Strawberry and Cream Minnie Mouse Birthday Cake

January 26th, 2015 · 45 Comments · Cakes, Personal, Recipes

minnie mouse cake
 

Last weekend we celebrated Isabelle's second birthday. We've officially survived babyhood and now we're parents to a toddler! It's been a dreamy two years - not that we didn't have our share of sleepless nights or days when the house was a disaster zone of dirty laundry, unwashed dishes, and toys scattered everywhere. But overall we've been very lucky that the sailing has been relatively smooth and so much fun.

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happy birthday isabelle
 

As she approached two years, Isabelle really started shedding all the trappings of babyhood. Her verbal skills made a huge jump - she speaks in full sentences now and happily recites lines from her favorite books, songs, or funnier still - things we've said to her, like, "Oh my! That's crazy!" She loves to run and climb and jump - especially jump. Do not challenge her to a jumping contest right now: she's the undisputed champion. The infamous toddler independence emerged early as well; her favorite phrase lately is, "My do it!" which can be frustrating when we're trying to get her dressed, but pretty awesome when we're eating. Mommy can finally eat her meal along with everyone else again! But mainly it's just been amazing to see her personality continue to emerge and see her be able to communicate with us more and more. Having real conversations with her makes it feel like I'm no longer caring for a baby, but interacting with a little person. 

It seems to me like parenthood is joy mixed with wistfulness - every day brings some unexpected delight that I scramble to capture in photos or words or just imprint in my memory, so that I can savor the memory, along with the knowledge that after every day she's a little bit older. Even as I'm enjoying the cheerful, robust toddler she's becoming, part of me misses the wobbly, babbling one year old she used to be. It's probably a dichotomy every parent will live with for the rest of their lives, I'm sure. 

So for Isabelle's second birthday cake: I have my suspicions that her favorite color may be blue, and I actually first made plans for a blue birthday cake (Frozen, anyone? Sigh...wonder how long it will be before there are blue non-Frozen-themed cakes...). But as it turns out, she's really into Minnie Mouse right now, so she ended up getting another pink birthday cake. I figure I might as well do it before she's old enough to complain, right?

minnie macarons
 

Several test runs in the kitchen led to the final two-tiered creation, which is made of vanilla white cake with Minnie Mouse pink buttercream, and has an appropriately sweet and girly strawberries and cream filling.

The decorations come in the form of Minnie-shaped macarons. I used my old reliable Italian meringue macaron recipe with 25 g of cocoa powder whisked into the almond meal and powdered sugar mixture. I then piped out my typical macaron rounds and added two ears to the top. It took me a couple tries to get the right proportions - if you make the ears too small, they end up looking a little more like bears, so don't be afraid to go big! The little bows are piped on with royal icing.

minnie mouse cake candles
 

Above, the final cake, and below, me with my little birthday girl. She insisted on having Minnie with her once she saw it was a Minnie birthday cake.

happy birthday dessert first
 

The cake is the same white cake recipe I used for her birthday cake last year; I love how easy it is to make and the tight, moist crumb. I decided to go a little fancier this year and make two tiers; the bottom tier is three 6" layers while the top tier is two 4" layers. You can make a five layer 6" cake if you prefer, but it didn't take much more effort to have two different size tiers. Since the cake is so small, I didn't have to add any structural dowels or other supports - I just frosted the cakes and slid the top tier on.  

minnie mouse cake cut
 

Here's the interior of the top tier. You can use fresh strawberries for the filling, but as it's winter right now, frozen strawberries work just fine. I really like the strawberries and whipped cream together - it reminds of the whipped cream cakes from the Chinese bakeries that my mom would get for my birthday when I was little. I also prefer the lightness of the whipped cream compared to richness of the buttercream - it seems a little more suited for a kid's birthday cake. It would be a lovely cake for spring or summer too, when you can decorate it with fresh strawberries.

eating minnie macarons

Well, as it turns out, Isabelle was most interested in the Minnie macarons and couldn't wait to pull them off once we finished taking photos. So I guess that was the most successful part of the cake. However, she did polish off her piece of cake so I think that got her seal of approval too. Overall I was really pleased with how this cake turned out, and I think it captured Isabelle's current obsession. Two birthday cakes down!

Happy 2nd birthday to Isabelle. Now we'll see what challenges toddlerhood have in store for us! Hope we're prepared!

happy birthday isabelle snickers
 

Strawberry and Cream Vanilla Birthday Cake

Vanilla Cake

  • 2 3/4 cups (380 g) cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (380 g) sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp (18 g) baking powder
  • 1 1/8 tsp salt
  • 7 ounces (200 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (366 g) whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 15 ounces (425 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • few drops pink food coloring if desired
  • This makes five 6" cake layers, if you want a cake that all the same width, or it makes four 6" cake layers and two 4" cake layers. One of the 6" layers is not used in this recipe.

For the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 6" round cake pans and two 4" round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  • Combine cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  • Add the butter and beat until a crumbly mixture forms, just starting to come together.
  • Add the egg whites one at a time, and beat to combine. Add the egg and beat to combine.
  • Combine milk and vanilla extract together in a measuring cup. Add to the mixer in three additions, beating well after each addition.
  • If you want to be precise, weigh the batter so you know how much to put in each pan.
  • Pour one-fifth of the batter into one of the prepared 6" pans. Repeat twice with the other 6" pans. Divide one-fifth of the batter between the two 4" pans (meaning each one gets half the amount of batter that would go in the 6" pan.) You will have one-fifth of the batter left over. You can bake an extra layer or make some cupcakes!
  • Bake for about 24-28 minutes, rotating halfway. The cakes should be set and a skewer inserted in the center should come out with a few crumbs on it.
  • Remove and place on wire racks. Run a knife around the edges for easier removal. Let cool for about 20 minutes and then invert pans to remove cakes. Let them finish cooling before decorating.

For the filling:

  • Combine strawberries, water, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on the stove, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens. Remove and let cool before using.
  • Whip the cream in a stand mixer to soft peaks. Chill while you are making the buttercream.

For the buttercream:

  • Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
  • Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F.
  • Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
  • Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add the butter too quickly or beat too quickly or the buttercream may break.
  • When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. It may appear to separate briefly but continue beating and it should come back together.
  • Add in the vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine. Add food coloring as desired.
  • The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

To assemble the cake:

  • Level off cake layers if necessary. Place one 6" cake layer on a cake board or cake decorating stand.
  • Spread some of the strawberry filling over the cake layer evenly. Spread a layer of whipped cream over the strawberry filling. Place a second 6" cake layer on top and spread some more strawberry filling and whipped cream over the cake layer. Top with the third 6" layer.
  • Spread a crumb coat of buttercream over the top and sides of cake (see here for tips on doing a crumb coat). Refrigerate for about an hour to let the frosting set.
  • Spread the rest of the buttercream over the top and sides of cake with an offset spatula.
  • Place a 4" cake layer on a cake board or cake decorating stand. Spread some of the strawberry filling over the cake layer evenly. Spread a layer of whipped cream over the strawberry filling. Place the second 4" cake layer on top. Spread a crumb coat of buttercream over the top and sides of cake same as before. Refrigerate for about an hour.
  • When you are ready to finish the cake, spread the rest of the buttercream over the top and sides of the two cakes with an offset spatula. Place the smaller 4" cake on top of the 6" cake, aligning it so it is centered. Finish decorating as desired.

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Strawberry and Rhubarb Scones with Vanilla Whipped Cream

April 15th, 2013 · 10 Comments · Fruit, Pastry, Recipes

strawberry and rhubarb scones

Along with all the lovely growing, blooming things that herald spring is the baby in our home! Isabelle is three months today and I think she may have hit her growth spurt early. She’s a chubby bundle now!

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A Sunshine-y Cake for Spring

March 7th, 2013 · 22 Comments · Cakes, Recipes

Triple Vanilla Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd on dessertfirstgirl.com

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post with their favorite pie. I have about a hundred pie ideas to make now!

The two winners of a copy of Pieography are:

Picture 2

Commenter #3, ladywild

Picture 3

and commenter #6, Sarah! Congratulations! For the rest of you, remember my pie recipe is available on my site.

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Happy Valentine’s: Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Chocolate, Framboise

February 14th, 2012 · 18 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

molten cake unmolded

Happy Valentine’s Day! This dessert is a little brainstorm I got last weekend when I realized it was three days from Valentine’s Day and I hadn’t thought of anything to make yet. I wanted to take a classic V-day dessert and give it a little modern spin. Molten chocolate cakes came to mind…perennial lurkers on Valentine’s “romantic” menus.

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Chai Cupcakes, Two Ways

August 11th, 2009 · 44 Comments · Cakes, Recipes

Chaicupcaketraybyanitachudessertfirst

When I worked at this chocolate cafe, we in the pastry kitchen were responsible for baking up all sorts of chocolate-intensive treats, as well as making the chocolate drinks that were the specialty of the house.

From classic hot chocolate to mochas to bicerins, we made the mixes for the drinks in the kitchen, and they never seemed to last long enough before we'd have to make a new batch. I have to say that the smell of melting chocolate is one of my favorite memories from working there, along with the stream of regulars who would always gush happily about the spicy hot chocolate, or the chocolate thai ice tea, without which their day wouldn't be complete.

Sadly, I don't have the metabolism anymore to consume a bowl of hot chocolate every day, or I'd be bigger than Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But every once in a while I'll get a nostalgic craving for one of Bittersweet's drinks. One of my favorite things to do in the early morning when I arrived for my shift, was to heat up one some of the chai-infused milk we used in the chocolate chai drink, as my sort-of morning tea. It was just spicy enough, and warm, which was nice in a kitchen not yet heated up from just-turned-on ovens. Even though I've used all the spices that make up chai before, a whiff of it never fails to make me think of the exotic.

Chaicupcakeduobyanitachudessertfirst

Memories of that chai is what inspired these chai cupcakes. Well, that and my attempts to pack up the kitchen for the impending move unearthed a mini cupcake tin I hadn't even used yet, and a host of half-used spice jars. Yes, I know that spices lose their potency the longer you keep them around, and had I not been sternly warned by the boyfriend to stop buying more stuff when we're trying to move, I might have gone out to get the fresh cloves and cardamom to grind myself. However, I'm still pleased with the flavor I achieved in these cupcakes: just lightly spicy, with a whiff of the exotic. While I combined ground spices to my liking, you can also get chai flavors in your cupcakes by infusing the milk with chai tea bags. I like being able to control the amounts of the various spices, and the intensity of the flavor. 

Chaicupcakecloseupbyanitachudessertfirst

So in trying to decide what kind of chai cupcake to make, I went a little overboard. I couldn't decide if I wanted a plain chai cupcake or a chocolate chai cupcake; in the end; indecision won out and I decided to make both - simply as a taste-testing experiment, of course. I used my basic vanilla and chocolate cupcake recipes, which baked up beautifully in miniature form. The vanilla chai cupcake is beguilingly freckled with the spices, and is pleasantly spicy, sort of like vanilla with a new dress on, while the chocolate version is richer, with a more smoldering flavor; I used more spices in the batter to boost the flavor. The question of what frosting to use arose as well: what started as a simple desire for cupcakes turned into a full-blown project as I settled on a cinnamon chocolate whipped ganache for the vanilla cupcakes, and a honey swiss meringue buttercream for the chocolate ones. These cupcakes have sugar and spice and everything nice packed into them! Maybe I went a little carried away with the cupcake experimentation, but the results were worth it - they make such nice visual contrasts to each other, don't you think?

Chocchaicupcakebyanitachudessertfirst

A couple baking notes about the frostings: I'm becoming very fond of whipped ganache; it's ridiculously simple to make and so addictive, especially if you use your favorite chocolate. Be sure to let it chill completely before whipping it, otherwise it might curdle (some recipes say you only need to let it cool to room temperature, however I had better results when I chilled mine). Also, don't overwhip it; you'll get the same unpleasant mess you do when you overwhip cream. However, what you can do with overwhipped ganache is to simply melt it over a bain-marie, let it set up again in the refrigerator, and rewhip - carefully. For the swiss meringue buttercream, I love it because it's quicker to make than italian meringue, but it is less stable, so I've learned a few tips to making it: be sure to cook the egg white mixture to 160 degrees F, to make sure all the salmonella bacteria are killed; whip the meringue in the mixer until it's fully cooled and thick, or else hot meringue will melt the added butter; your butter should be room temperature and softened to incorporate easier into the buttercream; and finally, many times the buttercream appears to curdle or break, which always sends people into a panic, but you simply have to keep beating the buttercream for several minutes and it will come back together into a nice velvety buttercream.

So I guess baking a batch of cupcakes isn't exactly packing up the kitchen, but at least we have something to snack on while we continue our moving-out endeavors!

Cupcaketraybyanitachudessertfirst

Vanilla or Chocolate Chai Cupcakes

makes 12 regular cupcakes or 30 mini cupcakes

Vanilla Chai Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons chai spice mixture (see below)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chai Spice Mixture (combine all ingredients together in a small bowl)

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon

Chocolate Chai Cupcakes

  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chai spice mixture
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Swiss Meringue Honey Buttercream

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Whipped Chocolate Cinnamon Ganache

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the vanilla chai cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.
  • Add in egg and egg whites, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.
  • Combine milk and vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl.
  • Add in the flour mixture and milk mixture in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.
  • Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with batter. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean. Mini cupcakes will take about 15 minutes, so check sooner.
  • Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

For chocolate chai cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Place chocolate in a metal bowl and melt over a pot of simmering water. Set aside.
  • Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.
  • Cream the butter and both sugars together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.
  • Add in the chocolate and mix to combine.
  • Add in eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.
  • Add in the flour mixture and buttermilk in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.
  • Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with batter. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean. Mini cupcakes will take about 15 minutes, so check sooner.
  • Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

For the swiss meringue buttercream:

  • Combine the sugar, honey, and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
  • Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F.
  • Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
  • Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add the butter too quickly or beat too quickly or the buttercream may break.
  • When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. It may appear to separate briefly but continue beating and it should come back together.
  • Add in the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
  • The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

For the whipped chocolate ganache:

  • Place chocolate into a medium heatproof bowl.
  • Combine cream and cinnamon in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat just until it comes to a simmer.
  • Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for a minute before stirring to combine. Stir until chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.
  • Pour into a container and chill in refrigerator for an hour until it is firm.
  • Place ganache in a stand mixer and whip with whisk attachment until it is light and fluffy. Do not overwhip or it will become dry and crumbly, just like overwhipped cream.

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