Our daughter’s birthday was this month and she is currently addicted to gymnastics, so that was the theme of her party this year. I’d heard from other parents how great it was to have a gymnastics party at the YMCA…minimal fee, don’t have to clean your house, employees entertain the kids…so I was all for it!
The fee was $60 for the gymnastics area for two hours. More than I remembered a friend quoting, but considering that we included the whole class, I didn’t have to have everyone to our home, and I would have spent more on decorations if we’d been at the house, it was well worth it! For that fee we got the gymnastics room for an hour with a staff person on site to help supervise, and another hour in the “tennis viewing area” right outside the gymnastics room for cake and gifts.
To keep things even more simple, I used Evites to send invitations to Faith’s class, grandparents, and other family and friends that we wanted to include. They happened to have a couple gymnastics invitations, and my favorite part was being able to track RSVPs both on the website and via their app on my phone! (Faith liked that, too, and checked my phone almost daily.)
For the first few years throwing Faith’s birthday parties, I made the cake or cupcakes. With the exception of her first birthday cake, I loved the taste and was proud of how they turned out. (I’m a bit of a cake snob and this girl can make a good cake, if I do say so myself!) However, I learned quickly that a lot of my stress of throwing a party for her was due to worrying about getting the cake right…and the time involved in making it. So for the past couple of years, I have hired that job out and have been so happy I did! Unfortunately, with a birthday around graduation time, finding someone to do it is often a challenge and, aside from a grocery store cake which just doesn’t do it for me, it was an impossibility this year. We found some cute cupcake options that I was hoping she would choose (frosting and decorating a cupcake is much less stressful), but of course she wanted “a cake, not cupcakes”. *sigh* I had a big sheet cake pan from her first birthday and it was big enough to serve the group coming, so I went with that.
My concerns were a) getting the cake to flip out in one piece and b) frosting it without getting cake in the white buttercream. As it turned out, I had even more things to worry about! I failed to read the cake pan instructions before going to the store, but it just so happened that I picked up four cake mixes. Thank GOD, because I needed every. single. one. I’d found these fun hot pink and turquoise “velvet” cake mixes and thought that if I could marble it with the two chocolate mixes, it might be cool. The velvet mixes whipped up thick, however, and the chocolate was runny…so as I tried putting “dollops” into the pan, the chocolate oozed around the colored mixes and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. In the end I couldn’t even see beyond chocolate as I ran the knife through to marble them, so it was a surprise until the cake came out!
Well, this was my view as it came out of the oven, and while it wasn’t “marbled” (I hadn’t run the knife through too many times because I couldn’t tell what it was doing and was afraid I’d wind up overmixing the colors), I was thrilled that the colors were separated! When we finally cut into it at the party I was even more pleased…
So the marbling worked, and the cake popped out of the pan. I even had success frosting it (just a few crumbs came loose). I did a crumb coat (light layer of frosting), froze it for about a half hour, and then frosted the rest. I probably could have used more icing but I wasn’t about to make another batch. Either way, definitely will be repeating that icing technique again!
Next it was time for the decorations. I purchased the pastry kit for my Pazzles in hopes of adding fondant to my cake-decorating skills. (Previously that small list of skills included baking a good cake, making delicious frosting, and the ability to pipe frosting like a champ. Or close.) The pastry kit allowed me to cut fondant and sugar into shapes. I LOVE fondant, so while I try to not eat sugar, when I am going to have birthday cake, I like to go big or go home. Fondant all the way!
It took a while to figure it out. The fondant had to be rolled pretty thin, and my go-to Pazzles person (Klo) said she had better luck with sugar paper than fondant, so I was nervous. I chose a simple design for the fondant because of that, and fortunately the circles cut from the fondant really well. (Whew!) To purchase fondant to cover the whole cake would have cost as much as having a professional make a cake, so I went this route. Due to the size of this cake I don’t think I could have made a fondant rectangle big enough to cover it. Most of our family doesn’t like fondant anyway, so that worked out well.
The kit came with sugar paper, and since Klo said she had better luck with that, I had planned it into my design. In addition to the hot pink fondant circles, I chose to create gymnast shapes from the black sugar paper. By the time I got the blade pressure right, I had torn up half of the sheet. Fortunately I managed to get three successful gymnasts, but wasn’t able to also cut “happy birthday” out of the sheet. Here’s how it turned out (and yes, that’s a beer…it was getting stressful in the final hour).
I had fondant left and wasn’t going to roll it out again, so I rolled it into little pearl-sized balls to trim out the edge. About a fourth of the way in I wondered what the heck I was thinking and even tried to beg The Bestie to come over for a beer and join in the fun. Unfortunately she was out to dinner with friends. Lucky duck!
You can’t tell well in the photo, but we had planned to incorporate gold dust on the cake, so I brushed the fondant with it. It just added a little shimmer.
I failed to pick up a cake box during my multiple store trips, even though I’d looked at them, and by the time I decided that yes, I wanted one, they were sold out (again, graduations…grrr!). I wound up using saran wrap to cover the cake and stored it in the oven so that the dog wouldn’t destroy my hard work (she has quite a sweet tooth and plowed through our leftover wedding cupcakes, so odds were good). The cake stayed safe and everything seemed good until we were walking up to the Y in the wind and the saran started to blow a bit. The sugar paper had gotten so moist that it stuck to the saran, completely pulling away from the cake. My solution: Keep the saran on until it was time to cut the cake. Fortunately I’d already taken pics the night before.
I went very minimal on decorations…plastic tablecloths, balloons and streamers, and paper/plastic products in hot pink, black and turquoise. I also added Avery wrap-around labels to the water bottles, and had the kids mark their water with a Sharpie so we didn’t have lost or wasted bottles.
Once 1:00 hit, we let everyone into the gymnastics area and they had a great time! There was so much to do!
Even Mya got in on the action…
Once the hour was up, I was focused on keeping things moving. READ: The natives were restless. I had one injury, a couple tattle-talers, and it was just not an option to have open spaces. We sang “happy birthday” and cut the cake, then it was time for gifts.
The two-hour time frame was perfect. We filled it nicely without too much “free time” for kids to get (too) crazy or wander around. While having nearly 20 kids at one party was a bit of a zoo, having the activities taken care of and not having it at our house helped a lot. The kids didn’t know that the sugar paper stuck to the saran, and we were able to throw a party for the whole class for probably the same amount I’d have spent for a smaller group at home. Most importantly, Faith had a great time and there was just enough leftover cake. With fondant. 😊