Keeping birthdays naturally colored

I had so much fun at Duncan’s birthday party that – as exhausted as I was – I had a hard time falling asleep last night. This morning, even though Kevin has Berry downstairs and Duncan is still sleeping, I can’t get back to sleep for thinking about it.

All considered, everything went well. It rained practically all day, then stopped for 1hour and 55 minutes of the party. Pouring recommenced at 5:55 p.m. But it worked out OK as almost all the kiddos left, a few people and family stayed and we opened presents. Opening presents took an entire hour. Were there a lot of presents? Yes. Was he totally focused on thoroughly playing with the present he’d just opened, showing no interest in opening the next one? Totally. Bless him.

So Duncan is now 3 years old. Both he and Berry have a love of the Little Einsteins TV show, so we decided to use that a theme this year. In prior years (both of them) we went for a small, family party with “birthday” as the theme. But, as Kevin says, “you’re only 3 once.”

To go with the Little Einsteins table cover, plates, napkins, party hats and balloons I decided to make a Rocket cake. There were several obstables to that.

1. Um…a cake that’s not just round? That defies my cake making abilities.

2. How do I get red and blue icing without using Red No. 40? Artificial food coloring is banned in this house (along with MSG, artificial sweetners, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil *).

So Kevin and I (mostly Kevin) set about experimenting with natural food colors. For Berry’s birthday, I found a bottle of natural food coloring at a local health food store.

Seelect 100% Natural Food Coloring, Red/Strawberry, 2-Ounce Bottle (Pack of 4)

But it didn’t turn the icing strawberry red. It make it…well…kinda purple-y red. The cake was good, anyway.

For Rocket, I wanted RED red.

First Kevin tried boiling down some rhubarb from our garden. Then he added lemon juice to…um…change it from a base to an acid or something. There was an actual scientific principle at play.

(Must pause here, Duncan has woken up.)

Rhubarb made a pink color. Rhubarb + lemon juice made an orange-y pink color. Crushed cherries made a nice dark red shade — but cherry red (duh!), not Rocket red.

Next I tried melting and reducing a strawberry fruit pop. According to the ingredients, those are colored with the strawberries themselves, beet color and turmeric. I guess the yellow of the turmeric is supposed to turn the purpleness of the beet color into red. In any case, boiled down a bit it turned into a murky brownish orange. Not something I want to frost a cake with.

Finally, I decided to simply puree some strawberries. Mmmm…a nice red at last. Unfortunately, when mixed into dairy-free buttercream icing (earth balance margarine instead of butter), it turned a lovely shade of pink. Since it had a bit of an orange tinge, I added our red-purple natural food dye. It darkened it up a bit, but remained quite pink. The icing was also a bit soft.

The blue (for the windows and belly) was fairly easy to figure out. Crushed blueberries. I can’t remember if Kevin cooked them a bit first. Then he added baking power (or soda) — again to do something chemtastically scientific with the adic/base composition. It made a nice light blue/grey.

To actually make the Rocket cake, I found these instructions online (they’re down at the bottom of the page). I went one step further and made a bottom for Rocket as well. Since I wasn’t about to buy Twinkies, I used some extra cake for the engines.

And here it is – the edible, melting, pink finished product. Not as good as the creations on Andrea’s Recipes (her husband made it, no less), but did I mention that it was edible? 🙂

* Disclaimer: there are some MSG-containing soups in our pantry, but I will not be buying any more after a recent declaration (I believe I proclaimed: MSG is evil! at the dining room table). Kevin still drinks soda. Ugh. And, occassionally, we eat foods with hydrogentated oil, but as little as possible.