Unicorn Fairy Mermaid Birthday Cake

I’ve always been a big birthday fan. When I was a kid, I used to count down the days to my birthday starting about six weeks before the big day. I can vividly remember the birthday cakes that my mom would make. Delicious chocolate rolls with raspberry jam. White cake with ballerinas whose skirts were made of more cake and gorgeously decorated frosting. Go big or go home, right?

 unicorn fairy mermaid cake

unicorn fairy mermaid cake

Birthdays provide the opportunity to celebrate the day my kids were born and marvel at all the time that has passed since that day. My kids love to hear the stories about the day they were born, and I love to retell it! Birthdays absolutely deserve special attention in my book, and it delights me to pass that tradition on to my kids.

When my youngest daughter said she wanted a unicorn fairy mermaid birthday cake for her upcoming 6th birthday, I was excited! Daunted, sure. But excited. She told me what she wanted just about 6 weeks before her birthday… yep, this kid is a direct descendent! Unusually, she couldn’t decide whether she wanted a vanilla cake or a chocolate cake. So I decided to make a striped cake! I ordered a bunch of awesome cake props from Amazon, and set to work to master a layer cake that didn’t require separate layers. I wanted a cake striped with chocolate and vanilla, but baked in one pan. Less cleanup! This took time and patience, and quite frankly, though I’ve now made this many times, the layers still don’t come out perfectly every time. This is real life.

That said, having solid recipes for both the white cake and the chocolate cake are absolutely essential. No matter what the stripes look like, it should taste great! I used this tried and true white cake recipe for the vanilla cake. It’s my go-to for white cake and it has never, ever failed me. Trust me when I say you’ll want to bookmark that one. I’ve included the recipe for my chocolate cake below, as well as the instructions to make a striped cake.

striped unicorn fairy mermaid cake

I hope you give this a try! If you make this and post it on Instagram, please tag @lalalunchbox and #lalalunchbox so I’m sure to see it!

Chocolate Birthday Cake

Ingredients

two cake batters
  • 1 cup all purpose flour 

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 large egg

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

  • 1/4 cup avocado or neutral oil

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1/2 c coffee

Prepare the Chocolate Cake

  1. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl.

  2. Add in egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and mix on low until fully incorporated.

  3. Add coffee and gently stir. The batter will be very thin.

 make sure layers are nearly cooked before adding more batter

make sure layers are nearly cooked before adding more batter

Make a striped cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an springform cake pan with parchment paper and spray sides and bottom.

  2. Pour a heaping 1/2 cup of white cake batter into springform pan, and tilt the pan until it covers the entirety of the bottom. Bake for 6-7 minutes, or until the cake seems not quite fully cooked. Remove from the oven.

  3. Pour a heaping 1/2 cup of chocolate cake batter on top of the first layer, again making sure to completely cover the white cake layer. Bake for another 6-7 minutes, following the same guidance on the previous layer.

  4. With each successive layer, the cake may need an additional minute or two in the oven (not more). You’ll need to keep a careful eye on the cake during the cooking process.

  5. Repeat the process until the batter is finished. When the final layer is poured on top, bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

  6. Cool the cake for at least 30 minutes.

  7. After that resting time, I like to pop the cake in the freezer while I’m making frosting. A cold cake makes the frosting process much easier.

striped cake

Marshmallow Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces cream cheese

  • 6 ounces of unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 6 ounces marshmallow fluff

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

  • 1-2 teaspoons plant based, natural food coloring (optional)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix on medium high until you have a uniformly smooth, creamy frosting.

  2. Use a spatula to spread evenly on cake. You’ll likely have extra frosting. Enjoy it on whatever you’d like!

  3. Decorate as intricately as you’d like!

unicorn fairy mermaid birthday cake

Grilled Cheese Wafflewiches

savory waffle

It took me a while to broaden my breakfast horizon beyond pancakes. I dedicated loads of time to perfecting the pancake recipe, and once that was settled, I had a grand old time experimenting with variations. Pancakes were a great building block for all sorts of lunchboxes for my kids. In general, I thought we were chugging along just fine.  

And then one day, my older daughter discovered not one, but two waffle irons in the back of a kitchen cabinet that rarely sees the light of day. She looked up a recipe and promptly made breakfast for all of us. The kids were elated. From there, we spent several weekend mornings testing out various waffle recipes and building our freezer stash for lunchboxes. A sea change was in the air. 

savory wafflewich ingredients

I yearned for waffles, and I wanted them savory. After lots of recipe fails, I figured out that the key to crispy waffles was the addition of corn starch, and in fact, waffles aren't just pancakes with abs. With that little bit of knowledge under my belt, and many rounds of recipe testing, I created our family's favorite savory waffle recipe. They're slightly salty, with a hint of bold flavor, all nestled within the comfort and reliability that you'd want from waffles. These savory waffles are the perfect canvas for all sorts of toppings, but hands down, our favorite is a simple grilled cheese wafflewich. Crispy outsides, gooey insides. This is the stuff of dreams!

Grilled cheese is a staple in so many homes, and this recipe elevates that concept and makes it perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This recipe was created in partnership with TheFeedfeed and Land O Lakes® and it quickly became a staple in my home. I use Land O Lakes® Deli American cheese because it melts beautifully, and it's creamy deliciousness brings me back to my own childhood. My mom used to make open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches with Land O Lakes® Deli American in the toaster oven and heat them until big brown bubbles formed on top. Those bubbles were absolutely magical. They still are. For breakfast, we serve these waffles open-faced with that same toasted bubble, but when it comes to the lunchbox, we're all about the closed face wafflewich. 

 Grilled cheese wafflewich

Grilled cheese wafflewich

Making grilled cheese wafflewiches for my kids is both a celebration of new discoveries, and a nod to my past. They're easy to eat, delicious and my kids dig them hot and melty, or cold from the fridge. Here's what else I love about them: Land O Lakes® Deli American cheese is available at pretty much every deli counter near me, so it's reliably easy to find, and always sliced fresh. These days, I can send my 12 year old out to buy it, and the only thing I don't know in advance is whether she will pick up yellow or white (which by the way, is a heated debate in my house, but that's a story for another day). 

savory wafflewich lunchbox

grilled cheese Wafflewiches 

Ingredients

savory waffles

20 (3/4 ounce) slices of Land O Lakes® Deli American cheese
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Land O Lakes grilled cheese wafflewich lunchbox

Directions

  1. Preheat the waffle iron and the oven to 200 degrees F. In a medium sized bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients.

  2. In a separate bowl, add the chives, buttermilk and eggs and whisk together until just combined. Whisk in the melted (and cooled) butter and grated parmesan.

  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, making sure that everything is fully mixed.

  4. When the waffle iron is hot, pour about 1/4 cup of batter to create each waffle (may change depending on your waffle iron). Close the waffle iron and cook for approximately 3 minutes, or until the steam stops spraying out of the sides.

  5. Use a spatula or your fingers to remove the waffle and repeat until the batter is finished.

  6. Place the waffles on a rack and place that rack in the oven to stay warm and crispy.

  7. When you have finished using all of the batter, remove the waffles from the oven and heat the oven to broil.

  8. Lay out the waffles on a cookie sheet. Place 2-3 slices of Land O Lakes® Deli American cheese (3/4 ounce each) on each of the waffles, making sure to drape them over the edge slightly. Place under the broiler for approximately 1-2 minutes or until the cheese has completely melted. Alternate method: place the sliced cheese on top of each waffle just after it finishes cooking. Create a pressed wafflewich by placing a waffle on top and closing the lid. Slice each wafflewich into 4 equal squares, or serve whole.

Makes 5 full wafflewiches. I typically cut these into quarters. 

My favorite part about these Savory Wafflewiches? Definitely the fact that my dairy-eating kids love to pack them for lunch! If you make this recipe, share it on Instagram and be sure to tag #lalalunchbox #Feedfeed and #LandOLakes 

savory waffle platter

*Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Land O Lakes® and TheFeedfeed. All opinions are my own.

 

Updated Argentine Tortilla (Tortilla de Papas)

individual tortilla de papas

Potatoes + onions + eggs + spices = divine combination. Right?

My family traveled to Brazil and Argentina this summer to visit family and celebrate my brother in law’s wedding. Visually and culturally, the trip was magnificent! It was a culinary eye opener for my kids, and somewhat difficult at times for one of my kids and for me to handle the amount of meat consumed. We don’t eat so much red meat at home, but in Brazil and Argentina, it’s ubiquitous.

One bright light: in Buenos Aires, my aunt wowed us with her Tortilla de Papas, an Argentine riff on the classic Spanish dish, Tortilla Española.
In the classic preparation, chunks of potato are fried in olive oil with onions and spices until they have beautifully browned edges, and then eggs are added. Once flipped, this omelet seals the deal as a simple, yet filling and comforting rustic dish. My aunt can make this with her eyes closed, and it’s absolutely delicious time and time again. But wow, it’s a messy affair! Oil splatters everywhere, and the need to pour out some of the excess oil is potentially a hazard. In general, not the kind of dish that I would personally want to make over and over.

Once home, I tried my hand at her recipe many times, and tinkered with it until I reached a dish that I would be happy making on repeat. Instead of frying in a cast iron pan, I’ve roasted and seasoned the potatoes and onions, then baked the whole thing with eggs. The roasted flavor carries over beautifully here, and you won’t need to wipe up all of the oil spatter from frying. This dish can be made in multiple sizes, with the only adjustment made in the cooking time.

tortilla de papas

It’s homey and comforting, and easy enough to make on a busy weeknight. I love this dish because it’s also hearty enough to have as a main dish. If you make this dish, post it and tag @lalalunchbox and #lalalunchbox on Instagram.

Tortilla de Papas

roasted onions and potatoes

1 pound of thin skinned potatoes (such as yukon gold), cut into 1 inch chunks
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into thin rounds
1 tablespoon paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
2. Lay out the potatoes and onions on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.
3. Roast for approximately 35-40 minutes or until the potatoes and onions are nicely browned on the edges.
4. In a separate bowl, scramble the eggs and add salt/pepper to taste. I added just under one teaspoon.
5. Combine the roasted vegetables with the eggs and pour into an oven safe dish. You can line the top with roasted onion rings to make it look pretty.
6. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the eggs are just set.

tortilla de papas

Nut Free Carrot Cake

Contrary to the last several posts, this blog is not becoming a dessert blog! 

nut free carrot cake

But sometimes there's a lot to celebrate, and that's a good thing. We love to celebrate the first day of school with cake, and each year my kids choose what kind of cake they'd like. Normally there's a fair amount of bickering that goes into that, but this year, the kids settled on carrot cake pretty quickly! 

nut free carrot cake ingredients

Carrot cake is rarely something that we have, because it's usually loaded with walnuts, and I'm deathly allergic. So in order to eat carrot cake, it has to be homemade. I have a vegan recipe that I've been using for years, but I I began tinkering with the recipe when the mood struck for carrot cake but I didn't have all of the ingredients on hand.

The end result is still a nut free delicious cake, with subtle carrot flavor and lots of flavor companionship from cinnamon and allspice. But this recipe is moist and rich thanks to buttermilk, and there was absolutely no need to even add egg to it! What I also love about this cake is that it's decadent, the way a cake should be (it is dessert, after all!) but the added sugar isn't through the roof. The entire cake has 1/3 cup, which equals 16 teaspoons. We usually cut this cake into 15 pieces, so the amount of sugar per slice is just about one teaspoon. 

nut free carrot cake mixing

Anyway, sugar calculations aside, dessert is dessert. And while I wouldn't try to pass this off as breakfast, it didn't leave me with that overwhelming cloyingly sweet sensation, which I greatly appreciate. This was absolutely perfect for our back to school celebration! 

Nut Free Carrot Cake

nut free carrot cake decorated and frosted

Ingredients
3 cups of grated carrots
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup grapeseed oil or neutral oil
2 1/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon, plus extra for dusting the top
1 teaspoon allspice

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350. 
2. Grease a 9x13 inch rectangular pan and line it with parchment paper.
3. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice. 
4. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the carrots, sugar, vanilla, buttermilk and oil. 
5. Gently fold in the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. 
6. Spoon the batter into the cake pan.
7. Bake for approximately 32-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
8. Once cool, spread with cream cheese frosting (recipe below) on top and dust with cinnamon (optional) or decorate as you'd like. 

*this recipe makes one 9x13 cake

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients
8 ounces of cream cheese (softened) 
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (sifted)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Method
Combine cream cheese and butter and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix with either a hand mixer or a standing mixer. If the cream cheese and butter are soft enough (note: do not melt them!) you can do this by hand. 
Slowly add the confectioners sugar. It's much better sifted, as confectioners sugar tends to have lumps, but that said, sifting is annoying and time consuming, so I get that you'll want to skip that part. And that's okay. Make sure then, that you continue to beat until all lumps are gone. Add the cinnamon and ground ginger and thoroughly combine. 
Spread on the carrot cake once cooled.  

* you may have extra frosting... save it! You never know when it could come in handy!

nut free carrot cake

If you make this recipe, let me know! Share your creation on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest and tag @lalalunchbox #lalalunchbox 

Dulce de Leche Birthday Cake

Dulce de Leche cake with Spiced Whipped Cream

I like to bake. I like to cook. The two things are not the same for me, though. When I cook, I don't usually follow recipes to the T. To me, that's part of the fun. Cooking is an art that improves over time. Baking is different. Baking is a science, with measurements that need to be exact. I happen to like both, but I cook much more frequently than I bake. 

One thing I love to bake is birthday cake. Who doesn't love birthdays?! I don't usually love cake (why eat cake when you can eat cookies?) but I love celebrating. So when I was asked to make a Dulce de Leche cake by my friends' sweet son for his 12th birthday, I was happy to oblige. 

The problem was, I had never made a dulce de leche cake. And I don't actually love dulce de leche, as it's usually too sweet for me. Still, I perused recipes. I reached out to folks on Instagram. And I tested several recipes. Would dulce de leche go better with a white cake or a chocolate cake? I had to find out. Ultimately I decided to go with white cake, and I used a tried and true recipe that my mother shared with me ages ago. (recipe below)

dulce de leche

As for the dulce de leche, I made my own. Dulce de Leche is a creamy caramel sauce made from milk and sugar. You can speed up the process (which takes 7 hours!) by using sweetened, condensed milk and heating it for a long time until it caramelizes. Several recipes suggested that I boil the can - the whole can, unopened - for 2-3 hours. Boiling the can sounded weird to me. Is that even safe? I didn't know, but I saw the same instructions in so many places, so I gave it a try. The outcome was great. A uniform caramel color with a creamy sweet deliciousness. Still, the idea didn't sit well with me. I didn’t feel safe about it  

I wondered if I could get the same result by slow cooking condensed milk without using the can. I found several sources that suggested I could pour sweetened condensed milk into an 8x8 pan and put that dish inside of a 9x13 pan filled 3/4 of the way up with water. I placed it into an oven preheated to 400 degrees and cooked it for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it became dulce de leche. When the cooking process was done, I whisked vigorously. The outcome wasn't uniformly colored, and there were some bits of condensed milk that became small clumps. At first I was disheartened by this. But ultimately I realized it's these small bits that make the texture interesting. They give life to the dulce de leche. So I went with it. 

Whipped cream frosting for the dulce de leche cake

I used the dulce de leche as the glue that held the two cake layers together, and also in the frosting. Instead of going with a buttercream frosting or anything that required confectioners sugar, I went with a whipped cream frosting. (recipe below) The results were fabulous! This cake went over so well, and frankly, I was relieved. I will absolutely make this again!

White Cake (makes two layers) 

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 5 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of two 9 inch cake pans. In a large bowl or an electric mixer beat the butter and 1-1/4 cups of the sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If your butter is already at room temperature, you can do this by hand. Add the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in parts, alternating with the milk and gently mixing after each addition. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they stand in soft peaks. Still beating, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tins. Bake about 32-34 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool completely before taking out of the pan. Use a very sharp long knife to flatten the tops of each layer. Spread the dulce de leche generously on top of one layer and then place the second layer on top of that. Frost with spiced whipped cream and enjoy! Serve with extra dulce de leche on the side (optional) 

Spiced Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup dulce de leche
pinch of salt

Using the whisk attachment of your standing mixer or a hand mixer, whisk the heavy cream on high until it begins to change form into whipped cream. Once you see that change, add the cinnamon, dulce de leche and salt and continue mixing until desired consistency. I prefer it well whipped, as I think it spreads best onto cakes. 

dulce de leche cake