Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Family Fun Soccer Field Cake

In August, I came across a picture of a soccer field cake with soccer players (in the form of pictures taped to toothpicks) on the Family Fun site. I've been plotting to make one with our son's team, the Lightning Bolts, ever since, using a Family Fun yellow birthday cake recipe for my son's past three birthdays.

So I did. It took me two months to put everything I needed together and two days to finish the cake. I did it in two parts, because of the difficulty in transporting it to Traxx down the street.

Before I could think about baking the soccer field cake, I needed a baking pan big enough to hold nine players, two coaches and some change. My 8x10 wouldn't do, so I found an 11x15 at Michael's, it was the largest pan I could find. I was thinking about getting a larger cake rack too but thought I'd go back later to get it. Only, later, weeks later, it wasn't there anymore. The cake racks I had were for an 8x10 max, but I figured one inch here or there wouldn't hurt the cooling process.

I thought toothpicks a bit too flimsy to hold up photographs representing the team, so I went with popsicle sticks, easy enough to buy at Michael's too. My husband offered to superglue the photos (4x6, cut out into ovals) to the sticks, which he did the night before.

Taking or finding decent-enough photographs of the individual players and the coaches, without them noticing, was especially difficult, as was cropping and sizing. After a first attempt, I was disheartened to find the head coach larger than life (which he is, but still...), the other assistant coach smaller than his own son, and some head cropped off automatically by the Costco photo lab because they were too close to the edge (a stupid thing to do IMHO).

Finally, I worked out the resizing and cropping tools in the Costco photo shop online deal. I made sure to use some of the players in action as they usually look in a game, Rami in the middle of a hard kick, Dante staring death in the face...

Cakes have always been tough for me. Tough to unmold. Tough to transfer onto a cake stand to frost. Tough to frost. This was no different.

I made sure to grease with butter several times over (sprays don't work for me) then flour thoroughly my 11x15 pan, ignoring the waste of excess flour in the sink, the counter and all over my head. I left no blank spots for cake to stick to.

I prepared each of the three main parts of the recipe exactingly, the butter, sugar and egg in the stand mixer, the buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup, the dry ingredients like the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Then I alternated dry with wet and made sure not to over-beat.

After ladling out the batter and spreading, I realized I needed a little more thickness for the photos on their popsicles to stick through, and made another batch of cake batter. Maybe too much, maybe I should've made the one layer into two. Maybe next time I'll find a more delicate and light batter, cake flour instead of all-purpose. I had a piece of cake at the end of the soccer team Traxx party tonight, and for me, the cake itself was too heavy and lacking in sweetness. I found myself wanting to slather on extra frosting all over.

The cake should've taken longer than 45 minutes, since it was in a pan that was decidedly bigger than 8x10. But, in 45 minutes, the time for the 8x10, it was already done. The top wasn't even baked golden-brown. But I trusted my cake tester and let the cake cool. Once it did, I prayed to God before flipping it over on the cake pad I covered with foil and taped up underneath. Effortless.

But then I noticed the cake was sliding around on the cake pad. I remembered past cooking shows where the cook put some icing on the cake stand or pad in the middle to keep the cake still. I flipped the cake back on the rack and tried again after gluing... only I wasn't more firm (scared it would break the cake or the pad in half) and the cake slid too much on one side. In my effort to move the cake toward the center, I saw a corner chunk of it begin to fall away and several crevices begin to crack apart, like an earthquake.

After my life flashed before my eyes (I forgot to tell you about the part where I grabbed the bowl with the last of the dry mixture wrong, and nearly send it flying on the floor earlier), I stopped myself, took a deep breath, and gently -- with two large spatulas -- nudged in centimeters until I got the cake moving, filling in the cracks and that corner breaking away with icing, saving the cake, keeping it intact.

Turning the vanilla buttercream (three cups sifted powdered sugar, 3/4th cup of unsalted, room temp butter - Irish butter from Trader Joe's in everything, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 2 tbspl. heavy whipping cream) into a dark enough green was harder. I only learned later that red and green are two of the hardest colors to match with food coloring. I almost emptied half the small bottle of the green before giving up (I could've broken the whipped cream in that frosting) and settling for almost the color of a soccer field. Maybe a soccer field in a summer drought.

Frosting an 11x15 cake is a pain, a painstaking process made harder without a spinning, raised cake stand. But I weathered through. I covered the entire thing with plastic wrap and put the cake in the fridge in my garage. This was all done by 11 p.m. last night.

This morning, I made more frosting but kept it white. My husband took over, using a printout of a soccer field template, a Pampered Chef Easy Accent® Decorator (frosting gun), a container lid (for the circle in the middle) and our son's school laminated alphabet row from last year (for the lines). He placed the plastic goals (from a soccer cake kit/Michael's) on either ends. I finished by squeezing in "Go Bolts," "Bolts Yay," and "Lightning Bolts," cursing the Gs and the Hs.

After I finished the pigs in a blanket, we had not a minute to spare. I held the half-finished cake on my lap while my husband drove me and our son to Traxx. Once inside the rented room, I let Eddie take over with the final decoration -- the men on the field -- while James ran off to be with his friends for racing. I knew Eddie would be fast, he had a gig to run off to, he'd be clever, and he'd be efficient, and he was. It was cute how he put one of the plastic soccer figures upside down.

Before we left to drop my husband off at his car back home, we made sure the head coach came over to see the cake. Coach Kevin was shocked but very pleased, joking around about his photo, calling the boys over to see, which they did with loud abandonment and glee. Barnaby said he wanted the referee to take home, some others talked about taking home their pictures, which is what I'd planned.

The little ones, siblings of some of the players, kept going over to the cake to poke their little fingers into the frosting or try to pull one of the figures off. After much back-and-forthing, everybody agreed I should cut the cake but I managed to get Bridget to do it for me, since she's more precise. I did have all the boys pull off whatever decoration they wanted which they did in a flurry.

Believe it or not, two of the boys and one of the parents weren't too keen on cake. I'd never heard such a thing. They were all content to admire my handiwork, though, and take home a souvenir. I may do these types of picture cakes more often. They're offbeat and obviously homemade, plus it's ego-gratifying to see oneself in picture form roaming around on the cake. I may even do one of my son battling a Yu Gi Oh card for his birthday cake in January.

James changed his mind, he wants his birthday party at Traxx instead of a large playdate at his house. Uh oh. Time to get on the reservations and the cake planning. He likes the color red...

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