We are celebrating the Little Prince’s second birthday this week (or as he so charmingly states “‘Appy birfy-day now peez!”) which means a busy time of gift buying and wrapping, party planning and prepping and, of course, cake baking.

Last year I took the plunge and created my very first solo birthday cake.  As I mentioned at the time, it was a whole lot of (very rewarding) work so I approached this year’s cake with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and determination.  The Little Prince and I talked it over and we settled on a “bump-truck” cake.  I could have chosen to go with a simple sheet cake with a picture of a dump truck on it, but I decided to get a little more ambitious…(here’s where that determination, and some of the trepidation come in).

Since I was being ambitious I decided that I wanted to create a three dimensional dump truck to rest on a top layer of cake and look like it was dumping to a bottom layer of cake.  I knew if I was going to pull this off I needed to do some serious testing.

First I had to test cake recipes.  I needed a cake that was sturdy enough to support the weight of multiple large cake layers as well as being carved into 3D shapes.  But I wanted to make sure it was still moist and delicious, something our guests would want to eat.  Given those criteria, pound cake seemed like a good place to start.  I found any number of recipes (and tested several of them) before I came up with these two:

Double Chocolate Chip Pound Cake (adapted from Lisa Yockelson’s Espresso Chocolate Chip Pound Cake recipe in Baking by Flavor.)

Dulce de Leche Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (adapted from Pichet Ong’s Condensed Milk Pound Cake recipe in The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts.)

Despite the many shortening detractors out there, my experience with cake decorating (both with my mother and solo) has proven that nothing beats Wilton’s buttercream for cake decorating and I would be using it again this year for the exterior of the cake. However, I wanted something a little softer, a little less sweet and a little more flavorful between the cake layers so I opted for a salted version of Sticky Toffee Buttercream.

With the cake and frosting recipes settled it was time to do a dress rehearsal.  I used some of my test cakes to create a small layer cake for the base, about 8×4 inches.  The test batch of the salted sticky toffee buttercream was a lot more than was required to fill the cake and the color reminded me of sand or gravel so I frosted the entire base with it.  I didn’t have enough to do any decorative touches so I trimmed the edges with crushed heath – I liked the effect so much that I’m going to use it on the final cake too!

With that success under my belt I turned to the real challenge, the truck.  I needed a truck that was about 5×2 inches to fit comfortably on top of the base.  I started measuring and cutting and assembling.  My kitchen was covered with crumbs and scraps not to mention smears and dollops of melted chocolate (I used that as the glue since I was entirely out of frosting at this point).  After a little trial and error, and a few mistakes, I had a small dump truck assembled.  Before I dedicated any time to making more frosting and decorating my little test truck I showed it to the Little Prince.  I could not have asked for a better or more enthusiastic reaction…”Biiiig truck, vrooom!…bump truck, biiiiiig bump truck! Fwoor peez?!”

I figured I’d come that far, why stop there? I whipped up a batch of Wilton’s buttercream and tinted several small bowls of it with bright cheerful colors I knew my Little Prince would love.  It took me a couple of hours to finish my somewhat sloppy decorating job, but there were some valuable lessons learned – like I really should wait for the crumb coat to set before doing anything else and it might be easier to decorate some pieces (tires!) before assembly rather than after.

Despite some glitches and small difficulties I’m counting this test a success, after all it was intended to be a learning experience and it was!  Now I can rest until I have to create the final cake this weekend.  I can’t wait to see the Little Prince’s face when he sees the full size version of his “biiiig bump truck”!