Sunday, 10 January 2010

75th Birthday Cake for my Father with a few problems

I had the honour of making the cake for my father's 75th Birthday. He turned 75 on the 6th of January and just last night, we had a dinner party for him at my brother's place and I was asked to make the cake for the function. Coming up with ideas for birthday cakes for children is much easier than for adults but the trick is to always link the cake design to the interests of the person.

Finding something to define my father wasn't going to be easy. That's not entirely true - finding somethine that defined my father that could be translated into a cake was the challenge. He's not big into sports and neither is he big into cars or material goods. What does define the man however are his strong values and his family. Now if I could only make a cake that would resemble the family, that would really take the cake (pardon the pun)

I had initially thought of getting a sugarpaste print of a family picture or even of himself and then sticking it on a cake designed to look like a photo frame. However, I learnt that it's not considered good to cut a picture of yourself or the family. So I threw that idea into the bin. Then I hit upon an idea.

Dad not only loves to read but has authoured a few books on the Malaysian economy and even his own autobiography. He still loves to tackle issues of social and national interest and is constantly giving advice to everyone - especially his children and grandhildren. A book! I would make him a cake book. A book that would look like something he had written.

Then came the 'task' of deciding what to call the book. The Lovely Wife suggested A Purpose Driven Life - one of his favourite books - but I didn't want it to be a copy of something he had already written or read.

Many nights were spent pondering with The Lovely Wife about what to title the book. Many nights were also spent agonising about how to decorate the cake. Keep it simple or make it a little elaborate? What size cake would be needed? Vanilla Butter Cake or Chocolate Cake?

I decided on Chocolate Cake as it could also serve as a dessert. I also decided that I would have to make my Chocolate Icing a little thicker to allow for the decorations as my usual icing is a little fudgy and sticky.

For the white pages, I decided on Royal Icing - a new found skill learnt from the Daring Bakers Gingerbread House challenge. True, I had never made Royal Icing before that and I learnt how quick and easy it was!

The cake was starting to form in my mind and I paid a visit to the local Wilton store to see what stuff they had that I could use. The lady at the store tried to sell me the idea of using their open book cake pan but I wanted to make a closed book. I bought some sugarpaste letters to use for his name and things were starting to look good!

I needed to make two large cakes (each 2 kilos) and what I usually do is to make them separately. I was a bit short on time though and I checked my Kenwood Major manual that said the machine was capable of handling 4.5 kilo mixtures. So... I thought I'd just whiz up two batches together and then bake them at the same time.

Not A Good Idea! REPEAT. Not A Good Idea!

Firstly, the butter and eggs didnt emulsify together as well due to the amount of batter. So I emptied the batter into another bowl and used my hand mixer to mix it up but it still didnt aerate enough - not as much as what I am used to anyway.

Next, after I had poured the batter into two tins, I realised that the tin was too big for my drip tray. I have one wire rack and one drip tray in my oven and whenever I bake two cakes at once, I usually use smaller pans. The cake pan wouldnt fit on the bottom drip tray. Being in a rush and not completely thinking straight, I pulled out the drip tray, placed a cooling rack on the bottom of the oven and shoved the cake pan on top of it. Brilliant I thought to myself. Bloody brilliant.

Bloody Stupid more like it! I should have put the cooling rack on the drip tray to form a flat surface and THEN put the cake pan on it. As it turned out, the pan was too close to the bottom of the oven, causing uneven heat distribution and a little burning. I was not happy.

Fortunately, it wasn't too bad and a little trimming here and there salvaged the cake. I still wasnt happy though as the cake didnt rise as much as I am used to. I muttered and cursed under my breath. The Lovely Wife questioned why I had changed my Standard Operating Procedure of making two cakes separately - especially for such an important occasion as this. The only answer I had to that was that I was Bloody Stupid. Yes, say it again. Bloody Stupid!

I was tense. I was irritable. I was grumpy.

Ater the cake cooled, I mixed up a batch of Royal Icing and used it to ice the sides of the cake as pages. I've never used a crumb coat before, but this time I wished I had. When I applied the royal icing on, some crumbs started to stick on to the icing. Grumpy. Tense. Irritable.

Then The Lovely Wife stuck her pretty nose in and quietly commented that she thought I would ice the top of the cake first before the sides and wouldnt that be a better idea. No! Not a better idea. This was how it should be done. This was what I had in my mind. Don't bug me!

Grumpy. Tense. Irritable.

I mixed up another batch of royal icing and spread it on. Then I used my cake comb to make lines in the icing and it was starting to look good. I let the cake rest for a while and then mixed up the chocolate icing - making sure it was nice and thick. I then piped chocolate icing around the cake to resemble to outline of a cover. The cake was starting to take shape and I snapped a picture of the cake with my handphone and sent it to The Lovely Wife who was out at Sarah's kindergarten having a parent teachers meeting. She called to say the cake was looking nice and I started to feel a little better.

She pointed out to me that the middle of the cake wasnt quite that even and I had to agree with her. I contemplated just leaving it be but I decided I'd better fix it up. When she came home later after the meeting, she asked why there was a bit of a raised knob on the middle right of the cake (where the pages are). I mentioned that that was where the two cakes joined and the knob was the royal icing over some filled in cake. There wasn't really anything I could do about it at this point since the icing had already hardened and quite frankly I didnt dare mess with the cake anymore. I told her it was a sign that the book was well used and well read. She didn't buy it...

It was now time to pipe in the rest of the icing and I used my Wilton stencil makers for the words and the borders. For the 75, I used some cookie cutters that the children reminded me I had so that came in really useful. The Lovely Wife decided on the Title as my father has certainly had a full life and there are many lessons to be learnt from him. I decided on the added touch of Volume 75 to signify his age as his lessons are always ongoing...

I have to say I was rather pleased with how the cake looked and the only concern I had was how it was going to taste. Fortunately, the cake tasted fine although it was a little drier than normal. My Mother said I was too critical of myself - there's a reason mothers are mothers!

The Birthday Boy was delighted with the cake and that made it all worthwhile.

Happy 75th Birthday Papa!


Ivy said...

Happy belated birthday wishes to your dad. You did a great job which I am sure made your dad very proud.

Bellini Valli said...

I am sure your family loved the cake Dharm. 75 years of wisdom does need to be celebrated!!!What an occasion!!!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your cake is truly beautiful! You overcame the difficulties with class! You are a talented baker.



Foodycat said...

I was getting so impressed by your piping skills - then you mentioned buying the letters! Happy birthday to him, and what a fantastic result, even if it was fraught with incident.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Fabulous job Dharm and from looking at it, it looks as if it were issue free! He must have been so proud! :D

Elle said...

Fabulous cake! should get grumpy and stupid all the time if this is the result. Lucky birthday boy!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Life is brilliant ... not stupid, just learning.

Totally love this cake's sentiments, making it perfect.

Jenny said...

Dharm, your cake looks fantastic and you really did a bang-up job. I'm totally impressed with the color of the cover too!

Ruth E said...

Hey Dharm, great birthday cake idea! Looks fab! Happy belated birthday to your Dad!

Debbie said...

The cake is absolutely beautiful and looks perfect. I'm sure your dad was thrilled. What a special birthday gift for him!

Patricia said...

A belated happy birthday to your dad, Dharm. And here's to many more.

And that's a fabulous cake. He'd have been so proud of you!

Jennywenny said...

Totally awesome, as always with your creations!!

The way I often do cakes like this is on a 1/2 sheet pan, not sure if thats the way you did it, then you can get lots of layers for filling, mmmm! A flavored syrup goes a long way if you're concerned about a cake being dry too...

I can empathise with all the troubles you had, I think I've had all those kind of troubles!

Lauren said...

So cool and thoughtful! What fun!

Dhanya Nambirajan said...

First time here. You have an awesome blog. Book cake looks beautiful.

kat said...

Your dad is THE Ramon Navaratnam?? He's so lucky to have such a capable baker son.. :D

I'm thinking of getting the sugarpaste words. Are they exclusive to Wilton? Or would Bake with Yen have them?

Diana H said...

A well read book is a wonderful thing, as is a well lived life. I get frustrated as well when I am trying to do my best work for a special occasion. I've learned to try and plan everything out ahead and try to cover all bases. Doesn't always work though.

Naomi said...

The report I was given about the birthday party mentioned your cake and that it was delicious - you are too hard on yourself!!!.

Great job.

Shereen said...

Cute idea, Dharm! I saw someone suggest flavoured syrup if you're concerned that the cake may be dry. I've stolen a tip from a local baker who would use a mixture of melted butter and rum (for choc cake)and squirt it out of a plastic squeeze bottle right over the warm cake. I often layer my cakes, so I cut the layers and squirt the magic goo over the "inner" side. Plain melted butter works too, if you don't want to alter the flavor too much. Or melted butter with lemon zest (for white cakes).

Jones Morris said...

I admire what you have done here. I like the part where you say you are doing this to give back but I would assume by all the comments that this is working for you as well. cupcakes mobile al


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