Saturday, April 9, 2011

Question - Birthday Cakes

April is birthday month for us. Three of our four children have birthdays within ten days.

Not only am I dealing with the shock of having my baby turn two and my oldest turn seven - I have three birthday cakes to bake.

I love to bake. You all know that. But cakes and I are not on friendly terms. I'd much rather bake bread. My cakes fall, the layers slide off and the frosting is covered in cake crumbs.

When I was grumping to Ed about cake baking, his solution was more practice. I can see he has his best interests in mind! And I'm sure he is right. I would tell anyone who said they couldn't bake bread that they just need a little more practice - and cakes should be no different. My problem probably lies in the fact that I rarely bake a cake unless it is a special occasion and then I don't have the patience to learn from my mistakes.

I'm going to share what has worked for me. And hope you share some of your own tips, recipes and decorating ideas.

I do have a couple no fail recipes. For some reason I can do an angel food cake (could be all the practice when I was a girl when we had tons of eggs)  and a chocolate wacky cake. I like cakes that are good without frosting.

My favorite trick is to make a trifle. It is so simple. Layer cake, pudding and cream in a clear glass bowl. Fresh berries are another great addition. The outcome looks pretty enough to serve to guests and no one has to know that my cake had a huge dip in the center! Plus it tastes good!

My daughter wanted a bunny cake this year from a cake she saw at a friend's birthday. I made two round chocolate cakes. One cake was the head. The other cake was cut into the ears and bow. The worse step for me is the frosting. Especially in a cut cake, the crumbs lift up into the icing and the result is a lumpy grainy mess.

A tip I learned from my mom is to cover the cake with whipped topping (Cool Whip) instead of frosting. It can be tinted with food coloring and is much easier to cover without picking up crumbs. I find the whipped topping ingredients rather scary but I throw out healthy eating with birthday cakes. At least it isn't as sickening sweet like frosting. The cake does need stored in the fridge.

For my four year old son, I knew his cake had to be something with wheels. I attempted to replicate a back hoe cake found on Family Fun. For the base I used a pound cake from Kay's Country Cookin'. (Still loving this cookbook!) The cake was quite tasty - and didn't fall. I used regular frosting and as expected the crumbs blended into the frosting - but I just said it was part of the mud and dirt effect on the back hoe. 

It didn't exactly look like the picture, but I didn't show my son the picture so it was all okay! My children are so accommodating. I'm the only one who complains about my cake skills! As long as I tell them what it is, and it contains candy decorations, they are pleased.

Now I have one more birthday next week. And I have no idea what I'm going to do. This is for a two year old girl. Any ideas?


  1. Just an idea but I always make the cake a few days to a week early, cut to shape and freeze. Then just frost the cake while it is still frozen - no crumbs in the frosting.
    An idea for your little girl - perhaps cupcakes make into a bunch of flowers. Or a butterfly- they are quite easy and really sweet.

    Blessings to you and yours, Helena

  2. Your son looks really pleased with his cake! I say your efforts are paying off!


  3. Seeing as the 2 year old would be still be impressed with anything at this could get away with anything! If you want to take it real simple after doing 2 great works of art you could do a cupcake tower (with different colors) or just a simple flower, even if done on a round circle cake-just draw out the flowers with icing. Also, because Easter is coming up-you could combine it and decorate the cake with 'stripes' of candy/sprinkles/icing, much like how you would color an easter egg!
    Like you said-the kids don't seem to care as much as we do!

  4. I just made this not-too-sweet carrot cake for my girl's first birthday:

    No one lapsed into a diabetic coma after eating it, which was my main goal! This might be a good base cake for embellishing with fanciful decorations. It is pretty moist since it calls for applesauce, but I don't see why you couldn't just use oil and/or eggs for a more normal cake. I frosted with a very simple maple syrup and cream cheese frosting and it worked beautifully.

  5. I agree that kids don't care as much as we do! I learned to get the cake cold after baking. Then slice and fill and put on a thin base coat (crumb coat)of frosting then put back into the fridge. Once that hardens up a little it will be much easier to get a frosting layer with out crumbs. has great tips and tons of ideas for cakes (although a lot of them are professionals).

    Making cakes from scratch can be difficult. Even a lot of people that make cakes and sell them, use cake mixes.

    Oh, my baby turns 2 on the 22nd. :)

  6. My kids used to like a cake in the shape of a cat with chocolate icing. It is very simple to cut out of one large round cake. I wish I could draw you the diagram for it but I'm not that clever with comments. Like Helena, I used to pop the cake in the freezer for a couple of hours and I had no trouble with crumbs in the icing.

  7. Wow. You're a good mom! My girls get excited because I let them pick what color of icing they want *L*. I usually make a Black Joe cake (chocolate) and it's in a bundt pan. I really don't have trouble with my icing collecting crumbs. Maybe because it's a bundt pan?

    Anyway, Very nice looking cakes!

  8. I think your cakes look fine. i have a tractor cake pan you can use sometime if you would like to.
    Freezing and dirty icing the cake is about the easiest.

    If you want a not so sweet and good for decorating icing send me an e-mail and I will get it to you.

    I would much rather bake a cake or pie, then try to make bread like you do.

    Hope this helps.


  9. Are strawberries available there? I made strawberry shortcake for my Birthday Buddies last month ~ they loved it, and I loved the fact that it had very little sugar. Day 2 we had the 3-layer cake with a double batch of frosting, so I had a much smaller piece ;-)

    btw, one of my family's fave cake from scratch recipes is in the Better Homes/Gardens Cookbook - basic yellow cake. I multiplied it to make it a 3-layer this time, and it was huge!

  10. I often make a 9x13 and just decorate the top! Anything that they love I am usually able to either do with frosting (simple flowers, color dots) or we find plastic horses or race cars to put on top.

    We also do shaped cake pans, and cupcakes. Color frosting or sprinkles on white frosted cupcakes is so cute.

    Also you can use tube decorator gel, and tracing paper to trace a cartoon character that your child likes and then lay the tracing gel side down on the frosted cake and gently press to leave an outline of gel. Then just fill it in!

    Hope these ideas help.

  11. I enjoy doing birthday cakes for my children not because I'm so good at it but it's something we do together that creates a special birthday feeling. They love choosing their cake ( Mom does a lot talking and directing attention to the easier ones! :) ) It does try my patience sometimes to have their little fingers in it all but I remind myself it's not about a perfect cake but about a happy child full of good memories.
    I did a cake for my 3 year old girl that was super easy. I baked a cake in a 9 x 13 pan and just a bit of batter in a slightly rounded pyrex bowl. We made a daisy the bowl cake being the center. The 9x13 I sliced down the middle and then into slightly angled pieces for the petals. After everything was iced with white icing we tinted coconut yellow with food coloring and sprinkled it on the rounded for the middle of the daisy. The petals we put mini marshmallows on top of the icing. My girls loved doing that.
    Oh another thing, I do enjoy doing cakes but I can well understand that 3 in one month would test the inspiration!

  12. Oh and I also wanted to say...slightly freezing the cakes after they've been put into shapes before the final coat of frosting has saved my sanity.

  13. I decorate cakes for my girls' birthdays too, and am always looking for ideas. I love your bunny & backhoe cakes! (Have to save the backhoe idea for when we have a boy ;-))
    This year for my youngest daughter's first birthday I made a square cake with three blocks (made out of cake) stacked on top. I found it much better trying to icing the blocks if I had them in the freezer for a while first.
    Happy decorating! Lynita

  14. My daughter made a great "caterpillar" for one of the little granddaughter's birthdays. It was so cute, and simple of decorated cupcakes arranged on a foil-covered board, as many as you need!!

  15. Hi I love your web site because I too love to bake. You'e in luck because I am a cake decorator (or use to be). A wonderful trick to keeping those crumbs in control is to freeze your cake for at least 3 hours after you cut it. Don't cover it, just put it in the freezer. Then when you take it out, immediately apply a very thin coat of frosting which serves as a crumb coat. Leave the cake out on the counter until it thaws, take a paper towel or non-pilling cloth, place over a portion of the cake and lightly brush your hand over the crumb coat. This will smooth all of the crumbs out. Then frost your cake. The crumbs stay out of the frosting and you have a beautiful cake. You can sort of see this on my blog site under wedding cake. Hope this helps

  16. I agree with using a crumb coat, just apply a thin layer of frosting and if it gets crumbs in it no bid deal, then put it in the fridge till hardened or in the freezer for a bit till the icing is hardened then your soft creamy icing/frosting will glide right over the crumbs and no one will know and it won't show through!!

  17. I agree with a thin crumb layer of frosting. Then chill, and frost again for no crumbs! I took several cake decorating classes and learned that trick. Also, an easy eay to decorate is to gently press cookie cutters into frosting to create outlines that you can then use frosting to outline and fill in. Makes it look very nice - and you can get super creative if you have lots of cookie cutters! Have fun!

  18. I love to make cakes! I always make a white or yellow cake because the crumbs are lighter and that is what my children like. The best way to frost a cake is freeze it first, then it won't crumble. You can even freeze it before you cut it into shapes, so much easier!

    Here's an example of one of mine. This is one of my favorite cakes I have done.

  19. Thanks so much to all of you for the ideas! Sounds like I need to freeze my cake before frosting. I've never tried that, but it may be the secret!

    Now I'll be checking out the other ideas and links you shared!
    Thanks for your help!

  20. I made a lady bug for my daughter one year. Bake in a pampered chef bowl/pitcher, or a pyrrex baking bowl. Use colored icing and candy to decorate. Another fun one is cupcakes arranged into a caterpillar. Set it on green dried coconut 'grass'. Use m&m's for eyes, and string licorice for legs and antenna. Have fun! Anne

  21. Hi! I have six children and there are three birthdays in April within 12 day. One in May, one in June and one in Aug.! Our oldest will turn 10 this month. Some other things I've done besides decorating cakes with frosting are:
    *"flower power" cupcakes from family fun (cut marshmallows for flower petals and put sprinkles on top of marshmallows, *ice cream cake in a spring form pan which is so simple but looks nice too and you can choose whatever crust, ice cream, and garnishes for the top, *cheesecakes, and this year for my boy who turns 3 I want to make a version of *"dirt pudding" in a pail and stick some gummy worms out of the dirt.
    I love reading your blog!

  22. an easy way to decorate a cake that looks like you put a lot of work into is to buy little toys and I have even washed up their toys to use. One time I made a field with tractors that were plowing, mowing hay and I think I had a combine. My boys thought it was the greatest. Then afterwards they have some new toys for their birthday.

  23. Love all the tips...I so far have not been a birthday cake maker but since our little guy is turning 3 this year I thought I should attempt something.

    One question I have is how to do you successfully remove the cake(s) from the pan in a way that they don't fall apart?

  24. If you have a cupcake tower, you could make a cupcake tree and decorate them to look like green tree leaves and flowers, maybe a nest or two with eggs(jelly beans or malt balls). That way you don't have to worry about the cake falling cupcakes can be easier to deal with.

    Freezing and or putting a crumb coat on the cakes help with the mess of crumbs in the frosting. Also using a thick layer of frosting to start with and not letting it get too thin helps. I really enjoy making cakes. Lots of practice helps, but there will always be those that just don't want to work and that's when the trifle comes in. :)

    I think your cakes came out great and your children looked pleased with them so that is what's most important.

    Can't wait to see what you decide on. I love making and decorating cakes.

  25. For Lydia, the best thing that I found is to coat your pans with a little shortening and dust with flour. There is also a spray called bakers secret i think that has the oil and flour in a spray can.

  26. ha - I was pregnant when my girl turned two. I made a wacky cake, frosted it with green tinted icing, and stuck little plastic animals in the icing. We called it a farm and the animals were her present. I was pleased with myself!

    But yes, I hear you on the birthday cake dilemma. I have the SAME problems you do. Your bunny cake is cute, and I think I could do that. Here's a car cake I made for my boy last year, VERY easy:

    I might even do it again, although I like your digger cake and he would really love that. His birthday is next week, so this post is timely for me!

  27. a great trick for breadcrumbs is to use a paint/pastry brush to brush off the crumbs. then do a really thin layer of icing, let it set and then do another think layer over the top just incase your think under layer got a bit crumby anyway.

  28. Put a thin layer of icing on your cake. Called a crumb coating. And freeze. Works really well you can icing the whole frozen cake with no crumbs pulling up in the icing.

  29. Happy birthday to all of your children. By the way thanks for your tips its really helpful for us. My little sister used to like a cake in the shape of a love with chocolate. Thanks


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