I just recently realized that I haven’t had a chance yet to share about the cake from Liv’s first birthday. It wasn’t so much the cake really, that was a yellow box mix (I figured Liv wouldn’t know the difference), as it was the super easy frosting and polka dot fondant decorations that made it a favorite of mine.
And I think Liv liked it too.
I’m a big fan of baking my own cakes and I think that sometimes fondant (or icing, food coloring and all of that stuff) can be mistakenly daunting. My very first experience working with fondant was for the biggest cake I’ve ever made – a wedding cake for 250 for Kev and I’s own big day nearly five years ago.
(I have some great pictures of baking that cake… I need to track those down…) I had always wanted to make my own cake and I researched and researched before finding myself elbows deep in flour and cocoa two days before the wedding. For the record, the cake was a chocolate espresso with a rich chocolate ganache filling, and it was delicious. I’m so glad I stuck with that little promise to myself, even if I stayed up through the wee hours of the night trying to produce it and an entire diy wedding on time.
But since then I’ve learned more tricks of the trade including taking a fondant flower class that introduced me to the art of water coloring actual fondant petals. Too time consuming. But really, really pretty.
Liv’s cake didn’t take much in the ways of preparation. I shelved the homemade idea because I knew that she wouldn’t know the difference – at all – and instead baked up two cake rounds out of a yellow box mix, eggs and oil. My white frosting was right out of the can, too. Sometimes you just have to keep it simple, simple. When it comes to round cake pans I love 6″ best because it’s smaller than the traditional and gives the cake a more straight-from-the-bakery look. I prefer working with the perfectly vertical sides of a spring form like this one. It’s makes everything worlds easier. I also suggest investing in two good pans so that you can bake multiple layers at once – and the better the pan the longer it will last (I have a super cheap one that rusted after one use – spending a little extra is definitely worth it ). 6″ is my go-to and I use it all of the time.
My first step was to cut my three layers of baked cake. A tip here is to use your serrated knife as a measuring stick to create little teeth marks all the way around the cake before you start cutting.
Sorry for the dark night time pics, if I had thought this out I would have finished this guy during the day so the pictures weren’t so dark.
Using one hand as a stabilizer, I gently saw through the cake following my measuring guides. And don’t worry about those sunken holes that you sometimes see in the middle of cakes right out of the oven, it often has to do with the temperature of the eggs when mixing up your batter and can easily be patched with scrap cake and frosting.
The below picture looks crooked but that cake split into two near perfect pieces.
Had this been a cake for an adult birthday party I would have doubled my layers and would have made them half as thin for the prettiness of it, but the thicker the layer the sturdier your cake. And kid’s cakes can be made less pretty… because they’ll be torn apart rather than sliced .
I repeated the above step one more time to end up with three layers and lots of cake scraps. All middle layers received a good smattering of frosting using a frosting spatula.
Using my cake pan as a guide, I cut out a round circle of parchment paper just slightly bigger than the cake layers that will now serve as my new base. This means that I can transfer my frosted, messy cake to my clean white cake pedestal (that you see in the party pics) when the frosting of the cake is finished.
Another trick is to frost your cake on your serving tray but to wedge rectangles of parchment paper under the edges so that at the very end you can pull those out for a clean, nice presentation. I didn’t want to travel with the cake on the pedestal to the park, so creating a parchment paper base that I could slide onto my cake stand was the best option for me.
You can see in the below pic that I slid my third single layer onto the parchment paper base and then slid the first two layers on top of that first layer. If I had a had a fourth, I would have made sure that that was upside down as the very top layer. (For stacks, you want to make sure that two flat edges are butted up against each other and two tops are against each other – rather than a flat and a top, if that makes sense).
If I was creating a tiered cake (like I did for the wedding cake) this is where I’d add several sturdy dowels to the center of the cake that are the exact same height as my tiered base.
After my layers are stacked with a layer of filling in between (you can also add berries, nuts or jams to be creative), I begin applying my crumb coat. The crumb coat is essential. It’s my very first layer of thin white frosting and it traps all loose crumbs from showing up in my final coat of frosting.
This vertical shot shows that one of my layers was trimmed to size to match the other two, this isn’t a problem if you add a crumb coat because this first layer of frosting will secure all raw cake edges, too. Sorry for the awkward angle, the cake is actually quite straight at this point.
The crumb coat doesn’t have to be particularly thick or pretty, but it should be flat and even because it will serve as the base for the next layer.
Into the fridge my crumb coat goes for at least an hour.
While the frosting is hardening up, it’s time to create my fondant dots. I began with white fondant (I have a huge 10lb bucket that I keep around for all events – this stuff doesn’t go bad – but you can find smaller quantities online or at a craft store like Michael’s) and slowly kneaded in red drops of food coloring until I had a nice pink.
Kneading fondant is a cross between taffy and play dough. It starts as the former and slowwly turns into the latter.
Next I used a rolling pin to roll out the fondant ball. If your fondant is sticky use a light amount of corn starch not flour to help thicken things up.
There’s no rule to how thick the fondant should be, but I generally go for something like the thickness of a quarter or two.
Using a cookie cutter I cut out all of my dots for the cake.
Then it was time to add them to the finished product.
First I pulled my cake out of the fridge and applied a final layer of frosting. This one is 10x easier to smooth on because of the crumb coat – that extra step is worth it, trust me!
Keep smoothing until you have a surface that you’re liking. My standard routine is to gob on a lot of frosting – and then smooth the top followed by all the way around the sides (one fell swoop) and then repeat repeat until the edges are sooooth.
For my wedding cake we actually rolled out huge pieces of fondant for each layer so that all edges of the cake were seamless. But that’s not so necessary for a birthday cake. If you’re working with buttercream -I’m using store bought icing here – use Viva paper towels (the only paper towels without a design imprinted) to smooth out chilled buttercream, works like a charm!
Next I added my polka dots!
And refrigerated one more time.
The cake traveled to the park in a brown cardboard box and was then added to the dessert table.
It was a chilly day so I didn’t have to worry about melting, but that’s my last tip. If you opt for a whipped cream or buttercream frosting and it’s going to be a warm day? Don’t put that cake out until about 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve (transfer from a fridge to the table) or it will begin to run.
In general, homemade frosting that includes butter, shortening, egg whites or whipped cream will not survive well out all day when it’s warm, but fondants, marzipan, glazes or fresh decorations such as flowers or fruit will do great.
A million, bazillion photos later .
But one round of Liv tentatively trying out this sugary treat:
I’m not sure she knew what to think! And I was sure to take off those fondant dots when she really started diving in, because as mentioned – those things can last literally for. ever.
And when there’s too much cake for one, invite your friends!
Just for fun, here are couple of other cakes that I’ve helped friends with. On the left, a birthday cake with fondant flowers (made with food coloring just like the polka dots and dried in a cupcake tin to keep their shape) and a wedding cake covered in small painted yellow daises. The wedding cake was coated in buttercream and not fondant, it’s an example of a little melting in action. PS I’m so not a professional at this, just really enjoy a good challenge every once in a while. No judging the imperfections .
And there you have it – way too many words about stacking, frosting and using fondant on a cake. Whew. But hopefully it makes decorating with fondant look as easy as pie. I should post an easy tutorial on flowers… those are so simple and perfect for kids.
You can make a cake as homemade as you’d like – from handmade cake batter to freshly mixed frosting to custom decorations, or substitute a couple of the above with store bought components as well. Since I didn’t make Liv’s cake from scratch, the only time consuming part was the frosting and polka dots, and even that was just a couple of hours of work (fun work) to create. And I promise, everyone will think it’s awesome that you did it yourself.
Tags: Birthday, Desserts, DIY, Pink, Tutorial, white
Posted in DIY, Family & Friends, Parties & Entertaining | 17 Comments »
I have a massive stationary collection (I heart beautifully made cards) and was rifling through my stash the other day to write thank you notes for Liv’s first birthday when I came across a handful of cards that I had purchased for envelope purposes only. I am often short on envelopes and sometimes buy the super cheap cards just for extras!
These cards have a sweet pattern that remind me a little of a playful Valentine’s day note – and an idea was born.
After hunting around the house I was happy to find that I had nearly everything I needed on hand for my Valentine’s Day treat bags. Though I did pick up those two small bags of salt water taffy for $1 at Target.
Custom Valentine’s Day Treat Bags
Materials: cellophane treat bags (available at Michaels or on Amazon), note cards, candy, photos, scissors and stapler
To make the treat bags, I filled each plastic sack with salt water taffy and a photo of Liv trimmed to size (I keep a stack of pictures on hand from Costco to send to grandparents and great grandparents when they’re needing a Liv fix). My cellophane bags were just the right size to match up with my 4×6 note cards, but if you’re buying all of your materials from scratch that’s something to keep in mind (you can always trip down your note cards but you don’t want the bag to be wider than the cards).
The notecards have the perfect fold for the top of your treat bags, I simply chopped mine in half length-wise (so that the card was shorter near the fold) and sandwiched the treat bag between each side of the card. Two staples held my finished bag in place.
An alternative to note cards would be scrapbooking paper with a bone folder for a professional looking fold (this tool scores and creases your paper). Or for a cheaper option just fold that sucker in half and press between heavy books so that the fold stays put.
These would be great for family, but for a kid-friendly option I would fill the baggie with animal crackers and include a fun illustration instead of a photo, or perhaps a few crayons and a coloring sheet. Cookies and wrapped candies are probably the way to go since any candy prone to melting would smudge up the photo and transfer ink to the candy. Fun stamps or stickers might make for a neat note at the top of the treat bag, too.
I can see reusing this ideas for party favor bags somewhere down the line… PS I can’t believe it’s already the middle of February!
More Valentine’s Day ideas right here.
Tags: Birthday, Crafty Solutions, Decorating, Desserts, DIY, Kids Party, Paper Crafts, Parties & Entertaining, Party Favors, Patterns & Color, Pink, Red, Tutorial, Valentine's Day, Yellow
Posted in Crafty Solutions, DIY, Family & Friends, Holidays, Parties & Entertaining, Valentine's Day | 8 Comments »
Back with a quick example of how easy it is to make envelope pillows (no zippers, no buttons) out of cloth napkins and remnant fabric. I made four new pillows in a couple of hours last Saturday morning and featured them here in my Spring living room update.
The truth is, I’ve had several of these cloth napkins lying around the house for months if not years! They were waiting for the perfect opportunity and new throw pillows fit the bill.
These raspberry red velvet guys are from a yard of fabric from my local discount fabric shop. The store is actually called Discount Fabric and it’s in an old movie theater about a mile from our house – such a treasure so close by! The tan pillow was from a previous project and you can find its invisible zipper tutorial here.
My two new cloth napkin envelope pillows are over here on this side. Kev was seeing Christmas with my green and red mix (even though I tried to insist they were more kelly meets raspberry) and my horizontal floral print pillow helped to bring Spring back in. Next to that guy is a smaller brown trellis pillow made from three Target cloth napkins (still can be found in store, bought these around Thanksgiving). Yes, that raspberry red pillow needs a 20″ insert and not the current 18″– it’s definitely on the to-do list.
When mixing so many pillows, I try to throw a couple over-sized ones in the mix (wish I had one BIG one), a few medium throw pillows, a horizontal size and maybe a little guy. But with pillows I really think that anything goes–mix patterns, colors and sizes and when you get bored invest in a few more cloth napkins.
But really, cloth napkins are pretty genius as pillow covers. Since napkins already have a hemmed edge and are roughly the size of a throw pillow, they make for an easy solution – especially when there are no zippers involved!
Easy Envelope Pillows
Materials: fabric, pillow insert, pins, fabric scissors (a dedicated, super sharp pair is always a plus to have around and will make fabric cutting SEW much easier. hehehe), sewing machine
I’ll go through all four pillows, but let’s start with the horizontal botanical print pillow. This is the cloth napkin that I’ve had for years – it’s so pretty but it gets very little use buried in my linen basket! The back of the pillow is just a tan fabric scrap from my remnant box.
1. I began by laying out the napkin right side up to cut my fabric to size for the backing.
2. Using the cloth napkin as my template (I didn’t alter the size or shape at all), I cut out a panel for the right side of the pillow that was roughy 2/3 the size of the front side of the pillow and folded over the inside edge about 2″. You could seam this edge but if it’s folded over a far enough amount (and the raw edge is buried deep within the pillow) no one will be the wiser. These top pieces should be facing down (we’re pinning and sewing this inside out).
3. A similar panel is cut and folded in for the left side.
4. Time to pin!
5. and over to the sewing machine we go.
The entire pillow cover gets a simple stitch all of the way around the outer edge
And while even cloth napkins don’t have even edges, I tried to stay as close to this edge as possible. This is especially true if you’re making a pillow cover for a specific size insert size (16″, 18″ or 20″ for example).
6. Flip your pillow cover outside in to reveal its final shape:
You can see here that hemming each of those folds isn’t really necessary as mentioned above. The raw envelope edges are buried inside the pillow cover.
As mentioned on Monday, I used a standard bed pillow to stuff this guy (it was the perfect length and nearly the right height – but that extra stuffing added the right amount of soft ‘pouf’). When it comes to buying and reusing pillow insets though, I highly recommend West Elm inserts. I’ve tried everything from buying my own fiber fill to upcycling old pillows (great solution if they have great inserts) but in the end I’ve found that the $12 investment in a good insert will be comfortable and cozy on the couch, will hold its form and will stand up to the abuse of constantly switching out covers.
Moving on to the square trellis pillow which is actually even easier since we’re starting with three cloth napkins with hemmed edges.
Picked these guys up at Target and actually did a test run by washing the fourth napkin first. It came out significantly faded so I didn’t prewash this batch and I’m secretly just hoping that this pillow won’t see any spills or stains in the near future (or perhaps I’ll just let it sun dry if I must wash…).
1. Following the same steps above, cut panels for the envelope backing out of two of the napkins (2/3 the size of the actual napkin should do the trick).
and now the other side…
So that I am ultimately left with one whole napkin and two 2/3 napkins that were laid on top of each other and overlapping. Because the edges are already hemmed there’s no folding necessary.
2. Pin and sew around the edges!
Wait… this is not how it’s supposed to look on the other side. Bah! I forgot to start with my top piece facing up and not down! Just keeping it real…
I ended up just cutting off my recently sewn edges and made a 16″ pillow instead of 18″ rather than pull out the seam ripper. It actually worked out well since the other pillows were on the larger 18″ side – a little variety is nice!
And here she is again finished:
The last set of remnant pillows I made were from a yard of raspberry colored velvet that I picked up at the fabric store.
1. No need to repeat the above photos, but what essentially made this project even easier is that I was able to cut down on two hems by cutting out one long strip of fabric (my pillow was to be 20″ so my long strip of fabric ended up being 21″ in height (to account for the hem) and ~45″ in length) and then folding in each side to create a 20″ front and an overlapped envelope in the back.
2. A simple stitch along the top and bottom and I had a cover! The above would of course need to be turned inside out before this step.
I didn’t hem the envelope edges because I didn’t want a stitch across the thick velvet (and I didn’t want to change out the thread in my machine!), so I folded each edge and when sewing the top and bottom included the folded over piece in the hem just like the first pillow (so that it was nice and secure).
In hindsight, I should have made the envelope pocket even deeper,
because that raw edge of the envelope overlapping piece began to sneak out of the envelope every so often (see above photo on couch as an example).
3. I added a few basic cross stitches in matching thread to keep the flap in place. I didn’t close the envelope up so that I wouldn’t interfere with stuffing and sliding the insert in and out but just to keep a clean folded edge on that flap. (the cross stitch is barely visible but it’s there!)
One of the velvet pillows was designed for the front to face outwards and one was designed with the envelope side facing outwards.
4. For the envelope out version, I sewed a big button from one of my previous pillows onto the lower overlapping piece of the envelope and created a slit on the top piece of the overlapping envelope with sharp fabric scissors.
And here she is finished:
There you have it! Four new easy pillow covers for under $20.
The entire project took me a couple of hours of cutting, pinning and sewing machine time but I love the finished pillows and they’re sure to last me at least a few months (in all seriousness).
More living room posts can be found right here.
Tags: Accessories, Brown/Tan, Crafty Solutions, Decorating, DIY, Fabric, Green, Home, Living Room, Pink, Red, Sewing, Tutorial
Posted in Crafty Solutions, DIY, Home, Our Living Room, Renovating Adventures | 4 Comments »