this year, so larry and i brainstormed and came up with an idea for a little garden party. his mother lives in a beautiful setting, with a little green space next to a creek extending from her back yard, so we decided to utilize that wonderfulness and set up a table there. with some flowers, candles, paper lanterns, and a few other little decorations, we had a lovely table set up, all in green and yellow. the cake followed that theme, and included daisies which i knew to be one of her favorites. we ordered in food from a nearby italian restaurant that we all really enjoy (too many babies around to consider cooking ourselves). she seemed genuinely surprised (hurray, subterfuge!) and everyone had a great time. (and i'm learning that you don't have to stress about going 100% martha to have a lovely party...)
i do have one party idea i want to share, though. after dinner, we played a bit of family-themed pictionary. i wasn't sure how this idea would play out, but it ended up being really a lot of fun: i made up pictionary cards with concepts or events from the family, that most everyone would be familiar with (people, professions, cities where we had lived, family quotes, etc, as well as funny notable events like "the time the boys changed the baby brother's diaper by hosing him off in the yard".) as we played, people started making up their own clues, too, which was really funny. we used one of those giant presentation pads from an office supply store, but that wouldn't be necessary if you were indoors. the fact that the game triggered lots of remembering and joking around made it perfect for a family party. try it out at thanksgiving, ideally after some wine but before the naps take over.