Monday, May 21, 2012

Pinned There, Done That: Lego Cake and Happy Birthday, Matt!

Disclaimer: I've never pretended that The Traveling Spoon is an aspirational blog. Rather, I strive to make my recipes and ideas attainable and accessible - and if any post has ever proved that, it's this one! So if you've ever suffered a kitchen snafu or doubted your culinary prowess for a moment, I hope this post this post is a boost to your self esteem - I've been there, too!

Before the 'Happy Birthdays,' the gratuitous cake photos, and the shocking excess of festive food coloring, let me just be upfront with you: I am not a cake decorator. 

Unfortunately, this is a fact I wasn't fully aware of until I began this project (I used to be so good at artistic things when I was younger - what happened?). So as you view the photographic evidence contained in this post, I ask you to remember that this project comes, not from a place of Wilton cake decorating classes and handy offset spatulas, but from a place of love - for Matthew, who loves Legos and who, after a month spent on Army training in the wilds of Louisiana, deserved a bit of a birthday surprise.

And boy, was this cake surprising! I was surprised at how much actual cake I had to bake (two full boxes - and yes, I 'cheated'); I was surprised at how much frosting it required (so surprised, in fact, that I completely ran out of powdered sugar - perhaps I should have cheated); I was surprised at my lack of red food coloring (which is why the 'red' Lego is actually kind of pink); and, most of all, I was surprised at just how much skill this 'simple' cake required (or maybe I'm really just that bad at cake decorating).

But appearances aside, this is a great cake idea (thanks, Pinterest and Betty Crocker!) - and as much as I might have wanted to hide my somewhat botched version from the world, I just know there are lots of Lego-lovers out there who would love this cake.

So enough preamble, lets get on with the process. I should note that I've made a few changes to the original version - most notably swapping out the marshmallow 'nubs' on top for mini-cupcakes, which I trimmed into the appropriate shape. Perhaps the marshmallows would have been a little easier to decorate, and wouldn't require the use of two cake mixes, but I think the mini-cupcakes taste better. You can make that decision for yourself, but my instructions are for the all cake version.

How to Make a Lego Cake

1) Prepare two packages of chocolate cake mix according to package directions. Fill a greased and floured mini-muffin pan with enough cake batter to make at least 24 mini cupcakes. Pour the rest of the cake batter into a greased and floured 9x13-inch baking pan (it's best to use one with straight rather than inclined sides if possible). Bake according to package directions, bearing in mind that cupcakes will cook much quicker than the cake.

2) Cool in pan for 10-15 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Chill cake at least one hour, until firm.

3) Using a sharp knife, cut the muffin tops off of the mini cupcakes until they are a uniform height, with a flat surface on top. Store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to decorate. Cut the rounded dome from the top of the full cake to make a flat surface. Then cut cake crosswise into thirds to make the large Lego blocks. Cut one of the thirds in half to make two even squares (these will be the small Legos). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until ready to decorate - at least one hour, or overnight.

Trimming the mini cupcakes

4) Meanwhile, mix your icing using your favorite recipe (I used this one from Savory Sweet Life, which gives a great texture and taste, if a tiny smudge too buttery) and tint to the desired color. You'll need about 1 to 1 1/2 cups icing for each large Lego, and 3/4 cup for each small Lego. Note: I used cheap liquid food coloring, but you can and should feel free to use the posh stuff!

Crumb-coated, re-frozen and ready to go!

5) Place cake pieces on a covered tray and frost each with a thin layer of colored frosting to act as a crumb coat (I did mine one at a time and returned them to the freezer for a bit after icing - same thing with the mini cupcakes). Once the crumb coat has set, add a final coat of frosting to each cake. Using a dab of icing, attach four mini cupcakes to each small block and eight to each large block. Cover smoothly with the appropriately colored icing (use an icing spatula if you have one - I imagine it gives a smoother finish than a butter knife!). Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

And that, my friends, is all it takes to make a Lego cake!

...Okay, so maybe not all, because it's time for a few notes: You may notice that a couple of my blocks are stacked - that's because I ran out of red food coloring and frosting. I'm not sure I'd recommend this method because it makes them harder to frost, but if you've got decorating skills (or you're also low on food dye or frosting) go for it!

Also, let me just say that I'll never disdain fondant icing ever, ever again - I may not like the taste, but I imagine it would make this cake look a lot better. If you have the skill and patience for it, give it a try - and feel free to share some photos!

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  1. what an adorable idea!! You did a great job :)

    1. Thanks, Andrea! Decorating is definitely not my strong suit, but I had fun :)

  2. so cute!

    i like the mini muffin idea
    for the brick tops

    i used large marshmallows
    and some were a little


    thanks for sharing
    and i'm sure your honey
    was thrilled with it!


    1. I had second thoughts about the mini-muffins because they were very crumb-y, but I guess the marshmallows aren't a perfect solution either. I'll just have to keep thinking for the next time....

  3. Love it! So simple and so effective!

  4. Awesome job!

    Mrs. Delightful

  5. It's beautiful, you did a great job. And I understand where you're coming from, I was totally artistic as a child but now I try to decorate cakes and they do NOT turn out the way I wanted. (But everyone else always says they're perfect, as I'm telling you about this. We're too critical of ourselves. :)

    1. You're exactly right! But I've finally decided that I could waste time lamenting the loss of my artistic flair (or the fact that I now kill plants when I used to be able to grow them!) or I could just get on with it, even if it's not perfect. It's humbling when you see so many awesome blogs out there, but my husband loved the cake so that's what really matters! And the critical thing, well you're absolutely right about that, too ;)

  6. So cute!!! Brilliant use of the cupcakes upside down! My boys would absolutely love this, we are lego fanatics in our house!

    1. Aww, thank you, although I'm sure you could do a much better version! It is a fun and easy cake!

  7. Hi Rachel,
    Your Lego Cake is just adorable, and Happy Birthday Matthew! Hope you have a great holiday week end and thanks so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

    1. Thanks for your kind comments - I've passed on your birthday wishes to Matthew! And thanks for hosting, as always :)

  8. Love those cakes! They would go great with my Lego Head Cake Pops!

  9. I've been admiring your Lego Head Cake Pops all week (they're featured all over the place - congrats!). In fact, I just showed them to my husband tonight :) You're sweet to say they'd go well together, but I think your cake pops are in a whole different league!!!! I love, love, love them!

  10. Great job!!! Lego prep has started for us! Can't wait!

  11. Love this! I made a lego cake for my husband for his birthday, but used marshmallows on top. I love the mini cupcake idea! I would love for you to link it up to my link party. I know my readers would love it too!