We recently celebrated our grandson Henry’s eighth birthday. I haven’t a doubt in the world that he has already begun planning what his ninth birthday cake will look like and what should be on next year’s birthday gift list.
My daughter described her boy so very well on her Facebook post commemorating her second son’s birth.
“This kid will start a conversation with a stranger with “Do you want to learn about me?” He refuses to let a bee sting slow down his fun. He crosses his eyes in his school portrait just to make people laugh. He’s always thinking about something grand. He has my heart. Happy birthday, Henry!”
He has his Grandma Cindie’s heart too.
Henry snuggled up to me on the sofa at our family Thanksgiving gathering with a special request. He wanted US to decorate his birthday cake together. This boy always has a plan.
“We’ll have mommy bake the cake, ‘cuz her cakes taste good,” then gushed with great anticipation, “and I will help you decorate it because you make the cakes look good.”
How could a grandma refuse?
Henry further informed me of his grand plan. He wanted a “basilisk” cake, then told me everything he knew about basilisk lizards. It’s a good thing that this boy is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to anything reptilian because I had NO IDEA what a basilisk was. Henry and I poked around a little bit on Google so he could show his less than informed Grandma Cindie what one looked like. I didn’t know there were basilisk snakes (of Harry Potter mythology, of course) and basilisk lizards. Henry assured me he wanted the lizard variety. “It’s cool, Grandma! It can run on water.” (Click here if you’re even remotely interested in learning more about basilisks.)
Yes, that is pretty cool. And a pretty ambitious decorating feat for the two of us. I am by no means a professional cake decorator but willingly spend an entire day trying to come up with whatever a beloved grandchild dreams up.
We were up to the baking and decorating challenge.
I ended up baking the cake using my daughter’s recipe, baking up three chocolate 8″ layers to hopefully carve up and assemble into something that resembled a lizard…a basilisk in particular. My hubby helped me shop for a few of the details we would need, per Henry’s ideas, like orange M&M candies to make the eyes and animal crackers to crush and use for making the sand the basilisk would be crawling on.
As his mommy said, “He’s always thinking about something grand.”
In preparation for our big lizard making day, I poked around on Pinterest for a few ideas as to how to create something that resembled a lizard. I baked the three layers of cake ahead of time, then made up some delicious chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting. I cut one of the cake layers in half and “glued” the two halves together with froting to make the body of the lizard, using this dragon cake as a general guide. I wrapped the body and the remaining cake layers in wax paper, then slid them into freezer bags and placed them in the freezer. Several Pinterest reviewers suggested this step of freezing the cake would make carving the cake and frosting the cut sides of the cake a little easier (it was a good idea).
We would celebrate Henry’s birthday on the Saturday which followed his official birth date. Henry would come over in the morning after breakfast. We’d work on constructing his cake throughout the morning, Papa would take him out to lunch (so grandma could do parts of the construction that were better done without the help of an 8-year-old), then we would resume decorating the (hopefully) lizardy-looking creation during the afternoon. All of this in anticipation of a family celebration of his birthday with pancakes for supper (his request) followed by his special birthday cake and presents.
We had fun together. I’m not sure that we ended up with the basilisk of his imagination, but one thing was clear. No matter how it turned out, Henry would love it because he had worked on it with me. Several heartwarming times throughout our day together Henry told me he loved me.
As we worked side by side, at one point Henry asked me if we had bought a birthday present for him. Before I could answer, he quickly added, “It’s okay if you didn’t because making this cake with you today is like the best present ever already!”
My heart smiled.
I assured him we had a present for him too then teasingly asked, “Do you want me to take your present back?” Eyes wide open he wagged his head an emphatic no.
The first task for Henry was to crush the animal crackers to create the sand that would be used later in the decorating phase. As he rolled over the crackers with the rolling pin, he retold the family story of how he would squirrel away animal crackers under the cushion of his highchair so he could help himself to a treat when Mommy said no to his request.
We laughed together.
Next step was for Henry to carve the tail out of one of the layers of cake. We made it fatter than a real basilisk’s tail because nobody would want a piece of cake that skinny. Henry deemed it the perfect lizard tail. I popped that tail back into the freezer while we worked on carving the legs and head and crown-thingy (the crest, I think) out of cake. Henry let me do most of that carving, adding ample praise as I worked.
Henry told me about his best friends at school.
It was lunch time. Papa took Henry out for lunch so I could pay attention to my mom’s needs. Momma has Alzheimer’s. I had worried that she would not cooperate, as she can be a handful on one of her bad days. Thankfully, she had rather enjoyed watching us work at the kitchen table together.
While Henry and Papa were enjoying cheeseburgers at Culver’s, I put the lizard head together and affixed it and the tail to the body with more frosting. Returning from their guys’ lunch together, Henry was super excited to see what had been accomplished in the construction phase, and we set ourselves to work creating a cross-section of a tree for the lizard to climb. We stuck the lizardy-looking parts in the freezer again while we worked together to create tree rings and bark out of chocolate frosting.
Next came the hard part. Frosting the little guy. I made a batch of cream cheese buttercream frosting without chocolate. I reserved a little plain white, then tinted the remaining frosting in a few shades of green. We propped Mr. Basilisk on the log, then added legs and started frosting with a crumb coat of green. (Freezing the cake greatly helped keep the cut edges under control, as did using a frosting spreader dipped in warm water.) Once he was thoroughly crumb coated, we started piping on frosting, smoothing here, adding “scales” there, shoving bits of leftover cake and frosting into gaps, and chatting as we worked.
Henry added the orange M&M eyes and was happy with how it looked. Basilisks also have white dots that run down their sides. Henry carefully added white chocolate chips for the bigger dots and then and dotted white cupcake sprinkles in just the right places to make the little ones.
While he worked on those details (and snitched a few white chocolate chips), I melted some of the white chocolate, then tinted part of it green and part of it orange (took a little artistic liberty on that color). I piped this onto wax paper to create the arched fin-like crest that continues along its back and tail. After the melted chocolate hardened off on my chilly back porch, we peeled it off of the wax paper and added those fun details to his birthday cake.
The birthday boy’s eyes lit up. He had one word to describe our creation.
That’s the same word I used to describe my day with the birthday boy.