So, yes.  I’m guilty of going a little bit overboard for my (older) kids’ joint birthday party each year. 
I truly am aware of this and I have resolved after talking with a dear friend, that for my own sanity, I should pace things so that such parties are thrown every 3-5 years…or at the least, every OTHER year…because each year it seems harder to keep it up. 
Oh, don’t get me wrong: it’s so very fun in the initial stages, and plans really do start rather small…ish… 
But honestly, as much as I enjoy decorating and hosting and expressing loads of culinary creativity, by the time the party is actually taking place, it’s the stinkin’ cakes that have nearly done me in, and I have absolutely no desire to ever see fondant, gumpaste or cake again for as long as I live.
(or at least for another year).
 
Not to mention this is the second year in a row that I have not had the mind on party day to bring my camera to take my own pictures of the kids and our family, let alone the beautiful cakes and decorations and games (thank you Aunt Suzy for snapping the photos seen here!).
This year we had big under-and-over-the-sea
Mermaid and Pirate Bash.
There was fishing and plank-walking, pirate fighting and treasure digging.  There was swimming and water balloon throwing and lots of family time spent just enjoying aunts, uncles, grandparents and lots of cousins!
And then…
There was CAKE.
(and let’s face it: when you’re a kid, the cake pretty much IS the party).

Over a month later, I am glad to finally getting around to posting the pictures and fun details here on the blog.

So without further ado, here is:
THE MERMAID CAKE

All cake decorations (besides the sparkly ribbon) were edible!
Some fun table details:
Little blue jello cups topped with either gummy lobsters or orange “boats” with pirate flags in them
Fish bowls filled with fishy crackers (of course) and gummy sharks
Sea star sandwiches with die-cut SEA decorations toothpicked to top of each
I loved this table set up.  It was great fun to create.  So much BLUE everywhere! 
A close-up of my little “Eden” gumpaste mermaid.  She was so cute. 
She now lives in Eden’s room, up on her bookshelf.  🙂
More gumpaste mermaid friends!  (these 2 both got a little banged up in transport.  The one on top lost many of her curly locks of hair, and the poor thing on the bottom managed to get a crack on her head).
{My inspiration for this cake came via…}
Next up is my big boy’s
 PIRATE CAKE:

Only one pic of this one–sorry! 
A couple of the other decorations I made for this particular cake broke in transport…a neat little compass rose and a tiny pirate ship…  Oh well.  It still turned out awesome.  I loved the small top layer the best with the sand and waves, but of course the birthday boy loved the pirate skeleton most! 
{My inspriation for this cake came via…}
And just for fun,
Here are a couple of pictures of last year’s cakes and confections! 
…Yes, we’ve done the pirate theme two years in a row now. I tried to suggest many other uni-sex themed parties, but I don’t know–my kids are just REALLY into pirates, and had so much fun at last year’s party, they wanted a repeat. So we only slightly changed things up this year by adding in Mermaids.
Hey– I’m not complaining. I had lots of decorations that were used twice!
Last year’s was sort of a Dora/Diego Pirate adventure party, and the cakes involved very little fondant but were still pretty labor-intensive.
…………….
This year, I was more confident with fondant and I covered all the cakes with it and had very few problems.  This was progress!
It was also fun to work with the kids to create the gumpaste and fondant figures and decorations 2-3 weeks before the party, so they were done and ready when I needed them. 
…………….

I made and froze each layer of each cake about a week before the party
(cake freezes beautifully in case you didn’t know).
 
We had a VERY hot and humid week before the party, and I was so scared that the fondant would slip off or tear or cause the cakes to sag before the party if I covered them too early (this is exactly what happened the year before with my pirate ship cake.  It literally sunk.). 
Plus I just wanted the cakes to taste as fresh as possible so I did not thaw, frost and cover them with fondant until the day OF the party.  I had all my fondant dyed and ready and all I had to do was roll it out and decorate. 
BUT–
This was still a major job and took a good 2-3 hrs early in the morning on party day, which added to my STRESS level, so I am not sure it was worth it. 
Next time, I think I will cover with fondant the night before.  Especially if the party is not at our house.  Transporting cakes is a HASSLE.
The cakes were lovely, but
Perhaps the best part was that they actually tasted so good!
(fondant-covered cakes are notorious for being rather dry and gross). 
We had a LOT of cake, but by party’s end, we hardly had anything left over. 
I think I would have felt terrible if the cakes looked pretty but actually tasted horrible.
As for the cakes themselves, here is what I baked:
For the Pirate Cake:
Large cake: Layered Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Small cake: Layered Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Icing (a doctored-up box mix)
For the Mermaid Cake:
Large cake: Layered Pink Lady Strawberry Cake (with alternating pink and blue layers)
Small cake: Layered Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing (another doctored-up box mix)
The hands-down favorite was the Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese icing.  I got the recipe here.  So, SO good, though I barely got more than a taste before it was GONE.
……………….
Well, that’s it, unless you are
Interested in expanding your cake making and decorating horizons…
And in that case, read on!
Here are some little notes you may find helpful…and some pics of some of my other cakes involving fondant.
I am still pretty new to it all, but I learn a lot each time I set out on a new cake making adventure.  My only teachers have been the many youtube tutorials I have viewed over the past couple years, and the hands-on experience gained from trial and error.
So first:
Some notes about homemade vs. box-mixed cakes when covering with fondant:
First thing I have learned the hard way: light and springy box mixes rarely cut it. 
Fondant is HEAVY.
They cannot hold up under its weight–at least not for long.
Thicker, denser cakes like pound cake or carrot cake do MUCH BETTER.
However, since I am not committed enough to make every single cake layer from scratch (at least not for a 4 and 6 year old’s bday party) I instead sometimes choose to “dense up” box mixes by adding an extra egg and a package of pudding to each.  I did this for both top layers of my cakes this year…and honestly, I thought they turned out wonderfully.  They tasted great as far as box mixes go-not dry at all, and they did well even with the heavy fondant on top. 
For me, however, the icing is not optional: I always go the homemade route.  It doesn’t even compare to the store-bought stuff.
More on icing:
When using fondant, buttercream is what most people use. 
Personally, I do sometimes enjoy buttercream icing, though many find it too sweet and thick.
I recently tried this recipe for French Buttercream and WOW, so yummy and light, it was a keeper from day one.  For all my fellow Pittsburghers, this icing closely mimics Bethel Bakery’s famous light and fluffy French Buttercream.
Other than that, I use Cream Cheese frosting very often because it’s so delish, and it does fairly well covered with fondant  (except you really can’t ice and cover the cakes more than a day in advance when using it because of spoilage issues).
Finally, ganaches work well under fondant too.  And who doesn’t love a ganache?
Tiny bananas for my (then) one year-old’s curious george cake
Notes about making layered cakes:
I am still learning how to make a really good layered cake.  I’ve made some that turned out so DRY they were just awful…it seems harder to keep them moist the  more layers you have.  But this year, I learned a great tip: before you stack your layers, and fill with icing, brush each top with a sugar-water-vanilla mixture, and they will not dry out, or not as much. 
Also, when layering cakes, you’ll want to put each layer on a cardboard, then insert cake supports into the layer below so that the layers do not sink into one another.  These wooden dowels are sold in the cake decorating sections of craft stores.
Two layered cakes, crumb-coated, frosted, and ready for fondant.
Notes about fondant:
I don’t have the energy or time to make my own marshmallow fondant, which, from what I understand, tastes best.  I buy mine (white) and color it.  But in the fondant world, there are some really horrid tasting fondants, and some pretty good tasting fondants. 
After using Wilton’s for the past couple of years, then switching to Satin Ice Fondant this year, I will never go back to Wilton again for covering a cake. 
I mean, WHAT a difference. 
Unfortunately, Wilton is sold everywhere, whereas Satin Ice is not.  Plus Wilton sells some fondant packaged so conveniently by color (like the natural colored fondant set) that it can save you a lot of time and energy.  I will keep buying Wilton for my smaller cake decorations, but never for actually rolling out to cover a cake.  Many people don’t remove the fondant from their cake–they eat it as part of the icing.  So I think it is important that the fondant actually covering the cake tastes good. 

On the other hand, the little decorative items on the cake are rarely eaten by anyone except children and they don’t really care what it tastes like as long as its sugary.

Josiah’s first birthday cake: finished!
Notes about gumpaste:
Gumpaste is much like fondant, but it contains tylose and this causes it to dry a LOT quicker, and a lot harder than fondant.  You do have to work a bit faster when you are forming your decorations from gumpaste, but it’s great for making things like figurines because it holds its shape so well.   Heavier items made from fondant can sag as they dry, but you don’t have this problem if you use gumpaste.
Gumpaste is used when you’re making things that are not to be eaten (like the mermaids seen on the cakes above…and the seaweed, and most of the shells). 
These items can be made weeks, or even months in advance, and as long as they are stored carefully, they will look as fresh and as new as when you first made them.  WHAT a time-saver!  🙂 
All the critters seen above were made entirely from fondant about 2 weeks before this farm-themed birthday party.  Most were used as cupcake toppers:

Just remember this: gumpaste items become as hard as rock, and some thought needs to be put into how they will be secured to the cake itself when the time comes to decorate. Toothpicks or wires need to be put into them as they are being made, before they dry and harden. Later, the wire stems or toothpicks can be inserted into the cakes to hold the gumpaste decorations in place.

Fondant pieces, on the other hand, can be fairly easily secured or “glued down” using water, or icing, or an egg white mixture.
………………
I hope you enjoyed reading about and seeing our fondant & cake decorating adventures. 
If you have never worked with it, don’t be afraid to give it a try! 
My recommendation: start with making cute and simple fondant cupcake toppers before going all-out and creating a fondant-covered layer cake.  These are an easier way to start getting into fondant decorating, and EVERYONE loves cupcakes.  Plus kids go crazy picking out their “personalized” cupcake at the party.
Well, that’s it for this (super long) post!
Happy Culinary Crafting everyone! 

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