Friday, April 25, 2014

K's Baking Party - Piñata

In yesterday's post, I said that a birthday party isn't a birthday party without cookies. But what REALLY makes a birthday party a birthday party, in my book at least, is the piñata. A piñata was a must at our birthday parties growing up, and they will most certainly be a must for my children's parties as well. Aside from a year here and there, my mom made our piñatas from scratch and given that piñatas aren't really a thing here, I will likely do the same.

I was wondering what kind of piñata to make for the party, when I came across this box from T's Bumbo. It looked like it would be perfect for the base of a cupcake. I think that it's because of this box that the whole baking/cupcake theme emerged. So, here's how I did the piñata:

First I cut off the top of the box.

Then I flattened out a second box, and traced the Bumbo box on it. Moving about 20 cm in, I made a second hexagon on the inside.

Then I cut out the big hexagon and cut from each corner into the smaller hexagon.

Next I cut out the corners and scored the little middle hexagon to make it easy to fold. I also cut out a rectangle in the middle to make the hole for hanging and filling the piñata.

Then I folded the hexagon sides down and taped them to the box. Notice the open space between the corner pieces - not a big deal because the next step was to paper mache this bad boy.

And paper mache I did. Once it was nice and dry, the next step was to decorate it. I figured this would take a while, so I had The Mindy Project playing while I decorated.

I found some yellow wax paper at the 100 yen shop and picked up a few rolls of that, as well as some yellow electrical tape. For those not in the know, K's favorite color is yellow. It always has been and I don't really see it changing in the future. I cut the rolls in half so that they would be about 10cm longer than the cupcake base. Then I folded the paper so that the folds slightly overlapped. (I don't really know how to explain what I did, but it's pretty obvious from the photo, I think.)

I glued the top part of the cupcake liner to the top of the base and taped on the bottom.

I was as careful as possible around the corners. I tried to fold them so they would look nice and clean, but some were definitely better than others.

I got the whole way around the base of the cupcake, but there was obviously still a big, empty space in the middle.

I taped a piece of wax paper to cover it, but you could totally see through it.

It probably wouldn't have been the end of the world had I left it like that, but I wanted it to be yellow too, so I covered it in electrical tape. Extra support doesn't hurt either!!

At that point, I called it a night. The next day, it was time to do the top part. I cut out a million squares of white tissue paper and busted out a highlighter, some glue, and The Mindy Project.

I harkened back to my elementary school days and did the whole tissue paper flower thing. About 10,000 times.

I started with the top part closest to the base and just went around and around and around until I got to the top part.

Look at all that fluff!!

The weekend before the piñata making, K and I went shopping for party things and he saw a yellow "4" candle. He HAD to have it. I had planned to make the cake look like the piñata, so I wanted to make a yellow 4 candle for the piñata as well. To do this, I cut out a 4 and then two small rectangles, the same width as the four. I scored the rectangles and then bent them out to give the 4 some support.

Then I painted it with yellow acrylic paint, stuck a pipe cleaner in the top, and glued it to the top of the cupcake. Then I covered the whole top with more tissue paper frosting.

The piñata was obviously a hit at the party - who doesn't like bashing something with a metal pole!? About half of the kids were neighborhood kiddos, so they had done a piñata before. For the other half, his school friends, it was their first time. 

We had each kid hit it once, but they all wanted to do it again, so they each had a second turn.

We only had the gym, where we did the piñata, rented for an hour and with just the kids hitting it, we would have been there all night. We passed the pole to K's teachers, then the moms, and finally the dads. The second dad to go broke it.

As soon as it broke, the kids came in for the goods. I handed each of them a little paper bag and they went to town. Some more than others, of course. 

After the piñata, we all headed back to the main party room, cleaned up (everyone helped, thank goodness!!) and went home. Just like that, the party was finished. For me, the end of a party is always a little bittersweet. All of the preparation and time spent working and thinking about the party, and it is done in just a few hours. But seeing this dude's gigantic, beautiful smile 100% makes the hours I worked on this party worth it. This year was particularly bittersweet, however, given that he has these wonderful friends, and we have become friends with their equally as wonderful parents, and we are going to be leaving them all so soon. I know we will be back. I know he will make new friends in the US, and so will we. But for now, these are his bros. Who knows if they will even remember him in three years.

I hope they do.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

K's Baking Party: Cookies & Cake

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - no birthday party is complete without cookies! At some point in the planning process of K's birthday party, the cupcake started to emerge as a theme. As a result, I decided to incorporate cupcakes into the cookies as well. Unfortunately, I don't have a cupcake cookie cutter, so I had to make do with what I did have - a scalloped diamond and a ruler.

I started by rolling out my cookie dough and cutting straight edge. Using the more rounded half of my scalloped diamond, I cut out the top half of the diamond. In case you want to make your own cupcake cookies, I think the same result could be done with a circle or oval cutter instead of the scalloped diamond. It might even be a bit cuter.

Using the ruler, I cut another straight line, and then a second one about 3cm above the first.

I cut that long rectangle into smaller rectangles roughly the width of the top cupcake bit.

Then I sliced them inwards slightly, to make them look like the base of the cupcake (note: the one on the right had not yet been cut).

On the lined cookie sheet, I placed the top and bottom as closely together as possible, but they didn't connect perfectly.

No problem at all - I just used my finger to smooth out the line a bit.

They ended up looking like this before baking.

Look at the little army of cupcakes!

I mentioned before, that I really didn't have a whole lot of time to spend on this party. Cutting and piecing together the cupcakes took a good amount of time and I assumed that decorating them would as well. To save myself some time, after about 16 cupcake cookies, I just cut the rest of the dough into scalloped circles.

Once the cookies were baked and cooled I wrapped them up and put them in the freezer for about a week. A few nights before the party, I got them out, thawed them and got to decorating. Just like the real cupcakes, I only used white and yellow icing. This seriously cut down on prep time and kitchen mess. I started with the "frosting" part of the cookie. To reinforce the line I wanted to try to cover most of it with one color of icing. I did a little swirl at the bottom and then went straight up and over the top, to make a rounded, slightly wavy triangle. Then I filled it in. For the first few, I put the sprinkles on right away, but I found that it looked better if I gave the icing a bit of time to harden slightly before putting on the sprinkles.

Once the tops were done, I went to the bottoms. These were done in yellow - again starting with the outline and then filling them in.

Once they were completely dried, I piped on vertical lines to mimick the cupcake wrapper. For the scalloped circles, I did half of them in yellow, the other half in white. Half of each color got sprinkles, the other half got a "4" on them. In a final detail, I piped tiny dots around the edges of the circles to highlight the scalloped edge. (I did a really awful job of taking photos for this party. So, yes, this is the exact same photo from above, but I thought it would be easier to see the final details if I showed this photo again.)

Next up was the cake. Ahhh, the cake. I was so super dissappointed in it. I wanted it to be a huge cupcake, but it ended up looking like a pot of white flowers. Boooo. The good news is that once it was cut and plated, it looked adorable and tasted even better.

I don't have a giant cupcake tin, so I just did what I could with round tins and a knife. I started by making a full vanilla cake recipe and a half of a chocolate cake recipe. Then I sliced each of the cakes in half horizontally to give me six rounds to work with. I started with the bottom of the cake, stacking the layers one on top of the other, vanilla, chocolate, vanilla. Then I put a small bowl on top and using a toothpick sketched out a line about 1cm away from the edge of the bowl.

Following my line, I sliced down and out diagonally to give the cupcake base the correct shape.

Then I took the layers apart, separated them with the buttercream and re-stacked them, upside down. I did the same idea for the top of the cupcake, but I cut the shape so that it was rounded at the top and then went straight down. This was a mistake. In my head it was much better than the pointy cupcake top the pan bakes into, but I was wrong. The pointy top would have been way better. Live and learn, right?!

Then it came time for the crumb coats. I did the top and bottom separately since the six layers would have been too tall to fit into my fridge.

Once the bottom half's crumb coat was hard, I busted out the yellow buttercream for the base. I first just focused on getting a fairly even coat on the bottom.

Then I dragged an offset spatula from the bottom of the cake, up to the top to create something that looked like wrapper folds. As you can see, I left a tiny space between each vertical drag. I love how the bottom turned out.

Finally it was on to the top. :( After the crumb coat was dried, using the biggest star tip I own, I piped stars all over the cake. I left about 5cm from the bottom empty to make it easier to move the cake onto the base the next morning.

Instead of using the same white buttercream to join the top to the bottom, I made a delicious ganache. I thought it would add a bit of visual interest to the cut cake. I also thought it would kick up the tasty factor a bit - I was totally wrong on the shape of the cake, but I was so, so right about this decision!

Once I put the top onto the bottom of the cake, I finished up the piping. I didn't even take a photo of the finished cake. I totally forgot. I think had I been more proud of how the cake looked, I would have remembered, but what can you do? On top of the finished cake, I put a yellow "4" candle, but I moved it to K's cupcake for the blowing out of the candle bit. The main reason that I moved it, was because I knew the cake would take a good amount of time to cut - there were 17 adults to cut for. I thought it would be pretty lame to have K blow out his candle and then 30 minutes later, finally eat the cake. 

So, about 30 minutes before singing the old "Happy Birthday Song", I got to cutting the cake. I LOVE how it looks cut. I think the black and white stripes look so super cool. Good thing, because I was seriously bummed by how the cake looked pre-cutting. Many of the guests commented on how beautiful the cake looked (post-cutting), but even more commented on how good it was. Wahoo!!

 Seventeed slices of cake? Don't mind if I do!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

K's Baking Party: Activites

K's baking party was actually not a baking party at all - ha! It was more of a decorating and mixing party, but baking sounds so much cuter. For the party, since there were so many people, we rented out a big room in our complex and held the party there. Y's mom blew up TONS of balloons the night before, so we took about 8 garbage bags full of balloons to the room the morning of the party. The balloons were the only toys. I also set up three food stands, which were the "baking" portion of the party.
Remembering how much K and his friends loved the brownie decorating at his Halloween party, I figured we could do the same for this party. Instead of brownies, however, the kids would decorate their own cupcake that we all ate together after singing Happy Birthday to K. Most of the kids really enjoyed this and spent a good amount of time on their cupcake. A few weren't as into it, and instead were pretty set on running around the room, playing - just as well!
A week or so before the party, I baked a dozen vanilla cupcakes, using my standard vanilla cake recipe. Then I wrapped them individually, put them into freezer bags and threw them in the freezer. Two nights before the party, I pulled them out and frosted them using (a huge batch of) Magnolia Cafe's buttercream recipe. I used a minimal amount of powdered sugar, but it was still, of course, quite sweet. I divided the buttercream in half, and colored one half of it yellow, leaving the other half white (these were the colors for the main cake as well, which is also why I made a huge batch of it). Half of the cupcakes were frosted in yellow, the other half white. Then I put them in tupperware and stored them in the fridge until game time.


For the party, I set up a different table for each of the three food stations. The night before the party, I made a little sign telling what they were supposed to do and also drew little pictures, hoping that the kids could look and work it out on their own. They didn't really, but whatevs. In addition to the sign, I also had all of the ingredients out on the tables. Here is the cupcake table, minus the cupcakes. The table in the back had a plate with each kid's name on it, so as not to confuse the cupcakes come eating time.

This was the "snack mix" table, I had a little glass jar labeled for each kid. They could put chocolate covered corn flakes, dried fruits, walnuts, wheat puffs, and M&Ms into the silver bowls, mix it up and put it in their jar to either eat at the party or take home. Most of the kids didn't do this until the very end of the party, but they all seemed to have fun deciding what to put in. It was quite funny, some kids loaded theirs up, while other put in a few dried fruits and called it a day.

The final table was a parfait station. The kids used clear plastic cups and layered in yogurt, sliced strawberries and granola. Most kids were too busy playing with balloons to be bothered eating, but a few did make parfaits, as well as a few of the moms. I had cut up a whole carton of strawberries and got three cartons of yogurt, but only about half of the starberries were used and only about one half of a carton of yogurt. Extra yogurt is never a problem in this house!

 I envisioned the kids all decked out in aprons carefully making their snacks and cupcakes. That didn't happen because they were all too busy playing and running around with each other. I should have guessed that would be the case given that most of them were three or four years old. Regardless, the party was still cute with them in their aprons and I think it was best to have the little food stations even if they didn't get utilized as I had envisioned, as it would have been totally random to just have kids in aprons for no apparent reason. In the end, while the "baking" bit wasn't as successful as I had hoped, the kids had heaps of fun at the party and that is what it should be all about anyway.