Second child syndrome is real. And I feel so guilty, so I tried really hard to make up for it this year.
Every year, my oldest daughter has had a themed birthday party and we invite all of her little friends, I make a cake, cookies, and other desserts and snacks to go with the theme. Obviously, last year was different because of Covid, but for the other years that’s what we’ve done. This year, since the kids were out of school the week of her 10th birthday, we went to Barcelona for the week. Fun right?
Well, it’s a completely different story for my youngest. Partly because I learned my lesson after the first kid. Why have 50 people over for a one year old’s birthday party? She won’t even remember it! Why spend $400 going to a trampoline park (when you add up the cost of food, cake, goody bags, etc) when I could just save that money or spend it on her?
The other issue is that my girls’ birthdays are only 2 weeks apart. So I just don’t have the energy to go all out twice in two weeks. Not to mention, our family lived 3 hours away and asking them to drive up twice in two weeks was asking a lot. So, for a few years we just combined their party and invited family and a few of Luca’s (the oldest) friends.
Can anyone here relate? Am I just being cheap/lazy?
Well, this year I wanted to make Cora’s birthday extra special. Not only has she had to adjust to living in a new country, but she also struggled making friends in the beginning because of the language barriers. Now that she has a few close friends, I wanted to have a small and safe birthday party at our apartment where we could just surround her with love and make a big deal out of her special day.
I started by involving her in the planning. She changed her mind on the theme several times. Once she chose a koala, I kind of made her stick with it so I could plan the cake. Party planning is not as big here in Luxembourg as it is in the States. To find party themes other than Miraculous, Mickey Mouse, Pokemon, or Frozen, you really have to order from Amazon and the shipping here is not cheap. I took that for granted in the States!
We went shopping at a hobby store and I let her pick out plates, cups, napkins, straws, party hats. Basically whatever made her happy. There was no koala theme so we just went with basic confetti/cupcake themed “stuff.” She got lots of little fun things to put in the goody bags. She is such a kind and generous kid that I think she enjoyed shopping for the other kids more than anything. She didn’t even ask for any presents!
I made a spot next to the kitchen that was perfect for party pictures. I hung a Happy Birthday banner above a small table. I put the goody bags, party hats and noise makers on the table. Then I placed the cake on the breakfast bar directly across from the table so you could see everything in one camera shot. I blew up balloons and put them all over the house. My oldest daughter and I planned out some Minute to Win It games and my husband bought prizes for whoever won the games. The kids ranged from ages 5-7 so their attention span is not great. The games were perfect since they were only a minute or less.
One of the kids had to back out at the last minute, but Cora was so excited for the party and her first sleepover that she didn’t really even care. One of the girls ended up going home at 10pm. Remember those days?!? I don’t think my little sister ever successfully made it through a sleepover. ?
Anyway, sorry for the long post. I just wanted to give you some background details as to why I wanted Cora’s 6th birthday to be special. And it was! She was so happy. Now, on to the reason for this post. How to decorate a koala cake!
The party was on Saturday so I made all of the fondant decorations on Thursday. You could do it as far as a week in advance. I don’t like making them too early because the colors start to fade. After I had made the ears and nose, Cora informed me that she wanted flowers on the cake. I forgot to post a picture of those, but I used this stamper to make the pink flowers and this stamper to make the leaves.
To make the ears, I just used a small round cookie cutter to cut out some grey fondant. Then I used the end of a small paint brush to fan out the edges of the ears to make them look furry. I then cut two smaller pieces of white fondant to put in the middle of the ears after they dried. To get the ears to stick in the cake, I laid a wooden dowel on the back of the ears, wet it lightly with some water and then put another small flattened piece of fondant over the dowel and pressed lightly. Leave it on the parchment paper to dry for at least 48 hours.
The nose is black fondant that I just shaped with my fingers to make a triangular shape. I used a toothpick to make a small hole in the back of those nose (maybe go in 1/4 of an inch) for assembly the day of the party. The party hat is a waffle cone that I added a small white fondant ball to. Make sure you stick the ball into the cone while it’s still pliable.
I filled, frosted and decorated the cake on Saturday morning before the party. If you have enough room in your refrigerator, you could fill and frost it the day before. But, don’t add the fondant details until the day of. I don’t like putting fondant in the fridge because it has a tendency to get tacky.
The cake was baked on Thursday. I used our decadent chocolate cake recipe with our vanilla American buttercream. You’ll need two batches of buttercream. After the three 6-inch cakes had cooled, I wrapped them really well with clear plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. Not only does this save time later, but it is absolutely necessary that your cakes are cold when you frost them. Otherwise, the cake will break off and you’ll have crumbs everywhere!
Remove the parchment from the bottom of the first layer. Place a dollop of buttercream on the cake board or cake stand (I frosted this directly on the stand since I knew I wouldn’t be transporting it). Place the first cake layer on the buttercream so that it’s centered on the board/stand. If your cake has a dome on the top, trim it off with a serrated knife so that it’s level. Now, put a thin layer of buttercream on the cake and spread it evenly. I like to make the buttercream spill over the sides. It makes the sides easier to frost when you get to that part.
Remove the parchment from the second layer of cake and repeat. For the top layer, turn the cake over so that the bottom of the top cake layer is on top (I hope that makes sense). This will ensure a perfectly level top. Now, using a small offset spatula, frost the top and sides of the cake. Be sure to fill in any holes/gaps with plenty of buttercream. Also, make sure the buttercream goes all the way down to the board/stand. This is just your crumb coat, so it’s okay if you see a few crumbs in the frosting. Also, notice that I used white buttercream for the crumb coat. It will get covered with grey buttercream when we do the final coat.
Using a cake scraper, lightly run the edge of the scraper around the cake while turning it (counter clockwise if you’re right handed). I swear by these cake scrapers by Cake by Courtney. They are the best I’ve ever used and definitely worth the money. It’s best to use a turntable to do this, especially if you’re just starting out. They can be rather pricy, but if you get a good one, it will last forever. Ateco is a good brand. If you are just starting out and you aren’t sure you want to invest the money, Wilton has plastic ones that work in a pinch.
I almost forgot to take a picture before I started frosting the final coat. ? As you can see, there are crumbs trapped in my crumb coat. Each time you go around the cake with the bench scraper, you’ll notice spots that don’t have enough buttercream. Fill them in with your offset spatula and then go around the cake again with your bench scraper. You’ll have to do several turns before it’s completely smooth. Now, put it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to let the frosting set up. This is imperative before completing the final coat.
Once the cake is cold and you can touch it without putting an indentation in the frosting, it’s time for the final coat! Keep a small amount of white buttercream aside to pipe on and around the party hat. Using a little bit of black food gel coloring, make the rest of the buttercream grey. Stir it really really well to ensure that the food coloring is completely dispersed, or else you’ll have a marbling effect. Stirring also gets out air bubbles. Use the offset spatula to frost the outside of the cake, repeating what you did with the crumb coat. Then use the bench scraper to run it around the cake to get those nice smooth sides. Once you are happy with the sides, use the offset spatula again to level the top. I like to scrape inward toward the center of the cake.
Pop the cake back into the fridge for another 15-20 minutes to let the buttercream set up again. Once it’s nice and solid, you can add the fondant decorations.
I like to start with the nose and build the face around that so that it’s symmetrical. Use the toothpick that I mentioned earlier and stick it into the cake so that about 1/4 inch is still protruding. Now, find the hole you made in the back of the nose and stick it in to the toothpick. The nose should be flush with the cake.
Now you can color a small amount of the remaining buttercream (not all of it) black. Place the black buttercream into a piping back with the #5 cake tip. Pipe the eyes and mouth.
For the party hat, I used an ice cream scoop to put a mound of white buttercream directly in the center of the cake. Then I placed a dowel in the center of that, leaving just enough to support the waffle cone. If the dowel is too long, you can use pruning shears or a serrated knife to trim it. Make sure the cone fits snuggly into the buttercream. Using the small offset spatula, work from the base up to spread a thin layer of buttercream on the cone. Just enough to cover the brown. Then put the white buttercream into a piping bag with the #1M piping tip. Pipe small stars around the base of the cone. Now use your fingers or tweezers to add some sprinkles.
Using a tiny amount of water, add the white fondant circles to the center of the ears. To secure the ears, gently hold the dowel with your fingers and place into the cake at an angle. When it gets to the point where you only have about an inch of dowel left showing, use a small pair of pliers to hold the dowel as close to the ear as possible and continue guiding it into the cake. Repeat with the other ear.
Finally, I finished my cake off with the flowers and leaves that Cora requested by just lightly pressing them into the buttercream. If you’re transporting your cake, I suggest putting a small dollop of buttercream on the cake and then pressing the flowers into that for more security.
And there you have it! An adorable little koala cake! How did you do? I’d love to hear your comments and/or feedback. Would you like me to do a video tutorial on how to decorate a cake? I know it can be difficult to learn something like this simply by reading. I hope you give this a try.