Tuesday, August 9, 2011


All photos by KA
I received the most amazing picture from my friend known as Kouign Aman, and the details were so fascinating, I asked the whole family to Guest Blog today.   So I'll let Guest Bloggers KA, along with daughter Herself, and husband Himself, tell the story:

The inspiration was a trip to Oregon the week before her birthday, to go to Grandma’s 90th bday party. Our first day, we visited Mt St Helens, and saw the caldera and the new lava dome forming, as well as learned a lot from the various visitors centers (well worth the price of admission).

Flowers growing on Mt. St. Helens

On our drive back to the airport 5 days later, we sought out good views of Mt Hood,

and as a reciprocal, got good shots of Mt Rainier too. We explained how the whole mountain range came about, the volcanos etc, and generally did the things that nerdy parents do.  I could probably send you a couple of the pix we got.  Mt Hood is so lovely. It’s the paradigm of a cone-shaped mountain, and the snow enhances it.

So, in the car on the way to the airport, herself announces “ I  want my party to be a volcano party!”   OK, we say, before remembering her party is on the 6th day after we return home, we’re getting in at midnight, and the intervening days are all work days.  Gulp.

I dug out all the cake pans and other oven safe round things, and measured them, then baked 3 boxes of devil’s food cake, in sizes from 10” to 4” across. This took two days. They all domed terribly, so we sliced a bit off the lower layers to flatten them, used thick frosting, and glued them in a lopsided graduated stack. The top layer had domed so badly it was nearly egg-shaped. We used a spoon to scoop out a ‘caldera’ before gluing that one on with the frosting. We also stuck a trimmed-to-fit skewer down the center, to stabilize the whole thing.

Himself decided we needed to use marshmallow frosting instead of my default of chocolate buttercream (aka 1 lb frosting sugar, butter,
melted chocolate), so he took on that job. He melted the marshmallows, added frosting sugar and dark chocolate, and I don’t know whatall, and mixed it in the blender.  I love our cake, but the one thing I would do differently for a repeat is find a way to make the frosting non-glossy.

I picked up several pounds of ‘chocolate rocks’ from the local grocery bulk section (they are quite realistic and very tasty). She spent an hour sorting them by color into little bowls so they were
ready for use (the mix includes green, pink and blue rocks, which we didn’t want for this project).

Himself had proposed using frosting-in-a-squirtcan for the lava, but I showed him the wonders of a simple glaze laced with oodles of food color (frosting sugar, food dye, and just enough water (or better, flavor extract) to thin. It thickens over time due to the cornstarch in the frosting sugar, so if you over thin, just wait a while. Eventually it makes a respectably solid glaze) and he saw the error of his ways (he’s a smart boy).

So, Friday night, I go to bed figuring I can get up early and do the cake if he didn’t get to it. He got to it, in spades!!!  It was 98% final when I woke up (I made a final addition), and stunningly fabulous.  It was also protected in a thoroughly engineer kind of way: he’d emptied out a tub of giant legos, washed the tub and up-ended it over the cake.

He’d poured first orange then red glaze into the caldera (vanilla
flavored), and made the swirls with a toothpick. The heart was serendipity. 

 He also poured first orange then red down the sides. He simply started it at the top and kept adding to it while it made its own path down the mountain. He did that in couple places.        I think he added the rocks after the lava, but I am not sure.

Himself’s own words, in a subsequent e-mail:     The rocks went on before the lava. I looked at the caldera and visualized where the lava flows would go, then arranged the rocks around what I visualized, and put them on individually, color by color (black, then brown, then grey, then light brown, etc.). I'm sure I made it more tortured process than it should have been.

Then hers again :

My addition was to the lava. The orange lava rivulets dominated the red, so I made up a stronger red (LOTS of red, some yellow for bright & a tiny bit of green for depth), and carefully ran that down the edges of a few of the existing flows. In a couple places, it made its own path over the rocks etc.

When we did the candles, we put all of them in the caldera, so that the volcano flamed.

The birthday girl was so excited that we didn’t get a good picture before they were blown out.  I was amused when one child despaired when carrying her piece of cake to the table “oh bummer, I got rocks on my piece”.  Somehow, they all got the message tho, and she was consoled. I suspect they all went home and told their friends they ate rocks.

Even the adults said it tasted very good.  There were 20 people present and the entire cake (equivalent to three 2-layer cakes) was eaten.

And because we are nerds, Himself went online and found a place in Texas that makes volcano-pinatas that actually spew the candy in an eruption, I bought ‘the core of the earth’ puzzles and books of science experiments for the goody bags, and one of the activities was making volcanos. That was so much fun we did it twice, going thru ~ 5 lbs of baking soda, a gallon of white vinegar, 3 bottles of washable paint, and a fair amount of dishwashing fluid, plus most of a box of Dixie cups. It was FUN.  I think the grass will recover someday.

Take care, oh keeper-of-fairy-havens,


How about THAT, Dearies?   Doesn't that just look REAL?   In my fuddly mind, when I saw the very first picture on the first e-mail,   “We put all the candles in the caldera,” and the top was so smooth, I actually THOUGHT for a minute, “Well, they’ve all melted into the hot lava---hope none of the children ate melted wax.”   That’s just how REAL this thing looks.

Kudos to all involved!!    One of the great blessings in life is to be able to encourage and nurture the imagination of a child.


Maggie McArthur said...

KA, I'm awestruck! I used to think I threw a good birthday party before I read this. The cake(!!!!!)the favors, the activities --- wish I'd been there!

Chesapeake said...

WOW, KA! What a wonderful, masterful job. Congratulations to the whole family!

Kouign Aman said...

We all blush. thank you. Somehow, Maggie McA, I am certain you throw a good birthday party, you.

Kim Shook said...

I am just in awe, KA! Fantastic cake and the rocks MADE it! What a great idea.