The Catch-22 of parenting is that one feels they must hold their child close to them yet prepare them to separate. I’m sure these thoughts are not mine; many other parents have surely said similar with the same timbre.
That same tone is cast through each of my children, with each of their small steps to independence. Now with Sky-Girl, our youngest, these feelings are intensified. There are joys and mourning with each milestone.
And there are joys and sadness with the process in each child. Currently, Sky-Girl is still having difficulty adjusting to daycare in my preparation to go back to work. It is a daily heartbreak. As such, I was determined this year to have a fantastic birthday for her. Last year, as I recently related in my post recounting our move from California to Georgia, we essentially, entirely skipped her first birthday. We are not believers in big first birthdays anyway, but this still bothers me.
(An aside: first birthday parties are overrated. Why on earth would I invite 50 people to a venue likely not built to accommodate that many people, a third of the guests being breastfed infants or tired toddlers, concurrently watching bored parents wrangle said children, trying to keep them busy enough that they don’t crumple and burn when forgoing naptime only for the sake of the party, only to have them crumple and burn just after serving the cake and ice cream, kids wailing that THEY didn’t get to blow out the candles, or get the piece a cake with a red flower on it, or get to open the presents even though they are not the birthday girl? Where is the birthday girl? Oh, she had the overstimulation-provoked meltdown, vomited, and fell asleep just before cake despite the noise. And now you woke her up to get those cake photos. You need alcohol for the parents and a dorm floor of beds for the kids. Seriously.)
I couldn’t even get my ass in gear to go to the grocery store and buy some crappy cupcakes. There was a beautiful cake with family a month later, complements my sister, and another obligatory cake make-up session in February this year, painfully far from the actual birthdate.
The birthday date was not missed this year, but there were family members missing. Normally, even though less is more on a one- or two-year-old’s birthday, I argue that I’d want her father to be there. Eat has been overseas for work on an extended deployment, resulting in missing Mother’s Day, my birthday, the end of the kids’ school year, our wedding anniversary, Sky-Girl’s birthday, Father’s Day, and his birthday. Like, everything. Even more reason to try to have a fantastic birthday celebration for a sweet, shy two-year-old. One set of grandparents were present. The weather was the deep, thick Southern heat of the summer. There were gifts. And there was an awesome Hello Kitty cake.
The Hello Kitty theme is perfect for Sky-Girl, with her kindness and penchant for pie, her round face and big eyes. My goal was to use a more standard pan than purchase a jelly roll pan, so I altered a few recipes to fit my half sheet pan. I also wanted to pipe and bake a design on the cake surface, rather than frost the outside of the cake roll. The thick-lined, expressionless face of Hello Kitty was an easy choice. Only her face didn’t stay on very well.
As I peeled parchment from the cooled, rolled cake, many eyeballs and noses remained stuck to the parchment. My Hello Kitties were consequently even more expressionless, being without the ability to smell, and being partially blind. I trialed another cake with some luck, using thicker, deeper piped lines to help facial features stick.
Though cartoon characters may lose eyes and noses with ease, my growing children’s merely blur in my memory. I hold Sky-Girl close with those chubby cheeks, perfect nose, and wide eyes, my last two-year-old, watching the last bright-eyed wonder at that age when she sees something new, when she still thinks I am the most fabulous person ever. She may not seem she is prepared to separate from me in light of our current daycare ordeal, but every new spark of fun, every new friend, every day is a chance to grow with and away from me. Parts of us disappear as we grow (luckily not eyes or noses — normally), as we take on new pieces of us, clicking into place, others safe in memory.
Happy Birthday #2, Girlie. I love you. Keep saying, “I do it!”
Some notes before starting:
1. You MUST take the time to beat the egg whites to very stiff consistency and beat the egg yolks to the pale, ribbony consistency for the best bouncy and spongy cake. I tried making this cake on a trial with a hand mixer. A HAND MIXER. I started out with it as a project to share mixing time with the kids — and it ended up being a two-hour fight of who was going to use the mixer longer (despite a timer to help abate dissension), then four hours of the cake batter sitting unbaked when interrupted with Sky-Girl napping on top of me and dinner prep. We did not accomplish stiff peaks or pale yolks, but it was close. Close is not enough. The sponge cake was somewhat light though more dense than I prefer for sponge cakes and there was considerable cracking when I rolled it up. Basically, it was like rolling up a thick, sweet omelet. Take it from me: DON’T SKIMP on the mixing the eggs. And use electricity to do it.
2. There is enough cake batter to reserve some for tinting to pipe your design. However, it is a bit runny which makes it harder to pipe a design neatly. I have used the cake batter for design piping with fairly good luck, but the thicker piping batter (a separate recipe from the cake batter, see below) is preferred. Another alternative is using the cake batter and adding a bit more flour to it to thicken. Adding some flour to a reserved amount of cake batter also works. When you pipe your design with the pipe batter, make sure it is piped on deeply enough. If it is too shallow, it will not stick to the cake when baked. You may end up with the disappearing Hello Kitties like me. Thicker-lined designs in general work better.
3. For the brief freezing step, make sure your freezer accommodates the size of the pan. If not, and depending on the size of your design, you can move the parchment to a smaller pan to place in the freezer then move it back to the larger pan for baking. Another alternative is to pipe your design on the larger pan, remove the template paper, then bake for one minute in a preheated oven. Freezing or brief baking do the same thing: to stiffen the design enough to keep it from spreading when putting on the remaining cake batter. I have done both and prefer the freezing. I find the brief baking step can dry out the thin piped lines and cause them to crack off of the parchment.
4. Depending on the heat of your oven, you may consider doubling up your pans when baking. This is to prevent the underside from getting too browned. The cake needs to be slightly underdone for it to roll up properly and to lessen the risk of cracking. The browning may also affect the aesthetics of your design.
5. After piping the detailed design of whatever you choose, it is easy to dump the rest of the batter over the design and smooth to bake. However, air bubbles can form and distract. Instead, use a larger tip and pipe the cake batter over the frozen piping batter, filling in the nooks and crannies. It does take more time but it is worth it. UPDATE: Freezing/baking also helps stabilize polka dots at this stage. When batter is poured over them, you don’t want them to smush to teardrop shapes.
6. This cake roll can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. The caveat is your choice of filling. Jam or curd freezes well. Ice cream is awesome (but needs to be softened slightly before spreading). Whipped cream and fresh strawberries do not freeze well in general; they don’t look quite as fresh and light but taste great (and kids don’t care). I experimented with all of those fillings and freezing, doing it more for an experiment than anything else. Whatever you choose, wrap the cake roll well in parchment and/or plastic then wrap with foil if freezing. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before cutting and serving.
One year ago: goodbye, california!
Two years ago: mummy’s fudgy chocolate oatmeal bars recipe – and our new arrival (the birth of Sky-Girl)
- FOR THE PIPING BATTER:
- 1 large egg (and maybe another egg white to thin, if too thick to pipe)
- scant ⅓ cup (60 g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup + 1 heaping tablespoon (80 g) all-purpose flour
- Scant 3 tablespoons (40 grams) of unsalted butter, softened
- Black, yellow, and red food coloring
- FOR THE CAKE BATTER:
- 10 eggs, separated
- 1½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1¾ cup (155g) cake flour 155g
- scant 1⅓ cup (260g) granulated sugar, divided
- Lemon zest from 2 lemons
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 1½ cups whipping cream, or a bit less (it will squish our as you roll up the cake)
- Strawberry jam
- Special equipment: Three piping bags or prepared parchment cones, three #1- or #2-sized piping tips (depending on the detail of your design), 11x17-inch pan, a clean tea towel the same size as the baking pan.
- PIPING THE DESIGN: Mix the ingredients for the piping batter, mixing well to make smooth. Divide the batter into three bowls, the black and red in larger amounts than the yellow. Tint each bowl accordingly.
- Fill each a piping bag with each color.*
- NOTES ON TEMPLATE: I scanned a picture of Hello Kitty from a coloring book, cropped it, repeated the design in a tile fashion, then printed out a couple of copies. Simple. The internet has tons of Hello Kitty pictures which are perfect. If you are using lettering or designs that are enantiomeric, make sure to reverse your design for the piping!**
- Position the chosen template underneath the parchment-lined pan. Lightly butter the edges of the pan, but not the bottom where the parchment is. Pipe Hello Kitty's outline with black, fill her bow with red, and dot her nose yellow.* Make sure you do the details thickly, meaning you don't to just shallowly paint on the nose and eyes. The colors need to be anchored into the cake. Otherwise, the details will come off when you roll up the cake. I had Hello Kitty emerge without eyes, nose, or whiskers after baking. It's a pain to fix the design with crappy piping gel so that it looks pretty on presentation. Get it right the first time.
- Freeze to firm up design. Give it about 10 minutes at least.
- CAKE BATTER: Meanwhile, mix up the cake batter.
- In a very clean mixing bowl attached to a stand mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar, and HALF of the sugar to stiff peaks. Transfer the cloud of egg whites to a large bowl and set aside.
- Don't wash the bowl you whipped the egg whites in, add whip attachment, and add the egg yolks, vanilla and remaining sugar. Beat until pale yellow, smooth, and ribbons in texture.
- Sift the flour one third at a time over the yolk mixture, folding it in.
- Turn your attention to the egg whites and similarly fold them in to the yolk mixture. Take care to fold gently and not smash. Sprinkle in lemon zest as you fold. Fold until you have a fairly homogeneous batter, a few white streaks being okay.
- Using a larger piping tip or a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off, pipe cake batter gently onto the now-frozen design, trying to fill all the nooks and crannies. The better you do this, the less air bubbles will be present in the final design.
- Next, scoop out the rest of the cake batter onto the pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula.
- Bake in the oven for 7 minutes at 375 degrees F, turn pan 180 degrees with pans doubled (one pan under another to prevent browning on the bottom), and bake for 6 more minutes or until cake tester comes out clean in the center or close.
- REST 'N ROLL: Cover the cake with the clean tea towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Use a knife to release the edges if not already pulling away and, starting at a shorter width, roll up gently, keeping the towel atop the cake and the parchment stuck on the design surface. Allow to cool completely, towel rolled up, at least 30 minutes. This step is important to help keep the cake roll from cracking. The unfilled roll up while cooling helps with the cake's "memory" of the final intended shape. You also have to wait until the cake is completely cool to fill it with whipping cream as a warm cake plus whipped cream equals a soggy mess.
- FILLING PREPARATION: While the cake is cooling, mix up the filling.***
- Whip whipping cream until stiff.
- When cake is cool, unroll gently and peel off parchment paper. Add a larger and clean piece of parchment underneath the cake (this will wrap up the cake when chilling). Trim outside seam edge if raggedy.
- Spread jam on cake then whipping cream.
- Using parchment to help roll, roll up cake gently. Roll up into parchment and tuck or twist ends as if you were wrapping a large piece of candy. Wrap in plastic and place in the fridge to chill for at least two hours. Wrap with foil if freezing. Allow to thaw in the fridge overnight before serving. Serve with fresh berries, if desired. Keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.
** Some important notes on design: Remember that your design will be mirrored once the cake is rolled up. In other words, if you write lettering, it will be backwards on the finished product unless you pipe it backwards. The same goes for Hello Kitty's bow. Switch her bow to the left side when piping so it ends up on the right ear after baking and flipping. Technically, if the hair bow is on the left ear on the final product, it is not Hello Kitty but her twin sister Mimmy.
*** Filling the cake roll with sweetened with cream and jam is too sweet. Unsweetened whipped cream and jam works, or sweetened with cream with fresh berries.