Birthday Cakes from Scratch: Decorating Ideas for Your Child's Birthday Cake Plus an Easy Chocolate Cake Recipe.
Baking and Making A Child's Birthday Cake: Even Beginners Can Create a Great Cake
As a young mother, I have now had the opportunity to make five birthday cakes from scratch. Some parents opt to buy cakes at a local store bakery or from a cake designer. Personally, I like to put the time in to making them homemade. Saving a little money is always a plus, but mostly the thought and effort I put into these cakes feel like a special gift I can give my children. My cakes may not be entirely professional in quality, but in general they turn out cute and are made with love. If you're like me and want to make a cake from scratch but don't have a clue about fondant or possess special design experience with cakes, allow me to share ideas I've collected over the last few years. Just a little effort can go a long way. Since I've yet to try to tackle any forms of fondant (Looks great, but how does it taste?), no ideas require more than icing and a few additions along the way to spice it up!
At the end, I'll give you a chocolate cake recipe that my family has used for years. It's simple, moist, hard to ruin, and best of all requires no eggs, which means your little ones can eat the batter fearlessly. Yum!
Before going any further into decorating ideas, I think if you have a child (or two or three) that you are hoping to make birthday cakes for over the years, then it's a good idea to invest in an easy icing kit with a few basic icing tips (you can buy more over time) for decorating, such as a fine writing tip, star tip and round tip (for dots). Other popular choices include the shell tip, flower tip and leaf tip. I have a set much like the Kuhn Rikon Cookie and Cupcake Decorating Set (only mine is Pampered Chef). I have three accordion like tubes for squeezing icing out (versus a bag), and I love it. They are relatively easy to control when writing on your cake or decorating details. I put the icing in the tubes with a butter knife and I can quickly rinse out the icing with hot water if I want to change to a different color. Best of all, I can wash them in my dishwasher when I'm done.
A quick word on color: A basic food coloring should do the trick with most of your icing needs. However, I have come to enjoy dying my icing with icing color gel. The tiniest dabs of gel will bring out vibrant colors in your white icing without affecting the taste. I get these on an as needed basis if I want a very particular shade of a color (ex: a shade of green that I didn't want to experiment with food coloring). I think they also work well for colors like black and red that are hard to create with food coloring. These gels allow you to use an icing you like the flavor of while still maintaining a color you want.
Beyond that, all I have 9x13 baking pans for a rectangular cake, 9 inch circular pans for a double layer circle cake, and a muffin pan for cupcakes, though I'm sure there's tons more you can purchase to make decorating simpler or more fun. Check out my wish list at the end for tools I think would be especially handy and practical in making cakes without being overly extravagant or expensive.
1. Make a Cake Using Props.
This is a fun way to immediately make your cake 3-D. Plus, it cuts back on how skillful you have to be in the decorating department, since the props add "life" to the cake party. Take a favorite child's toy that you already own or else buy it as a gift for their birthday and form a cake theme around it. Small plastic figurines work wonderfully. For my oldest daughter's 1st birthday I even used laminated cut-outs. In that case, I wanted to create a Veggie Tales cake for her without having to draw cartoon character by hand with icing. So, after spotting some cute cut-outs from a craft book, I placed them around a cupcake positioned on the main cake. This made it look as though the characters were all surrounding a miniature cake as part of the celebration. After she blew out the candle we removed the cupcake to make that my daughter's individual little cake to eat. All I had to do was icing the cake and add polka-dots for fun with my small decorating cake kit. Pretty simple with fun results.
A few months ago, I made up a Dora the Explorer cake for my youngest daughter's 2nd birthday. I came up with the layout based on the formula of the show. Any preschool parents well-acquainted with Dora knows that Dora has a destination during each episode and the map guides her over various obstacles. The basic cake idea centered around three small figurines we already owned: Dora, Boots, and Swiper. With the extra cupcakes I baked, I made a hill, a bridge and finally a birthday cupcake (their final destination). You can find detailed instructions for how to accomplish this exact cake here. I had to create the landscape, which actually proved easier than I anticipated. The figurines, though, made my decorating look better than perhaps it truly was. Props are worth using.
2. Make a Cake Using Special Pans.
I bought a butterfly fly pan for my oldest daughter's 2nd birthday. I believe it cost around $12. Costs typically range between $10-20 for a specialty pan depending on how elaborate and large the pan. I'm not always up to spending that extra money, but that year I did. If you know someone with a specialty cake pan, borrowing is always a great (not to mention free) option. You simply make your cake batter, pour it into the shaped pan, and bake it. After cooling, you pop the cake out. The cake has indentations indicating where to place certain icing colors. There is also general directions included. I found this to be an extremely easy cake to make while looking professional.
3. Make a Cake Martha Stewart Style
Some birthdays I have a clear idea of what to make and other times I need to do a little research to get ideas. Enter Martha Stewart, the ultimate craftster, perfectionist extraordinaire. Her ideas while amazing can appear a bit overwhelming and time-consuming. Often I look at her awe-inspiring work and think, "I don't want to put in that much work." or "My icing bow would never look like her icing bow." And those ideas quite honestly can be fairly legit. But, her ideas are worth gazing through, because sometimes they are simple enough for even me to achieve with a little time and effort. Below are two Martha Stewart ideas that I made into my own.
Example 1: If you can cut out paper circles, bake cupcakes, and do come basic icing décor you can make this cute birthday design option. With this cupcake-based idea, you can choose any color scheme or look you want. I added my own touch by developing pictures of my daughter over her past 3 years of life and placing them on blank cupcakes where no letters were needed (Martha simply put dots). This cupcake design can work for a small child or an even adult, plus it's flexible, simple, and fun. For a more detailed tutorial look here. Martha Stewart titles these Polka-Dot Cupcakes, and includes a recipe for cupcakes made with orange zest and a cream cheese icing. I used my Wacky Cake recipe (below) and butter cream Icing.
Example 2: With this idea you can make a cake or cupcakes, and decorate it with one or both of these candy creations. My youngest daughter's birthday is in the spring, so I used both candy butterflies and flowers for her birthday design to fit the season. The addition of candy makes these cupcakes completely edible. I found the lollipop flowers to be a favorite among children. For instructions on how to create these cake or cupcake toppers, go here. Thanks, Martha, for easy Butterfly and Lollipop Cupcakes this mom can make!
Non-Candy Edible Toppers
More Baking Adventures
With my oldest daughter's 4th birthday rapidly sneaking up on me, I've begun researching my next cake idea. I was looking for a cake or cupcake idea that would be both cute and simple since I will be 37 weeks pregnant on her birthday. Then, my daughter informed me she wanted a turtle cake. I have a soft spot for their (reasonable) little hearts' desires, so that's my new cake adventure to tackle. If it turns out successful perhaps I can give you some pictures and steps for an "easy" turtle cake. In the meantime, best wishes on your birthday baking adventures.
Birthday Cake Recipe: That's One Wacky Cake!
Oh and last but certainly not least, here is my go-to recipe for a chocolate birthday cake. My family started using this recipe when my mother was just a baby. We've always referred to this cake as a Wacky Cake, I suppose because it oddly requires no eggs. When recently making my daughter's 2-year-old birthday cake, my two little girls enjoyed licking the bowl without me worrying about salmonella poisoning. Who doesn't love eating the batter of our favorite desserts? The end result of the baked cake is moist, delicious, and well worth a try.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 6 TB of cocoa
- 1 tsp of salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp vinegar (I'll usually use apple cider vinegar, but have used white vinegar as well)
- 2/3 cup of oil (I usually use canola I have on hand)
- 2 cups of cold water
- Sift together the first five ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt).
- Make 3 holes in the dry ingredients and add an vanilla to one hole, vinegar in another hole, and oil in the other.
- Then pour the cold water over top.
- Beat until smooth.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.
- Cool before icing.
My Simple Cake Baking and Decorating Wish List
- Decorate Your Cake or Cupcakes with Candy Flowers or Butterflies.
Looking for an easy flower or butterfly decoration for your cake or cupcakes? This is an simple way to add bright flowers or butterflies that taste good too. Look here for pictures, tips, and quick instructions. The design is completely edible (nix t
- Birthday Cupcakes: An Easy Design for Any Age or Gender
Here is birthday cupcake design easy enough for anyone to make. The best part about this cupcake display besides being fairly simple is that you can choose any color scheme, patterns, designs or decorations you want to fit either male or female, youn
- How to Make a Dora Birthday Cake: Fun and Simple
A simple cute Dora Birthday Cake with step by step directions. You need nothing more than a few figurines, icing, cake/cupcakes, and a little time. This is a Dora cake idea anyone can tackle with minimal "extra" work or expense. Go for it!
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