Spoiler alert- it’s in my kitchen.
For her 25th birthday, my sister “politely suggested” (if you knew my sister, you would know that was code for “required”) I make her cakes completely befitting a woman officially old enough to rent a car: Sesame Street-themed (of course) Granted, she did used to have the best job ever working at Sesame Street in NYC so it wasn’t totally out of the Cookie-Monster shade of blue.
Specifically, she wanted two different cakes- one Elmo, one Cookie Monster. Loving a decorating challenge, and loving my sister of course (maybe or maybe not in that order), I jumped at the chance to travel to the street known as Sesame. Here’s how the journey went down:
Challenge: 1 “Elmo” red velvet cake and 1 “Cookie Monster” strawberry cake, entirely edible with chocolate-covered Oreos eyes.
Step 1: Make the cakes. In this particular instance, the cakes were a gateway to get to the buttercream decorations, so I totally went the boxed-cake route. No shame- fake and bake strawberry cake is delicious and you all know it.
Step 2: Decorate the Oreos. I covered the eyes in melted white chocolate chips after carefully cutting some of them to make sure they nestle together on the cake. Anyone who knows Elmo and Cookie Monster know their eyes are practically on top of each other. And for Elmo’s nose (apparently Cookie Monster is too busy eating to try and smell anything), I put orange powdered food coloring into the white chocolate chip mixture.
*IMPORTANT, LIFE-ALTERING TIP: For anyone wanting to add color to melted chocolate, DO NOT use liquid or alcohol based food coloring. The gel or liquid coloring you buy at the store will not work- it will curdle your chocolate as well as your stomach and leave you in a disappointed mess on the kitchen floor. Trust me, I know. So only use powdered food coloring!
Step 3: Make and color the buttercream frosting. Everyone has their staple go-to recipes, and this buttercream frosting is one of mine. Depending on how stiff you want to make the icing (and therefore how fondant-like smooth you want the icing to appear on the cake), you can add or subtract your levels of shortening (more shortening + less butter = stiffer icing perfect for smoothing). Since I planned on making Elmo and the CM as furry as possible, smooth icing wasn’t necessary. So, I was able to use more butter and less shortening, making for better tasting icing and a less-messy clean up. Because let’s be honest, washing shortening off of anything makes anyone hate life just a little bit more, right?
Classic buttercream frosting recipe for cake decorating- I did one batch in red and one in blue for obvious reasons
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter softened*
*Note- if you want stiffer icing for smoothing cakes to look more like fondant, add more vegetable shortening but keep the shortening to butter proportion the same. Meaning, if you add 1/4 cup shortening, subtract 1/4 cup butter. The total amount of butter + shortening should always be 1 cup.
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (sometimes I like to use peppermint or almond extract depending on the flavor I want)
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, depending on desired consistency
Instructions for medium consistency:
In a large bowl, cream shortening and butter with an electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Beat again before using.
Step 4: Assemble the cakes. I made 2 6″ rounds for each cake and sliced off the rounded tops to make a flat surface (Note- save the cake tops later to make cake balls!) I put about half an inch of icing in between each layer, then did a thin layer of icing around the entire cakes to trap in the crumbs in a “crumb layer”- do one coating of icing and put it in the fridge for about 15 minutes to set the crumbs in; this will make a second layer look much more polished without showing any crumbs.
Step 5: “Furrify” the cakes. I used the “Grass” Wilton tip #232 to create patches of fur for the tops and sides of the cakes. You’ll see here what an individual application looks like- just go along the cakes in rows and fill in all the gaps and before you know it, you have a furry Muppet on your hands…and on your plate.
Step 6: Finish and apply the mouths and Oreo eyes. I used a black food coloring pen to make the pupils of each of the eyes, and canned store icing with a Wilton tip #3 to outline and fill in Elmo’s mouth. And CM’s mouth is self explanatory (read: delicious).
Step 7: Admire cakes for about 15 seconds and then commit a delicious, double Muppet homicide. It may have been less than 15 seconds. We looked, we “awed,” we destroyed!
All in all, the journey to Sesame Street is a scrumptious one I highly recommend taking. Just beware- you’ll have red and blue food coloring embedded in your fingernails for a week, but it’s totally worth it.
*Note to my sister: This in fact was not a requirement, but a pleasure to do, and I do love you more than frosting. Happy birthday!