Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Legend of Zelda – The Birthday Cake

My son, the Boy, turned eighteen and graduated from high school all in the same month. We just had to do something amazing to celebrate. For me, something amazing means making birthday cake. It also means trying out new recipes.

The Boy is an unabashed Legend of Zelda fan. He's spent hours and hours (and days and days and weeks and weeks and ... you get the idea) playing most of the different Zelda games and, to be honest, I've spent hours and hours (do we have to go through this again?) watching him. He good at them, and some of the story lines are pretty cool so, it's kind of hard to look away from the screen. When the Boy's birthday rolled around, it was obvious. I had to make him a cake with a Legend of Zelda theme.

I was kind of pressed for time, but there wasn't a box of cake mix from downstairs, so I decided to make a chocolate cake from scratch, frosting and all. I tried out a particularly rich looking recipe this time around. Mixing up the batter was a nightmare with this recipe. It just seemed too thick, almost as thick as frosting. There must have been a mistake in the recipe, I thought so, I added extra milk until I thinned it down just a bit. It was still a lot thicker than most recipes I've made, even after adding what amounted to an additional cup of milk.

That was mistake number one.

The cake rose beautifully in the oven, but the center just wouldn't cook. I ended up having to bake it for nearly twenty minutes more than the recipe suggested. That wasn't the only problem, though. Because I'd thinned it down, there wasn't enough structure to hold the cake up and it fell before it was done cooking.

Oh, the cake was still tasty and moist. Melt in your mouth moist. It had insanely rich chocolate flavor, too. It was just half the thickness it should be and about as dense as bread pudding.

When things start to go wrong, I can get impatient, so I took it out on the frosting. That was mistake number two.

The home-made frosting came out great, I just didn't wait long enough to let the cake fully cool. When I tried spreading it over the top of the cake, it melted like butter on hot toast. Not the look I was going for.

I was able to salvage things by stopping and letting it cool down a bit more. This included a side a trip to the refrigerator for good measure, but it still looked funny.

Next came the Legend of Zelda part. I had found a copy of the Crest of Hyrule online and made a template of it. I had made yellow granulated sugar to dust the top of the cake with. In the past, when I've used powdered sugar or cocoa to pull off this trick, I'd been able to get away with printing the template out on regular copy paper and cutting it out. Thinking nothing of the relative mass of granulated sugar, when compared to powdered sugar, or the stiffness of copy paper, I laid the template over the cake and dusted it with a healthy helping of colored sugar.

This was mistake number three.

It turns out that granulated sugar is much heaver than powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Duh. Melted frosting is much sticker than regular frosting, too. Double duh. When I went to remove the template, the paper collapsed, sending mounds of yellow sugar down onto the cake while simultaneously taking away a large amount of frosting. It was almost like the sugar and frosting had magically changed places.

Seeing the paper covered in melted chocolate, I wondered if this was how the birds in the Gulf of Mexico feel after taking a dunk in the oil spill. I can just hear them explaining things to their wives, “I'm sorry I'm so late, Dear. I was going after a fish when suddenly everything went horribly wrong. I was covered in black slime and couldn't fly. Some weird humans captured me and cleaned me up. Honest! That's where this blond feather came from. There are no other birds than you, Dear.”

Fortunately my family wasn't home at the time so, I could try and fix things before having to explain the mess to my bird.

First, I blew off as much of the excess sugar as I could. Hours later would I realize that it would all collect in the spaces behind my sink, making the back-splash sparkle. Next, I took the left over frosting and smoothed things out as much as I could, covering the remaining sugar. It worked. Sort of. Not really. It was a nice chocolatey color, but the texture was rather, shall we say, granular?

Now I had to make another template. This time I didn't just print it on copy paper. I pasted the paper to cardboard and cut it out with a hobby knife. About twenty minutes, a cut finger and two adhesive bandages later, I had a template better suited to the job.

While cutting the new template, I had put the cake in the refrigerator in the blind hope that the frosting would harden up just a bit, and not stick so badly to the new template. After placed the new template, I sprinkled the sugar over the cake, gently this time. Things were looking up. I had decided to sprinkle it sparingly, putting on thin coats like a painter might when painting a wall. This time, removing the template was a much easier task. There were still a few bits of frosting that came away with the template, but not much; it was easy enough to smooth out. I cleaned up the crest with strategic sprinklings of more sugar and pronounced it good.

Maybe good isn't the right word. Finished? Abandoned? I guess that's as accurate as anything else.

In spite of the trouble, the fallen cake, and my fallen pride, the Boy loved it. He pronounced it, “The coolest cake, ever!” He hasn't seen the really cool Legend of Zelda cakes I have, but that's okay. He was happy with the cake and his birthday. His smile made every moment of frustration, pain and bloodletting, worth it.

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