Animal Crackers: The Cake
Playing off of the invitations and her love of carousels, I envisioned a tall round cake with two tiers, three layers each, in a creamy yellow with colorful frosting polka dots and topped with a miniature carousel made of animal crackers.
Being 3 months pregnant at the time I looked for ways to save time on this cake monstrosity, by using cake mixes, jams, store bought frosting and ribbon. Even so, I crawled into bed at 3 a.m. the night before the party. Crazy momma! What we won’t do for our children.
The Cake Tiers: Each tier of the cake was 3 layers, with each layer being a different kind of cake. I chose a confetti white cake mix, a lemon yellow cake mix, and a decadent chocolate cake mix for the three layers. Layering the cake in the following order for each tier; chocolate, confetti white, and lemon yellow; I placed raspberry jam between the chocolate and the confetti white cakes and then orange marmalade between the confetti and the lemon yellow cakes. This combination of cakes and jams may sound bizarre, but it was surprisingly tasty!
Tip: Make sure to use dowel rods which you can find at any cake or craft store for stability. Place them down in the center of the bottom cake. It will keep a cake this tall from sliding or falling.
The Frosting: For the frosting I used a store-bought cream cheese frosting that I had planned on tinting a pale yellow. As luck would have it, it turned out to be the perfect color straight from the can. Make sure you have 4-6 cans of frosting to frost a cake like this. The keys to eliminating the crumbs from your frosting is to spread it on thick in long sweeping strokes and if there is time to do a crumb coat I highly suggest it. A crumb coat is a first layer of frosting that is allowed to dry or set in the fridge overnight. This ensures that the second coat will be virtually crumb free. Sadly, I did not have time for a crumb coat on this cake and it was not crumb free. Fortunately, two-year-olds are forgiving little people. Spreading the frosting on thick with the second coat will ensure a more even surface and will prevent your spatula from sticking to the cake or the crumb coat and pulling it up.
Now, comes the hardest part and that is smoothing the frosting out. I have yet to master this skill, but I hope one day to perfect it. I have found that longer sweeping strokes with the full-length of the spatula smooth better than shorter, choppier strokes with only the end of the spatula pressing the frosting. Another very useful tip I learned in 4-H years ago, was to dip your spatula in a cold glass of water, gently shake the excess water off and then smooth over rough spots. It really helps!
The Decorations: As a last minute stroke of, what I thought was genius, I decided to use ribbon on the bottom half of the cake for my stripes rather than frosting. It saves you from having to get the stripes perfectly even, smooth and spaced correctly with a piping bag, which can be very difficult. I was also running low on frosting and wanted to have enough for the polka-dots. I alternated colored ribbon stripes all the way around the entire bottom half of the cake. I measured out the ribbons, cut them all at the same time and then tacked them on with frosting. To cover the uneven spots at the top and bottom, where the ribbons ended, I piped coordinating polka-dots in alternating colors around the base of the top and bottom tiers. This technique saved oodles of time.
I then wrote Avery’s name on the top tier at the front in a font similar to what I had used on her invitations. Being a graphic designer and someone who LOVES fonts this is fairly easy for me to freehand. If it’s not easy for you, try printing out the letters in your font of choice to the exact size you want them. Then cut them out and carefully arrange them on the cake. Take a toothpick and trace around them in the frosting and then peel the paper letters off the cake. Pipe the letters with alternating colors.
After piping in the name, I placed medium and large polka-dots in the various colors all over the top tier of the cake and piped a very small border of tiny dots in alternating colors all the way around the edge of the cake top. Mine were somewhat sloppy as I was getting very tired at that point!
The Carousel: To make the carousel I took a small hand-held flag that had a finial at its top and carefully removed the flag and staples. Using the pole as the center of my carousel, I placed it down in the center of the top cake to the height I preferred. I then took 5 colored toothpicks and stuck them down in the outer edges of the cake top at even intervals. I took the same colored ribbons I had used on the cake, measured them out and then using a thin strip of teal-colored duck tape, I taped them all to the center pole at the very top, just below the finial by winding the tape around the top of the pole about 3 times to secure the ribbon (Please make sure that the ribbon is spaced around the pole evenly and not taped down in the same spot).
I set up 4 or 5 animal crackers marching in a circle around the pole as if on a carousel and then
strung the ribbon out toward the toothpicks (one ribbon per toothpick), to make my tented carousel. I poked the ribbon through the top of each toothpick to hold it in place. (Make sure there is some slack in the ribbon before you poke the tip of the toothpick through it. You want the ribbon to swag a little between the flag pole and the tooth pick to resemble a tent. Allow about 4″ of ribbon to hang down from the other side of the toothpick.) Now you have a miniature carousel. For extra measure stick a parade of animal crackers somewhere around the base of the cake.