April 10, 2014
A Million Flowers, Sugar Glass, and an Improvised Cake
"There are a million flowers in here!" Eve exclaimed when she woke up Saturday morning. Her sleepy eyes began to sparkle as she took in the sea of flowers that covered the kitchen table. She was right, maybe not a million, but that morning the table was buried in flowers. Why? Because in just a few short hours 8 five-year-olds would head through our door to celebrate Eve's birthday.
Last month, when asked what type of party she wanted, she looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said, in her most persuasive voice, "A Frozen party, of course....with lots of pink roses." I know you're saying "Not another Frozen party!" because if you have children between the ages of 3 and 16 you've probably had enough of talking snowmen and that song you just can't get out of your head. And you most certainly know that the store shelves are bare when it comes to Frozen merchandise, whether it's birthday decorations, books, or toys. So I won't bore you with yet another Frozen birthday party post, because there are about 8,000 of them out there. (I know, I Googled it.)
No, this post is about a party that didn't exactly happen the way I planned, and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined. You see, when your daughter gazes up at you with a wisp of bangs in her chocolate eyes, and says "Please, Mommy, can I have a Frozen party? Pretty please??" Well, at least you try. I scrolled through Pinterest and began envisioning a grand, three-tiered cake decorated like Elsa's ice castle and adorned with the Frozen characters. I think I was more excited about that cake than Eve was. I ordered the over-priced Frozen play set that is so popular right now (this one) at the beginning of March and congratulated myself for actually planning ahead for once. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. With the day of the party closing in and the cake decorations glaringly absent, I began to panic.
It seems that the virtual shelves are just as bare, because a few days before the party I got that dreaded email that said my long-awaited cake decorations were not going to show up until the end of April, nearly a month after the party. But, not to worry, there's always a plan B, right? Unfortunately, three days before the party, I still couldn't figure out what plan B was. Then I remembered making sugar glass in my college theatre class. It was used as a prop for when one of the characters had to put his fist through a window. It looks exactly like glass...or ice... and is completely edible. I thought about the movie and the wall of jagged ice that Elsa would throw up around herself for protection. Finally a plan B began to emerge.
I began concocting the cake, and the kitchen resemble a science lab. Bubbling pots, mixing bowls encased in blue goo, thermometers, and beakers of food colouring were strewn across the counter. I started with my favourite butter cake recipe, simple and rich. Covered it with a delicious marshmallow fondant that was so easy to make, but the pièce de résistance was the sugar ice, dyed turquoise with a swirl of blue, and embedded into the base of the cake like Else razor-sharp ice. The kids were astonished that the ice was actually candy and completely edible. So, with the house decorated in silver snowflakes, and a million flowers waiting to go home with 8 special little girls, we ended up with a sophisticated cake draped in melt-in-your-mouth icing and studded with sweet shards of ice instead of one decorated with plastic toys. A Frozen party, improvised. And I'm still waiting on the play set.
Sugar Ice (Sugar Glass)
This is surprisingly easy to make, but it takes some time to cook and cool. Here is the tutorial that I followed with only slight changes.
2 cups water
3 1/2 cups fine white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
food colouring of your choice
Mix the water, sugar, corn syrup and cream of tarter in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat stirring occasionally. Gently heat a candy thermometer under hot running water and insert into the pot. (Never put a cold thermometer into a boiling pot of sugar!) Simmer until the mixture comes to the hard crack stage, 300 F (150 C). This takes between 30 and 45 minutes. In the meantime, generously spray a rimmed sheet pan with cooking spray. When the mixture comes to 300 F stir in a few drops of food coloring (be careful because the mixture will spatter when you add the colouring). Carefully pour it into the sheet pan and set on a level, heat-safe surface to cool for at least one hour.
Once cool, slide a knife under the "ice" and gently pry it from the pan. Wipe off any excess oil and carefully break into jagged pieces. (I did this by gently tapping the tip of a knife into the ice with a meat mallet.) Even though this is candy it can still be very sharp, so be careful when handling it. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To be honest, I didn't measure any of the ingredients when I was making this. It's more of a method than a recipe. The amount of sugar you'll need will depend on several things including how fresh your marshmallows are and the amount of humidity in the air.
8 oz mini marshmallows (half a bag)
a splash of water
food colouring of your choice
non-stick cooking spray
Place the marshmallows in a large bowl and splash with a teaspoon or two of water. Microwave on high in 30 second increments stirring often until the marshmallows are melted (this took about 1.5 minutes for me). Add a few drops of food coloring and stir quickly until combined. Add about 1 cup of powdered sugar and stir until combined. Add some more sugar and stir until a dough begins to form. Transfer the dough to a clean surface that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Spray your hands and begin kneading the dough adding more powdered sugar as the dough begins to stick. You are looking for a firm, smooth dough that can be rolled out. Once you are pleased with the consistency of the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the day you decorate the cake. This will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
When ready to use, bring the dough to room temperature. Spray the work surface and your rolling pin with nonstick spray. Roll the dough out to approx 1/8 inch thick. Carefully transfer it to your cooled cake and cut off the excess. Decorate with white icing if desired.
Vanilla Butter Cake
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) butter, very soft
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C). Trace the bottom of a 8-inch, round cake pan on a piece of parchment paper. Carefully cut out the circle just inside the line. Spray the pan with non-stick spray, or butter well. Press the parchment into the bottom of the pan, and spray or butter that as well. Dust the inside of the pan with a few teaspoons of cake flour and set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large mixing bowl. With and electric mixer, slowly beat in the butter until just incorporated. Beat in the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time. Mix the vanilla and milk and slowly beat this in until everything is just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 30 - 32 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick or wooden skewer. Cool completely before removing from the pan and decorating.