Wednesday, June 18, 2014

our not-so-frozen "Frozen" birthday party, with a gelatin ice castle recipe!

"Frozen" birthday party ideas

after going through several theme ideas since the conclusion of her last birthday (kites, rainbows, princesses), Sweet One at the last moment settled on a "Frozen" theme based on the hit Disney movie. i am sure all mothers of young girls out there are shocked, shocked i say. here is where we ended up with our "Frozen" birthday party...

the cake

i think i can claim this one as my own. at least, i haven't seen it done yet. this is a gelatin "ice" castle cake, using a dollar store sand-castle pail as a mold, white grape juice as the liquid, and fancy sugar sprinkles for the additions that make it sparkle and give it that ethereal North Mountain feel (if not nearly the exact look... i'm not that crazy, and thankfully my daughter is not that literal). see the separate gelatin "ice" castle cake recipe post for the full how-to...

the rest of the menu

we followed a largely blue-and-white theme on the food front, including...
frozen yogurt blueberry pops
  • yogurt frozen pops (vanilla yogurt with pureed blueberries, poured into Dixie cup molds with lollipop stick handles)
  • carrot "snowman noses" with ranch dressing dip
  • white chocolate-covered pretzels
  • frozen blueberries
  • popcorn
  • marshmallow snowflakes, and "snowballs" made from the extras
my dear friend Krista introduced me to the wonders of homemade marshmallows on a gourmet camping trip (i provided the homemade graham crackers). and ever since i have found that i actually like marshmallows! i never was a fan of the store-bought ones. part of the allure is, of course, the ability to adjust the flavor as desired. i religiously use the Smitten Kitchen marshmallow recipe. for the birthday party, i used half vanilla and half almond extract for flavoring. yum, yum. some of them i coated in sugar that i had mixed with blue food coloring.

if i had to do it over, i would use the snowflake cookie cutter and make actual cut-out cookies. using the cookie cutter on the marshmallows wasn't very exact and they ended up looking more like stars than snowflakes.

the kids liked the blueberry-yogurt frozen pops the best. which was awesome, because it was the healthiest thing on the menu. ha! take that, sugar high! although, speaking of sugar high...

the activities

we joined a popular "Frozen" party activity by making marshmallow snowmen. we used homemade marshmallows, pretzel sticks, dark chocolate chips, and baby carrots cut down to size for noses. kids made their snowmen as they arrived or in between snacking.

full credit for our single party game goes to my creative friend Aryn and, more specifically, her epically brilliant young daughter, who is even more enamored with "Frozen" than my girls. little Rayne had the awesome idea of playing freeze tag. and to unfreeze a player? you have to give them a hug! oh, Olaf would be so proud... and, it is the perfect way to run off a sugar high! just let it go, girls. let it go...

"Frozen" birthday party game freeze tag

the prizes

i put in my online order way too late. and even with going to a record-breaking eight stores in a single day trying to make up for such bad planning (two stores in a day is my usual emotional limit), i still didn't find
dollar store microphone bubbleswhat i had planned for the treat bags. the key missing prizes were blue rock candy sticks and sparkly snowflake stickers. making your own rock candy takes two weeks, and i definitely didn't plan things that far in advance. the snowflake stickers at the "Frozen"-train-riding craft store were stupid expensive (keep in mind, we're still in the stick-the-stickers-into-one-amorphous-pile stage, here). so instead we ended up with some primo blue and white candy from our local sweets shop: birthday cake-flavor coated caramels, and blue raspberry burst gummies. some Disney "Frozen" brand stickers that were reasonably priced. and we topped it off with a great find from Sweet One at the dollar store: bubble wands in the shape of blue microphones! perfect for a "Let It Go" singalong... and i don't need to tell you that a singalong did ensue with little girls clutching these microphone bubbles, with no prompting whatsoever. i got a deal earlier on the soundtrack for our "entertainment," although as most of you can probably guess, the girls needed no help with the lyrics for their bubbly singalong...

the decorations

3-D snowflake
no big decorating here. just a couple six-point snowflakes cut from white and silver paper, then placed on a blue tablecloth. there are several instructions online for creating six-pointed snowflakes, such as here.

to highlight it all, though, i went for a giant sparkly 3-D snowflake made from a silver-foil gift bag using these instructions and suspended it from the light fixture, centered prettily above the cake.

below you'll find affiliate links to some of the products i recommend for Amazon shoppers looking to replicate our "Frozen" birthday party:

"Frozen" gelatin ice castle cake recipe

Sweet One requested a "Frozen"-theme birthday party. i always aim to do something a little special in the cake department. but how to fit this theme? we went to a fun "Frozen" Princess Tea at her Gramie's church, where they served cupcakes with crystal-blue frosting and sparkly sprinkle toppings. i thought about doing the same, maybe displaying them on an ice castle (my friends joked they expected to see me outside with a chainsaw hacking up a giant block of ice... if i wasn't so prone to cutting myself with a friggin' paring knife, they may not have been so far off). but, more than safety concerns, you can't eat ice. or, at least, it's not very nutritional. then i remembered the eye-opening "of course" experience i had applying Mason Jar Values' healthy, homemade Jell-O recipe (try strawberry-banana Odwalla... mmmmmm). then, it hit me. gelatin can totally look like ice! a gelatin "ice" castle cake... i was on a mission. and here are the happy results. but can you guess what made it a real success? and, in the world of the blogosphere, it's worth saying i really mean this... it's the same measure of success i get each year as my dear Sweet One grows and grows -- from balloon-enthralled pre-walker to chit-chatty first-grade girly girl -- the smile on her face. "my Mom is the best cooker ever!" sniff, sniff. i'm gettin' all melty over here. and of course she's worth it.

the preemptive notes, in the lead-up to the actual recipe:
  • this is very easily adapted. use whatever juice you like, or just water if you care only about a pure "ice" look and not so much about any nutritional value. after some earlier experiments, however, i do urge you to stick to using a sand castle pail and not the smaller sand-castle forms out there, since the pails stand solidly flat on their own. i tried some cute little forms during a trial run, propping them level with an assortment of napkins and wash clothes and office clips. good night. all that, and they didn't really work. also, even if your chosen forms can stand on their own, be sure to check for small holes (actual sand castle forms typically have them for water to drain out, and gelatin will drain out just as easily!). wash in your dishwasher before use to sanitize. mine held up fine, even on the bottom rack.
  • how big a pail? this recipe is based on a sand castle pail i bought at the dollar store. i eye-balled the size compared to past gelatin adventures and, remarkably, estimated correctly. in this case, four 9-by-13 pans worth of gelatin snack recipes (think knock-off Jell-O) filled this pail perfectly. if you end up with too much, add the leftovers to a pan and let firm up in the refrigerator as some extra snacks. if you end up with too little, it's no problem to mix up some more and add to the top. gelatin is very forgiving.
  • the color of your sugar crystals matters. i expected the blue sugar crystals to keep their exact look suspended in the gelatin. however, as soon as colored sugar gets wet, all the color comes off. in our case, this ended up creating a very cool blue-green effect when mixed with the slightly yellow white grape juice gelatin mixture. it was a happy accident and ended up turning out better than i had envisioned.
  • deciding when the gelatin is "semi-firm" is a tricky business. what i suggest is doing things in waves. check at the first hour by sprinkling some sparkles on the surface. they will very likely sink right away, which means it's not technically semi-firm yet, but you're still adding some nice additions to the top of your castle, which you won't be able to reach by the time it is all semi-firm anyway. after the first hour, repeat every half-hour until you're satisfied with your additions. by the end, you'll be using the handle of your spoon to depress the additions into the mold by only a couple inches. don't worry about hole-poke marks; the gelatin will ooze back over itself if it's still semi-firm, like some kind of primordial goop. which leads to the next consolation: this is a very forgiving stage of things. don't really have time to check every 30 minutes? don't sweat it. gelatin knows no stopwatch, especially when it's this big a batch.
  • the finished product can tend to be rather "runny," especially when dealing with a larger batch like this. if i had to do it again, i would have put a clean white rag down flat on top of the serving tray and invert the mold on top of that. it would still look like "snow" and serve the double purpose of soaking up some of the runny liquid so that the confectioner's sugar doesn't dissolve into a soupy mess. as an easy alternative, though, just do what i did and add the confectioner's sugar at the last moment.
  • make room in your refrigerator if you can manage it so that the empty pail mold and tray can be set on a shelf with enough head space above to pour the liquid in and, later, stir in the additions. the less you have to move the pail o' gelatin, the better. trust me. let's just say i was up until 12:30 a.m. after spilling one-quarter of this mixture on the floor during one of the more involved addition-stirring rounds. the upside? if you do spill some, it's easy enough to mix up more gelatin mixture and add on top of what didn't spill out with no ill consequence. a dessert that forgives as well as tastes and looks good? thank your birthday stars, mommas!

gelatin ice castle ingredients and materials

Gelatin "Ice Cake" recipe
16 packets gelatin (about 16 T)
120 liquid ounces white grape juice (e.g., one 96 oz jug, plus 24 oz bottle)
Additions of choice: we used blue sugar crystals and clear, sparkly sugar sprinkles
Confectioner's sugar

Sand castle pail form (dollar store size used in this recipe)
Wooden spoon
Serving tray or cake stand

Note: The making of the gelatin itself follows the basic recipe for making four batches of gelatin snacks, decreasing the liquid by 1/4 cup per batch, so 1 cup less liquid total.
1. Heat 11 cups juice to boiling.
2. Meanwhile, pour 4 cups juice into a large bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let stand to soften while the other juice boils, 1 minute or more.
3. Set the pail on a tray and position in or near the refrigerator (see notes above). Coat interior of pail well with cooking spray.
4. Add hot juice to gelatin mixture. Hand-stir for 5 minutes.
5. Pour mixture into pail mold. Refrigerate.
6. Check firmness at one-hour mark, then every hour or half-hour beyond that (see notes). Add additions as desired. Gelatin is semi-firm when additions sit on top of the mixture but you can still use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke the sprinkles and crystals down into the mixture.
7. Continue to refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.
8. Invert pail of gelatin cake onto serving tray or cake stand, on top of a white cloth if available (see notes). Sprinkle confectioner's sugar around the castle like snow. Sprinkle more sparkly sprinkles or blue sugar crystals over top of confectioner's sugar and castle, as desired.

i set this castle on our kitchen table, where we were going to put the food. this room happens to have some tall windows, and the effect was gorgeous. it sparkled all on its own! if you don't have the advantage of natural light indoors or a sunny day outdoors, consider sticking a little battery-powered LED light into the bottom. that was my back-up option. if you try it, please please please leave a comment to let us know how it worked...

to add a candle on top, i stuck the pointy end of a wooden skewer into the bottom of the candle, broke off the skewer to length and gently impaled the castle. it worked quite well. and, more important of course, it was a special request by Sweet One.

the self-conscious blogger in me would like to note that i had ordered some high-quality gelatin and colored sugar online but it didn't arrive in time. that said, Winco and Wilton's worked just fine. anyone who's done research on gelatin or had more experience with large batches of different varieties, please share your findings in the comments! (also, have I ever mentioned that i think the cow is the greatest animal on earth?)

below you'll find affiliate links to some of the products i recommend for Amazon shoppers looking to replicate our "Frozen" gelatin ice cake and other party features: