Zoe had a birthday last weekend. She turned four, and like all little girls between the ages of 0 and 103, she naturally wanted a Disney Frozen-themed party.
Pro-tip: Always say DISNEY before FROZEN, unless you want to get weird looks from people when you say you looked everywhere, but you couldn’t find any Frozen stuff. They’ll give you the side eye and be like “Um, there’s a whole section right over there. You know, ice cream? Pizzas? Pancake-wrapped sausages on a stick? It’s really cold?”
And you’ll be like “DISNEY FROZEN. ANNA, ELSA, ET CETERA.”
Say it with me DISNEY Frozen. DISNEY Frozen. DISNEY Frozen.
Anyway. We found a pack of napkins. That’s it. I wasn’t sure how the rest of the theme was going to go down, but God as my witness, sugar-hyped children were going to wipe their sticky, frosting-covered mouths with Anna’s smiling face.
So we decided to go “Disney Frozen-esque.” Lots of blue and white. Sparkly tulle on the table. Cupcakes decorated with blue and white frosting, adorned with little sugar sprinkles, candy pearls, and blue rock candy. They were, if I may say so myself, THE BOMB.
I love decorating cupcakes. It seriously takes almost no skill. But this time I wanted to take on a new challenge.
The ombre cake was calling me. Ombre is fancy talk for a fade or gradation of colors, usually from light to dark. I have an art degree, therefore I felt suited to take on this challenge. My professors would be so proud.
One thing you should know about me: I’m a closet Pinterest mom. Like, I totally suck at planning parties (SUCK) and my house is rarely appropriate for even the most casual of photographs. But I love making stuff. I am not a incestual pinner; I only pin what I really intend I to go back and refer to. I don’t always get around the the actual making of the actual stuff, but cakes and cupcakes are kinda my thing. I just love being able to fulfill their requests on my own. Like, I did this. You know?
(Not that there’s anything wrong with buying a cake because store bought cakes are DELICIOUS.)
So if you are looking to make an ombre cake, here are some things you should know, from the standpoint of a non-professional and completely unorganized woman who often messes things up. Also, I have almost no process photos, because 1) I really wasn’t planning on blogging it. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat; and 2) when I bake, it looks like a tasty, powdered sugary bomb went off in my kitchen. It doesn’t make for appealing photos. I said I USE Pinterest. I didn’t say that I was actually Pinterest worthy.
Anyway, the tips. A realist’s guide to making an ombre cake.
• I made a 3-layer cake with blue, light blue, and white layers. Get this whitest cake mix you can. I used vanilla cake mix, which was not exactly completely white, so it made the blue cake look a wee green. Don’t even think about going for yellow cake mix unless you have a color wheel-related death wish.
• I’d love to tell you how many drops of food coloring I used in each layer, but I can’t take on that kind of responsibility. Just start with 2 drops in one, 1 drop in another, and obviously your white later needs no drops. Adjust accordingly, depending on how deep you want your blues. Don’t go too deep on the middle layer. You may think it’s too light, but it will look great once stacked between the darker blue and the white.
• If you are into planning ahead (I scoff at the thought), get as many pans as you have layers. Even if you can’t cook them all at the same time, you’ll at least be able to pop the new ones in when you take the done ones out.
• Your layers are thinner than the average cake, so tell the cook times on the box to go to hell. I divided one box of mix into 3 pretty thin layers, and they cooked in about 15 minutes or so (the box called for 28ish minutes). Mine looked a little, er, done when I took them out. That’s what frosting is for.
Now for the frosting.
• Unfortunately (for me) frosting a cake is not nearly as simple as frosting cupcakes. Also, do you frost a cake? Ice a cake? No idea. [puts third spoonful of frosting in mouth]
• I make my own buttercream frosting like a boss. Over the years I’ve used about 8 different recipes, and this one here is probably my favorite. It’s the salt that makes it eat-it-with-the-biggest-spoon-you-have YUM. I recommend making 2 batches. You’ll need some to, um, taste.
• Two words: CRUMB COAT. This is a thin layer of frosting that serves as a base for the actual frosting. Think of it as primer for your cake. Frosting cakes (icing cakes? GAH.) is not for the impatient or rushed. Girl, get the crumb coat on there and you can thank me later. Stick it in the fridge so it can dry before you apply the real frosting. What I wish I had known: thin the crumb coat frosting a little with water, to make it easier to spread.
• Now you may notice after stacking your layers that your cake is lopsided. You will come to accept this, because that frosting in between is as good as glue. Don’t try to unstick the layers. No good will come of it. It just creates more work for you.
• I separated the frosting equally into 3 bowls. I started with 2 drops of color in one, 1 drop in the other, and I left the third bowl white. I eventually added another drop to each of the blues.
• Put the cake on a flat surface. Starting at the bottom, I slathered on the darker blue, then the lighter blue in the middle, then the white around the top. Tiny Elmo rubber spatulas come in great use here.
• No, adding more frosting on that side will NOT even out your lopsided creation. The sooner you fail to care, the sooner we can just eat this damn cake.
You’ll notice that my cake is not going to win any beauty contests. The frosting is what I like to call “messy chic.” Like women who spend half an hour trying to appear as if they just rolled out of bed. My Frozen-esque theme is minimal at best. But lucky for me, mediocrity is kinda my thing. I can’t make myself care too much about this stuff, because I have no more damns to give about perfection. I just want my kids to remember that making their cakes is something I love to do. It’s important to me. Just not important enough to freak out over a little lopsidedness.
So. The moral of the story is: Lower your expectations. Eat some cake. Be happy.