or … Surviving a Kid’s Birthday Party at Home!
My littlest treasure recently turned six years old. Six is a big deal when you’re five and three quarters. Big enough to want to invite twenty-eight five and six year olds to your party. And then there’s the grown-ups. Mr Just-Turned-Six is the youngest of three boys. Any parent of more than one child will tell you that you go all out for the first few birthday parties (if you’re that way inclined anyway) but then reality sets in. Big parties drop off to every second or third year. By the time number three child is around, crunch time has well and truly hit and it becomes a ‘you get one or two big parties and that’s it’ kind of thing.
Throwing the birthday party of your dreams is back-breaking hard work. It’s stressful. Expensive. And – notice where I said ‘…the party of your dreams…’ – yeah, well, while the birthday child might be thrilled with the result, they’re not necessarily going to curl at your feet every day for the rest of their lives thanking you for making their childhood the magical, imaginative experience that it clearly is. In other words, kids parties can induce a sort of post-event emotion-dive.
Well, that’s how it is for me anyway. Obviously, I over-think these things.
So, with all this in mind, I sat down with Mr Six to work out a theme for his party. Monsters? I suggested. Nah, he said. Superheroes? Nope. Not interested. Minecraft, he says. Too tricky, I say (calculating in the back of my mind how few Minecraft party supplies are available). Lego? Nope. Adventure Time? Arghh no! I had visions of crafting teeny tiny Ice Kings and Princess Bubblegums from sticky bits of fondant. And then, in a moment of either brilliance or laziness – because I’ve done this theme before – I suggested ‘Under the Sea’. He said yes. I said yippee!
With today’s post, I’m just going to start with the main birthday cake. We’ll talk cupcakes and cake pops and decorations soon. The fish cake is one of those things that looks amazing and complicated and like you’re a super talented cake decorator, when, in all honesty – it’s seriously simple.
The Day Before the Party
I started with eight (yes, EIGHT!) commercial packet mixes. I used the cheapest vanilla cake mixes I could find. My big tin is approx. 18cm by 28cm and 8cm deep. It took 4 mixes, and you’ll need two cakes. Mix and bake according to instructions. I did add a little extra vanilla essence – because I can’t help myself – and a few drops of blue and green food colouring. Give yourself plenty of time – a cake of this size needs plenty of time to cook, and you need two.
*My star cake tip is always, always take the time to grease and line your tin properly.
Scales and Fins
You’ll need a couple of packets of white chocolate melts, edible glitter, baking or parchment paper and some specialist chocolate food colouring. Using normal water-based food dye in chocolate will result in a nasty seized-up mess of bleugh. Powdered food colouring is fine, as is oil-based. I used a specialist product called Flo-Coat. It’s made by AmeriColor, and available at any cake decorating shop, or online. All you do is mix 5 drops of Flo-Coat to one drop of water-based food colour. I found it easiest to do this in a small glass with a wooden skewer, making sure I had plenty of pre-mixed colour for when my chocolate was melted. I quantities I used were aprox 40 drops of Flo-Coat to 8 drops of colour.
Next, lay out a large piece of baking paper on a flat surface. Melt white chocolate using your preferred method. I did mine in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between. I don’t like to work with much more than a cup and a half of chocolate at a time. Once melted, add your colour. Working quickly, add teaspoon-sized scoops of chocolate to the baking paper. Smooth with the back of the spoon to an elongated disc shape, at least 1mm thick. While it’s still wet, sprinkle glitter (or pearls, or any other embellishment). Make sure you make a few different sizes with each colour. With each batch of chocolate, I also varied the colour a little. You’ll need approx. 50 scales of varying sizes. Set at room temperature, and then carefully lift from the paper (it’ll come away easily) and store overnight in an air-tight container.
For the fins and tail, draw the shape you’ll need onto a piece of baking paper. Flip the paper (so you don’t get any lead in your chocolate!) and fill in your template with the desired colour of chocolate, using the back of a spoon or a spatula to smooth. Don’t forget the glittery bits! I made two dorsal fins and two tails. You’ll need eyes too, made using plain white chocolate in the same way, with the detail added later by either painted food-dye, or using edible markers (textas).
Hopefully you’re so organised the morning of the party, all you need to do it put the cake together. First step is to place one of the already baked cakes on a cooling tray. With a skewer, draw the shape of a fish. Use a sharp bread knife to carve the cake to your desired shape. Basically, you’re just taking off the corners at this point. When you’re done, place the first cake on top of the second, and follow your own lines so the cakes are now the same shape – kind of an oval. Now, you need to use those sculpting skills. Carve your cakes into a more football-shape by taking a little bit at a time. Remember – a little bit.
Once you have the basic shape, transfer to the board or dish you’ll be serving it up on. Smoosh the two layers together using your choice of frosting or cream. As usual, I used Betty Crocker brand pre-made vanilla frosting. It’s yummy and reliable. This cake took 3 tubs of frosting. Once ‘smooshed’, tint the remaining frosting to a colour similar to your scales (or you could go for contrast). Cover the entire cake with a decent layer of frosting, paying particular attention to the rough carved areas where it doesn’t stick quite so well. Once covered, make small cuts with a sharp knife to the top of the cake, where you’ll wedge in the dorsal fins, and the back, where you’ll add the tail. Once they’ve been added, gather up your scales and starting in front of the tail, work forward, slightly over-lapping each one. I used the smallest scales near the tail, and the bigger ones near our Fishy’s face. Leave approx. the first third of the fish clear of scales for what will soon be the face. Add eyes, and mouth. The mouth in this case was made from red mouldable chocolate (also available at your cake decorating shop). After adding a couple of extras – some red and yellow M&M’s to fill in the gaps – you’re ready to wow!