If you’re interested in using this theme for a kids birthday party, there are so many resources online that will give you great ideas. This is my little contribution in the form of a cake. When I started searching online for a cake how-to, I couldn’t find one that matched the idea in my head, so here is as detailed as possible a description of what i did with Small One’s cake.
Please keep the following things in mind – I am not terribly detailed, I am not very patient, I have never decorated a cake in my life, I have never made buttercream frosting in my life, and I don’t think I have used food colouring for food ever. So all that to say, if I can do it, you can, too.
Here’s the step by step
The day before the party, when I took the Chocolate and Orange Bundt Cake out of the oven, it was a towering 14 centimeters/ 5.5 inches high (ok, it seemed a bit high to me, anyway), and it was about 21 centimeters or eight inches in diameter. Because I wasn’t working off a plan, I had no idea if this was going to be enough cake, and didn’t know where to start, really.
This is where my impatience started to pay off – I wanted to get started right away because I like to see results. RIGHT NOW. I thought about cutting the cake in half because that would give me more cake to work with – I did not want to make another bundt cake. (Most of the sites I checked out that used bundt cakes for the caterpillar used two cakes).
I waited until the cake cooled off completely and took a sharp bread knife and gently cut it in “half” (it wasn’t exactly in half, just at a line point in the bundt design), then I gently lifted the top half off.
And possibly the most important step. Cut a thick slice out of the most chocolatey part, sit down and eat it slowly.
The bottom half of the bundt cake was considerably higher than the top, and I decided to cut the caterpillar head out of it first because I wanted that part to be bigger and higher than the caterpillar body. I just looked at the book and sketched out my version of the head on a piece of paper, cut it out and used it as a stencil on the cake. I didn’t use my best knife to cut it out – I don’t know why – but the one I used was fantastic. It’s not a good knife, a serrated one with a wobbly blade, but it’s a long blade, and I just cut it out slowly.
Then I leveled off the bottom of this half of the cake to make the two halves a bit more similar in height. This also results in cake scraps that went into the fridge and proceeded to become my
breakfast, lunch and dinner with buttercream frosting snacks for the next few days. Do not neglect these important steps.
No process shot, but this is probably the most important step of all. I’m not sure that the cake would have been so easy to decorate and assemble without it, so do not skip it.
When the cake was completely cooled, I covered the head and the two bundt halves in a “primer” coat of buttercream frosting and I put it in the fridge overnight. (I used this frosting recipe, but I ended up totally winging it and putting too much milk, so it was a bit thin, but it worked for this “primer” coat.)
I got the tip about the primer coat from Smitten Kitchen’s post about making a wedding cake, and it made everything so much easier to do on Saturday when I decorated the cake. It meant I could cut pieces out of the cake with no problems because it was cold and hard and easy to cut without crumbling, and the coating of frosting “held” the cake together when I put more frosting on the next day, so I’ll say it again – do not skip this step. It is probably what sacrifices the moistness of the cake, but only a little. It was still good the next day, especially because it was out for most of the day.
The fun part begins. I started cutting each segment of the caterpillar out of the cake. I didn’t make a stencil; I eyeballed each piece and started slowly cutting.
Step five and step six are somewhat interchangeable. I cut out pieces and assembled as I went because this gave me a good idea of how I was progressing and helped me make sure that everything was going to fit in the end. You can see that I’ve frosted the head by this point. I skipped the process shot because my hands were so covered in icing sugar, and I didn’t want to get it all over the camera (and I hate washing my hands).
I asked a friend who is an amazing baker for her frosting recipe because the other one I used was too thin, and she sent me hers. In the end, here’s what I did: I creamed about 250 grams of butter with about a tablespoon of milk and then started adding in icing sugar at random. When it got to a consistency I liked, I stopped with the icing sugar. It wasn’t until the next day when the frosting was even softer from being out all day that I realized it was quite a bit more buttery than it was sugary, but I like that.
Colouring the red turned out to be trickier than I expected, as any experienced baker reading this will know. After hastily googling for a magic trick to get buttercream red, I discovered that I had none of the tools on hand for it (apparently a bit of black helps), so I just kept dumping in those drops of red colouring until I got to a colour I wanted. It still wasn’t a vibrant red, but it wasn’t pink. I spread it on using a small spatula and also the back of a regular table spoon.
My “display board” was the base of our chopping board. I decided to skip decorating it with gum balls and keep it simple.
Whenever a piece started to tip over, I inserted a tooth pick to connect it to the other pieces.
And the cutting of each piece and assembling just continues until the whole caterpillar is finished. This does not take long – again, I chose to go the non-perfectionistic route, and found that it made the whole process enjoyable for me. I did stick to the exact number of segment pieces as the book, and this also made the cake serving process so easy – ready made pieces in a variety of sizes for all. This was completed in under an hour.
The frosting stage. I coloured some buttercream – not a lot – a basic green colour. I wanted to have a few shades of green to work with and a bit of bluey-green, again because it mimicked the colour of the caterpillar on the book cover. I frosted piece by piece, trying to be as patient and gentle as I could, using the small spatula. Bits of the chocolate got mixed in with the icing, and I liked that in the end because the book’s caterpillar has dark patches on it.
I also defined each segment using the metal end of a teaspoon. I wish I had done that as I frosted the whole cake – I didn’t – and it was much harder to define each segment after the bulk of the cake got covered in frosting.
Again, my apologies for some missed “steps” – I blame icing-covered hands. The photos don’t show the colour variety very well, but it was there. I added the bluey-green colour after the two different greens. After I etched out each segment, I piped lines over each ones as well for extra definition. Here I am spouting off words like piping, words that were virtually unfamiliar to me until I started this cake decorating process.
I didn’t have piping bags, but I used this video tutorial about how to make a piping bag using parchment paper. I was surprised at how easy it was and – with a steady hand – how straight and even the icing came out. Again, this wasn’t a perfect job, and it would have been better and probably easier with the right tools, but I was still more than happy with my result.
I piped the eyes and mouth on and decided to keep the mouth in green instead of brown. I had planned to leave off the feet and antennas, but I got inspired at the last minute when I saw the bits of chocolate cake left over. Had I thought if it earlier it would have been perfect for a brown mouth, and I could have used the whiter pieces of the cake to cut out antennas. Purple colour is easy enough to achieve with frosting, I think, just a red and blue. But I did not have time, so I skipped it.
So there you have it – how to bake, make and decorate a Very Hungry Caterpillar cake.