I always worry about running out of cake. By “running out of cake,” I mean I worry there will not be enough left over for me to enjoy with a cup of coffee after the party. It’s a real fear. Baking a batch of cupcakes in addition to the main cake keeps me calm. Here’s how I put together a mermaid cake with a side of sea shell cupcakes for my daughter’s 5th birthday.
My guideline to cake baking is that my ingredients and decorations not cost more than the price of a cake at the local bakery. I may not be saving money by baking the birthday cake myself, but I certainly don’t want to blow the budget either. As it turns out the more you create, the more ingredients you have on hand, significantly limiting the number of times you have to untie your purse strings.
I’m teaching myself how to decorate cakes. For now fondant works for me. It’s easy to use. If you have ever spent time in Preschool at the Play-Doh table you can decorate a cake with fondant. I also like that I can make the decorations ahead of time. That gives me plenty of time to make, create, and recreate without the pressure of the party deadline looming.For my daughter Ava’s 5th birthday we threw a Mermaid Beach Party at the beach. Ava had her sights set on a “Realistic” Mermaid Cake made by yours truly. Purchasing a Wilton Wonder Mold Pan Set seemed like a logical place to start.
For this cake I literally trolled my daughters’ Play-Doh and Moon Dough molds for shapes that could be re-imagined as sea life. For example, Moon Dough has a food kit. The pickles when molded with a pale lavender look like petite sand dollars!I found a great recipe for fondant at The Cook Duke. The flavor and texture are good enough to eat! If you have ever used the pre-made fondant you know exactly what I’m talking about. This recipe makes enough to cover a cake or in my case makes plenty to play with.
At Ava’s suggestion I tinted a basic recipe of white cake batter a pretty shade of Caribbean blue and followed the Wilton baking instructions for the Mermaid Barbie Cake.I spent an evening rolling little pastel balls and tubes of fondant. Truly the skills honed in preschool.
I used toothpicks to hollow them out to replicate coral and sponges. I twisted thin strips into sea grass. I found molds for fish and stars and of course the sand dollars.
I covered the cake and the cupcakes in butter cream. This was a children’s party. I thought the texture of fondant would be too chewy for the kids to use on the entire cake.
At this point decorating was a snap. Just place the now hard fondant decorations on top of the icing. I left the mermaid tail to the end because fondant dries rock hard. I wanted the tail to curve “naturally” around the cake. As it turned out this was a mistake. The tail did not have enough time to dry and the color began to drip at the party. This was a minor disappointment noticed by me and perhaps me alone. However, in hind sight I would have shaped the tail and left it to dry overnight on the cake pan.
I dusted the tops of the cupcakes with sugar in the raw to replicate sand. It was not overly sweet and gave the icing a nice texture. The seashells are marbled white chocolate.
Sadly both the cake and cupcakes were a hit at the party. I was unable enjoy a slice of cake with my coffee after the bash. Ah well, there will always be another party.
The good news; I stayed on budget for this cake even with the cake pan purchase. Mermaid cakes start at about $45 in the bakery. I spent under $30 for the cake and two dozen chocolate topped cupcakes.
More importantly than a well budgeted party, Ava had a cake tailored to her imagination. You can’t put a price on that.