Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mermaids and Pirates Birthday Cake

As I have mentioned, the clever girl turned 4 and had a joint birthday party with the son of one of our friends.  We do a swim party each year, and this year we chose the theme Mermaids and Pirates.  I wanted a fun cake so I did a little internet searching and I found a really cool cake idea here.    When I read the reviews I realized I would have to make a few changes, plus that cake was a only a pirate ship and I needed to incorporate a mermaid!  So, I made the pirate ship, placed it in the ocean, and put a mermaid on a rock. 

The pirate ship and the rock are made of chocolate cake, and the ocean is white cake.  We'll do the pirate ship cake first!  I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe for the pirate cake.  Seriously, this is the most moist and delicious cake, you will be amazed.  Print the recipe below and throw away all other chocolate cake recipes.  I mean it!  It is that good.

First sift together the dry ingredients.  Or, have your little sous-chef do it for you!  Then mix it all together in your mixer with a paddle attachment.

Then whisk together the wet ingredients EXCEPT for the coffee.  Add this to the dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed. 

Here is the key to this delicious recipe.  Coffee!  Adding coffee to chocolate cake brings out the chocolate flavor even more.  You will not get a coffee flavor to the cake.  I have never noticed one, anyway, and I think I would since I am not a coffee drinker.  So now the chocolate flavor is really boosted AND you have added more liquid to your batter.  You will notice that this batter is really runny, much runnier than your average cake batter.  This is what makes this cake so amazingly moist.  And it stays moist for days!  As I said, I am not a coffee drinker so I just mix up some decaffeinated instant coffee and use that.  If you actually drink coffee you can just use whatever coffee you make! It is important to have some sort of coffee on hand for your chocolate cake needs!

Pour the batter into two cake pans.  The recipe calls for 8-inch round pans but I used 8-inch square because of my plan for the ship!  And now comes the best part of baking.... licking the beater!  Happy girl!

Beatty's Chocolate Cake
adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line pans with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, slowly add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Printable Recipe

Now we have the cake for the ship and rock, but we need an ocean for the ship to sail!  I made a white sheet cake for the ocean.  There are lots of white sheet cake recipes out there but I wanted one that was for a 12x18 half sheet pan.  Many recipes are for 9x13 pans and I am sure I could do some conversions with any cake recipe but I found this one and went with it.  It is from Martha Stewart.

Sift flour and salt in a medium bowl.  
Beat butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the flour mixture alternatively with milk until just combined.
Whip the egg whites in a clean bowl with the whisk attachment.  It is important that you wipe the bowl and whisk attachment with lemon juice or vinegar before whipping the egg whites.  This eliminates any trace of oil that could be in the bowl, allowing the eggs to whip to their fullest potential. 

I didn't take many photos of the sheet cake process, as I made it really fast early in the morning before I planned to decorate the cakes.  It is a pretty straight forward recipe, though!  

White Sheet Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for baking sheet
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for baking sheet
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2  cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
8 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 12-by-18-by-1-inch rimmed baking sheet, then butter and flour the pan and set it aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 1 3/4 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour.  Beat until just combined and transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
Wipe the clean bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer with lemon juice or white vinegar.  Beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the mixer running; beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Do not overbeat. Gently fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture until combined. Gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture.
Transfer batter to prepared baking sheet and smooth batter evenly with a spatula or back of a spoon. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto rack, then reinvert and let cool completely.

Now the fun part begins!  Creating a mermaid and pirate cake out of these cakes!  Decorating this cake was a ton of fun not only because of the fun nature of the cake but also because I had help!  I recently learned that a friend from church did cake decorating as a business for 30 years, so I asked him he would want to bake together sometime.  When I decided to create this cake for the clever girl's party, he was excited to create the cake together!  Yahoo! 

Here is David!  He has made some simply amazing cakes.  I have seen photos and am totally blown away!  The first thing we did was to make up a batch of icing.  We made one batch and then split it so we could add cocoa powder to some and blue food gel to the other!  We used a basic Crisco icing recipe, as this was for a kids party on a hot day and butter icing tends to wilt.

If you checked the recipe where I found my idea for the pirate cake (link is above) you will note that their method was different.  They baked cakes in round pans, cut the cakes on the diameter, then stood the cakes on the rounded edge so the bottom of the boat was round.  People had problems with the cake actually (1) standing up and (2) staying together, so we decided that we would keep the cake in it's natural position (layers stacked on each other instead of next to each other) and shape the boat that way.  It just made more sense to us.  Plus, it worked!

So first we iced our squares of chocolate cake as if we had no other plan but to have a square cake.

Then we shaped the cake into a boat, making the bow (front) of the boat from one of the corners and curving the sides back to a flat stern (back).  The small triangular piece that was removed to create the stern was placed on the bow to give it more definition like a ship.  Before this piece, it looked more like a row-boat  Remember the cardboard that the square cake was sitting on?  We cut it out around the sides of the boat so it could stay with the cake.

We covered the boat with dark chocolate fondant.  I use Satin Ice fondant.  I mention the brand only because David was pretty surprised at the quality and taste of this fondant and said he was going to go purchase some.  When I first bought fondant I read that some other brands are pretty yucky tasting.  The Satin Ice one had better reviews, so I went with them!  I found it at Sur La Table, if you are in the market for fondant.

After wrapping the boat in fondant, we used the fondant tool above and little kid forks dipped in cocoa powder to try to get a wood grain look to our boat.  It is hard to tell from these pictures, but it turned out fairly well!  By the way, there is no real need to use any fondant on the boat or anywhere, for that matter.  Using chocolate buttercream icing would be fine, and you could make a cool texture on the sides for your wood grain if you wanted.  We just got ambitious!

Remember the white sheet cake?  Well, we covered it in aqua tinted icing and plopped the cake in one of the corners.  Then we placed one of the remaining pieces of cake, from trimming the sides of the boat, on another corner to become a rock jutting out of the ocean, for our mermaid.

Now the fun decoration begins!  The rock was covered in vanilla fondant which we colored with black food coloring gel to make a marbled look.  We used tinting gel on top of the blue icing to make the water shiny.  More fondant made a happy skull (4-year-olds, remember?) and crossbones on the bow.  We used Pirouline cookies for a railing around the boat.  Unwrapped Rolo candies form the base of the cannons/candles sticking out the side, 4 on each side, of course!  We used some tinting gel to glue them to the sides of the boat, though icing would have worked better.  We ran out of icing!!   On the top of the boat, a gummy life savor is the steering wheel, and there are malt ball cannonballs, wrapped Rolo blocks of gold/loot, and upside-down wrapped Rolos in the very back with silver dragees on top for more loot.  I made sails out of card stock and wooden skewers.  The mermaid is a Playmobil toy, and the pirates on the boat are from a party supply store.

Here's a better view of the back and side of the ship.  The clever girl was checking out the mermaid!

Blowing out the candles!  The cake was a HUGE success.  The candles coming out the side makes the cake so much fun!  It does mean that some wax drips into your ocean but it comes right up.  

This cake was so much fun to make.  And it was actually easy to serve, if you were wondering.  Remember how the cardboard stayed under the ship?  Using a spatula, I lifted the ship right off of the cake and cut it separately from the ocean cake.  Easy, peasy!  

If you have a pirate/mermaid party in your future, give it a try! 


  1. I'm going to have to hire you to come to St. Louis and make my kids' birthday cakes! :)

    1. So sweet. Just another reason why I wish St. Louis wasn't so far away!

  2. What an amazing cake!!! Great job!!!

  3. OH MY GOSH! Thank you so much for solving my cake dilemma! I wanted to make a pirate ship cake for my son's birthday, but he doesn't like chocolate cake. When I saw your cake I knew it was the perfect solution. I gave you credit for the cake on my post here:


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