elephant cake + a mini surprise

December 19, 2012 | 3 comments

elephant cake

I think my inner perfectionist is to thank when it comes to parties. It’s a quality I absolutely love yet explicitly hate about myself. The need to have every little detail perfect, the inner struggle of when to call it quits (and just go the heck to bed). My mind becomes a rambling binder of checklists that have me pegged down to minutes within hours making me perhaps the biggest stress ball slightly north of Washington D.C. The latest evidence of such hair-pulling absurdity would be my son’s birthday. His first birthday. The one and only birthday he will remember for the rest of his life — or so I told myself. I started cake planning roughly 6 months into his life and menu planning 3 months prior to the big day because my perfectionism likes to morph into OCD hopped up on insanity on any occasion it can.

lots of carrots

uncarroted batter

carrot cake batter

It had to be his favorite food turned cake — even if that meant broccoli (thank gawd it wasn’t) and had to be themed with his favorite thing all year. But folks, there is no “sleep” cake flavor. No theme matching his favorite toy — an empty water bottle filled with the last remaining lentils from the pantry. No fun to be had with pretty much everything being my son’s favorite thing. I mean, it’s a blessing when your kid’s not picky. Mine will eat anything, including shoe soles, broccoli and lamb chops, will calm down when anything is placed in his hands to play with, thank you lentils, and has slept for 12 hours every night since he was 8 weeks old, plus naps people, plus naps. I swear that’s why he is the size of a three year old. But it all makes for a lame birthday party if those are your favorite things, right? Lentils, sleep and shoe soles anyone?

leveling

fluffy cream cheese frosting

plenty in the middle

crumb coat

hand cramp piping the grass

Anyway, I needed the theme to be special, and so I picked my favorite from his favorites: stuffed animals. More specifically, we did a safari theme. Mostly because I am in love and obsessed with the elephants I see at baby showers and plastered across baby clothes and bibs and blankets and the like. Even a piece of artwork I made for the nursery is an elephant, and so it was decided pretty early on that the cake would involve an elephant. As for the food, well I think every safari party needs flamingo egg salad sandwiches and ZLT’s (zebra, lettuce and tomato), and a plethora of watering hole options including a hot mud bath and swamp water. I mean, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this. There is no half heartedness tolerated by my perfectionism.

mini smash cake

tracing around

the elephant is free

As usual this getting-to-be-overwhelming plan was not enough either. There needed to be a smash cake (surprise!). A little personal Henry sized cake just for him and so I incorporated elephants twice. Yes, twice. I think you’ve underestimated my adoration for these darling things. I spent a week sketching and drawing (and throwing away a lot of paper, sorry trees) and redoodling an elephant for the smash cake until I was finally fed up with my lack of artistic talent and a little piece of my perfectionism died — I will be happy over this one day. My last doodle was what I ended up using and I very carefully carved it out of carrot cake — because even as a mom I’m still convinced it’s slightly healthier than your traditional vanilla or chocolate.

healthy crumb coat

crumb coat complete

little gray elephant

elephant smash cake

From there it was just a matter of tinting, frosting, spreading, piping, smoothing, chilling and pinning a tail on the elephant — normal, every day cake stuff.

my favorite part

carrot cake

In all seriousness, though, this cake is extremely easy to make. I don’t think it quite necessary to go all out as I did and make an enormous sheet cake for all your miniature guests and their adults, and frankly, you can label me crazy for even attempting something this grand for the mere first birthday, but hey, he made it to one, which means we made it to one. Everyone is celebrating. So if you feel like tackling something like this for your wee tot or your kid at heart husband or lovable zoologist grandfather or extremely picky aunt, I’ve presented all the options below, including a (very poorly drawn) elephant template for the smash cake. Regardless of which approach you choose, the results, I promise, will be the same:

happy birthday henry!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes one 2-layer, 8 or 9-inch cake, one 1-layer, 1-inch thick, 9 x 13 cake or 24 cupcakes

Notes: I know many people like doing the age equals guest ratio for birthday parties. I just could not limit my guest list to one — he’s a popular stud muffin around the little girl friends he has, what can I say. So I needed a cake big enough for a large crowd. I made a 2 layer 9 x 13 inch sheet cake plus 2 mini 5-inch smash cakes for Henry. To make both the sheet cake and the smash cakes I ended up tripling this recipe. One layer of my sheet cake equals an entire 2-layer 8-inch recipe. So I made 1 batch, baked it in a 9×13 pan, cooled it, wrapped it tightly and froze it. Made another batch, baked it in a 9×13 pan, cooled it wrapped it and froze it. And that completes the sheet cake. The third batch (for the smash cake) instead of doing a 9 x 13, I did the 2 layer 8-inch cake option. I wanted the smash cake to be thicker than the layers I was getting from the 9 x 13. By doing this I was able to get 2 smash cakes, 1 from each layer. I used one smash layer for his party and one on his actual birthday, but if you really wanted you could halve the last batch and just make 1 layer and squeeze 2 elephants out of it.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated peeled carrots*
1 cups coarsely chopped walnuts, optional
1/2 cup raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease the bottom and sides of two 8 or 9 inch cake pans or a 9 x 13 inch cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour paper, tapping out any excess flour. If making cupcakes, line the cupcake tin with papers.

In a medium bowl whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger together to blend. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix sugar and oil until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts and raisins, if using. Divide batter among cake pans or all into a 9 x 13 pan. If making cupcakes, fill each tin 3/4 of the way full.

Bake cake(s) for 40 – 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean — a few crumbs are ok, if there is batter, bake a little longer. Cool cake(s) in pan for 15 minutes. Place a piece of parchment over each cake, then top with a wire rack. Flip cake over onto the parchment paper lined wire rack (this prevents the top of the cake from sticking to the wire rack and then pulling chucks out when you flip it back over later.) Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake and cool completely.

If making a 2-layer 9 x 13 cake, repeat the process above. These cakes are super moist so I would recommend popping them in the freezer for 30 – 45 minutes to harden up before leveling and frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

To completely cover a 2-layer 9 x 13 cake and 2 elephant smash cakes I tripled the recipe below. And don’t worry. It all fits in the bowl of a stand mixer, so no need to clean the bowl and repeat the process multiple times like you do with the cakes. If you are not piping decorations on the cake, but just frosting it in plain white, you could get away with doubling the recipe. If making a 2 layer 8 or 9-inch cake and 2 smash cakes, I would double the frosting recipe. If not piping decorations, you could probably get away with just a single batch of frosting, but it would be thin. And if just making a 2-layer 8 or 9-inch cake with no smash cake, a single batch of frosting will be enough, with probably a little extra left over.

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese at room temperature
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
Blue food coloring
Green food coloring
Black food coloring
Yellow food coloring
Pink food coloring

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine cream cheese and butter and beat on high until smooth and combined. Add sugar and beat on low speed, scraping down the bowl as needed, until well combined.

Using a serrated knife, level the tops of the cakes. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate or board and place strips of parchment paper around the base of the cake to protect plate from the frosting. Generously frost a thick layer of cream cheese frosting on the top of the cake. Place the next layer on top and lightly coat the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer frosting — your crumb coat. Pop cake in the fridge until the frosting is firm.

Take about 2/3 of the remaining frosting and place in a bowl. Cover it in plastic wrap and set aside. Tint the other 1/3 of frosting blue. Frost 3/4 of the cake top and sides with blue frosting, this will be the sky of the cake. From the frosting that has been set aside, take 1/4 of it and tint it green. Place the green frosting into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip (I used #18) and gently dolloping the frosting over the remaining white top and sides of the cake. This part is the most time consuming and your hand will eventually heat the frosting and it will become loose. When this happens place the cake in the fridge along with the piping bag for 5 minutes. Pull it out and resume piping dollops until the entire lower fourth of the cake is covered in “grass”.

Gum Paste Elephant:

Gum paste (I bought a small container at Michaels.)
Black food coloring

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of this process, but as long as you have some small round cutters it should be easy to recreate. I did not make a template but I could if anyone would like one.

Break off a good chunk of gum paste and keep the rest covered in plastic wrap. Tint the gum paste with a little black food coloring and knead it into the gum paste until the entire piece is solid gray.

Roll out gum paste on a very lightly floured surface — no need to buy a special rolling pin. I used my wooden one and lightly floured it to prevent the gum paste from sticking. Rolled it out as thin as you can get, between 1/16 and 1/8-inch thick. Brush of any excess flour.

Cut out a “U” shape roughly 3 inches high and 2 inches wide and then cut a thin segment from the flat top side of the “U” to separate the elephant legs. For the ears, use a 1 1/2-inch wide round cutter and cut out 2 ears from the gum paste. Use the same size cutter for the head, but instead of cutting directly through the gum paste, gently indent it to see the shape of the head and then from the bottom of the circle use a pairing knife to draw a trunk. Once the trunk is drawn cut the head and trunk out of the gum paste in one piece using a pairing knife. For the trunk indentations I used the top handle portion on a baby spoon and gently rocked it back and forth on the trunk.

Next, place the “U” shape upside down on the cake so that the legs/feet sit on the grass but most of the body is on the sky portion of the cake and gently pressed it down so it will stay in place — but don’t press too hard you don’t want the frosting to ooze out the sides of the elephant. Next place the head over the top center of the body and gently pressed it into the frosting. For the ears, gently wet the back side of each circle with water and placed them on either side of the head and gently press into the frosting and head to seal in place. The water helps the gum paste ear stick to the gum paste head.

Lastly, take two small pieces of untinted gum paste and make two tusks. Wet the flat side of each tusk and gently pressed them onto the elephant on either side of it’s trunk.

Once the elephant has been assembled onto the cake take 1/4 of the remaining cream cheese frosting and place it into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. (I used #4). Carefully pipe clouds over the blue portion of the cake, top and sides.

Squeeze out any remaining white frosting in the bag and divide it in half and tint half yellow and half pink. Using a small round tip (I used #2) randomly pipe little dots of yellow and pink through out the grass to mimic flowers.

Smash Cakes:

Level each layer of your round 8-inch cake. Place elephant template over cake and using a pairing knife cut around the template to create the elephant. Gently cut away the sections of cake around the elephant and gently smooth out and shape any jagged or rough edges of the elephant.

Place smash cakes on cake plate or board and place strips of parchment paper around the base of the cakes to protect the plate from frosting. Gently and carefully frost a thin layer of frosting over the elephants to seal in the crumbs — this is extremely important as every edge of the elephant will shed a lot of crumbs as you frost. Place cakes in the fridge until the frosting is firm.

Tint the remaining frosting gray. Gently and carefully frost the elephants gray. Take any remaining gray frosting and tint it black. Using a small round tip (I used #4) pipe an eye and ear on each elephant. If you don’t want to free hand it, try gently tracing it onto the elephant with a toothpick. If desired (and please tell me it’s your favorite part too) pipe a tail onto the elephants. Lastly, pipe two black eyes onto the gum paste elephant.

Step back, praise your self and then party hardy!

Do Ahead: I usually bake my cakes several days in advance and freeze them. To do this, once your cake is cooled, wrap each cake layer tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and place in freezer. When you are ready to frost and assemble them, pull out of the freezer and unwrap. Level the cake while it is still hard and frozen — it’s much easier this way. Then frost as usual.

*I very finely grated my carrots by hand so my batter wouldn’t be stringy or chunky. I really wanted a smooth and soft cake, especially for baby. By the time I got the the last cake I was so tired of grating and my hand was so orange I grated them with my food processor then switched the grating blade for the regular chopping blade and processed them until super fine. It took a lot less effort and time, so I would recommend doing the latter if going for a more delicate cake. Also, grating the carrots so finely made the cake intensely moist — like insanely more moist than a boxed cake mix.

Safari Menus: Lastly, in case there is an OCD perfectionist sisterhood out there, here are the menus I made. Hopefully it saves you some valuable planning time, and recipes can be give as well, if desired.

Elephant Smash Cake Template:

elephant smash cake template

Conversions & Equivalents

Volume | Baking | Metric | Pan Size | Temperature | Oven | Other

1/2 teaspoon = 30 drops
1 teaspoon = 1/3 tablespoon OR 60 drops
3 teaspoon = 1 tablespoon or 1/2 fluid ounce
1/2 tablespoon = 1 1/2 teaspoons
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons or 1/2 fluid ounce
2 tablespoons = 1/8 cup or 1 fluid ounce
3 tablespoons = 1 1/2 fluid ounces
4 tablespoons = 1 1/4 cup or 2 fluid ounces
5 1/3 tablespoons = 1/3 cup or 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup or 4 fluid ounces
10 2/3 tablespoons = 2/3 cup or 10 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
12 tablespoons = 3/4 cup or 6 fluid ounces
16 tablespoons = 1 cup or 8 fluid ounces or 1/2 pint
1/8 cup = 2 tablespoons or 1 fluid ounce
1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons or 2 fluid ounces
1/3 cup = 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
3/8 cup = 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup = 8 tablespoons or 4 fluid ounces
2/3 cup = 10 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
5/8 cup = 1/2 cup + 2 teaspoons
3/4 cup = 12 tablespoons or 6 fluid ounces
7/8 cup = 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
1 cup = 16 tablespoons or 1/2 pint or 8 fluid ounces
2 cups = 1 pint or 16 fluid ounces
1 pint = 2 cups or 16 fluid ounces
1 quart = 2 pints or 4 cups or 32 fluid ounces
1 gallon = 4 quarts or 8 pints or 16 cups or 128 fluid ounces
FLOUR
1 cup all-purpose flour = 5 ounces or 142 grams
1 cup cake flour = 4 ounces or 113 grams
1 cup whole wheat flour = 5 1/2 ounces or 156 grams
SUGAR
1 cup granulated white sugar = 7 ounces or 198 grams
1 cup packed brown sugar = 7 ounces or 198 grams
1 cup confectioners sugar = 4 ounces or 113 grams
COCOA POWDER
1 cup cocoa powder = 3 ounces or 85 grams
BUTTER
4 tablespoons = 1/2 stick or 1/4 cup or 2 ounces
8 tablespoons = 1 stick or 1/2 cup or 4 ounces
16 tablespoons = 2 sticks or 1 cup or 8 ounces
32 tablespoons = 4 sticks or 2 cups or 1 pound
1/4 teaspoon = 1.23 milliliters
1/2 teaspoon = 2.46 milliliters
3/4 teaspoon = 3.7 milliliters
1 teaspoon = 4.93 milliliters
1 1/4 teaspoon = 6.16 milliliters
1 1/2 teaspoon = 7.39 milliliters
1 3/4 teaspoon = 8.63 milliliters
2 teaspoon = 9.86 milliliters
1 tablespoon = 14.79 milliliters
2 tablespoons = 29.57 milliliters
1/4 cup = 59.15 milliliters
1/2 cup = 118.3 milliliters
1 cup = 236.59 milliliters
2 cups or 1 pint = 473.18 milliliters
3 cups = 709.77 milliliters
4 cups or 1 quart = 946.36 milliliters
1/4 teaspoon = 1.23 milliliters
4 quarts or 1 gallon = 3.785 liters
PAN SIZE VOLUME CAN SUBSTITUTE WITH
1 8-inch round cake pan 4 cups

1 8x4-inch loaf pan

1 9-inch round cake pan

1 9-inch pie plate

2 8-inch round cake pans 8 cups

2 8x4-inch loaf pans

1 9-inch tube pan

2 9-inch round cake pans

1 10-inch bundt pan

1 11x7-inch baking dish

1 10-inch springform pan

1 9-inch round cake pan 6 cups

1 8-inch round cake pan

1 8x4-inch loaf pan

1 11x7-inch baking dish

2 9-inch round cake pans 12 cups

2 8x4-inch loaf pans

1 9-inch tube pan

2 8-inch round cake pans

1 10-inch bundt pan

2 11x7-inch baking dish

1 10-inch springform pan

1 10-inch round cake pan 11 cups

2 8-inch round cake pan

1 9-inch tube pan

1 10-inch springform pan

2 10-inch round cake pans 22 cups

5 8-inch round cake pans

3 or 4 9-inch round cake pans

2 10-inch spring form pan

9-inch tube pan 12 cups

2 8-inch round cake pans

2 9-inch round cake pans

1 10-inch bundt pan

10-inch tube pans 16 cups

3 9-inch round cake pans

2 10-inch pie plates

4 8-inch pie plates

2 9x5-inch loaf pans

2 8-inch square baking dishes

2 9-inch square baking dishes

10-inch bundt pan 12 cups

1 9x13-inch baking dish

2 9-inch round cake pans

1 9-inch tube pan

2 11x7-inch baking dishes

1 10-inch springform pan

11x7x2-inch baking dish 6 cups

1 8-inch square baking dish

1 9-inch square baking dish

1 9-inch round cake pan

9x13x2-inch baking dish 15 cups

1 10-inch bundt pan

2 9-inch round cake pans

3 8-inch round cake pans

1 10x15-inch jellyroll pan

10x15x1-inch jellyroll pan 15 cups

1 10-inch bundt pan

2 9-inch round cake pans

2 8-inch round cake pan

1 9x13-inch baking dish

9x5-inch loaf pan 8 cups

1 10-inch pie plate pan

1 8-inch square baking dish

1 9-inch square baking dish

8x4-inch loaf pan 6 cups

1 8-inch round cake pan

1 11x7-inch baking dish

9-inch springform pan 10 cups

1 10-inch round cake pan

1 10-inch spring form pan

2 8-inch round cake pans

2 9-inch round cake pans

10-inch springform pan 12 cups

2 8x4-inch loaf pan

1 9-inch tube pan

2 9-inch round cake pans

1 10-inch bundt pan

2 11x7-inch baking dishes

2 8-inch round cake pans

8-inch square baking dish 8 cups

1 9x5-inch loaf pan

2 8-inch pie plates

9-inch square baking dish 8 cups

1 11x7-inch baking dish

1 9x5-inch loaf pan

2 8-inch pie plate

Water Freezes 32°F 0°C
  40°F 4.4°C
  50°F 10°C
  60°F 15.6°C
  70°F 21.1°C
  80°F 26.7°C
  90°F 32.2°C
  100°F 37.8°C
  110°F 43.3°C
  120°F 48.9°C
  130°F 54.4°C
  140°F 60°C
  150°F 65.6°C
  160°F 71.1°C
  170°F 76.7°C
  180°F 82.2°C
  190°F 87.8°C
  200°F 93.3°C
Water Boils 212°F 100°C
  250°F 121°C
  300°F 149°C
  350°F 177°C
  400°F 205°C
  450°F 233°C
  500°F 260°C
275°F = 140°C or Gas Mark 1
300°F = 150°C or Gas Mark 2
325°F = 165°C or Gas Mark 3
350°F = 180°C or Gas Mark 4
375°F = 190°C or Gas Mark 5
400°F = 200°C or Gas Mark 6
425°F = 220°C or Gas Mark 7
450°F = 230°C or Gas Mark 9
475°F = 240°C or Gas Mark 10

And for conversions that are not listed I found a great conversion calculator here!

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  1. Yay! I was waiting for this post!

    So honored I got to be there and eat your amazingly yummy cake!

  2. This was the cutest smash cake i have ever seen!

  3. What a cute idea! I love the safari theme and the elephants are adorable. Kudos on all your hard work–you can definitely tell it was a labor of love. :)

 

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