Friday, January 30, 2009

The Beaver Dam and Lodge: A Cautionary Tale

I'm a bit of an overachiever, especially in the baking department. I guess it comes from working in a bakery during college, but every time I go to bake something I have to make it as perfect as possible. I have thrown away perfectly good tart shells, cakes, and cookies because they didn't meet my standards; they were a little too brown, a little lopsided, a little less than perfect.
Once I started baking birthday cakes for my kids it got worse. Don't get me wrong, I love baking a special cake for them every year, but just any old cake would not do for me. Oh no, these things almost require a structural engineer and always involve way too many batches of cake and frosting.
I started the trend when Max turned three and we had a dinosaur party. At the bakery I worked at they made a really cool volcano cake, and I just had to give it a try. It took about five layers of cake, tapered at the top, and lots of chocolate frosting. The thing even had raspberry jam lava flowing out of the top, and the three candles were inside the mouth of the volcano so it looked like it was on fire. And a new obsession was born (I wish I had a photo, but I can't find one. Tragic).
The next year we decided to do a race car birthday for Max's fourth birthday. I searched the Internet for weeks and found a design for a race car cake on a blog (I'd love to give them credit, but in searching again I haven't been able to find it). The cake called for rolled fondant, which I have since decided was created as a torture device, and the thing took me four days to bake and assemble. I almost threw it out the window more than once, but I was happy with the final results:

A few months later for Jack's birthday I made a robot that matched the sheets to his new big boy bed. Again, I went with fondant, and again I wondered why I'm into self abuse. Here's a photo of that one:

The next year Max had a space party and wanted a Saturn cake. This was the last time I did the fondant, and I actually was pretty happy with how it turned out, but the rings almost pushed me over the edge. All in all it was not my favorite, but not from lack of trying:

When Jack's birthday finally came around I had finally learned my lesson and ditched the fondant and made a teddy bear cake to go along with the Build-A-Bear Workshop party:

Because of my overachieving, I ask Max months in advance what he wants for his birthday cake each year so I have time to research it on the Internet and come up with a plan. This year when I asked him he said, as if it should be obvious, "A beaver dam and lodge." I said "What?" and he said, "You know, a beaver dam and lodge." At first I thought he was kidding, and as the weeks went by I kept asking him, hoping he would change his mind to something easy like Batman or the Transformers, but he wouldn't budge; it was a beaver dam and lodge or nothing.
I took it as a challenge. If I could form chocolate cake, frosting and fondant into a race car, I certainly could make a beaver dam and lodge. At first I thought I would actually make the dam and lodge out of cake, but then I gave up that idea and went with something (a little) easier. After five batches of cake, three and a half batches of frosting, and three hours of decorating, this is what I came up with:

I let Max choose the blue for the lake and the green for the trees, which is why they look like they are out of a Technicolor film from the fifties, but he was happy, which is always the point. At first we were going to dip the pretzels in chocolate to make the dam and lodge, but in the end we liked the way they looked on their own, and we thought the broken ends made them look like they had been gnawed on by beavers. Steve had the idea of putting the pretzels around the edge, which I think looks cool.
In the end, it's all about the boys. When I think back to the birthday parties I had as a kid, it's always the cake I remember, and I want them to have that experience too. So, every year until they don't want them anymore, I am going to make them an over the top, extravagant cake. I have set a precedent, and I only have myself to blame.

The moral of the story: Aim Low.


Alison said...

Laura, these cakes are masterpieces, and I can relate to wanting to make it extra special for your kids. I could probably manage the teddy bear, and will keep it in mind for future reference. I was quite happy with Oli's Mr Happy cake, but in contrast, it seems a meagre attempt. You are an overachiever!
x Ali

Kate Bailey said...

Oh my goodness. Those cakes are incredible!!!! I could never make any of those, but I am very impressed that you did it! What a good mom....

The Ricks Fix said...

Laura, your baking skills have inspired me again. Where were you for Sylvia's birthday bash?? :)
Is there a story behind the Beaver Dam cake?? Where did he come up with an idea like that?
Hope Max had a great birthday. He is the cutest!