Desserts/Pastries

Nini’s Sweet 16 Surprise Party

Nini's Sweet 16

On Saturday we somehow managed to successfully throw my niece, Nini (aka Stephanie), a surprise Sweet 16 Birthday Party. It was quite a covert operation since the birthday gal lives in the house where the party was to be held and all of the decorations and prep items were hidden in various nooks and crannies.

But we pulled a fast one on her.

Nini's Sweet 16
It all actually started with her big seester – my eldest niece, Nina. We had been brainstorming ideas for her upcoming birthday but nothing stuck. At one point when Nini was out of the room, Nina suggested that we throw her a surprise party with all of her favorite things. What a good big seester!

Delish Food…..

Her Near and Dear Friends…..

Succulent Plants…..

All things Gold and Copper…..

Photo Booth…..

Her Fav Candies…..

Nini's Sweet 16

Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Nina had “family” on that list…but I’m going to say it was a given.

With a date and theme in mind, we were off to the races — full party planning mode.

Eldest seester gave the thumbs up to have the meal catered to give us a little breathing room. We brought in our local taco caterers who set a taco and nachos station in the backyard. The spread was full of pollo, carne asada, carnitas, bright yellow nacho cheese, guacamole, rice, beans and ALL of the fixings.

Nini's Sweet 16

This freed up our time a bit to focus on a dessert bar….because let’s face it, apparently we can’t throw a party these days without one.

Capitalizing on her recent macaron lesson with me a few weeks ago, Nina made a bunch of Matcha Macarons filled with Chocolate Ganache. Nini loves green tea and loves chocolate–and we all love macs so it was a no-brainer.

Eldest seestrah baked up several batches of New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies –another one of the birthday gal’s favorites.

Nini's Sweet 16

The dessert bar included her favorites candies such as Peppermint Patties, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Sour Gummy Straws and Red Vines that guests filled their goodie bags with.

As for me, I was tasked with the birthday cake (more on that later) and even whipped up a couple dozen cake pops at the last minute.

Nini's Sweet 16
And before we knew it, it was time for the birthday girl to come home to her party. I think you can tell from the look on her face below that she was truly surprised! Success!

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The night was filled with lots of food, laughter, a few games, LOTS of sweets, presents and endless–and I’m talking ENDLESS selfies!

Oh those teenagers….

We even set up a photo “booth” that was well taken advantage of by the dozens and dozens of teenagers. But get this—they would still take selfies while they were having their pictures taken! I kept asking if they wanted me to take the photos for them but they politely declined. Perhaps normal poses just aren’t cool…. I may never understand it.

Nini's Sweet 16

Let’s talk a bit about the cake.

For years, Nini has been obsessed with succulents —she’s absolutely nuts about them!  So when it came time to talk about cakes, the design choice was already made.

Which meant it was time to bust out the fondant. When I mold fondant decorations, I like to start at least a week out before the event to allow ample time for them to air-dry and harden a bit. This helps to keep the figures’ shapes as well as sets the color of the dye.

Below are a few of my previous fondant works:

Nini's Sweet 16
I’ve always kind of enjoyed playing with fondant—it’s essentially Play-Doh! I just wished it tasted better than it does but at least it’s fun to mold.

Nini's Sweet 16

My succulents were not 100% botanically correct, but I think they ended up pretty cute. In addition to coloring the actual fondant, I used powdered food color to paint the tips and edges of some of the leaves for some added depth.

Nini's Sweet 16

As for the cake itself, or “sponge”, I opted for a dense chocolate cake. For stacked cakes, I’ve always had issues with sponges that were too light (chiffon cakes, etc.) or if they were too moist. I find that they just don’t have the structure to hold up to the stacking weight which leads to a giant hot mess.

After the cakes were baked and cooled (I do this the night before I decorate the cake), it became time to level and tort them. And to be honest, this is my least favorite part. It’s tedious and time consuming but if you don’t do it properly, your cakes will be lopsided. Grab a handy leveler to help your cause out.

To fill and frost the cakes, I opted for the tried and true Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Not only is it delicious but it’s a good stable frosting. The layers were filled with a coffee flavored buttercream and the exterior of the cakes were frosted with vanilla buttercream to keep the color white.

Nini's Sweet 16

And if all goes well, all of your hard work and patience while torting will yield beautiful clean layers and lines in the cake.

Nini's Sweet 16

Once each cake layer was frosted and smoothed out, I placed the top tier slightly off centered for a bit of whimsy. I then took a Wilton 2A round tip to pipe an quick pearl pattern at the base of each tier.

Nini's Sweet 16
Next, as my seester said, came the fun part – figuring out the placement of the succulents. This is where I wanted to go a bit nuts and throw them all on. But my inner voice and my eldest seester talked me out of it.

Nini's Sweet 16
All in all, I was quite pleased with the final look of the cake and Nini really loved it –which if that doesn’t earn me the auntie of the year award, I don’t know what will……

Nini's Sweet 16
Happy Sweet Sixteen, Nini Love! ❤

Nini's Sweet 16

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Desserts/Pastries · Miscellaneous

Lucas’ Galatic Star Wars Birthday Party

Lucas' 4th Birthday

It was my Lucas’ 4th birthday the other week. And as his auntie/godmama, I’ve affectionately nicknamed him Lucasaurus.

Don’t let his charming smile, bright wit and adorable face fool ya. He can be a downright rascal—– a veloci-rascal!

Lucas' 4th Birthday

But I just adore the kid to pieces.

So last year, when I mentioned to my seester (pictured above with her super photogenic fam) that we should throw him a Star Wars themed birthday party–she was all for it.

And that’s where I was in trouble. Now some of you all may have witnessed my tendencies to go overboard with certain things and that my OCD habits can get me in a tough spot. Well–then you have not met my seesters…..and in particular, my over-the-top party planning sister, T.

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Nearly 5 months before Lucas’ birthday, she started sending me texts about deals she found on party favors, decorating ideas she found on Pinterest, signage she had created, etc. The next thing I knew it, we were headed warp speed into Star Wars mania.

As for me, I just went along for the ride hoping my desserts would get the stamp of approval by the party planning Jedi.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

But look at this little guy? How could we not get carried away?!

…Wrapped around his finger, he has us….

So then this happened.

Star Wars Dessert Tablescape

A bountiful Star Wars tablescape with desserts and goodies galore. But as much as I wish I could take the credit for all the galactic-goodness, I was only in charge of the desserts.

Seester did all the decor (that she started putting up 2 weeks before the party), cute signs, overflowing swag bags, and all the adorable touches that would have made the Jedi Council proud.

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Of course a regular Star Wars themed party wouldn’t cut it, so they upped the ante and arranged a Jedi Training Camp in order for all the padawans to prepare for their path to Jedi Knighthood.

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Lightsabers and Jedi Robes were a must, including cadet boxes to store all their goodies.

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To quench our thirst on the beautiful day, we sipped fresh Millennium Margaritas (for Jedi Masters 21+), Yoda Soda and Vader-Ade. Special props to my brother-in-law for hand squeezing the 25+ limes I needed to make the margaritas.

Trust me, we will never scoff again at those who own electric citrus juicers–DOH!

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And to fuel our Force, we summoned the Taco Master all the way from Orange County— I mean Tatooine. 🙂

Mouthwatering Carne Asada, Carnitas, Fish, Nachos….ideal nourishment to battle the Empire.

Taco Master from Tattoine

Back at our tablescape, Seester put together these cute Star Wars themed candies. Yoda Treats, Han’s Rolo, Edible Ewoks, & Thermal Detonators.

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And poor Han.

All he wanted to do was to come wish Lucas a Happy Birthday but then he got himself frozen in carbonite again.

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Seester got to employ her knife skills by carving a watermelon Death Star. Lord Vader would have been pleased.

Watermelon Death Star

Lucky for us, Chewbacca was kind enough to guard the goodies from any other Sith Lords.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

Speaking of Sith Lords, I started off my dessert contributions by molding Stormtrooper and Darth Vader chocolates to place on top of the cupcakes. They later received a bit of edible disco dust for a bit of sheen….they are from outer space after all.

Darth Vader & Storm Trooper Chocolates

They perched atop rich Chocolate Cupcakes topped with big swirls of Vanilla Bean-Swiss Meringue Buttercream and sprinkles. Some of the cuppies were also topped with vanilla whipped cream.

Darth Vader & Storm Trooper Cupcakes

I paid additional homage to Darth Vader with these Chocolate Shortbread Cookies made with Valrhona cocoa powder.

Chocolate Darth Vader Cookies

How would it be a party without Master Yoda? These were Citrus Scented Sandwich Cookies filled with a Dark Chocolate Ganache.

Delicious, he was.

Yoda Sandwich Cookies

And to keep Darth Vader company, I made an army of Stormtrooper Sugar Cookies that were decorated with Royal Icing.

They were super fun to make and all of the cutters can be purchased from Williams Sonoma.

Storm Trooper Sugar Cookies

There were also pops for all to enjoy…..

Princess Leia Cake Pops & Death Star Rice Krispy Pops

“That’s no moon-it’s a Space Station!”

Not quite Master Obi-Wan but you’re close. They’re Rice Krispy Pops shaped as Death Stars. Not only a superweapon but super-yummy.

Death Star Rice Krispy Pops

And Princess Leia Cake Pops. Lucas really enjoyed these.

Princess Leia Cake Pops

And what’s a birthday party without a birthday cake?

I just had to make a little cake for our Jedi in training although Seester called it a “gentleman’s cake”. This was a 6 inch, 3-layer chocolate cake frosted with Vanilla Bean-Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I decorated the little cake with a fondant Stormtrooper accented with royal icing, fondant lightsabers, fondant Star Wars banner, Darth Vader molded chocolates, fondant stars and a star sparkler.

Star Wars Birthday Cake

At Jedi Training Camp, there was a Space Pod and stations for the padawans to bottle their own galaxies.

Lucas' Birthday

And then it was time to don their robes because…

Lucas' 4th Birthday

Duh, duh, duh, dum, da-dah, dum, da-dah………..

Darth Vader appeared! He was powerful, all-knowing, and—

Lucas' 4th Birthday

He liked parachutes. Yup, parachutes.

Lord Vader thought it was an integral training tool for the young padawans and can be seen here strategizing with the younglings.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

Heck–Vader even cleaned up after the parachute exercises!

There may still be good in him.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

Then he showed the padawans how to properly yield their sabers and spar.

I think that Lucas is saying– “You look a lot bigger on TV but I still pity the foo’ who messes with me!”

Oh yes, that was a Star Wars–Mr. T crossover moment.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

Cake Time!

Lucas' 4th Birthday

But that sneaky Vader used The Force to make the candles relight after Lucas blew them out.

He’s quite a trickser—when he’s not serving the Emperor and upholding the Dark Side.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

Lucas and Vader. They’re BFFs now.

The Lucasaurus always wins over the Dark Side.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

It was an action packed and exhausting day but the little guy had a blast.

And of course, we prevailed by restoring balance to the Force.

Lucas' 4th Birthday

The Force is strong with this one and I look forward to watching him grow into Jedi greatness.

Until our next Jedi Episode (hopefully for my other nephew, Leonidas’ birthday)— MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!

Lucas' 4th Birthday