confetti party cake
Cake By Elena Boaghi | July 12, 2017
There comes a time in every parent’s life when love must be expressed through buttercream, food dye, and sprinkles; I just didn’t know it would be so soon this time. For my daughter’s second birthday, I planned, as I had as had on her first and her brother’s 7 birthdays to date,* to do my best to heed the siren call of sugar and red dye 40 and then, you know, translate that into something that’s both tasty but not fully plastic. (This is all of parenting, by the way.) My plan had been to make a party-sized Swedish Princess Cake because have you had this buttery cake with custard, jam, whipped cream and a marzipan dome with a single pink rose in the middle? Nothing could be more fitting for our curly-haired wildling. But then Elmo happened.
A little sidebar: If you’ve thus spent most of your time free of toddlers, can I tell you something? It doesn’t matter whether you allow screen time, it doesn’t matter whether your precious clean slate of a human being has ever seen Sesame Street, whether you’ve bought the books or sung the songs, when children turn 18 months old, they all wake up one day obsessed with Elmo. It seems to come out of thin air. My daughter spotted this game of her brother’s out of the corner of her eye and cried EHLMA! EHMLA! until we let her walk around hugging and kissing the box. She sees a red splat of paint on the sidewalk and says “Ehlma?” My mother, witnessing this behavior in the wild, told me my daughter didn’t know or care the first thing about Swedish Princesses, but if I really wanted to put my efforts somewhere heroic, I’d make her an Elmo cake.
The problem is that I do not know how to draw Elmo. The problem is that Muppets are not splats of paint with eyes, and a line even a degree or two off goes instantly from the sweetest most heartwarming thing to Holy Creepsville. We’re talking Times Square Elmos, so close but also so unsettlingly off. In the end, though, I think things went much better than I’d expected.
You might ask, by the way, why I didn’t just draw Elmo on top of a Swedish Princess Cake since I claim to be committed to happy mediums. But I just think once you’re piping Muppets on top of a cake, you might as well grind some extra up inside it. (Shh, don’t tell the children.) You might as well go full funfetti.
So let’s talk confetti cakes. The best ones are white cakes — white cakes have no egg yolks to keep them as stark of a blank canvas as possible to show of their technicolor speckles of splendor within. They’re traditional for wedding cakes too. The problem with them is that they can be a little firm and dry. If I wanted a dry cake with a poorly drawn Elmo on top, well, I could outsource that to any grocery store bakery, right? So I began tweaking the white cake recipe I’d used previously and found that reducing the flour, the baking powder (I know!) and increasing the butter, I got a white cake as plush and perfect as the best yellow cake. I couldn’t believe it so I made it again, and then again, yielding what has to be the happiest cake I know how to make. It’s one-bowl, lit from within (with the help of some edible confetti) and basically pure joy — butter, sugar, buttermilk, vanilla.
From here, today’s cake program bifurcates. If you’re looking for a one-bowl, easy frosting, buttery, joyous birthday cake you can put together in very little time, you should make the 8×8 or 9-inch round party cake. It’s one thin layer with frosting on top. It is never unwelcome; it makes everyone happy. [Oh and please forgive the shameless self-promotion but I’d be remiss to not mention that if you’re into these kind of dead-simple, never-fail party cakes, that little cookbook I wrote that comes out this fall? Party Cake Heaven.]
But if you plan to celebrate with 2 to 3 dozen of your nearest and dearest, as we did this weekend, you will need a sheet cake. Mine was two thin layers with additional buttercream between them. It will make your dentist — and also everyone who is a kid on the inside or outside — very happy.
* Kid birthdays, previously: There have been monkey cakes (banana layers, fudge filling and frosting), bunny cakes (peaches, cream, vanilla), s’more cakes (in the first smitten kitchen cookbook, a graham cracker cake with fudge filling and marshmallow frosting), subway cakes (roasted apple chunks in a spice cake, cream cheese frosting and filling), airplane cakes (chocolate, chocolate), a rocket ship oreo cake I’ve been keeping from you because it is still too much of a pain to make as written and I don’t want you to yell at me), and a Baked Alaska.