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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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
- 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.