Our kids never had birthday parties.
Let me rephrase that, for they’ve had more than their fair share, to be honest. But they were between our different sides of the family, combined with cousins or not, and even packaged up with holiday picnics. My kids don’t suffer a lack of fanfare; but we haven’t thrown those over-the-top celebrations meant to one-up the PTO moms in a game of anything you can do, I can do better either. It’s just not my style; I never thought it necessary.
This year, however, I made an exception.
It was my daughter’s 10th birthday and I felt she had been more than patient in waiting for a chance to share her special day with her friends. I relented. And while I was inexperienced in how to throw a child’s birthday party–because, let’s face it, family is pretty forgiving if you throw some random snacks on the table and call it a day–we managed just fine.
The bright and cheery rainbow colors were impossible to resist.
When we walked into Party City, we were overwhelmed by the possibilities. Our options were narrowed down rather quickly by my daughter’s tomboyish nature and lack of desire for a themed party. We walked aisle after aisle, oohing and aahing at all the things we never imagined needing before, but now could not live without. When we reached the rainbow assortment, we were sold–we couldn’t resist all the colors, so vibrant and full of life.
We went a little wild when we arrived at the middle of the store. There, color-coordinated confections begged us to fill our baskets, ready to do double-duty as decorations and to provide a candy bar for goodie bags at the end of the afternoon. At 15 pieces for a dollar, it was easy to choose exactly what we needed without spending too much. With a splash of color here and there from our tablecloth (Target) and tassels garland (Party City), we were good to go. Party supplies totaled about $65, including invitations. Not too bad.
The venue was selected over a year ago, long before I granted permission for this bit of pageantry. My daughter attended a Cookies and Canvases painting party at The Arts Desire and was smitten. It was her only request for the celebration and, luckily, we were able to snag a time slot on the Sunday before her birthday for a reasonable price. Considering the guests would be taking home their masterpieces, it made for a much more memorable afternoon.
Then we arrived at the cake… An area where I lack expertise. I’ve baked cake from scratch several times, but when we settled on the rainbow theme, I didn’t want too many variables in my kitchen. Simplify for the greatest chance of success, right? So I bought a boxed mix. I know. Blasphemy. From a food blogger, no less! But hear me out…
To get those beautiful, bright, vibrant colors, you need to use gel food coloring (often referred to as icing color). You can use food color drops, like what you dye Easter eggs with, but the colors will be more muted. Gel colors mean more mixing to distribute the color. More mixing means the less light and airy your cake will be. And if you’re not already well-versed in homemade cakes, you’re probably already struggling to not end up with a with dense hockey-puck of a flattened mess. Therefore, I repeat: simplify. My mom always taught me that box cake mix is okay, as long as you make your own frosting, and I maintain that.
In this case, I selected Duff Goldman’s brand of Tie Dye Cake, which can be found at Target for only $2.99 (it’s available elsewhere, too, but why pay more?). The first go-around (because, yes, I tested this first), I baked a 2-layer cake for the family party. That’s when I discovered that while there was a key for how to blend each of the 3 food color packets provided to achieve the 6 recommended rainbow colors, the packets either contained insufficient coloring to achieve such, or I cut too large of a tip off the edge of the packets. In short, there wasn’t enough dye to go around. No worries–I used my Wilton gel icing colors instead and actually found I preferred them. So no, you don’t need a Tie Dye cake mix to achieve a magical rainbow. Just select a white cake mix, divide the batter evenly among 6 mugs (while ramekins may seem like the perfect size, they’re too small to mix colors in), and add the icing coloring with a toothpick, then mix.
With a layer cake, you’d drop half of the batter in the middle of 1 of your prepared cake pans, let it spread, then move on to the next color, repeating with the 2nd pan. With cupcakes, it’s a little trickier. It’s hard to divide it perfectly evenly. But what I found was that a Tablespoon or so of batter in each cavity of a muffin tin worked out pretty well to getting 22ish cupcakes. Make sure you line the muffin tins with cupcake liners and spray them with nonstick baking spray. Then drop the colored batter, one color at a time, in each cup. For half, I started with red and worked my way to violet. For the other half, I reversed. The end result was very bright and cheery.
Bake for about 18 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom, front to back, halfway through the baking time to bake evenly. You’ll know they’re done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs or clean. The tops should also be springy at this point. Let them cool for 10 minutes in the pans before removing to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.
For these cupcakes, I riffed off of my Chocolate Malt Buttercream, skipping the malted milk powder (because it was very, very expired) and adding extra confectioner’s sugar to compensate for it. I also used half-and-half instead of milk for a richer buttercream. You’ll need to double the batch for enough for all these cupcakes. Then just fill a gallon zip-top bag, snip the tip off the end, and pipe (or using a piping bag and tip–whichever).
The topping on these cupcakes is Milk Bar Chocolate Crumb. I also made their Confetti Cookies to serve at the party, which was a little long in the process, but not at all complicated, and the kids just loved them. Leftover crumbs can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the freezer. They’re fabulous as an ice cream topping or for just stuffing your face. It’s all good.
It all came together well. The kids had a blast, I was relieved to have the assistance of The Arts Desire in making all those little girls happy for a couple of hours, and the food was decimated. A sign of happy little tummies, for sure!
Planning your own birthday party? I asked my blogging friends for what they’d serve at a birthday, and these were my favorite ideas: