I will start with the first birthday, my eldest daughter's 6th birthday back in March. There are more birthdays in March in my family than I can count on one hand and in the space of under 3 months we celebrate the birthdays of all three of my children. So its a very busy time in our house.
This year my eldest daughter decided on a Strawberry Shortcake theme for her birthday. It's not one of her favourite characters but one she enjoys occasionally. I was happy to embrace it as I already had lots of ideas for cakes, food and decorations from my web browsing last year (before she decided on a Little Mermaid theme for her 5th birthday).
For the invitations, I found a lovely strawberry-theme template online and customised it for our party. It was predominantly red with white dots, which worked well for a party where we invited both girls and boys from school, but was still girly enough for my daughter's liking.
For the cake, I wanted to make a strawberry flavoured cake, so I hunted for recipes online. I tested out a few different types in the month leading up to the party, until I found the perfect one. The first one that I made used strawberry puree and it was nice enough but lacked a bit of punch in terms of flavour and colour. The next one I tried was amazing - it used both strawberry puree and strawberry flavoured jelly crystals, giving it a good strawberry flavour and colour. Plus it was moist and fluffy, not heavy or dense, and very easy to make.
The recipe I used was this one: Sweetapolita's Strawberry Layer Cake. I made the cake batter according to the recipe, but I used 4 x 9inch tins instead of 3 (to get slightly shorter layers) and I used red gel food colouring to make each layer slightly darker than previous one to get an ombre effect once the cake was assembled (see pics below). I wanted to make the layers fairly equal in height without needing to do any trimming so I worked out the weight of the batter - to do this I weighed my mixing bowl before I started, and then weighed it again once the batter was complete. I subtracted the bowl weight from the total weight to give the weight of the batter, and then divided that amount by 4 to give the amount of batter for each of the 4 cake tins. I added a small amount of the red colour to the whole bowl of batter and mixed it in, then poured the calculated amount (ie 1/4) of batter into the first cake tin. Then I added a bit more red colour to the remaining 3/4 of batter to make it darker, and poured the same amount (ie 1/4 of the original weight) into the second tin. Repeat twice more for the remaining batter and cake tins. I also shortened the baking time as the layers were smaller than in the recipe. This is how it looked before the icing went on:
My daughter helped to choose the decorations for the cake - we found two different cakes that she liked (this one was the main inspiration but this one helped too) and then I used elements of each one to give the end result. Unfortunately being March in Brisbane, the weather was very humid on the night before the party when I was trying to assemble the cake. The fondant strips kept stretching out of shape and overall while I was happy with how it looked, it didn't look as professional as I was hoping it would be. But my little girl loved it, and that's the main reason why I spend my time creating something special.
Here's the inside of the cake with the ombre strawberry flavoured layers:
I continued the strawberry theme through some of the other party food too - I made a yummy Strawberry Jelly Slice (recipe here) which turned out much better than I expected - the recipe uses low-joule jelly for both the yogurt-based filling and the jelly layer on top. I haven't used low-joule jelly before but I thought I would follow the recipe and see how it turned out, and it was a brilliant result. I think the low-joule jelly gives the slice a firmer result (even when left out of the fridge during the party) than normal jelly which I think would melt a bit more when left out of the fridge.
I also did some strawberry-themed decorations for the party. I had bought a red heart garland and added some green leaf-shaped paper to the top to create a strawberry garland:
I also made some giant strawberries using some red hot-air balloon shaped lanterns by removing the bottom "basket" section and adding some green leaf-shaped paper:
By the end of the day we were all strawberried out with a very happy little 6 year old. But I had one last strawberry-themed task left: cupcakes for school the next day. This is how they turned out (with some help from my little girl):