In my opinion, one of the most endearing and yet terrifying aspects of parenthood, is the unwavering belief a child has in the abilities of its’ parents and specifically in my case, the belief that I can magically produce wonderful birthday cakes in the blink of an eye. Back in spring it was a Bookworm for Middle Mudlets’ party and the child in question was certainly pleased with the end result. Autumn, however, heralds the arrival of Little Mudlets’ birthday and after hours pouring over various cake books, she opted for the impressive, yet daunting, Pumpkin Mouse House cake from the same book that had offered simple step by step instructions for the aforementioned Bookworm cake.
In fact according to this particular book, all the cakes within its’ pages were simple to make …… but then anything is simple if you know what you are doing, have the patience of a Saint and an eye for detail. When it comes to cake decorating, novice doesn’t really begin to describe my capabilities but I do the best that I can and the finished cake generally looks something like the image I am working to.
A Pumpkin Mouse House!!! Oh my, this was going to be time consuming.
I started the cake making process at 10.30 Saturday morning, as I needed two bowl shaped cakes to make the pumpkin. Thankfully a friend had a lovely deep bowl which she was happy to lend me and which was perfect for the size cakes I needed to produce. Each cake would take 1.25 to 1.5 hours to bake and had to be baked separately due to the fact that I only had one deep bowl to start with and once that was in the oven, there wasn’t room for the second cake.
The book recommended using a Madeira cake recipe, as a Madeira recipe would produce a firmer cake which would be easier to sculpt and shape. As it happened the book contained a suitable recipe and before too long, half the cake mixture was in the oven.
Once both cakes had baked and cooled, I began the pumpkin shaping, using the rounded end of my potato peeler blade to cut grooves into the sides of the cakes, top and bottom, to mimic the shape of a fully matured pumpkin. Next I made the butter cream, half off which was needed to join the two pieces together and the rest of which was smoothed over the outside of the cake to act as an adhesive for the outer layer of sugar paste/fondant icing. I will say at this point that I used ready to roll Fondant icing, for ease and convenience.
Before rolling the icing out, I spent a few minutes kneading it to make it softer and more pliable and then placed it onto a large sheet of clingfilm which I had laid out on the worktop to prevent the icing from sticking and to make it easier to manage later. Another sheet of clingfilm was then placed over the icing, again to prevent it sticking to my rolling pin. Once I had rolled it out to the required diameter, I removed the top layer of clingfilm and flipped the icing over onto the cake. With the bottom layer of clingfilm now on top of the icing, I was able to smooth it into the grooves I had made and smooth out any creases, without causing the icing to become sticky or marked with fingerprints. Once I was happy with the look of the icing, I carefully peeled off the remaining clingfilm.
At the cake covering stage in the book, the recipe calls for the orange fondant to be made, rolled and applied and then the mouse holes to be cut out and black ones added in their stead to create the ‘hole’ effect. Looking at the nice white icing that now covered my cake, I couldn’t help but feel that it would make more sense to cut out the mouse holes now, slice a thin section from each round section of removed icing and then place the thin slice back into the hole from which it had come. So that’s what I did!
I have had mixed results with adding colour to fondant icing in the past, especially large volumes of the stuff. I tend to find that it is quite difficult to get the colour you actually want, without adding large quantities of colouring because the colour dilutes when added and mixed to the white fondant. I have also found that it is hard to create a single tone of, or streak free colour and so the end result looks a bit messy. Then a few years ago, a friend suggested painting colour on to large areas, as this would create a better finish and I have found that this method of applying colour, actually works a treat.
So by early evening on Saturday, I could be found with a small pot of orange food colouring (red food gel mixed with natural yellow colouring) and a large, clean childrens’ craft paint brush, brushing colour onto the cake. I was careful to follow the line of the ‘pumpkin’ from top to bottom which helped create the textured look of the pumpkin skin. Personally, I am not a fan of the gel type colourings when used as a paint because they are thicker and stickier than traditional food colourings which can cause problems in terms of reacting with the icing. However they do work well when being mixed into small quantities of fondant, quickly developing an even colour throughout. For this cake though, I felt that the gel actually helped develop the overall texture of the pumpkin, giving it more depth.
With the orange applied, I carefully painted the black holes and then turned my attention to the vines, leaves and mice etc. It took me an hour to finish the cake trimmings with the mice giving me particular trouble, as I just couldn’t get their faces right and, to be honest, even after four or five attempts I’m still not entirely happy with the finished specimens but Little Mudlet thought they were fabulous and that was enough for me. The last mouse tail went on at 8.30pm Saturday night and I declared the cake finished!
I’m really quite pleased with how this cake has turned out and it got lots of lovely compliments at the party on Sunday, taking pride of place in the centre of the table. It actually tasted quite nice as well which is always a bonus. Thankfully that’s it for party cakes for 2014 which is just as well, as I was pretty tired after my marathon baking session.