My family loves watching the Amazing Race. The kids love to see all the crazy antics and challenges. I love seeing all the settings and cultures from around the world. And we all route for our favorite teams. It’s kind of a life lesson in geography and anthropology all wrapped into one. Showing the kids how people stick together and cooperate as well as how poor sportsmanship can bring down the team.
This year my daughter wanted an Amazing Race birthday party. Since she wanted to participate I came up with the challenge and clues for her and her friends. This was actually pretty fun and creative. There was a dress up race around the park, a backyard obstacle course, a geography word scramble, just to name a few. Of course I had to have some foodie challenges as well.
We actually begun at a favorite local juice shop, Juice Girl where the girls had to drink a juice and smoothie and determine all the ingredients before getting their next clue. There was a travel to China challenge where the girls used their chopsticks skills. Finally I put them to work with a race to make lemonade (the old fashioned way – nothing electric), as well as cupcake decorating (using candy they collected at a yogurt shop contest). This was good idea as not only were they making things quickly but they would also be careful and make them tasty as they would be drinking the lemonade with their lunch, and eating the cupcakes after.
My daughter and her friends had a great time. With all the challenges we kept 8, 9 year olds busy forabout 2.5 hours both at home and around town. The challenges took some organizing (making simple syrup, gathering chopsticks) but really made use of things we already had at home (dress up clothes, obstacle items) and didn’t require buying much (bag of lemons, juices, smoothies). We decided we’re going to do smaller get togethers and challenges more regularly, while we’re waiting for the show to start again.
This time every year I am faced with lots of stress over cakes and cupcakes. This year has been no exception and there’s only been one birthday so far. You see the summer is full of birthdays in my family. This year we added a preschool graduation into the mix too. I’m not sure what got into me, but I thought I was going to make cake for my daughter’s graduation when I first signed up. Until I was told there would be 150 cupcakes needed or two half sheet cakes. Oops!
So I bought them at the suggested bakery near the school. They are quite popular (and $$) and use fresh ingredients, but somehow I wasn’t impressed. Though most of the 125+ people were happy and the cakes were eaten. They were somehow bland and dense. They were super cute though right? And was I going to bake cake for that many people? Nope.
However I spent two days (and more time and agony) perfecting 24 cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday party the following day. Months ago my daughter picked out a cupcake photo she wanted me to make for her birthday. It was an adorable cupcake decorated with sugar jewels out of our favorite cupcake cookbook (see previous review). Turns out these are not so easy to find except for online and quite expensive ($1 per jewel).
I went to CakeArt, an amazing cake decorating and baking supply store (they also have classes) in San Rafael for help on the jewels. I thought if I can’t buy them, I can make them with molds. Turns out they had a few “diamonds”, but the owner warned me they are made from isomalt and not good on many people’s stomache’s if eaten (and you know kids would try them). Well, my daughter quickly understood this was not a good idea. Luckily there were so many other lovely decorations she moved on and chose others. This was still a few weeks before her party.
She still couldn’t decide on cupcake flavor. One day she carried the cupcake book everywhere and reviewed it all during my son’s baseball game. First she wanted lavender vanilla and I bought lavender. Then it was strawberry milkshake, and I shopped for strawberry extract (couldn’t find). It was too overwhelming that she could choose any flavor cupcake and frosting and mix and match with her chosen decoration. Three days before she decided chocolate cake and vanilla buttercream frosting. Hooray, I thought the hard part was over.
Since she had been so indecisive, yet so obsessive, I made a few test cupcakes for her reviewa few days before the party. Then she says “Of course I’m going to like any of them…it’s a cupcake.” Oh glad I wasn’t worried. But glad I did the test. I learned two valuable things from this recipe. Do not spray with cooking oil as directed. See above how the papers fall away? And next, filling 1/2 to 2/3 full wasn’t enough. I was also able to convince my daughter that the white frosting looked the best (her ideas of striped and colors were tried above).
Filling 3/4 cull and skipping the spray worked much better.
Making the buttercream ahead for the test, I thought I’d just re-whip the next day when it was time to make a whole batch. Well, this didn’t turn out so well. The morning of the party, I frosted half of them and realized the butter cream was separating and kind of melting after a bit. Yikes!
I quickly made another fresh batch of frosting and the second dozen looked far superior. My daughter came in and said “Are these a diffrent kind?” Having about one hour (still needing to shower and get dressed myself and pack the car with other food and ice chest) I scraped the frosting off the first dozen and refrosted them. I felt much better. O.K. first she was obsessed, and now I was. As you can see, it all turned out fine…we made it to the party (at a gymnastics studio), everyone had fun, and the cupcakes were a hit. Big kudos to the cupcake carrier too. (Purchased at Target) Great invention to protect your creations when on the go.