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Video: Quest for the best: Homemade birthday cake

TODAY recipes
updated 6/28/2012 9:17:50 AM ET 2012-06-28T13:17:50

Recipe: Whimsical Garden Cake (Chocolate cake with Italian meringue buttercream frosting and marshmallow fondant)

  • For the chocolate cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup special dark cocoa (can also use Dutch-processed), sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temp
  • 1/2 cup water, boiling
  • For the Italian meringue buttercream frosting:
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 superfine (castor) sugar
  • 6 sticks unsalted butter
  • 8 large egg whites
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • For the decorator's icing:
  • 2 cups shortening
  • 2 lbs confectioners’ sugar (about 8 cups)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use 1 percent), plus or minus, weather depending
  • 1 tsp vanilla (clear for a bright white frosting)
  • 1 tsp glycerin, optional (recommended to make colors brighter)
  • For the marshmallow fondant:
  • 8 cups or 2 lbs confectioners' sugar, finely sifted
  • 1 1/2 bags of mini marshmallows (standard size bags)
  • 1/4 cup water

To make the chocolate cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the shortening and sugar, scrape sides of bowl and then beat in egg and vanilla.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Mix. Add all at once to the sugar/shortening/egg mixture.

3. Boil the water. At the same time, beat in the milk and boiling water.

4. Pour into greased and floured 8-by-8-inch pan or 18-cupcake pan.

5. Bake 30-40 minutes or until wood pick comes out clean. Let cook in pan for 10 minutes, then remove completely to cool.

To make the Italian meringue buttercream frosting:
Note: egg whites and butter should be taken out ahead of time, several hours, to allow them to naturally reach room temperature.

1. Heat the water and 1 1/4 cup sugar over medium high heat until it reaches about 250 degrees F. Stir occasionally.

2. While that is heating, place all egg whites in a large mixer and beat on high speed (about level 6-8) until foamy. Add in cream of tartar and beat to soft peaks. At soft peak stage add in the superfine sugar. Beat to stiff peaks.

3. Add in the 250-degree water/sugar mixture to the egg white mix while the mixer is on low speed. Try not to let it touch too much metal.

4. Beat at high speed until the mixture has reached room temperature (by feel of the bowl).

5. While that is beating, cut up your butter in tablespoon sizes.

6. Once egg whites in large bowl are at room temperature (which take a considerable amount of time), add in the butter about 3-4 tablespoons at a time, being conscious to scrape the sides of the bowl once in a while. For this, beat on medium-high speed (about level 5-6).

7. Once all the butter is incorporated, beat at high speed until smooth. Then add vanilla and beat again till smooth.

Note: You can add in espresso powder or cocoa powder to add additional flavors to this icing. 

To make the decorator's icing:
1. Place shortening in a large mixing bowl. Mix on slow speed (2-3) until smooth. (You can also use half butter and half shortening depending on humidity.)

2. Add the sugar 2 cups at a time mixing at low speed (mixing at high speed will create more air bubbles and a harder-to-work-with frosting).

3. Add vanilla and glycerin (if using) and mix on low speed. Add more or less milk, mixing on low speed to get the desired consistency.

This frosting does well with cocoa added in as well for a chocolate frosting.

To make the marshmallow fondant:
1. Sift 8 cups of confectioners' sugar.

2. In a large glass bowl (about 8 cups) place the bag and a half of marshmallows and 1/4 cup of water (the water is very important).

3. Heat the marshmallows in a microwave until melted (heat 1 minute, stir, 30 seconds, stir, 15 seconds, stir, etc.).

4. Mix about half of the confectioners' sugar in the bowl with the marshmallows and stir. It will get stiff and appear to not all mix in.

5. Mix in another quarter or so if possible, if nothing more seems to mix in dump out the rest of your powdered sugar on a table that is lightly coated in shortening.

6. Dump the marshmallow mix on top of that confectioners' sugar. It may seem a bit sticky but should not be too bad and should start to clump together.

7. As it seems to stick together, start to knead the clump together, gradually mixing in the remainder of the confectioners' sugar. You may not get all the confectioners’ sugar to mix in; that is OK as long as when you break a piece off it is not sticky.

8. Form the fondant into a ball and wrap tightly and securely in cling wrap making sure that it is adequately protected from air.

9. Allow the fondant to sit for 24 hours. If at the end of this it is stiff you can microwave it to make it slightly easier to work with, but be careful not to make it too warm as it will become sticky.

Recipe: Sand Castle Cake (Dark chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse filling and peanut butter frosting)

  • For the dark chocolate cake:
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 oz dark chocolate (unsweetened)
  • 2 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee
  • (x recipe by 6)
  • For the peanut butter mousse:
  • 1 8-ounce cream cheese (soft)
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 small box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 quart heavy whipping cream
  • (x recipe by 4)
  • For the peanut butter frosting:
  • 3 sticks butter (soft)
  • 1 8-ounce cream cheese (soft)
  • 3/4 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5-6 cups powder sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • (x recipe by 3)
  • For the decorations:
  • 2 boxes graham crackers
  • 5 sugar ice cream cones that come to point
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • White chocolate

To make the dark chocolate cake:
Melt dark chocolate and set aside.

Beat together oil and sugar.

Add in one egg at a time, beating well after each one.

Add in vanilla.

Add in melted chocolate.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Add in 3/4 of flour mixture and beat well.

Add in 1/2 of buttermilk and beat well.

Continue alternating flour and buttermilk ending with flour.

Add in hot coffee.

Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees F until toothpick comes out clean.

To make the peanut butter mousse:

Beat whipping cream and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix pudding and milk. It will be a very thick paste.

Beat together cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth.

Beat in whipping cream and pudding mixture.

To make the peanut butter frosting:

Beat together butter and cream cheese until smooth.

Add in peanut butter and beat until you have no lumps.

Add in vanilla.

Beat in powder sugar 1 1/2 cups at a time until you have a stiff frosting.

With beaters on low, slowly add in whipping cream. Beat on high 1 to 2 minutes.

Add additional whipping cream if needed.

To assemble the Sand Castle Cake:

Layer cakes with peanut butter mousse in shapes and sizes to create your sand castle.

Cover pieces with peanut butter frosting and cover with crushed graham crackers for sand look.

For castle points, cover ice cream cones with melted frosting and roll in graham cracker crumbs.

Decorate with fondant and chocolate shells.

Chocolate shells are made using a candy mold. The mold is painted with a thin layer of melted chocolate, then filled with white chocolate.

Recipe: Champagne Bottle Cake with Cupcake Bubbles (Minty chocolate brownie cake)

  • 2 boxes Super Moist Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix
  • 2 boxes Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix
  • 1 box Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 13 eggs
  • 4 cups + 2 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 16 ounces 62 percent dark chocolate (chopped)
  • 2-3 tsp peppermint extract
  • 16 ounces 70 percent dark chocolate (chopped)
  • Grated rind of 2 oranges
  • Big tub of white Wilton decorator icing
  • Wilton icing colors of desired hues
  • Yellow fondant

1. Prepare both brownie mixes according to instructions (together), and bake in well-greased 11x13 baking pan.

2. Once cooled, turn out onto cake board.

3. Prepare both chocolate cake mixes according to instructions, and bake in well-greased 11x13 pan.

4. In a heavy bottom pan, heat 1 1/2 cups heavy cream just until the edges bubble. Add 62 percent chocolate and remove from heat. Stir until homogeneous.

5. Pour ganache into a mixing bowl and add the peppermint extract. Allow to cool. Once cooled, beat with mixer until color becomes lighter.

6. Spread this mixture onto the brownie.

7. Very carefully, turn out the cake on top of the brownie. You should end up with a rectangle cake — a brownie on bottom and cake layer on top with mint ganache in the middle.

8. Carve out the shape of a bottle, trying to round the top as if it were a bottle of champagne. Discard (or feed to family and friends) the parts of the cake that are not the bottle.

9. In a heavy bottom pan, slowly melt the 72 percent chocolate. Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract, if desired.

10. Pour chocolate/peppermint combo over the cake, and spread it evenly. Allow it to dry and harden (in fridge, or overnight).

11. Mix desired color into half of the icing. Once the cake is dry, spread a crumb layer onto it.  Put the rest of the icing into a piping bag and pipe stars to cover the cake.

12. Roll out the fondant and make the labels. Gently adhere them to the cake.

13. Make the yellow cake mix according to box instructions, adding the orange rind to it. Bake in mini muffin pan. When cool, ice with desired color icing.

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