Every year about a week before the birthday of each of my kids I ask them a very important question: what kind of cake would you like this year? My youngest son turned 7 last week and when I posed this question I got an unexpected reply. “I want an eyeball.” When I tell you that his birthday is the day after Halloween, this seemingly strange request might make more sense.
So what’s a Mom to do? Well, make an eyeball of course! First I consulted with my own Mom, and we discussed the vehicle in which to bake the cake. She asked me how I was planning to do it and I said I’d use regular round cake pans and then sculpt the cake into a dome shape. She suggested trying to bake the cake in a stainless steel bowl, so on to the internet we went to do some research.
According to what we found, you could indeed bake things in a bowl. Several sites recommended using something called a flower nail to assist in evenly distributing the heat as the cake bakes. I went off to the local Bulk Barn to see if they had such a thing. I found one in the cake decorating area – it’s basically a flat metal disc, with a nail sticking out from one side. It is used to assist in the production of those rose-shaped flowers that you often see on wedding cakes (the kind my brother and I used to stare at in the front window of Woolco on Water Street in St. John’s). Bulk Barn only had a small one but I decided to give it a whirl anyway (it was only $2.99).
When I returned home later that day, my Mom had some bread baking in the oven – in a stainless steel bowl! She had decided to test it out. When the bread was ready, we turned it out of the bowl – first lesson learned – ensure you grease the bowl. The bread was stuck. With a little prodding it came out, but we noticed it didn’t sound hollow as it should when it is baked properly. So I threw it back in, with the oven turned off, for about 15 minutes. All was well. Note to self: bake cake for longer than recipe calls for, and use flower nail.
I made the kids’ favourite chocolate cake, from the new Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Here we go:
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk
Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. I used to think this wasn't an important step, but it makes for a fluffier cake so I recommend it. Lightly grease the bottoms and sides of a stainless steel bowl. Mine was approximately 9 inches wide. Flour the pan once you have buttered it and stick the flower nail in the bowl (disc side down, nail side up, obviously). I greased the nail and disc as well.
In a medium bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Of course the BHG recipe tells you to sift the ingredients. What can I say, I am a lazy baker and I never, ever, sift. Mostly because I hate cleaning the sifter afterwards.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat on medium speed for 3 - 4 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue beating for another 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Alternately add flour mixture and milk, beating on low speed after each addition, until just combined. Beat on medium - high speed for about 30 seconds more after you've added all the stuff. I scraped the sides in between. Pour batter into the prepared stainless steel bowl. Make sure you've placed the flower nail into the bottom of the bowl first!
Bake at 350 degrees F for an hour, then test the cake. Mine was done at 70 minutes, but it was a bit dry so I suggest checking in two minute increments after one hour. You want it to be a little sticky on the toothpick, but not too much.
While the cake is baking, make the icing(s).
8 ounces cream cheese (I use light cream cheese)
10 - 12 tbsp butter, softened
3 tsp vanilla
7 to 7 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Beat the cream cheese for about a minute on medium speed, then add the butter and vanilla. Once that is nice and creamy, start adding the sugar in 1/2 cup increments, mixing on low speed. Add the salt and mix on medium until your desired consistency is reached.
Reserve a small amount of icing (about 1/2 cup, maybe 3/4 cup) for the different colours required for the eyeball. Instructions follow later.
Your cake might be ready now. So head on over to the oven and check it out. If it's ready, take it out and place the bowl on a wire rack.
Once the cake has cooled for about 3 minutes in the bowl, you're going to want to turn it out onto a rack so it doesn't get soggy in the bowl. what you may have realized by this point is that the part of the cake that was the top in the oven (which will become the bottom on the rack) is round. And yes, you have to fix that before you turn it out onto the rack.
Simply take a knife and slice off the top portion, dig out some of the cake and then replace the top. Or, just be really careful when you slice the top off so that you don't have to replace anything afterwards. I wasn't so careful and so had to patch it up before I did the flip-over.
Once you have made it flat, flip it onto a rack. Feel free to snack on the parts you cut off. It's tasty!
Then remove the flower nail, using a knife. Now, here's how to decorate this cake!
Place the cake on your platter and get ready to ice. Start by placing a small blob of icing underneath the cake to help prevent it from sliding all over the place - think of it as icing glue. I learned this trick from my old friend Brian Mendoza.
I asked the Birthday Boy to help me ice the cake. Make sure you save at least 1/2 - 3/4 cup of the icing to use for the pupil and the bloodshot lines later on.
Once the cake was iced, I decided to use the flower nail as a template for the pupil of the eyeball. So I cleaned it first, and then placed it at the very top of the cake, on the icing (to be removed later).
I needed another template for the iris, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with the idea of using a paper plate. I used a yogurt container to trace the space for the iris, then I cut it out of the plate.
I placed the template on the top of the cake and let Sam sprinkle the blue sugar on top.
Once the pupil was sprinkled on, we pressed the sugar into the icing with our fingertips to make sure we wouldn't lose too much of it when lifting off the template. The Sam lifted it off.
Success! Now let's do the pupil. Take some of the reserved icing and add some unsweetened cocoa powder to it. Mix well until smooth and blended. Put into a Ziploc bag (or piping bag) and push the icing all the way into one of the corners. Carefully cut the end off of the corner, you need to cut it about 1/2 inch wide for the pupil. In the photo below I haven't made the cut yet.
Carefully squeeze the bag of icing until it starts to come out of the hole that you snipped. Move the icing bag in a circular motion as you squeeze to make the icing pupil.
Next step - make the eye bloodshot.
Take the rest of the cream cheese icing that you reserved, and add some red food colouring to it. Mix it up and keep adding until you have the shade you like.
Put this red icing into another Ziploc or piping bag and snip a very tiny bit off the tip - you need the hole to be very small to make thin lines. Now you can start making your eyeball bloodshot!
Sam loved this part.
So below you will see the final, finished product, and as well to the left here you will see our inspiration for the whole cake - a wind-up hopping eyeball toy that Sam got in a loot bag last year.
I hope you have as much fun as we did making this cake!!