Sunday, March 17, 2013

Surprise! It's a cake!

On Monday morning, around 11:30am, my coworker announced that it was her birthday.  We all responded with the obligatory "happy birthday", and then started chiding her for not telling us earlier so that we could do something.  She told me that since I now knew it was her birthday, I had to make her something.

Twist my arm.

The only problem with making things for June is that she thinks everything is too sweet and always wants me to cut down the sugar - even when she doesn't know how much is in it.  I think it's because she's from China, so their sweets are totally different from ours.  I decided I wanted to make something delicious but that she wouldn't complain about.

I came in to the work the next day and gave her three choices.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: June, I have three choices for you for your birthday.
June: Really?
Me: Yes.  Lemon bars, chocolate cupcakes or surprise cake.
June: Surprise cake? What's that??
Me: Uhhh.. the surprise is that you don't know what it is.
(at this point, everyone else started chiming in with what they thought sounded good)
June: What does everyone else want?
Me: No, it's your birthday, you pick.
June: Okay. Surprise cake! Just don't make it too sweet, cut the sugar!

A couple of months ago, I had tried making rainbow cupcakes. I made two batches and while they both came out delicious, I was fairly disappointed with the results.  I looked up some pointers online and discovered I really just needed to be a little heavy-handed with the food coloring since the color fades as it bakes.  Easy enough.  I had already been thinking about the idea of rainbow marble cake for a few days, so this was really perfect timing.

I used the same white cake recipe as I did for my cupcakes, but I remembered having barely enough batter to make the cupcakes, so I decided to double the recipe.  I was a little nervous  - what if I end up with too much batter?  What if I overfill the pan and have a huge, disastrous mess to clean up? Turns out, this was a good call as doubling it ended up giving me a perfectly sized and shaped cake and I didn't have to clean up a mess.  Well, OK, I did have a mess to clean up, but that's because I used every small bowl in the house and almost every spoon, too.

I'm pretty terrible at math, but dividing the batter was way easier than I thought it would be, too.  I did double the recipe, but I made each one separately so that I could measure it and go from there.  The first one gave me about 3 1/2 cups of batter, so I knew that I'd have about 7 total cups of batter.  I was going to make 7 colors, but I wanted the colors to be vibrant and to be able to see that there were multiple colors.  So, I decided to keep it to 6 colors, with each one giving me a little bit more than 1 cup of batter for each color (I measured about 1 1/2 cups per smaller bowl, but I realize that 1.5 x 6 =/= 7, so these are obviously not exact measurements).

Once I dyed each bowl a different color, I just randomly dropped the batter by spoonful into the pan.  I was originally trying to do a checkerboard pattern to make sure each color was evenly represented, but that got very out of hand very quickly.  I just kept alternating colors, making sure to only do a couple of spoonfuls per color so that no single color was totally dominant

After all the batter was in the pan, I took a clean butter knife and swirled the batter using the flat edge.  I only swirled it a couple of times because I wanted it to look like rainbow marble cake, not rainbow poop cake.

The top was a little more brown than I would have preferred once I took it out of the oven, but I was pleasantly surprised once we cut into it at work!

For the frosting, I decided to go with a whipped cream + vanilla pudding combo.  I figured it would be sweet enough to compliment the cake, but not so sweet that June would complain about.  I was right on both counts.  Plus, I wasn't sure how much I needed, so I doubled the recipe that appears below.  The rest is no sitting in my fridge and tastes DELICIOUS on the end of a spoon =)

Easy White Cake
Recipe from Kitchenaid
To print this recipe, click here

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup low fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites

Combine dry ingredients in mixer bowl. Add shortening, milk and vanilla. Attach bowl and flat beater to mixer. Turn to speed 2 and mix about 1 minute. Stop and scrape bowl. Add egg whites. Turn to Speed 6 and beat about 1 minute, or until smooth and fluffy.

Divide batter evenly into smaller bowls. Dye each smaller bowl of batter a different color, being sure to use a different spoon for each bowl so that the colors don't mix. Be a little heavy-handed with the food coloring, as the colors will fade a little as they bake.

Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan. Drop spoonfuls of batter into the pan. Alternate colors randomly, so that once completed, the batter looks like paint splatter abstract art. Using the flat edge of a clean butter knife, swirl the batter once or twice. Do not swirl the batter too much or the colors will end up muddled.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cook completely in the pan on a wire rack. Once cooled, turn out of the pan and frost.

I couldn't resist peeking a couple of times while it was baking.

Yes, block letters, but still - first time writing on a cake!

Vanilla Pudding Frosting
8 oz. (1 cup) heavy cream
1/2 package instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup cold milk

Combine milk and vanilla pudding in a small bowl. Let set for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. ( Add the set pudding and stir until thoroughly combined. Frost cake, storing any leftovers in the fridge.

Overall, this was probably the most fun I've ever had making someone's birthday cake.  This was a lot more time consuming than I had originally anticipated, but, completely worth it!  June brought some home for her youngest daughter.  The next day, June told me that her daughter LOVED the cake (she's 7 - I knew she would!) and that she thought it was a professional bakery cake, not something I really made.  I know kids don't really have a lot of "professional cake" reference points but still.  Totally made my day!

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