The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A Minecraft-themed cake for a 7th birthday

My son will celebrate his 7th birthday this week and we had a party on Saturday to celebrate with some of his friends. The party almost did not happen, as his birthday falls so close to our trip to Australia, and I don't exactly have much free time to organise a party (my almost-2 daughter is at a highly demanding age, and most days it seems I barely have it together to keep this household running smoothly, much less plan a party!). So when the boy brought up the topic of his birthday party a couple of months ago (with the request for a Minecraft-themed cake), I asked my son to choose between a birthday trip to Disneyland (which we have done annually on his birthday since he turned 3) or a party - he chose Disneyland. But about a month ago, mother's guilt got to me - after all, my son has had both a party and a trip to Disneyland to celebrate his birthday every year since he was 3 (it is kinda ironic that this birthday tradition started out because of mother's guilt for not being able to do anything for the boy's 2nd birthday). Hubby suggested that we could make the Disneyland trip on our girl's birthday next month instead, so that our boy could still have his party, and of course, our boy loved that idea! Choosing the party venue was easy, as our boy had previously been invited to 6th and 7th birthday parties at Funzone, and I found it to be much better suited for this age group than the BBQ-and-bouncy-castle format I'd organised for previous birthdays. Ordering the food was also easy from one of Funzone's preferred caterer Checkmate Pizza, but we were unhappy when the food arrived 40 minutes late and did not include the disposable plates, napkins and cutlery that was promised (we only had the party room for two hours, and I did not appreciate having to rush off to buy the paper plates and cutlery).

For the cake, hubby and son gave several suggestions, but they all seemed fiddly to make (neither of them have background in cake-making). I scoured the internet for ideas, and there were many beautiful creations of Minecraft-themed cakes, but looked very time-consuming and used fondant (which I think is great for decorating only, just not for eating). I came across a youtube tutorial on How to make a Minecraft cake - with yoyomax12, and I liked how she used three different components to make the whole thing with pretty good visual impact, and all without the use of fondant! The three parts were each easy to make, and assembling was a cinch. The trickiest part (which was not that tricky at all) was figuring out the quantity without making too much or too little, but that was done easily using a paper, pencil and ruler to draw out a rough design to scale, and working from that. Once I had all the components ready, assembling the pieces and adding the icing were pretty quick and easy. The finished product drew a lot of attention from parents (which was embarassing for me), and a couple of the mums were very surprised that I made the cake (in HK, most (sane) parents opt the easy route and either buy a readymade cake or order one to design). The kids loved having the choice of eating cake, rice krispies treat, jelly, or all three!

The cake just after it was assembled and iced, just waiting for the finishing touches (paper cutouts of Minecraft characters):

For the 'water' blocks, I used two large 170g packets of Berry Blue flavoured Jell-o, and used only half the amount of water suggested on the package directions (each packet called for 2 cups boiling water and 2 cups cold water, but I used that amount for two packets). For the 'sand' blocks, I made rice krispies treats for the first time in my life! I used the basic rice krispies treats recipe provided in the youtube description by yoyomax12 in her youtube tutorial, and it turned out well - not too sweet and sticky. For the 'grass' blocks, instead of the durable cake recipe used in the youtube (which uses a bought cake mix), I wanted to do a from-scratch recipe. I found Veena's Art of Cakes: Dense Chocolate cake perfect for Carving recipe, which I modified a little by omitting the coffee - the hyperactive kids don't need sugar AND caffeine. I made two batches, and for the first batch I followed the method very closely (using my hand-mixer with standard beaters rather than the paddle attachment used by the baker), but I found that beating the butter, sugar and eggs at once without first creaming the butter and sugar meant that the butter floated in clumps in the wet mixture (though the end result turned out fine). For the second batch I felt much more comfortable creaming the butter and sugar first and then adding the eggs, but this yielded a more tender cake that crumbled a bit more than the first cake I baked. However after freezing both cakes, they were easy to cut and carve and survived the manhandling while putting the cake together. I thought this cake recipe was great for sculpting - it was dense yet not too heavy to eat. I loved that it was moist and not too sweet with loads of chocolate taste. The grass frosting on top of the 'grass' blocks were easy to do with the grass decorating tip (Wilton No. 233) and buttercream frosting that had a few drops of Americolour Leaf Green soft gel paste added to it. I assembled the cake in the morning before the party, and my son was fascinated with the process (in previous years, the decorating happened late at night after he was already in bed, so he never got to see me toiling over his birthday cakes). It helps to use the same size cake pan for making the cakes, rice krispies treats and jell-o, as it will help make uniform blocks of the same size.

The whole thing mostly survived the trip to the party venue:

Basic Rice Krispies Treats

6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
40 large marshmallows (about a 280g packet)
3 tablespoons of butter

Melt butter and marshmallows in a large pot on low heat. Once melted, add the cereal and stir until coated. Press mixture into a greased pan.

Dense Chocolate Cake perfect for Carving

(adapted from Veena's Art of Cakes)

This recipe will make a two layer 8 inch cake or a 7″ x 10″ rectangular pan, and recipe can be doubled or tripled.


150 ml whole milk
2 tsp lemon Juice
225 grams (1 cup) butter, softened but not melted
200 grams (1 cup) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
200 grams (2 cup + 2 tbsp) plain flour
60 grams (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder


1. Preheat oven to 170C/340F. Grease pan for baking.
2. Add the lemon juice to the milk and set aside.
3. In a mixing bowl, add the soft butter, sugar, eggs, and turn the mixer on medium and mix for about 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
4. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.
5. Add the flour mixture (in three additions) alternately with the milk (in two additions), beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat only until the ingredients are incorporated.
6. Pour into cake pan and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. If using two pans the cake will bake faster so check at 30 minutes.
7. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
8. Once cooled wrap in two cling wraps, followed by aluminum foil, and place in the freezer for at least one hour before you carve into it.

Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

(recipe from Food Network

1 cup (225g) butter
3 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons whipping cream or milk

1. Using a hand mixer, mix together sugar and butter on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
2. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

The boy loved it, and that makes the effort all worthwhile:

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