Saturday, May 28, 2011

Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake

Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Thursday was the last day of preschool for my baby girl. And unless I’m a grandmother before my time, it was my last day as a preschool mom for a very long while. These September babies get nearly an extra year before they start kindergarten, a spare year that from the moment I knew my due date, I dreaded a little (or maybe a lot). An additional year of drop-offs at 9 a.m. and pickups at noon, snack schedules, and tution. But now at the end of this extra year, I know I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, even if I could.

My baby girl has grown. Her blond locks are darkening, and the wispy baby curls are gone. Her face is slimming down, the little roll of fat just above her knees is long gone because she doesn’t just walk, she runs and skips. Really why walk when you can run? And why run when you can skip?

In this year, she’s grown four inches in height and leaps and bounds in behavior. In the classroom, she's everyone's friend and if she had to pick a career for her, her teacher would choose "an advocate for world peace.”

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle/Penguin Group

The final class party for our preschool days was a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” theme based on the childhood classic by Eric Carle. Words cannot describe how much I love and adore Eric Carle’s books. I want to live in a Carle-colored world, with oranges and reds and blues that subtly change to yellows, purples and greens. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, to those unfamiliar with the story, concerns a caterpillar on an eating binge – fruit and vegetables, then cake and pie. All this food creates a tummyache, so he eats a green leaf and feels much better. Then he realizes he’s a very fat caterpillar. He spins a cocoon where he stays for two weeks, then nibbles a hole in the chrysalis and he becomes a beautiful butterfly.

Fat caterpillar by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

As the children recited the story with pictures, I realized the metamorphosis that has taken place, in my child’s heart and mind. She’s no longer a baby, she’s now ready for kindergarten. She can count, she can read, name all her shapes. She knows that Eric Carle is an author and an illustrator. She's a beautiful butterfly.

Beautiful butterfly by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I expected to be a little teary at the final party, and it was poignant, but I’ve sailed this cruise ship before. When one schoolhouse door closes, two months later, another opens and I have lots of end-of-school year parties ahead of me. And let's not forget Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's, Easter, and Cat in the Hat Day. Wonder what cakes I'll make for those parties?

Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Funny thing about having a food blog – you occasionally get asked to bake and decorate cakes. I’m not a Wilton Warrior by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but I can Google and I know where to buy fondant, so this is the cake we created. And I do mean we - it was a family project. Laura helped with the caterpillar face and Lindsey helped frost the cupcakes.

Very Hungry Caterpillar cake by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Some particulars: The cake was based on this one here, from CocoaCakeCupcakes. I especially liked that this artist used varying shades of green in the cupcake frosting, just like Eric Carle’s artwork. I molded the caterpillar head from Rice Krispie treats shaped in a small springform pan and covered it with red Wilton fondant. I used my go-to cupcake recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Easy Yellow Cupcakes, but to be honest, I’m ready for a new recipe, this one tends to be a little dry and coarse in texture. I used the Rich Vanilla Frosting from the same cookbook, and it was a winner, but the cakes do need to be refrigerated if not serving right away. This buttery frosting does not hold up well in the heat.

The endpapers of Eric Carle are always a treat – I took inspiration from the endpapers and sponge painted some freezer paper (butcher paper would work, too) to make a colorful background for the cake.

Caterpillar booties on toothpicks by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The little caterpillar feet were so cute! I molded fondant onto toothpicks and inserted them in individual cupcakes. The antennae were shaped onto toothpicks and inserted in the Rice Krispies cake. I considered attempting the swirled frosting tops, but 3 considerations kept me from that: I would need more frosting, already hyped-up 5 year olds would be eating this, and it was 10 o’clock at night - I needed my rest for such a big day!

Be safe this Memorial Day weekend and have fun!

Text and images copyright Lucy Mercer, 2011, with the exception of the Very Hungry Caterpillar artwork from Penguin Group. As I wrote this article, I found some excellent Eric Carle resources. Penguin Group's Eric Carle page and Eric Carle's website with videos showing how he creates the caterpillar collages.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the great job on the Eric Carle cake and on not crying... yes, there are many more last days of school to come. This book was one of my favorites to read to my babies.

Lucy Mercer said...

Thanks for reading, Linda! My all-time fave Eric Carle book is Head to Teo - interactive fun for toddlers & preschoolers!

Bellwether Vance said...

I tried to comment...I can't get this thing to work, I guess! Your cupcake sculpture looks divine. You'll have many more tearful events ahead of you, and I hope you have cupcakes planned for all of them.