My daughter Peo is slightly obsessed with “The Pirates of Penzance.” But when she asked for her eighth birthday party to have a Penzance theme, I pointed out that most other kids her age – even at her very nerdy school – do not know who Gilbert and Sullivan were, let alone have multiple librettos committed to memory. I suggested that we have a general pirate themed birthday but that the cake could be Penzance themed.
Since I happened to have a Mike McCarey treasure chest cake stand that he graciously gave me at the end of last year’s Austin cake show (see this post for what I did with a stand he gave me the year before), I suggested to Peo that instead of using the stand to make a cake-a-pult as she originally wanted, we make it General Stanley’s chest full of stuff he knows about from his Modern Major General song.
Later it occurred to me that the Pirate King could have stolen General Stanley’s chest, so we decided to have a shiny plate indicating that it was General Stanley’s but then have that crossed out with the Pirate King’s moniker scrawled over the top.
Thus, I spent almost every weeknight for a couple of weeks working on bits and pieces of the cake – including making the entire trunk lid with General Stanley sitting on it – while my husband dealt with the four-month-old. I also made two sides of a coin in polymer clay, one of which had a skull and crossbones, and the other that said, “Peo’s of 8” – a joke combining Peo’s 8th birthday and “pieces of eight”. I used my food-safe Composi-Mold to make a mold of each side, deciding that’d be easier than dealing with a two-sided mold, and made 19 coins out of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I then airbrushed them gold and put the two halves together.
I mounted Mike’s stand to one of my raised plastic stands for easier portability, and wrapped the whole thing in foil. Then two days before Peo’s party I baked four 9×13 chocolate cakes (the Betty Crocker Triple Chocolate mix with a big squirt of Hershey’s Special Dark Syrup added), filled and coated them with three batches of my Dark Chocolate Buttercream, and arranged them on the stand:
Then the night before the party I made four modelling chocolate panels measured to fit the cake and go up enough to create a lip around the top, mounted them, and added all of the pieces I’d made. I had originally planned to do a King Arthur as I’d made previously for my husband’s Monty Python cake – because combining nerd fandoms is awesome and Peo loves “The Holy Grail” almost as much as she loves “The Pirates of Penzance” – but I ran out of time and it was pouring rain so I couldn’t get the figure to dry fast enough. I’d already made the shield, though, so I stuck that on as well.
I ensured the lid fit properly and took some photos in the kitchen, but then removed it for safer portability the next day, especially with rain in the forecast and the party being in a park. Here’s the cake fully assembled at the park:
My original plan with this cake was to cover it in Satin Ice’s Dark Chocolate fondant, but when I realized my supply was going to be iffy for covering the cake, I decided to go with McCarey’s intended design for this stand and make modeling chocolate panels. Panels would also create the illusion of depth at the top, and the forecast for the day of the party was supposed to be warmish but raining, so I figured it’d stay up long enough.
The weather that actually hit was instead very hot and humid – low 30sC (mid 80sF) and over 90% humidity – so within the first hour of the party, we noticed the back of the cake was starting to bulge:
But we figured the modeling chocolate was thick enough to withstand a bit of buttercream pressure, so we just left it.
Meanwhile, I took the kids around the park on an evil scavenger hunt. Why evil? Well, as several of them noted two thirds through it, we were going in a circle. At first I denied it but then when they insisted that it really did seem like we were just walking a big circle and going back to the site of the party I said, “Oh come on. Pirates would never play tricks on you. Pirates are the most honest, chivalric, decent human beings there ever were.”
The children screamed that no, pirates aren’t like that at all!
(Although let’s make it clear that I was out in the park the previous weekend mapping this all out while pushing a stroller the whole time, and then again in the wee hours that morning to put the clues in little rain-proof baggies tied on branches and fences and whatnot so they could find them.)
Sure enough, the last clue on the scavenger hunt said that the meanie guts parents had turned into pirates and had their treasure. The kids had to present the solution to the puzzle for which they found clues on the hunt in order to get that treasure. I set this whole thing up so that when Corran could see us heading down the path into the the bushes for that last clue, he could pull out spare eyepatches and pirate costume gear and get himself and the other parents suited up.
Anyway, in that 45 minutes that I had the kids going around the park, the cake pretty much melted:
The upside is that the gooey dark chocolate buttercream and the warm cake tasted awesome. The entire park area around the cake already smelled like a chocolate factory before the melting, and after…well let’s just say we’re probably lucky we didn’t get get stormed by all of the children in the park.
Plus, the melting added some unexpected fun: the bulging panels eventually popped Caractacus off, which made the children shriek with glee as they watched him fall. Then they grabbed him and clustered around him shouting things like, “I’m going to eat his axe! It tastes like blood!” and “Peo, eat his head!” and “Stab him in the face!” and “No, stab him in the loincloth!” It went pretty Lord of the Flies in the end…
So despite the melting, the cake was a hit and the party a success. And just in case there was any lingering doubt about my complete impropriety as a parent, later that afternoon I gave Robin, Peo, and I matching temporary pirate tattoos left over from the goodie bags: