A birthday cake with X factor!
Making and decorating cakes was really where my passion for the world of baking began. When I moved to London in 2002 to live with my now husband, I was desperate for him to pop the question. This was mostly because I knew he was the one (obviously), but also because I had decided that I wanted to make and decorate my own wedding cake. With no past experience of cake decorating or baking to that level, I had effectively set myself a little creative challenge to get stuck into. So when he did get down on one knee and asked the big question, my head was an ecstatic whirl of wedding plans, but my predominant thoughts were, what is the cake going to be like? How will I do it? Flavours? Colours? Tiers? You may have noticed my little plan there already, but what I have effectively done with my intro is engineered an opportunity to put in a picture of the said wedding cake. I’m still as proud of it today as I was then.
Since my wedding three little bundles have arrived in my life and I love now to bake and make their birthday cakes. Just to see their little faces light up when presented with a birthday cake is so rewarding for me. My son’s recent first birthday was no exception, and I wanted to share how I made his cake because it is one of the easiest I have done, and yet I think that it looks amazing. It is unisex, and probably suitable for a 1-4 year old, so pretty versatile, which is what we busy mums need. So here it is:
The Hungry Caterpillar cupcakes and cake
The nice thing about this cake is that you can do it in stages. I made it over a couple of nights, cooking the cupcakes and cake first and then decorating the next night. Don’t be put off by what looks like a lot of instructions below, it’s really not that bad and a lot of fun to do.
- 24 white cupcake cases (in fact you only use 22 but the mix makes 24. Perfect opportunity to test your work)
- 12 hole cupcake tin (if you happen to have two of these then even better as you can cook all at once)
- 6″ cake tin
- 6″ thin cake board
- Piece of cardboard approx 55cm length, and 45cm width (I just used brown tape to stick two bits of cardboard together)
- Green or spotty wrapping paper
- Cake smoothers – these are a ‘must have’ item as you cant really decorate cakes with sugarpaste without them. All major cake decorating shops should sell them
- Greaseproof paper
Chocolate cupcake recipe
Cupcakes made to this recipe create the most divine ‘melt in the mouth’ sponge and for me this is the main event in a cupcake. The icing makes the cupcake look beautiful, but it is normally too much for me to eat. I class myself as a ‘scrape and dump’ girl when it comes to cupcake icing, so the sponge needs to be good!
- 350ml milk
- 200g dark chocolate (chopped)
- 250g caster sugar
- 120g unsalted butter (softened)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 300g self raising flour
- Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4
- Put milk, a third (83g) of the sugar and the chocolate into a pan and on a low heat melt together stirring frequently. The mixture should be smooth once fully incorporated. Put to one side
- Mix butter with an electric mixer until creamy, then add remaining sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy
- Gradually add the egg, then sift one third of the flour into the mix and fold with a large metal spoon. Now add a third of the chocolate mix and fold, then the flour again, and so on until all the flour and chocolate are mixed in
- Spoon into cases and bake for 15-18 mins
6″ Sponge cake recipe
Baking a sponge cake all in one tin is slightly different to the norm of splitting the cake batter into two shallow cake tins. It takes a bit longer to cook and you have to make sure you do the knife test before deciding it is done as it may look done on top but is not done all the way through inside. For this recipe I have halved the ingredients of a normal 8″ sponge cake.
- 112g unsalted butter
- 112g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 112g self raising flour
- Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and grease and line tin with greaseproof paper
- Cream butter and sugar together in a bowel using an electric mixer
- Add vanilla to eggs and beat together
- Then add the egg mix to creamed butter and sugar tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition
- If the mix looks like it might curdle, add a tablespoon of flour and then continue with the eggs until all added
- Sift flour into mix and fold with a large metal spoon
- Transfer mix to cake tin and cake for 35-40 mins, making sure you have checked it is done completely before taking out of the oven. Cool on a wire rack.
Decoration – What you need
- Large icing bag (I like the disposable ones from Lakeland, and don’t throw away after the first use, they are really easy to clean and can be used several times) and a large star piping nozzle
- Red, yellow, green and black food colour paste
- 5mm width red ribbon (optional but it hides a multitude of sins at the bottom of the cake where it is difficult to get completely smooth)
- Tube of ready to write icing
- 500g sugarpaste
- Green, brown and red smarties (the rest in the bag can be for you as reward for baking this masterpiece!)
- Chocolate sugar strands
How to put the cake together
- To make the base simply cover your cardboard with your chosen paper
- Bake your cupcakes and sponge cake as the method describes above
- Make buttercream by mixing 250g room temperature butter with 800g icing sugar and 4-6 tbsps of warm water (if you have a cover for your mixer, it is good to use it at this point as the icing sugar does tend to make a cloud of sugar whilst mixing)
- Divide the buttercream into two bowls. Colour one pale green and the other dark green
- Prepare your icing bag by cutting the end off if disposable and inserting the nozzle. Add half of the light green butter cream to your icing bag and start piping round the outside edge making overlapping circles as you go in towards the centre. Stop the pressure when the bag is at the centre and pull up sharply to finish. Ice as many cupcakes as you can until the icing runs out
- Now put half of the light green icing in the same icing bag (don’t worry if the two greens mix up as this all adds to the look of the cake) and ice cupcakes until it runs out
- Now mix the remaining light green and dark green buttercream together. Probably only needs three turns as we are looking for a marbled effect not fully mixed together. Put a couple of spoonfuls aside for the sponge cake later
- Ice the remainder of your cupcakes
- Using the picture above as a guide place the cupcakes onto your board. Don’t worry too much about where your light green, dark green or mixed cupcakes go, but perhaps consider placing the shades together if you can
- Cut the sponge cake in half and fill with jam and some of the reserved buttercream. Place the two halves together again and smear with remaining butter cream. Place on the thin cake board
- Take two thirds of your sugarpaste and colour with the red paste. I use a cocktail stick to dot the paste onto the sugarpaste and then kneed until fully mixed in
- Sprinkle some icing sugar onto your surface and roll out the sugarpaste until it looks big enough to cover the top of the cake and the sides as well. As you start to lift the sugarpaste to place onto the cake put your rolling pin in under the paste to help support it.
- Once sugarpaste is on the cake smooth it down onto the sides right down to the bottom and ease away any creases. You might find that the sugarpaste wants to ‘ruffle’ up at the bottom but try and move these ruffles to the very bottom away from the cake where they can be trimmed off later. Use your smoothers to rub over the top and then round the sides. Trim off excess sugarpaste by running a sharp knife around the bottom of the cake. Don’t cut up flush to the cake, leave 1-2 cms and then use your smoothers again to rub round the bottom of the cake. Covering cakes is a case of practice makes perfect so don’t worry if it is not completely smooth. Minor imperfections can always be covered up, (see next step)
- Move the cake into position on the board. Wrap the red ribbon round the bottom of the cake and stick the ends together with pritt stick. I did another bad of ribbon half way up as well and stuck red smarties on the sides (to help cover my own imperfections) but you can choose not to do this is you don’t want to
- Colour three small amounts of sugarpaste yellow, green and black. Make two yellow flat ovals for the eyes, another two slightly smaller green ovals for the pupils, then make a small green button shape for the nose and stick in place with the writing icing. Now make six black little booties and place half a cocktail stick in to the top of each leaving half of the stick still exposed. Use the above picture as a guide and place the booties by pushing the cocktail stick under the relevant cupcake. Finally, make two black antennae and use a cocktail stick to attach them to the cake by pushing the stick half into each antenna and half into the cake. If you have any red or green sugarpaste left you can make a flat strawberry like I did in the picture to write happy birthday on. To do this simply roll and cut to shape.
- Finally, put green and brown smarties and chocolate sugar strands on the edges of the cupcakes which make the back of the caterpillar. And there you have it your very own Hungry Caterpillar and a very happy child!