made with love.
When I was in my twenties, I baked and decorated specialty cakes (usually wedding cakes) for people as a way of making extra money.
I didn't love doing it, if I'm being totally honest - I was pretty anti-wedding at that point in my life, and I also felt very uncomfortable with the highly-charged emotional force-field that seemed to surround every bride I encountered.
I also found that when people asked for a special cake for an occasion, they tended to forget that the cake is also actually food, and not just an elaborate decorative extravaganza to be endlessly manipulated.
I often wound up feeling like an artist (remember, I was in my twenties) whose medium was not being respected.
Still, I kept at it for some time, partly for the money, but also because I got a secret thrill out of the look on the recipient's face when they saw the finished creation.
Even though I didn't often know them well (and on some occasions I didn't even wish them well), it pleased me to play a small part in making their special day go a little better.
Once those wedding and specialty cake-baking days were safely behind me, though, I never looked back.
Until this weekend.
I have to tell you that I loved every minute of making this cake.
I made it for a dear friend's daughter (who is also my daughter's dear friend). She was turning four, and she is deeply embedded in her mermaid phase. Her mother, like me, is pretty ambivalent about the idea of little girls having barbies, but we both agreed that maybe a mermaid barbie wasn't too too bad - and besides, the kitschy nature of this made it irresistible to both of us.
(And really, the idea of wrapping a barbie up in saran wrap and plunging her into the middle of an edible skirt? As my mother pointed out, there is probably an on-line community of people who fetishize that kind of thing!)
The birthday girl was thrilled, which would have made it all worthwhile even if it hadn't been fun; and when one of the other mothers at the party asked me if I did this kind of cake-creation on a regular basis, I was happy to be able to answer that I only do it for people I know and love.
Mermaid Barbie Birthday Cake
Here's what I did, and if anyone out there wants more specifics, please let me know:
I used my favourite layer cake recipe (one that makes two 8"-round cakes) and doubled it, twice. I divided the first doubled recipe between a 9"-round wedding cake pan and a medium-sized Pyrex bowl, both buttered and lined with parchment. The second doubled recipe went into two 8"-round layer cake pans, also buttered and parchment lined.
I baked the cakes two at a time in a 350-degree oven. They took between 30 and 45 minutes (the one in the Pyrex bowl took the longest).
Once the cakes were cooled, I used a champagne flute to make a barbie-sized hole in the middle of each layer.
Then I made a double batch of my favourite basic butter icing recipe, and coloured it with sky blue food colouring gel. I set half the icing aside for the final coat, and used half to fill the layers and cover the outside of the cake for a thin crumb coat.
Once the crumb coat was set, I wrapped the barbie in plastic wrap (I made a plastic turban for her hair) and plunged her into the centre of the cake, arms up.
Then I did the final coat of icing, reserving a bit to pipe onto barbie's naked chest to create the appearance of a bodice for the dress.
I decorated the cake in keeping with the undersea theme, and once all of the icing was set I took barbie's hair out of its plastic-wrap turban.
Et voila! Mermaid cake for 20!