Birthday cakes seem to be a much bigger deal to me than they actually are. And no, it’s not because of pinterest. At least I don’t think it is… In any case, I like the birthday cakes I make to be special. So, having a toddler makes that a little difficult. I can’t get away with making a delicious, yet unattractive, dessert. It has to be cute. It doesn’t even have to taste good to please the kid–that’s a bonus for the adults. No, it just has to be cute. But, like many mothers, I’m no expert when it comes to decorating cakes. In fact, I had never done it before Sous Chef turned 2. For her first birthday, I made a carrot cake and smeared cream cheese frosting on it. But, for her second, I started feeling pressure. Pressure to make it a cute cake. She was already exerting some preferences (she liked trains and blocks and princesses, not all at the same time, mind), and I felt like she would like to have a special birthday cake that was clearly for her. I checked with a neighbor, and she happened to have both a train cake pan and a princess castle cake pan, so I asked Sous Chef which she would like.
She picked a train.
I was relieved; it seemed more difficult to decorate a castle than a train, and I wasn’t entirely sure that the cake would come out in one piece. So, I borrowed the train pan, and set about making the cake. I wanted it to taste good, and using a box mix just seems like cheating. Plus, they are often so airy. I prefer my baked goods a little on the dense side. I opted to use a recipe for homemade yellow cake mix that I got from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. I used it once before to make a Coconut Tres Leches Cake (also from Mel’s) for Engineer’s birthday the year before, and it was delicious and easy.
But, it didn’t entirely come out. I have always had trouble getting cakes out of pans, and I thought that if I buttered and floured it well enough, it would work. Alas, we had a bit of piecing together to do, but not much. Just a few small pieces, really. When it came to frosting it, I did the best I could, but have to admit, it was a bit pathetic:
See what I mean? But, my little Sous Chef’s face was priceless. She smiled from ear to ear when we started singing happy birthday to her. To her. I’ve never seen her eyes light up more than they did at that moment.
So, I was sold. Birthdays for kids are worth the work. Even if the work yields less than impressive results, like mine do in the cake decorating area.
I should have worked on my skills all year, but I didn’t. I didn’t even frost a cupcake. So when Sous Chef’s third birthday rolled around, I was a little nervous. This time, I looked for inspiration on Pinterest, because I was throwing Sous Chef a birthday party for her friends. A real birthday party with real friends and real games and real favors. The whole thing. I threw her a Curious George party, and I had to have a George cake to match. To, you know, impress the four three-year-olds.
Who, by the way, didn’t even eat the cake.
The irony is not lost on me, I assure you.
I found a monkey cake that looked doable and dutifully pinned it. I baked a yellow cake the night before, using a recipe from King Arthur Flour. I baked it in two eight-inch rounds so I would have enough batter left to make a handful of cupcakes (for the monkey ears…). The next morning, I froze my cake layers for an hour to make it easier to frost and then proceeded to decorate it. For two and a half hours. Seriously, I never expected it to take that long, and luckily finished with a whopping twenty minutes to spare before the party. My nerves were on edge and I had to take deep breaths before adding the frosting each time.
I was a wreck.
Over a preschooler’s birthday cake.
It turned out well (the picture doesn’t do it justice; it magnifies all the knife strokes which didn’t look as rough as they do in the photo.) and Sous Chef loved it.
But not nearly as much I would have liked.
I don’t know what I expected out of a three-year-old, really. But after almost three hours of decorating, I would have liked one of those big, genuine grins I’d gotten the year before. I was disappointed in her reaction, honestly, but she had a great time at her party and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Because what they lack in appreciation, preschoolers make up for in love and attention. Sometimes a little too much attention. But I love that right now, she actually wants to be with us. She loves to spend time with us. She wants us to read to her, to play with her, to love her. I know it won’t last forever, but for now, I’m glad she does and I’m trying to keep that in perspective when I spend nearly three hours on a cake that she doesn’t really seem to appreciate. She may not remember that I made her a monkey cake for her Curious George birthday party. But I hope she’ll remember that I did things for her because I love her. That all these little things, like throwing her a birthday party and taking her on trips or to the park will add up to a basically happy childhood.
Despite the yelling.