"Kids' Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse: And Other Treats for Colorful Celebrations" by Liv Hansen and Kaye Hansen (Clarkson Potter, $24.99)
Applying the same wisdom to end-of-school time in the spring that we do when diligently preparing for back-to-school day in autumn is a wise strategy.
In a word: prepare. This may not be so frenzied as buying new clothes and supplies in the fall. However, if you are among those whose school gets out for warm-weather months, if you are ready with activities, treats and goodies, chances are the time will pass even more pleasantly for you and your tiny troops.
One of the best ingredients to stir up delectable days-off dishes is "Kids' Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse." The fourth cookbook outing from master bakers Liz Hansen and Kaye Hansen, this has always been my pick for the most creative and instructive kids' baking book ever. Their Bakehouse is brimming with super-spirited kids' cakes and "other treats for colorful celebrations."
The mother-daughter team is a wonder at explaining everything, from how to decorate eye-patched pirate cookies to cupcakes in the form of parrots' heads to multiple-step gorgeous cakes — any one of which most likely would fetch much more than the price of their book.
Some recipes are simple enough for kids to prepare themselves with supervision. Most are meant to be a family affair, with each member taking on some of the chores.
Many of the chapters are created around kids' parties, like a tea party with cupcakes in the shape of teapots and sugar-cookie magic wands. "The Best Sleepover Ever" features a cake that looks like a bed, black-and-white cookies with a moon face etched on them, and even banana pancakes decorated like cartoon bear faces for the next morning.
Kids will undoubtedly be mesmerized with the colorful book itself, since it's chock-full of brightly colored edible wild animals, sea urchins, aliens and rocket ships. Big kids, like you, too, will be totally enchanted.
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups (1-pound box) sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon meringue powder (see Note)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
Yields about 3 cups.
In the bowl of an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy.
Add confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, vanilla extract and salt all at once and beat at a low speed until smooth.
Add and beat milk until light and creamy.
Kids' Chocolate Buttercream variation: In a medium bowl, combine 2 to 3 ounces melted, body temperature (100 F) semisweet chocolate per 1 cup Kids' Buttercream. Mix until smooth and completely blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl to prevent the chocolate from hardening and causing non-melted flecks in the buttercream.
Note: Meringue powder can be found at baking supply stores and some supermarkets. Kids' Buttercream is good as an icing or a filling, tints beautifully and is perfect for piping borders or simple shapes. Don't use this icing for delicate piping applications, because it has a dense and slightly gritty texture that tends to break, although it's a sensation with children due to its sweetness.
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup chopped chocolate sandwich cookies (approximately 6 cookies)
Yields 16 to 18 cupcakes.
Grease the top of two standard 12-cup muffin pans and line them with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and then vanilla while continuing to beat.
On a piece of wax paper, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with buttermilk. Stir in chopped cookies.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pans, filling each three-quarters full. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden. The tops should spring back when carefully lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before carefully removing cupcakes from the pan.