Growing up I used to love to study the Womans Weekly Birthday Cake Book. It’s practically a rite of passage for those of us who grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
These days my kids study the same books each year, while dreaming of their own birthday cakes, and just like my mother, I generally agree to make whatever they suggest (and then wonder why I agreed later). Over the years we have constructed a fairy castle, several different numbers, a dump truck, a front end loader, a building site, and ombre cake, and several dinosaurs. I always like to DIY our own birthday cake. For me that is part of the fun of birthdays.
This year Toby requested a rocket, while Meghann asked for a bracheosaurus (a long necked dinosaur). In 10 years of cake construction (as well as lots of practice when doing them with my students), I have learnt a few tricks that make constructing a fantastic cake so much easier. So here are my tips for creating an awesome DIY birthday cake at home.
Draw your design 1st
I often look at pinterest for inspiration, but ultimately come up with my own design. I find that most of the kids birthday cakes on pinterest are covered in fondant icing, and whilst amazing, are not achievable for the average person who makes three birthday cakes each year. Once you have an idea, grab a sheet of paper and roughly sketch what you are trying to make. Work out what lollies and decorations you need and then buy them.
Make a pattern that fits your tin(s)
Get out the tin(s) you are planning on making your cake in, and draw a paper outline of the cake shape you want to make. Remember you can always break up your design to fit into several tins if you need to.
Make your cake early and freeze it.
I generally try to make the cake the weekend before the birthday. For me, it takes the pressure off making the cake on the actual birthday (or late the night before). It also makes cutting and icing your cake a lot easier. I leave the paper liner around the cake and then wrap in several layers of cling wrap.
Carve and ice (frost) your cake while it is still frozen
Believe it or not, carving (cutting) and icing your cake while it is still frozen is a lot easier than waiting until it has defrosted. This is because it makes fewer crumbs than a softer cake.
To carve your cake, cut the top off your cake so that it sits flat, and turn the cake over so that the flat bottom of the cake tin becomes the top. Once the cake is sitting flat, place the pattern on the cake and cut around it. Use a sharp, serrated knife for the best results.
Make sure your icing is soft and spreadable.
I generally use a basic butter cream recipe with a splash of vanilla extract, but it is really important to beat the heck out of it to make sure the butter cream is super soft. This makes it easier to spread and smooth.
Ice your cake in two layers
Spread one thin layer of icing all over the cake and smooth it out. This layer is often called the crumb layer, and it stops crumbs mixing into the top layer. Once you have applied the crumb layer, allow the cake to sit for 30 minutes. This give the icing time to set slightly. You can then apply a second thin layer of icing which will look smooth and clean.
Always do the top of the cake first then work your way down the sides.
Use a large flat palette knife to spread your icing
When spreading your icing, use the flat of a large palette knife to get a super smooth finish. You can dip it into hot water, and wipe dry with some paper towel to help get the icing really flat. It is a lot easier to spread icing when you have a lot of icing on the knife, so keep it loaded up.
Remember it doesn’t have to be an amazing piece of architecture.
At the end of the day, cut yourself some slack and just do the best you can. Your child will love that you have spent time making something special for them. Ignore pinterest perfect pictures and be proud of your efforts!
What kids cakes have you constructed over the years? What tips can you add?