My son is smart and wily and creative. He is thoughtful and determined and energetic.
And he is 3 years old!
This year for Jake’s birthday, I really wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to spend less time worrying and preparing, and more time marveling at how my tiny baby turned into this enormous, articulate preschooler, a little boy with a strong will and a contagious smile!
Jake never hesitates when you ask him what his favorite foods are: ice cream and pizza. (Clearly I have been teaching him everything I know…) So this year we decided to have an ice cream party to celebrate what an awesome kid Jake is!
I so meant for this party to be completely low-key, just a fun time with family and sugar. But you know me…I can’t resist a good book or a good book-themed party. And it just so happens that one of Jake’s favorite books is about ice cream!
And we made birthday cupcakes in ice cream cones. We made them green, like Gerald’s ice cream. And we filled the cones full, so the batter would drip down the outside of the cones as they baked and look a little
explodedmelted. Like Gerald’s ice cream.
But let me tell you a secret about these ice cream cones. I used Funfetti box mix cake. *gasp!* And the universe didn’t implode. And they were delicious.
In the days leading up to the party, I had more than a few moments of feeling guilty for planning to bake cakes from a box mix for my son’s birthday. Don’t get me wrong: I actually love box mix cakes and box mix brownies. I grew up on them, and I think they are scrum-diddly-umptious as well as easy! (Confession: every time I make a yellow cake from scratch, a small voice inside me pipes up that a box mix would have been more moist and tasty.)
There is absolutely no judgment or mom guilt heaped on you if you like to whip out a Pillsbury box to make a treat for your family.
But my tendency is to do everything the hard way, the way that takes extra hours and special tools and all of my mental energy. And a favorite blogger of mine once waxed poetic about how the perfect mom doesn’t need Duncan Hines to celebrate a birthday. And the implication sort of stuck in my head: must bake from scratch!
I generally do like to bake everything from scratch. I find it fun and magical.
I actually did consider making Christina Tosi’s from-scratch version of a Funfetti cake, so that Jake could have sprinkles and I could have my pride.
But then I remembered: he’s turning 3. His favorite color is green, and his favorite game is pretending his maracas are ice cream cones. He will be happy with any cake we make, as long as he gets to dump the ingredients into the bowl and lick the beaters afterward. And I will be happy if I can save my energy for enjoying the birthday boy, rather than counting whisk strokes and washing a million measuring cups/spoons.
We scooped our bright green batter into 3 dozen cake cones. The trickiest part of baking cupcakes in ice cream cones is keeping the cones upright! The tops are much wider than the bottoms, so they are not completely stable. I stood the cones up in a mini muffin tin, which helped (but as I pulled them out to check their doneness, about half of them leapt out of the pan). Happily, the cones absorb a lot of the impact when they fall over, and if you are going for the “melted ice cream” look, it won’t be a big problem if you end up with a few drips.
We filled our cones nearly full with batter, but if you want to end up with very neat and orderly cupcake cones, the kind you could top with a big swirl of frosting so that they look like soft-serve, then you will want to underfill them. The cake will rise dramatically while baking, and even the underfilled cones may explode a little in the oven.
By the way, I do recommend baking these the same day you intend to serve them, as the cones will become soft and stale rather quickly.
The birthday boy said he wanted to eat his cupcake without frosting, which was more than fine with me. We left all of our cupcakes plain, but I made a big batch of chocolate buttercream for guests to “scoop” onto the cupcakes as they desired.
Let’s not forget that this was an ice cream party! After reading a great post on The Kitchn about sundae parties, I gathered together a small mountain of ice cream toppings to go with vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The main topping categories were sweet, fruity, crunchy, and saucy. There were a few healthier options, but most of our treats were just that: indulgent treats fit for a 3-year old! We had caramel popcorn, macerated strawberries, m&ms, rainbow sprinkles, caramel sauce and hot fudge, toasted coconut, gummy bears, toffee bits, chopped peanuts, magic shell, and whipped cream.
The thing that made this party a true success was that almost everyone from our extended local(ish) family was able to come! All in all there were about 20 of us, which sounds like it should be crazy (and it was), but it was such a delight! Jake was so happy to play and share new toys with cousins, to get hugs and congratulations from grandparents and aunts and uncles! And because we were celebrating with family, once the party actually got underway, I felt totally able to relax rather than continue to play up the role of hostess.
From singing happy birthday and eating all the cake to opening gifts to smashing the cupcake-shaped piñata and gathering the prizes, Jake said his favorite thing about his birthday was “all the parts!”
Happy birthday, my dear Jake! You are our light, and we love you.