I made a lemon cake and some chocolate cupcakes for the baby shower last weekend. I did all the baking at home, then transported the unfrosted cakes to my mom's house, because I didn't want to risk taking finished cakes on a three-and-a-half hour drive. It was a good call, because a few of the cupcakes got smooshed along the way, so I can just imagine what would have happened to a frosted cake.
I made a last-minute choice to make two cake flavors; I had originally planned to do one large lemon cake and I had a really cool crane design worked out for it. I thought that some people might not like lemon, however, so I did a regular lemon layer cake and the cupcakes. As it turns out, lemon was actually much more popular than chocolate, so it would have been fine, but oh well.
Anyway, I busted out my piping tips and this spontaneous, swirly design is what came out. Overall not too bad, although the writing could have been more centered. I had so much trouble with the frosting that day. I usually use only butter in my frosting, but for these cakes I used half butter, half shortening, as my grandmother taught me; it was my first time using the "new" (trans-fat-free) Crisco and now I see what everyone on the cake decorating boards has been complaining about. It is prone to cracking and in order to get a smooth result, I had to make the frosting softer than I normally would.
The frosting was also frustrating when it came to the cupcakes; it seemed to deflate and looked sort of sad and melted. My mom said no one would notice but me, but I was definitely annoyed - one of the few times lately when I actually get to share something I've baked with a larger group, and they weren't up to my usual standards.
The shower was nice and intimate, with just under twenty guests at my mother's house. I insisted that we have a punch bowl, which my mom thought was funny and old-fashioned - "Who drinks punch anymore?" - but it turned out to be a hit! I used this recipe, which was just right - not overly sweet like some punches - and the leftovers mixed well with rum, although vodka or amaretto would have worked, too.
GRAMMY'S BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
*A note on buttercream: what constitutes buttercream is a matter of raging debate across the internet and in various cookbooks. Many will argue that buttercream must contain eggs. I grew up calling this buttercream; it has no eggs, and is not a cooked frosting, but since you start by creaming the butter, buttercream seems like a fitting name to me.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup Crisco
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar mil
Cream butter and Crisco together until light, fluffy, and completely blended. Add vanilla and half a cup powdered sugar and beat until well-incorporated. Continue adding sugar in 1/2 cup increments until all has been added. If necessary, add some or all milk to adjust consistency.
These are the quantities my grandmother dictated to eight-year-old me when she gave me the recipe, but it's really only enough to frost one layer. For 8" or 9" layer cakes or a 9"x13" sheet pan, double the quantities.
SARAH'S BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
Follow directions for Grammy's buttercream, but substitute butter for Crisco (so instead 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup Crisco, use 1/2 cup butter). This frosting will have a slightly stronger butter flavor. What can I say? I love butter. Not everyone does.