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Penguins of Madagascar Birthday Cake

Submitted by on January 20, 2010 – 9:40 pm2 Comments
I always attempt to do a special birthday party for my kids. It is just something that really makes me happy, and I hope that it is a tradition that at least one of them will pass on to their own kids. I think it creates lasting memories, and truthfully, it just brings me a lot of joy.
This year, my son wanted a Penguins of Madagascar birthday. He was turning 4. The “Penguins” are a new cartoon that is a spin-off of the Madagascar movies by Dreamworks Studios.  Even so, when I began my search there wasn’t a whole lot out there specifically on the Penguins. I was finding lots of Alex the Lion and the whole Lion/Giraffe/Hippo/Zebra gang, but limited items (very limited, actually, hardly a thing) about the Penguins. I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to have to come up with most of the birthday party “stuff” and the cake myself.
I started searching the internet for ideas as to how I was going to do the cake. For me, getting my head wrapped around the cake starts pretty early, as it is usually the most complicated and requires the most forethought.  I found this cake out there that someone else had done, and I really liked it. This was the impetus for what I decided I would make.  The problem is, I had no idea how she/he had done this — they looked so perfect! Yikes.
I started reading up on how this could have been done, and finally concluded that the person who did this cake must have used a technique called a “Frosting Transfer”. A detailed explanation of how it is done, complete with pictures and step by step instructions can be found at Cake Central.
Searching for this image on the internet, I pretty quickly came up with a perfect match. I just downloaded the image, brought it into Adobe Photoshop to clean it up, crop and resize so that it would fit my cake pan appropriately.  It was important to get an image that was fairly large, clear and had a white background so that I wouldn’t have any problems with the tracing.
At this point, I did not own a stand mixer. All my cakes up until last September (when this Birthday party happened) I had used **gasp** store bought frosting.  Oh poor me. I know so much better now. I have struggled for years to make frosting do what I wanted, only to have it sag, droop and look like blah.  Now I know. Homemade Buttercream is my new friend when it comes to making cakes.  I was worried about the transfer process not working out very well, so I did a dry run a week before (using the store bought frosting). I came to find out — apparently, store bought frosting doesn’t freeze.  Look at my dreadful results trying to flip over my Frosting Transfer that I made with the store bough stuff. Oh dear. What a lot of wasted work. What a mess.  But — at least I knew in advance that I had to do something different to get this to work.
The answer apparently is to make your own Buttercream frosting. Since it is shortening/butter based and not oil based, it freezes much better, gets stiffer, and just works much better for this technique. And, after making my first batch, I doubt I will ever use the store bought stuff again unless I am in a real big rush.  At the time, I didn’t have my own stand mixer, which you kind of need to do this.  Luckily, my neighbor Sara was nice enough to loan me her Kitchenaid. I have since acquired my own — thanks to Walmart and Black Friday ($139! Woop!).  Quite a deal and to me, worth going there at 4:30am (ack!). Mine is the K4SSWH model, 4-1/2 Qt Lift Stand with the bigger motor and no accessories. I found the same mixer at Amazon for about $169, which still isn’t bad at all!  So – mixer in hand, I scoured the internet for info on how to make the stuff. I ended up finding a couple of great instructional videos on YouTube. They were very informative and gave me confidence that I COULD do this.  Here’s a picture of my first completed batch, prior to adding any coloring.
Butter Cream Frosting Recipe
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (approximately 1 bag)
2 tablespoons milk (+/- depending upon the consistency you want)
Makes: About 3 cups of icing.
Let shortening and butter come to room temperature by setting them on the counter for 1/2 an hour to an hour before you get started.
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

The next thing I did was to tape the printout of the Penguins onto a cardboard surface.  I then laid a sheet of wax paper over it. I divided the frosting up into separate batches and colored the frosting using Wilton Gel Dies. I put the frosting into separate plastic frosting bags (see top of photo, orange is showing) with a #2 or a #3 tip depending upon what areas I was doing. Above, I have outlined and filled in the beaks in orange (I forgot to do the feet and went back to do those later — those are orange too!
Now did the black parts (wings, external bodies) and filled in.

Next, went back and did the feet, then did the white bodies.

Lastly, put a layer of white across the back of the whole thing. This is going to be what lays against the cake, the design actually gets flipped over. At this point, knowing what I know now, I would do this backer piece the same color as the color you are going to frost the cake with — but that is 20/20 hindsight. I took this whole thing and put it in the freezer, obviously laying flat, overnight.  Set aside the black frosting in the fridge, you will need it tomorrow for the eyes.
My family is fond of yellow cake. The pan I was using is very large and requires 2 batches of cake to fill (if you are using a store bought mix). So, next I made a double batch of yellow cake.  Here’s a pic with the beater blade removed. Yum!  I oiled the cake pan well and lined the bottom with parchment paper to be sure the cake wouldn’t stick. This is always a very worthwhile step that you will thank yourself for — at least I do. (I’m talking about the parchment paper).

Pour the batter into the pan, cook the cake, check the center with a toothpick to make sure it is done (sometimes on these double cakes it takes longer than the instructions indicate. You want the inserted toothpick to come out clean, and have the sides of the cake starting to separate from the pan.  Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool completely. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to make sure the cake sides have separated. Get your surface ready that you will be using for your cake base (I chose to use a Hawaiian tray — shame, I should have lined it with foil so it would look prettier w/the Penguin colors and not distract from them, but I didn’t.  Lay the “tray” or whatever you decide to use on top of the cake pan, and turn the whole thing over in one motion. Peel the parchment paper away from the bottom of the cake.

Next, frost the cake in the Buttercream frosting that you made (here, I tinted the majority of my frosting blue to be the background color of my cake). Make sure that the coating is nice and smooth. Let the frosting set a little bit (maybe 1/2 an hour) before going to the next step.  You can use a damped paper towel to wipe up the edges around the cake so that the presentation is clean.
Here comes the hard part — you get 1 chance to get it right. Go get those penguins out of the freezer and take a good long look at them, then a good, long look at your cake. Imagine where the bottom of the penguin design needs to land on your cake. You are going to support the penguin design lightly with one hand while you tip the cardboard over and land the bottom of the design onto the cake and then let the rest just tip and fall into place (pulling your hand away). This requires holding your breath, biting your lip and saying a little prayer. 🙂  It worked out great though. I was so happy when I looked at where mine landed. Then — pull the wax paper off the back of the design really, really slowly and carefully. It was at this point that I realized that I should have used the blue frosting for the backer too…but like I said, 20/20 hindsight. (see under Kowalski’s wings) I still think it came out pretty good.
By accident, I found these great graham cracker cookie letters at Tom Thumb (aka Safeway). They were in the area where the fruits/vegetables/cakes/fancy breads are, so I am not sure if they are standard. I was just in there to do my regular shopping and spotted these, and my brain started turning. They would be perfect! In fact, I have had so much fun with them. I used those to write the message on the cake.  You could also use something like the Earth’s Best Sesame Street Cookies that are generally in the Organic Foods aisle of most grocery stores.
To finish up, I used the same black frosting that I had used the night before for the wings to dot on the eyeballs, and then used white with a shell tip to do a border around the bottom of the cake and then the top edge of the cake. I think over all it came out pretty darn good. I can’t wait until another opportunity arises for me to try this again, since I learned a lot and I think I would do it even better now w/my new found “note to self” lessons. 🙂
I’ll have 2 more blog entries on the planning of the party (invites, goodie bags, games, etc) plus the decorations. This line was pretty hard to find at the time I did this party, but I’m not so sure that will continue to be true.
Posted by Mindy in Dallas TX at 5:07 PM 2 comments


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