Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Big "04"

Standing in my water-less kitchen, I decided to make a plan for Cael's birthday cake.  With Graham's, I had a basic photo as my guide for Mickey's face, but nothing I saw on the internet quite captured my vision for Cael's cake, which I wanted to be really special.  And what does Cael love more than anything else in the world?


Cael loves trains more than a fat kid loves cake.  Train cake, even, which is exactly what I set out to make.  I saw a number of Thomas the Train cake ideas online, but I wanted to make a cake that would bring to life the basic train I draw for him every time we are out at a restaurant.  I thought it would be more special and personal to him, and if I screwed it up royally it would be less obvious than if I made a Thomas cake that depicted Thomas as having experienced a botched facelift or overzealous Botox.

So I sketched out my plan.  I wanted a two-tiered round cake, which I knew would require two cake mixes (two 9" round cakes and two 6" round cakes) to get the height necessary to fit the train facade.  I decided on chocolate cakes for the larger, bottom layer, thanks to an ambush from family after Graham's birthday and my loyalty to marble cake.  For the top tier, I stuck to my guns and made a marble cake for some variety.

My plan was to begin decorating the cake Saturday afternoon while the boys slept, but that plan hinged on the assumption that Cael and Graham would actually sleep.  While Graham is a reliable napper, he could hear me clunking around in the kitchen and tripping on the exposed dishwasher, so he did little more than doze for an hour or so.  Cael has been abandoning his nap schedule in the last few weeks, often sleeping only 2 or 3 days out of the week, and for less than an hour each time.

I crossed my fingers and put them both in bed and assembled the layers and mixed up some buttercream frosting and tinted it to a pretty shade of sky blue for the background.  Just then, Cael emerged, woke up Graham, and the two began reenacting battles scenes from the civil war in the living room.  Between the screaming, hitting and severed limbs, I had to give up on any progress I might have made and pick it back up at bedtime.

The problem, however, was that I'd already planned to do the prep work for his birthday dinner (five different homemade pizzas) at bedtime, so I knew I was setting myself up for a very late night.  When the kids were in bed, Graham snoozing with "two babbets!" (two Barkers, thanks to him discovering my stashed back-up-Barker just in case the original is misplaced) and Cael dreaming of train sightings, I went to work on the cake.

I cut the shapes out of fondant and pieced the train together really. reeealllly. slowly.  One the train was in place, I cut out fondant letters for the "Happy Birthday, Cael" message that would scroll across the side of the second tier, interrupted by the steam that I made as fluffy as possibly from some buttercream frosting.  (I also discovered that while frosting spread on graham crackers is good, buttercream frosting on Ritz crackers is absolutely divine.  Sure, it's possible that it was 3am and I was up so late that my stomach was hungry again, but either way I recommend you run-- not walk-- to the pantry.)

After I stuck a big ol' four on top of the cake and outlined it with some pearl sprinkles, I finished up with a railroad crossing sign and a few other little touches and put the cake away.  I thought (and still think) that there are a few blank spots that needed something, but it was 4:00am and I was hallucinating squirrels and double rainbows.  I climbed in bed, frosting-covered shirt and all, and enjoyed a restful two and a half hours of sleep before the big day.

We enjoyed a fun day together and feasted on pizza for dinner.  When we'd all filled our bellies, we headed to the gift pile to open presents, the step that always causes problems.  During Graham's party, Cael was barely able to hold himself back from the loot, but knew that if he could wait a few moments, his brother would move onto the next package and the last would be available for testing.

Graham, however, does not have that patience.  He was a constant presence around the gift pile and hovered over Cael's shoulder all night.  Consequently, Graham was in tears most of the night as I tried to keep him from unveiling the next gift while Cael played. 

And then Cael opened this.

And this.

It was all over from that point out.  Joel and I tried to excite him with Thomas the Train books, walkie-talkies and his own digital camera.  No luck.  As we reached the end, he opened a wrapped helmet which did nothing but confuse him as he does not have a bike.  Until now, that is.

Joel made a valiant effort.  Even using all of the theatrics he cold employ, Cael was glued to his trains.  Throughout the night and even into the next morning, he continued to tell me that he did NOT like his bicycle and only wanted to play with his trains.

So I missed the mark, I guess.  But I had yet to reveal the cake, and I hoped it would be a winner.  I uncovered it, checked to make sure I didn't label his age incorrectly, and stuck in four candles.

Wait, let me check again.  One, two, three, four.  Okay, I'm good.

We sang to him, ate our cake and ice cream, and everyone told me how much they enjoyed the dessert while Cael informed me that it wasn't very good.  Thanks, Cael.

(Watch video for a wrap-around view of the cake.)

The truth is that I could have made a 10-tiered cake and stuffed it with candy and cash and wouldn't have mattered-- the kid has a one "track" mind, and that track leads to a train.

My brain has to track a lot of things at once.  But on Sunday, my big boy turned four years old, and I was happy to see him in the spotlight.  

Or the train light. 


  1. What an awesome cake for a train loving boy. I am truly in awe of that cake and the time commitment it took! Do you make and color your own fondant?

  2. Thanks, Jen! I did not make the fondant (although I'd like to try/learn how sometime) but I did mix or color some of the pieces, like the orange, the grey and the blue of the train windows to match the blue background.


Leave your own "ism". Cael and Graham double-dog dare you.