Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Birthday SOS! We're eating sand!

Seriously. We had a message in a bottle, and it read in large, splotchy letters, "S.O.S.*", and below, the parchment read, "*She's Older Still!"

It was the party for Asteroidea's eleventh birthday. 

For her and her brother, I've been building entertaining little cakes each year on their birthdays. If you go back through this blog, you'll find a TARDIS (with Dalek cupcakes), A sailbook with Swedish Fish-filled Jell-O seas, a marshmallow-robot-infested spaceship, a giant cheeseburger and fries, with cherry ketchup, and a circus tent filled with candies. Before I started this blog, I'd built a chocolate locomotive and coal car… and a couple more. 

I try to leave them guessing what I have planned, and then to give them something a little absurd and yet tasty. Sometimes I cheat. I use mixes and store-bought tubs of frosting when I know nobody with serious taste buds will be eating the thing (i.e, if it's for the kids' party, and I'm fixing another for the grownups of the family).

With this one, I really didn't cheat. The cake was a from-scratch banana cake, with cream cheese frosting, the "sand" was a special blend of crumbs, the shells were homemade candies, and the pebbles in the sand… okay, I cheated on those. I ordered them from Amazon

But I did make the punch from scratch, too. See that watermelon half? Scooped out, and all that stuff put through a blender, then mixed 2:1 with seltzer. No sugar added, and the kids gulped it down. So did most of the adults (my parents are not fans of watermelon, & I'm allergic, but everybody else had multiple cups of the stuff.)

But the cake.

The cake.

I stumbled across one of my mother's old chocolate molds, and started plotting to make seashells and a starfish cake, but somehow every way I looked at my plan, it wasn't coming together.

I had been teasing Asteroidae that planning this party was driving me bananas. Then there was this make-ahead recipe for banana cake. And then, there was this lovely post on Cake Wrecks…OY! the gears started moving.

Granted, I'm no professional. I do this stuff strictly for the romp in the kitchen, and to make a couple of kids' faces light up.  But I do try. I don't expect my cakes to look anything like the Sunday Sweets, and am happy if they look slightly better than the other things featured on Cake Wrecks' regular pages.  And eventually I accomplish what I was hoping to do.

Five little girls and one little boy consumed just about every last grain of sand. Three women and two men nibbled rocks all evening. And they all had a load of fun.

I made the candy shells and the sand well ahead. The pink sugar shells were made using the "extra strong sugar molds" recipe at the bottom of this page, but substituting strained lemon juice for the water, and, once they were hardened, they were stored in the fridge until serving. The sand, however, took finesse. I learned long ago that sand isn't really "sandy" when you look at it closely. So you can't just use plain old Nilla Wafer crumbs and think you're making realistic beach scenes. You have to add texture, color, and, mmmm flavor. So I'm including my sand recipe, below.

The structure of the cake, by the way, was built by baking two 4x9" loaves and eight cupcakes – the cupcakes being four large (Texas Muffin sized) and four small (well, standard) cups filled to just above the halfway mark, and then, after baking, stacked small upon large to form the truncated cone "towers". The loaves were sliced lengthwise and crosswise, then their corners trimmed at an angle so they could nest around the cupcake "towers". When you do your own version, you'll find this initially requires improvisation.

Once you have all the components gathered and ready to assemble, frost them, build the castle, and cover with pebbles, shells, and, finally, the sand. Lots and lots of sand.

Edible sand


1 Tablespoon almond bark (or, if you prefer, white chocolate)
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 or 3 dark chocolate wafer cookies (like Oreos w/o the cream filling), ground to fine crumbs (but NOT to dust)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
3-5 Tablespoons yellow-colored decorating sugar
1-2 Tablespoon red-colored decorating sugar
1 Tablespoon green-colored decorating sugar
1 teaspoon blue-colored decorating sugar
5 Tablespoons regular granulated sugar


In a microwave oven, melt the almond bark on a notebook-sized sheet of waxed paper or parchment. Using a butter knife or spreading spatula, spread the almond bark as thinly as possible. Put into freezer.

Combine other ingredients, either in a blender or using a medium bowl and a whisk.

Remove almond bark from freezer and, while still very cold, break or chop into fine chunks and crumbs. Mix into bowl with other ingredients. Put in storage container, seal, and refrigerate until you need to use it.

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