Thursday, October 4, 2012

Addy's "Backson" Birthday Cake

Last month I went to California, in part, to celebrate my niece Addy's 2nd birthday. I asked my brother, Jeffrey, and sister-in-law, Patricia if I could make Addy's cake. Before leaving New York I talked back and forth with them to see what kind of cake the little munchkin desired. Every time they asked, Addy's answer was always, "Backson!" Who is Backson, you ask? It's okay, I had no idea either. Backson is an elusive character in the new Disney Winnie the Pooh movie, a big fluffy monster with a gold nose ring. That's who. Backson's a pretty big deal to Addy, so I was excited to make her cake, but a little nervous to tackle it as I knew it had to look just right. 

After hitting up the New York Cake & Bake Shop, I packed my suitcase with cake spatulas, cardboard cake boards, food coloring, piping bags and tips, and oh yeah, clothes. The day before the party, I got an early start making the cake as I knew it would take all day. Trish wanted a white cake and we decided on American buttercream frosting as it's quick to make and very sweet, perfect for all the kiddies in attendance at the party. White cake, because it's not very sweet, was a nice match for the frosting. I put some mini chocolate chips in the cake batter which looked like confetti sprinkled throughout. 

Jeff and Trish had warned me how much Addy loves flour. While I was mixing the dry ingredients she started eating handfuls of flour. I don't think I've ever known anyone to eat plain flour and actually enjoy it. She went on for so long, Trish had to finally stop her for fear of altering the recipe! It was pretty dang cute.

When the cake started to take form and I began applying the purple frosting Addy exclaimed, "So purple!" Followed by, "I'm so excited!" She was so giddy, we put her in her highchair so she could see her Backson come to life firsthand (and to give Uncle a few tips here and there). The finishing touch was adding the meringue horns and nose ring. I brushed the ring with gold colored edible dusting powder to give it a little sparkle and shine. Nine hours later the cake was complete and I was covered in purple frosting. Trish was very sweet and kept trying to get me to sit down and take a break- but thankfully I didn't, as I would have been up all night with Backson! I didn't mind, because seeing Addy so happy and excited was worth every minute!

After the cake was finished we had to explain to Addy that we had to wait until the following day to eat it (luckily I had some cake scraps which I frosted and she ate). As we didn't have a cake box, my brother built a protective shield out of plastic wrap and water glasses to deter their cat Hobbie, who loves butter and frosting, (and frankly, who can blame him). It was an ingenious contraption! 

On the day of her party, Addy looked adorable in her purple outfit, which perfectly matched the Backson (along with her mama's dress and all the streamers and banners). Naturally, Addy requested a purple piece of cake, so with that, she must have been in purple heaven! 

After the party, Addy walked over to the table, got on her tippy toes, and asked, "Where's the Backson?" We all froze for a minute, looked at each other, and said, "In our bellies!" Fortunately, she laughed and thought that was pretty funny. Tantrums did not ensue- phew! Love my little niece to pieces and am so glad I got to make her cake! Happy 2nd Birthday Addy!

Adapted from Jennifer Appel, The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook

6 cups cake flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cup (2 2/3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups whole milk
4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
8 large egg whites, room temperature
2 cups mini semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 x 13-inch baking pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, grease again, and lightly flour. Set aside.

Place a fine mesh strainer or sieve over a large bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. In a large measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla extract mixture, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, on the high speed of an electric or handheld mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter, making sure no streaks of white are showing. Then carefully stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on a wire rack, before frosting with my American buttercream frosting recipe below. 

Makes 2 9x13-inch sheet cakes

SIMPLE SYRUP MIXTURE (for brushing on the cake later on)

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.



1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 lb. box (3 3/4 cups) confectioner's sugar, sifted
3 to 4 tbsp. whole milk
Red and purple Gel paste food coloring

In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric or handheld mixer and add salt. Gradually add confectioner's sugar, one cup at a time, beating well at medium speed, alternating with the milk. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl often. Add vanilla and continue to beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the frosting to keep it from drying out. Refrigerate if making a day ahead, or freeze for long term storage. Allow to come to room temperature and stir well before using. For the Backson cake, I made 3 batches of frosting (enough to frost one layer and the entire exterior of cake).

To create the various colors, separate the approximate amount of frosting you'll need for each color (I simply eyeball this). Place each amount in a separate bowl and create the colors of your choosing. Stir the food coloring in with a small spatula or spoon until completely incorporated and the desired colors are achieved. For this cake, I created six different colors: plain white frosting for the teeth, red for the hair, deep purple for the face, two different light purples for the inner mouth and nose, and pink for the tongue.  

A note on food coloring: I prefer to use soft gel paste food coloring instead of liquid food coloring. The liquid coloring (commonly found in most grocery stores) often adds too much liquid to the frosting, altering it's final consistency and making it potentially runny. Gel paste food coloring can be found at any baking supply store or online.

Adapted from Saveur, Issue #39

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
2 large egg whites
2 pinches cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Gold colored edible dusting powder
Small paint brush for applying powder

Preheat oven to 200°. Combine sugar and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling pan several times until sugar has dissolved, 1–2 minutes. Uncover pan and continue to boil until syrup reaches softball stage or 236° on a candy thermometer, about 4 minutes more.

Put egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk and beat on medium speed until frothy, then add cream of tartar and salt. Gradually increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form, about 30 seconds. Slowly pour in sugar syrup while continuing to beat until whites cool to room temperature and become thick and shiny, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in vanilla. 

Use a rubber spatula to transfer meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" plain pastry tip. Pipe the meringue into various sizes of horns and rings on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Set aside for 5 minutes. Lightly moisten a fingertip in cold water and gently smooth out the meringue (don't use too much water, or the meringue will collapse- which happened to me with the horns).

Bake meringues for 1½ to 2 hours. Turn off oven and allow meringues to rest in oven until dry and crisp, about 1 hour more. The meringue shapes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Place the two sheet cakes side by side on two cardboard cake boards (found at any baking supply store). If you'll be moving the cake, tape the two boards together prior to assembling the cake (or buy one large board to fit the size of both cakes). If creating two layers, split the two cakes in half lengthwise. Lightly brush the cut-side of the cakes with the simple syrup mixture (to keep moist). Frost the cut-side of the cake and place the second layer on top. 

Tape a few pieces of plain white paper together to match the size of the sheet cakes. Draw an outline of the Backson's face (I referenced the picture I've posted above). Cut the paper face out and use as a template for cutting the cake. Lay the paper template on the cake and using a medium size serrated knife, cut around the template to create the face. Brush the top of the cake with the simple syrup mixture and begin frosting the Backson face (frost the sides of the cake last). 

To create the face, frost Backson's purple face first, leaving a space where his mouth would be. Next, frost the sides of the cake. Using a small cake spatula, frost the light purple mouth. Then pipe the pink tongue over the light purple and smooth out. Pipe the white teeth on using the plain frosting, and smooth them out with a small spatula. Frost the red hair next, frosting the top of the cake first, then the sides. Pipe on the light purple nose and smooth it out with a small spatula. Put the nose ring into place and stick the horns on the top of the head. Yes, as you can imagine it will take all day, but have fun with it!

  • I realize few people are interested in making a Backson cake, but these same recipes and methods can be applied to any large sheet cake you have in mind.

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