Saturday, 8 February 2014

Cooking for a first birthday

So I'll start by saying I am not a naturally talented cook, and although I enjoy baking it is not the most relaxing thing I can think of after a long day at work (mainly due to the washing up afterwards...). So initially when thinking what to do on Doof's birthday I thought I'd buy food (including a cake). But then I got a bit more sentimental about it being his first ever one and, coincidentally, saw a picture of the most gorgeous cake on a twitter feed and the most awesome biscuits and so thought I'd try and recreate them (albeit in a very amateur way!).

So here goes...

The cake

I initially saw a rainbow cake on someone’s twitter feed – I’d never seen one before and loved the idea. Since then I have seen them all over but I still love the idea and everyone at D’s party and at his nursery (I made a second one to take into them) were very impressed and couldn’t believe I had made it myself!

There are a million different recipes online and really you can use any basic sponge recipe and just colour the sponges separately. I found this site though which has a recipe but also loads of useful tips, comments and advice - I'd definitely recommend reading all of Kerry's advice before you start.

Top tips:
-          Kerry suggested using disposable cake tins for cooking to save washing up. I couldn’t find any of the right size so instead bought 3 cheap reuseable ones (which are standard cake size so I’ll definitely use them again) and that only meant one lot of washing up in between. Also to be honest, using the cake release spray (instead of buttering the pans) meant the cakes slid out so easily that I actually didn’t even need to wash up between the different colours
-          I would recommend using paper bowls to mix up the different colours though. This meant no washing up and the bowls could just be thrown away. Definitely worth doing!
-          I used a skewer to dip into the colour paste and then drizzled it over the mixture. If I had used a spoon I would have used way too much colour – you only need a small amount to get vibrant colours with the gels I had
-          And on that note make sure you use colour gel or pastes – don’t try and use regular food colouring as they will just ruin the taste of the sponge :(
-          If you need to transport your cake any distance make sure you check you have an appropriate container. I carefully measured to ensure the 6 sponges would fit – they did. But I completely failed to take account of the extra height that icing would add – so the finished cakes did not fit and I had a perilous journey with an unboxed cake balancing in the bottom of the buggy on the journey to nursery…
-          I used bigger cake tins as I wanted the cake to be wider and not quite as tall and precarious looking
-          I changed the icing – firstly I wanted to be able to see all the layers when the cake was assembled (although some people like to completely cover it in icing so it is surprise when you cut into it) and I also thought having buttercream icing between every layer would be a bit much – especially for 1 year olds! – so I alternated buttercream in one layer and then jam in the next one. I think it worked pretty well, made the cake look a bit different and meant it wasn’t quite as sweet

All in all this was a surprisingly easy cake to make which has a high visual impact factor. I’d definitely recommend anyone to try making it. I also made 2 other variations – one for Doof’s smash cake where each layer consisted of 5 colours and another one which I took to work which had 4 colours in 2 different layers. The different possibilities are endless…

The biscuits

I’d never heard of icebox cookies before but they seem to be pretty common in America. The basic recipe is one which you make up and then chill in the fridge before moulding it into whatever shape you want and cooking them. I saw these very cute lion cookies and when I looked at the blog I found there were 2 other variations!! So the mission to make lion, turtle and penguin icebox cookies was made…

Susan has given really clear instructions on her website and so to be honest I’d say read all her steps and follow them! However there are a few things that I did differently (most of which are due to USA vs UK I think).
So here are the few places I deviated or did something slightly different:


I’d never heard of using “cups” before as a measurement so here is the standard gram measurements if you want to convert the recipe :)

1 cup flour = 140g
1 stick butter = 115g
1 cup icing /powdered sugar = 160g
1 cup caster sugar = 200g


I didn’t have any of the special coloured powders (ube powder and matcha powder). For the lion it didn’t matter as I used custard powder and cocoa powder as per the recipe, whereas for the other animals I used the green and purple food pastes that I had bought for the cake above. I had to knead the mixture quite a lot to distribute the colour evenly but the result was pretty good and it definitely suited me better than trying to track down something I was never going to use in any other recipes. It did mean I had to guesstimate how much extra flour to use though to make up for not adding the coloured powders

Recipe quantities

I did a trial run of just the lion cookies and the quantities on DFD blog made millions! So when I made them for Doof’s bday I halved the recipe – it still made way too many (by the time I had made all 3 animals). It was fine in the end as I took a box into nursery and a box into work but if you don’t want to be eating animal cookies for the next few weeks then I would probably quarter the original recipe!


It’s pretty obvious that Susan from Diamonds for Dessert is a professional baker and so an amateur like me will probably need to take some shortcuts along the way. One place I definitely cheated was on the final decorating. I bought some of these pre-filled Dr Oetker writing icing tubes and then used different colours for each animal.
- caramel for lion faces
- black for penguin and turtle eyes
- white for penguin flippers
- yellow for penguin feet and beak
- dark brown for turtle stripes

Other tips that make life SO much easier:
-          Definitely wrap everything in cling film when trying to roll it out flat or even mould it into a log. Makes it so much easier and less sticky
-          Don’t skimp on the fridge time – I actually left mine in the fridge for much longer than she said (mainly because I was disorganised and so was stuck doing something else!) but that didn’t matter at all and the mixture is much easier to handle when chilled
-          The biscuits get a lot larger when they are cooked so leave enough room between them on the baking sheet

Next year…

So what am I going to make next year? I have got the cake bit decided already – saw this amazing upgrade from my rainbow cake on Red Ted Art's blog – a surprise pinata rainbow cake… can’t wait to try it!

Another thing I want to make are these mini fruit pancake kebabs. I figured any tiny drop scones would work well and cake pop sticks as a safe (non-spiky!) alternative to cocktail sticks – I wanted to make them this time and actually bought all the ingredients but ran out of time and so never made them. I was also going to have a range of fruit – some with strawberries, some bananas, some mango etc. Next time... :)

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