Monday, July 2, 2012

Play Group and the Queen of Cake Crises

This morning I decided that today would be a day of firsts. Our 1st first? Going to a play group for 6-12-month-old babies. There's a children's centre just across the street from us where we took our antenatal classes and where I occasionally take Ethan to be weighed. They also, amongst other things, run play groups for kids from pretty much birth up through 2 years or so. It's a pretty neat system, really; though I'll admit as I recall from the literature, they're a bit authoritarian about what sorts of snacks you can bring for your kid.

So, assuming from the handout I had that you could just swing on by any time in the two hour time slot, I got Ethan up from his nap a little early and headed over to check out the last 40 minutes of play group to see if it was his sort of jam. I feel like at 8 months old, it's about time Ethan started learning to play with other kids more often than just seeing his cousin once a fortnight.

Of course, once I got there I was still allowed in, but I learned some very important things:
1) You have to sign up for this play group. Holy exclusivity, Batman!
2) There is a waiting list for this play group.
3) The first rule of play group is: you don't talk about the play group. (Only kidding...but that's what this felt like!)
4) If you show up more than half an hour late, the cranky receptionist gives you the stink-eye and a condescending warning. Do this twice, and they kick you out: end of discussion.

Talk about intimidating you out of even wanting to come! But I figured I need to make an effort for my boy. I can't have him being a social pariah with crippling awkwardness. Granted, I don't think he'll give off the nerdy loner vibe, but I don't want my kid to be a five-year-old Mr. Darcy when he goes to Kindergarten! So, having signed up for the waiting list, we went back to the room where play group was being held.

Making friends during the last activity!
While no one was super welcoming, all the mums I spoke to took to Ethan straight away and were willing to chat about their own kids a bit as well. Those blue eyes, man; they even help me make friends, and they're not even my eyes! He loved holding my hands to run around the room and playing with some of the fabric books that were out. When snack time came, he wasn't too keen on the Clementine pieces and apple slices on offer, but he stood at the table quite happily and played with the other babies' moms. Yup: Mr. Little-Old-Lady-Charmer went straight for the older women. He mostly ignored the other kids. Granted, the baby in the above picture seemed to make an impact, but I think that was proximity more than anything. Oh well...he'll learn.

The other first today was one for me: baking an ombre cake. Yeah, I decided to get on the trendy Pinterest-obsessed bandwagon and try one of these.

via: Eddie Ross blog
Don't ask me what possessed me to do this...I'm still wondering that myself. I went to the store and got a cake mix and some food dye (hey, with only E's nap time to finish this and blog about it, I needed to choose efficiency over everything else), along with the ingredients for a nice cream cheese frosting. I know I said that "efficiency" was the word of the day, but I'm a frosting snob. Most cakes have too much frosting and what's on there is way too sweet. I wanted something with a little tang to it that would compliment a sweet cake.

First problem? I had only one egg of the 3 I needed. Oops. Solution? Replace 2 eggs with golden syrup in egg-sized spoonfuls. Crisis averted, I quartered my mix and added the red food dye in sufficient quantities. With a little tweeking, I had the vague sort of fading effect I was after.

Not entirely what I need, but pretty close
Brilliant. Time to put the layers in the oven 2 at a time (since I only have two cake tins). I even remembered to half the baking time since I'd halved the size of the layers. Smooth sailing right? Nope. Crisis Numero Dos: I neglected to read the instruction that said to grease my cake tins. Result? When the first two layers came out, they promptly crumbled to bits.

Huzzah. I was nearly ready to chuck it all in by this point, when I came upon Solution Number Two: I snagged two plates and re-formed my crumbling cake mess into two approximately 9" layers. I bunged them in the freezer to set so I could frost everything without ripping it to even smaller shreds. Lesson learned, I greased my pans the second time around and got mostly intact layers with minimal crumbling.

This looks creepily like raw ground beef...
Whew! Now: on to the frosting! I edited the recipe from the above page just a tiny bit to make sure it was more of a cake frosting and less of a cinnamon bun icing. There are worlds of difference between the two, and I definitely wanted a light, buttercream-like texture to my frosting.

via: Not So Humble Pie

Basically: 5 oz cream cheese; 3 oz softened butter; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 3/4 cup icing sugar; 100ml chilled double cream. Whip these all up and you get what I got...though perhaps for next time I'll try to get it a bit fluffier.

I pulled my chilled cake layers from the freezer and got to work. Turns out, chilling the cake was the way to go: I only had minimal crumb contamination in my frosting, even on the smooshed-together layers. Keeping the frosting at room temperature helped, too: it's easier to spread that way.

We're getting there...
Once it was all put together, this is what I got:

I'll be the first person to say it: this thing ain't very pretty. But I give it full marks for taste. The frosting turned out just right, and the cake mix was fine...though perhaps I'll add a bit of lemon next time to spice things up a bit. Hey: for a test run, this didn't go too badly. It's times like this when I appreciate church for making me get round to crafty projects I might not otherwise find the excuse to accomplish.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Boo! It's refreshing to know that if I try it, my cake also won't look particularly pretty.