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Birthday cake mishaps and sugared flowers

Even after a structural mishap, this double chocolate layer cake was saved by smooth, dreamy, creamy vanilla buttercream frosting. Sugared flowers provided cute and unique decorations.

By Contributor / September 24, 2013

Sugared sunflower petals and cake crumbs make cute cake decorations.

Laura Edwins/The Christian Science Monitor

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For some people, birthdays aren't really a big deal. I have never been one of those people. 

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Laura Edwins works with the web team and social media team producing content and managing social media platforms at the Monitor. She writes for the web, and occasionally for Stir It Up!

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My birthday is the first week of September, so after July 4 passes, it's the next big holiday on my calendar, and I can officially start planning my cake. (As previously stated, there is no shame in baking your own birthday cake.) After much deliberation, I decided to modify a Peppermint Patty Cake by Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate and peppermint together, but I had been looking high and low for a recipe for a chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting so I could use sugared flowers for decorations, and I figured leaving out the mint flavored-ingredients in this recipe wouldn't be too difficult. 

I'm a huge fan of modifications, substitutions, and experimentation in cooking, but not so much for baking. Everyone knows baking is the most delicious branch of science, and requires equal parts concentration, precision, and perspiration. So adapting this recipe made me nervous – really nervous. 

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For the cake, I swapped 10 whole miniature Peppermint Patties for 5 blocks (or 1 8-ounce box) of semi-sweet baker's chocolate. I also left out the mint extract. For the frosting, I swapped the mint extract for vanilla extract, and used 1 vanilla bean instead of two, and increased the baking time.

I removed my cakes from the oven fully baked, not burned, and doubly chocolatey, feeling a mixture of pride and astonishment that I didn't totally mess this one up. Then came the disastrous removal of the cakes from their pans. The Pioneer Woman warns that these cakes stick badly, but I was confident my buttered and floured nonstick pans would be fine. Alas, my cakes chipped, crumbled, and cracked upon removal. I should have heeded my mother's nagging voice in the back of my head warning me to never, ever, ever, EVER bake a layer cake without cutting wax paper circles to fit the bottom of your cake pans. After some deep-breathing exercises I calmly saved the cake crumbs, and resolved to spackle everything back together with frosting.

The next morning a moment of inspiration struck and I decided to use the leftover cake crumbs as the center of my "sunflowers" in the decorating process. Sunflower petals are 100 percent edible, and with a quick egg white wash and a sprinkle of sugar they were ready to go. While not quite as professional-looking as the decorated cake I made last year, I thought my sunflower topped-cake came out pretty darn cute (never mind that beneath all the frosting the cake was in about 20 pieces).

Oh, and did I mention it was delicious?! The cake was moist and extra-chocolatey, but the real star was the vanilla bean buttercream frosting. Set aside your concerns about 4 sticks of butter (it's your birthday after all!) because this icing is heavenly and worth every calorie.

I read up on the "crumb layer" in the frosting process, where you frost the cake thinly to trap all the crumbs, then refrigerate it for half an hour, and frost it again for a more beautiful finish. This frosting works great for this process, hardening up nicely. I could also see how the mint extract would work well with it's subtle vanilla flavor, if you are a Peppermint Patty type of person and want to give that version of this cake a whirl. 

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