Toddler Birthday Cake

My little man recently turned three and I made him a birthday cake. My original plan was to use my kid’s birthday as an occasion to try out the Halekulani coconut cake recipe I found, but hubby pointed out that a three year old cannot have a plain, simple, all-white cake and the birthday cake needed to be something fun. Wanting to avoid colored frosting in a can and knowing my own limitations when it came to pastry bag decorating, I made the mistake of going on Pinterest, the place to go if you’re ever feeling like you need to feel inadequate in life. First of all, who are these people who make fondant at home!?! Also, it is ill-advised to go on Pinterest the day before an event.

After some searching, I found these “Easy Little Pandas” on a great baking blog called Bakerella and figured I can make mini chocolate cupcakes instead. I didn’t use the cupcake recipe from Bakerella but used the Barefoot Contessa’s chocolate ganache cupcake recipe instead.

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
From the Barefoot Contessa Parties Cookbook

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 16 oz can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add flour and mix just combined – do no overbeat. Pour batter into lined mini-muffin tins and bake for 30 min or until set in the middle. Let cool thoroughly in the pan.

While I usually frost these with chocolate ganache, for the pandas, I made the swiss buttercream recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Swiss Buttercream
From Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 13 tbsp of unsalted butter softened (1 stick and 5 tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers. Transfer mixture to a big bowl and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Mix in vanilla. Add the butter a stick at a time and whip for about 10-15 min until it reaches frosting consistency. During the whipping process, this frosting will look like it might curdle but just keep whipping and it will come together.

To decorate, I piped a glob of frosting onto the top of each cupcake. I did not having “sanding sugar” and found that unless you go to some specialty baking supply store or order it online, you cannot find such a thing at your local grocery store. Since this was a night-before-the-party kind of baking project, I used white sparkling sugar I found at Safeway and powder-fied it with a couple pulses in a coffee grinder. I also had a hard time finding edible ink pens so I used black frosting in a tube to create the eyes.

Panda Cupcakes

Although these were not completely impossible to recreate like most other things on Pinterest, between dividing out the white confetti pieces from the rest of the colors, separating out individual tiny flakes of chocolate jimmies and carefully placing the three parts that make up the panda eyes and mouths onto a million tiny cupcakes, I would not exactly call it “easy.”

In the end, I wanted little man to have a real cake so I made the Halekulani cake without the coconut. The sponge cake was light, springy and delicately flavored and the pastry cream was amazing. I frosted it with the whipped cream frosting from the recipe and used the same cupcake decorating technique to put two more panda faces on the cake.

Panda Birthday Cake

Little Miss came out to Davis to help celebrate and everyone had a choice of chocolate panda cupcake or a piece of delicious birthday cake or both. The birthday boy was beyond excited about his birthday cake and his little face when he saw the cake made all my fretting totally worth it.

Birthday Boy

Cupcakes & Coffee Cake

Spice

As I mentioned in the post below, Little Miss demanded that I make coconut cupcakes for her bridal shower. While I am normally not a coconut person, I make exceptions for a few coconut items – the coconut cake at the Halekulani in Honolulu and the coconut cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa store in my hometown of Bonac, aka East Hampton. The Barefoot Contessa was a specialty store on Newtown Lane that sold prepared foods, delectable dessert items and $4 lattes back in 1992. Not being much of a baker, my mom was a frequent shopper and when I worked in town, I always had a friend or two who worked there that would sneak me a cupcake or two. I always said that when I got married I wanted a cupcake tower full of coconut and chocolate ganache cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa instead of a wedding cake.

Alas, by the time I got married, the Barefoot Contessa store was no longer (I had to settle for an equally amazing wedding cake made by the talented pastry crew at the Halekulani), but its proprietor, Ina Garten has made quite a name for herself with a slew of cookbooks (I even accompanied her to a book signing party as a bookseller when her first cookbook came out) and a show on the food network. I love her cookbooks and watching her show, not just because it reminds me of home and features places and people I grew up with, but because her recipes are easy and delicious. Her cookbooks are filled with all the stuff from her store that I used to love (see shrimp salad) including this recipe for coconut cupcakes. Through the years, I have made these cupcakes for birthdays, baby showers and bridal showers and have converted all my friends, including Little Miss, into coveting these cupcakes. This recipe can also be modified into a layer cake.

Coconut Cupcakes
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten

Makes about 18-20 large cupcakes or 3 dozen small cupcakes and 1 dozen large cupcakes

  • 3 sticks of butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 oz sweetened, shreeded coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degeees.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after every addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In three parts, alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk to batter, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined and fold in 7 oz of coconut.

Line muffin pan with paper liners (I usually make a mix of mini muffins and regular sized muffins). Fill each cup to the top with batter. Bake for 20-30 min, until tops are brown and toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 min then remove to cooling rack to cool completely. Frost with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with coconut.

Cream Cheese Icing
Note: This is a halved recipe since I always found I had way too much icing left over but if you’re into lots of icing on your cupcakes, double the quantities here.

  • 1 package (1/2 lb) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 stick of butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3/4-1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Blend together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add powdered sugar to taste and mix until smooth.

Streusel Coffee Cake
I also included the recipe we attached to the bridal shower favors for a moist streusel coffee cake that I make when I have leftover plain yogurt that I need to use up (why are those containers so big?). This recipe is not from the Barefoot Contessa but is always a big hit with my co-workers.

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 stick cold butter
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter room temp
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

Mix first five ingredients together to make streusel. Set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix eggs in one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in vanilla.

Fold in dry ingredients and yogurt alternately in thirds beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour half batter into a bundt pan, sprinkle with streusel. Pour in rest of batter and top with streusel. Bake for 55 min in bundt pan at 350°. Cool on rack.