Birthdays were always a big thing in my family when my siblings and I were kids. The thing I remember most fondly from each of our birthday parties were the cakes that my mum made for us with the 4 most memorable ones being:
1. Cake in the shape of a butterfly.
2. Figure 8 cake for my 8th birthday with M & Ms neatly arranged like mosiacs on top. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken my mum to place every one of those small candy covered chocolate pieces.
3. Figure 6/9 cake for my brother’s 9th birthday and my sister’s 6th birthday (their birthdays are 4 days apart). They shared one cake, which could be turned one way to become a figure 6 and another to become a figure 9.
4. Cake in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
Having all these fond memories of my own meant that when it came to Ashley’s 1st birthday cake, I couldn’t in all good conscience simply order one from the cake shop, even though she’d in all likelihood not remember a thing about this first birthday party, not to mention the cake.
I had a hazy idea on what sort of cake I wanted to make: 2-tiers, fondant covered with some cutesy figurines for decor. Working full-time meant I had to prep for the cake way in advance, especially when the cake plan included elements that I didn’t have much experience with. I eventually decided on a safari-themed cake and since I’d not attempted a large tiered fondant cake before, I decided to make a trial one first.
I’d found the designs for the animal figurines while exploring Flickr for decorating ideas and emailed Vania for permission to use her completely adorable designs on Ashley’s cake. With her blessing, I went ahead and made the figurines over a span of 8 nights, each one taking about 2 hours each night after Ashley had fallen asleep. I started with the polymer clay versions and later made the gumpaste ones since I wasn’t sure if the polymer clay ones would be safe to put on a cake.
With tips and advice from friends and other helpful strangers on Flickr whom I emailed, the trial cake turned out all right for a first attempt, except for a minor blowout on the top tier (which I later found out was caused by moisture which had nowhere to escape) and a wrinkly and slightly lumpy bottom tier (which was due to the iced cake not being at room temp when I covered it with fondant, too thick a layer of buttercream and too thin a layer of fondant).
With the lessons learnt from the trial cake, the actual birthday cake turned out much better than I’d expected. The bottom tier still had some wrinkles, but I think that may have to do with the italian meringue buttercream not being able to withstand the heat that is our tropical weather, despite air-conditioning. Otherwise, I was really happy with the cake, especially the design of the lower tier, which was really a last minute change; I made the gumpaste flowers only 2 nights before the birthday party compared to 3 weeks ahead for the figurines.
Most importantly, Ashley seemed happy enough with the cake. She went straight for the colourful figurines and the gleeful look on her face as she held the monkey and tiger figurines in her hand made all the effort and late nights that went into the cake completely worthwhile.