Friday, June 7, 2013

Rock Climbing Party - Part 3, THE PARTY!

My daughter just celebrated her 10th birthday.  I know this is the ulitmate cliche, but where did the time go?  My beautiful little Gerber Baby has grown into a beautiful young lady, poised on the edge of tweendom, growing like a lovely sunflower - I love her to pieces and am so proud of the independent, smart, caring person she is becoming. 

We celebrated this milestone birthday with a joint birthday party with her dear friend, E.  Both girls turned 10 within a few days of one another (which is remarkable in our district, where tons of the kids are "red-shirted", i.e. parents opt to hold their kids back before starting kindergarten, which means that kids start school at 6 instead of 5.  A lot of the 4th graders in her class were 10 at the beginnging of the year.  I had never heard of choosing to hold your kids back before moving here...).  Anyhoo, both girls wanted a rock climbing party, so we doubled up on the fun with a duel party.  Their joint party was a great success.  The two birthday girls had an amazing time climbing and being feted by their friends.  Here are some of the highlights.

Pizza and drinks were included in the package, so our only food contribution was birthday cake.  For E., there were from-scratch cupcakes with Etsy flamingo toppers.  For my M., I made a kit-kat cake with peacock-colored M&M's on top.  I made the cake from a butter recipe mix, but amped up the fun by using my checkerboard pan.  I finished it off with a cardstock pennant and sound some cool Wilton candles with blue and green flames.  (I set the orange and red candles aside to use at the Skylanders party next month...)  To make the moment special for both girls, we sang to each one separately.

The cake table served as the focal point for decor.  It was topped with a (wrinkly!  boo!) white cloth (a thrift store sheet that I repurposed).  I wish it wasn't so wrinkly - how do you get linens to a destination without wrinkles?  The cloth was adorned with handmade name banners for each girl (denim triangles with iron-on letters sewn to seam binding). 

I made a little vignette with glittery initials, some sentimental baby pics, and a fun pic of both girls together with a birthday message added in Picasa.  The backdrop was made from my tissue paper garland mounted with zip ties from Dollar Tree.  I had planned to mount them on painted wooden dowels, but that didn't work.  I improvised and zip-tied them to the pipe railing instead - it looked awesome!

Scattered on the table were the various favors - a water bottle and free climbing coupon provided by the facility, little cello bags filled with shimmer gumballs (last minute addition when I remembered that we had a ton leftover from Easter) stapled with a scrapbook paper topper, and monogrammed favor bags filled with pop rocks, a carabineer, and a little thank you note mounted on pretty scrapbook paper.  The note read "Thank you for your generous donation.  We're so glad that you were able to help us celebrate our 10th birthdays.  E and M".  We went with a generic thank you since there was no way to know who gave what to the birthday girls.  This was because our girls opted to not receive gifts and instead asked guests to consider bringing an item to donate to their chosen charities - a local food cupboard for M. and local animal shelter for E.  This really warms my heart.  Once upon a time, I was one of those poor kids RECEIVING food from food cupboards like this one, so it makes me so happy that our family can give back and also that my child WANTS to give back.  Not every kid would be willing to pass up birthday presents like this, so kudos to you, E. and M.!  To make transport easy, we brought plastic bins to serve as the donation receptacle.  Each birthday girl made a sign for their charity to add to the bin.

Checkerboard Kit-Kat Cake

As I've mentioned before, I am cake-challenged.  When I need a cake, I try to put a lot of thought into the plans to make sure that it's something I can do successfully.  My oh-so-practical daughter helps me to stay humble on track.  We'll look at cakes online and she'll say, "Do you REALLY think you can make that, Mommy?  Remember the castle cake..."  She'll totally discourage me from trying something if she thinks it's too ambitious.  She is wise beyond her years.

So for this birthday, I wanted to do something that was fun and likely to be a hit with a group of kids, but most importantly, was within the scope of my abilities.  I saw something called a Kit-Kat Cake on Pinterest and thought that with a few tweaks (making a checkerboard cake and swapping the regular M&M's for specialty ones in her fave colors of aqua, lime, teal, and purple), it would fit the bill.

As mentioned before, I always like to do a demo cake if I can.  Once again, it was well worth the trouble and expense.  I realized many things...  1st that 1 box of cake mix was not enough to yield cake layers tall enough to match up with the Kit-Kat sticks.  I also ran out of blue batter and it was very hard to match the hue later with only a small amount of batter (see the dark greenish bit in the center - that was trying to be blue). 

I also did not have enough Kit-Kats!  For the demo, I purchased 4 of the king-size ones and was short several sticks.  Doh!

Learnings here - this cake needs 2 boxes of mix to yield taller layers.  One box-worth of batter should be tinted green and the other box tinted blue.  2 cans of frosting would be good as well.  And 5 king-size Kit-Kats are definitely be in order.  The amount of M&M's was good - about a pound.

I also learned that I should not do the frosting and Kit-Katting too far in advance.  The demo cake was made a day before eating and even though it was stored in a sealed cake carrier, the Kit-Kats definitely had a stale taste to them.  For the real cake, I baked it a day before, let cool overnight, and frosted and added Kit-Kats just a little before.

To achieve the checkerboard effect, I used my handy-dandy checkerboard cake kit.  I received it as gift from my hubby for our 1st Christmas as husband and wife - aww!  It consists of three round pans, each with a detachable plastic insert that looks like a 3-ring bulls eye.  The idea is to alternate the layers of color - 2 pans should have the same pattern and the third should be the opposite.  So if 2 pans are blue green blue, the third should be green blue green.  You add the batter, remove the inserts, and bake normally.  When assembling, put blue green blue on the bottom, then green blue green, then top with blue green blue.  When the cake is cut, it looks checkered.  My tip for adding the colored batter...  spoon your batter into a large ziploc baggie, snip off a end (make a deep snip - about an inch), and pipe it in.  It's much easier than trying to spoon or pour the batter into the rings.  Another tip is to choose a recipe that makes a fairly thick batter - the ring inserts are not attached to the bottom of the pan, so a really runny batter would seep under the inserts and ruin the effect.  I made this with Pillsbury Butter recipe mix (don't judge!), which yields a really nice, thick batter and a sturdy, dense cake.

Here's the finished product.

I was very pleased with it!  After baking and cooling overnight, the assembly of the cake only took about 30 minutes.  That let a little time to pop it in the fridge before leaving for the party (it was 94oF and HUMID on the day, so we wanted to chill it a bit as a preemptive strike against melty fosting.) 
The checkerboard effect was very cool - I love my checkerboard cake pan!  I wish that I had taken a close-up of the inside of the cake, but as I mentioned, it was 94oF and HUMID and - surprise!  The facility wasn't airconditioned.  So I was a little off my game with heat delirium.  Sorry!  You can sort of see it here...

And lastly, I topped the cake with a homemade pennant.  I used twine and scrapbook paper to make it.  I wanted to spell out my daughter's name, but she insisted on "10" and "M" only.  This being my 1st go-round with a cake pennant, they ended up a little wonky.  I wasn't sure that the straws would stay up unsupported, so I threaded bamboo skewers through the straws for extra oomph.  Unfortunately, the skewers I brought were longer than the straws, so I had to deeply angle them to not show.  Next time - shorter or no skewers are the way to go.

This cake was a HUGE hit with kids AND adults.  I'm adding this to my easy showstopper arsenal...  Kit Kat Cake, meet Rose Cake!