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Butterfly Garden Cake: Step-by-Step Directions
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Here are more Butterfly Party Food Ideas, including:
- celery, pretzel butterflies
- butterfly sandwiches
- butterfly cookies.
For her third birthday, my daughter wanted a butterfly party. Of course, my big challenge was coming up with the perfect butterfly cake idea.
This cake was my first try at incorporating new elements into a cake, such as butterfly cookies and candy antennae. It was also my first attempt at a two-tiered cake. It took a bit of a time investment, but the end product was beautiful and delicious!
This two-tiered cake includes two layers on each tier, one chocolate and one yellow. It uses a 12 inch tier and an 8 inch tier, and combines cake and cookies to make a delightful three-dimensional butterfly garden cake.
Here are my step-by-step instructions for decorating this butterfly garden cake. Because there are so many elements, I’ve included basic instructions, followed by more detailed step-by-step instructions. If you are new at cake decorating, check out my article Decorating a Birthday Cake Like a Professional before getting started for general cake decorating tips, as well as information about supplies that you'll need.
This article also includes recipes for homemade sugar cookies and frosting, as well as links to my favorite homemade chocolate and vanilla cake recipes.
- Sugar cookie dough, (recipe below)
- 2 batches/boxes Chocolate cake, homemade (recipe below), or store bought
- 2 batches/boxes Yellow cake, homemade (recipe below), or store bought
- 10 cups Frosting, homemade (recipe below), or store bought
- 2 8-Inch cake pans
- 2 12-Inch cake pans
- Food dye, (red, blue, yellow, green)
- Cookie cutter, (in shape of lips)
- Candy melts, (yellow, pink)
- 4 Featherweight decorating bags and couplers
- Decorating tips #3, 16, 224, 12, and 21
Steps 1-2 should be completed at least 1 day ahead.
Steps 3-6 can be done 1 day ahead or the day of. Once the cakes and the cookies are baked, frosting the cake takes about 2 hours, so leave plenty of time if you are frosting the cake the day of the party.
Basic Steps (detailed below)
- STEP 1: Bake the cakes and freeze
- STEP 2: Make cookie dough and bake the cookies
- STEP 3: Make butterfly antennae
- STEP 4: Make and dye frosting
- STEP 5: Frost the cookies
- STEP 6: Frost and decorate the cake
Pans You'll Need
- Different type of batters may have different cooking times, so watch the cakes carefully as they cook.
- Don’t fret if your cake does not come out of the pan perfectly. If some of the cake breaks off, use some frosting as “glue” to put it back together. Frosting does a great job of covering up imperfections.
- Frozen cakes are much easier to decorate since the frosting stiffens after it is applied, which makes it easier to add a second layer and to smooth out imperfections.
- You will likely have some extra batter. Make and freeze a couple of extra cakes for future use, or make some cupcakes and top them with extra butterfly cookies!
STEP 1: Bake the cakes and freeze
For a multi-layered cake, you will need two different flavors of cake, ideally with contrasting colors. If you’re short on time, store bought cake mix will work just fine. Buy two boxes each of chocolate and vanilla/white cake.
If you are making from scratch, my favorite chocolate cake recipe is the MaryAnn Pan Chocolate Cake Recipe. This recipe works well in any shape. Just follow the cake instructions (omitting the ganache and raspberries). Make sure you use a very large mixing bowl, as you will need to double this recipe.
My favorite yellow cake recipe is Yellow Cake Recipe. Make a double batch.
Regardless of what cake batters you choose, here are the basic steps for preparing the cakes.
- Prepare the batter according to the instructions on the box or the recipe.
- Pour the cake batters into the prepared pans. Use an 8-inch and a 12-inch pan for each cake flavor. Each pan should be filled a little less than half with batter. All four cakes can be baked at the same time, but make sure to check them frequently as the 8-inch cakes will cook faster.
- Allow the cakes to cool completely.
- Wrap the cakes, first in wax paper and then in tin foil.
- Freeze for at least 4 hours, or up to 2 weeks. Frozen cakes are much easier to frost.
The cakes should be make at least one day ahead.
The goal is to have 4 complete butterflies (8 wings). Make 4-6 extra (or more for snacking!)
STEP 2: Make cookie dough and bake the cookies
There are countless sugar cookie recipes out there. This is the one I use:
- 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In a standing mixer, blend together shortening, margarine, vanilla, and sugar.
- Add eggs and blend.
- In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Mix dry ingredients into the wet ones.
- Gather into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour or more.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Prepare 2 cookies sheets by lining with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough on a cutting board sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Also sprinkle confectioner's sugar on top of dough.
- Cut out cookies into the shape of butterfly wings. I used the lips from a set of Valentine’s Day cookie cutters.
- Place on cookie sheets and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until starting to turn golden on top.
The cookies can be made several days ahead. Store in an airtight container.
Butterfly Wing Cookies
Make extra as some of these delicate antennae are likely to break when they are taken off of the wax paper.
STEP 3: Make butterfly antennae
Making butterfly antennae adds a nice touch to the butterfly cake. Candy melts are available at arts and crafts stores, like AC Moore or Michaels.
- Prepare a pan by lining it with wax paper.
- Melt the candy melts according to the directions. The easiest way is to microwave for 1 minute until mostly melted and then to stir with spoon until smooth.
- Spoon melted candy into a pastry bag.
- Using a #3 decorating tip, pipe the frosting in the shape of antennae onto the prepared pan.
- Place the pan into the refrigerator to set the antennae.
STEP 4: Make and dye frosting pink, purple, yellow and green
Again, recipes abound, but this is the recipe I use. It is delicious, and also yields frosting this is very easy to work with. Double this recipe for the Butterfly Garden cake.
- 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 1 egg white
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar (gradually)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Cream together margarine and shortening in a standing mixer.
- Add flour, milk, and egg.
- Gradually add sugar until smooth.
- Add vanilla and blend until mixed in.
Dying the frosting:
- Remove a little less than 1/2 of the frosting.
- Dye the remaining frosting pink by adding red food dye slowly.
- When the color is to your liking, remove about 1 cups of pink batter, leaving the remaining pink frosting in the mixer.
- Add blue food dye to make purple frosting.
- Once the purple frosting is complete, remove all of the frosting. You should have about 2 cups of purple frosting.
- Clean out the mixer.
- Add the remaining white batter you set aside.
- Add yellow food dye to make yellow frosting.
- Remove half of the batter and dye the rest green.
- Set all four dye colors aside.
The frosting can be made several days ahead. Allow it to warm to room temperature before use so that it spreads easily.
Frosting to Dye For!
STEP 5: Frost the cookies
Now that the frosting is ready, it's time to decorate. You'll need 4 featherweight decorating bags and couplers. Fill each with one of the frosting colors, leaving some of each color out for smoothing onto the cookies and cake (purple only).
- Arrange the lip-shaped cookies so that they look like butterfly wings.
- Using a cake knife (i.e., straight spatula), smooth frosting onto each cookie.
- Using a #3 tip or a #16 decorating tip, pipe a border of a different color onto each cookie.
- Using a #3, #16, or #12 decorating tip, pipe on dots or other decorations for the wings.
STEP 6: Frost and Decorate and Cake
Once you’ve made all of the components above, all that’s left to do is decorate the cake. This is the fun part!
STEP 6a. Assemble and apply a frosting coating to the cake
- Take the frozen cakes out of the freezer and unwrap.
- Place the 12-inch chocolate cake on a round rotating cake stand. I use a wooden cutting board that works fine.
- Frost the top of the cake with purple frosting.
- Place the 12-inch yellow cake on top of the frosted chocolate cake
- Frost the top and sides of the cake with purple frosting.
- Smooth the frosting on the side and the outer 2 inches of the top of the cake. To smooth the frosting, dip the cake knife into a glass of hot water and smooth the frosting while turning the cake stand. Don't worry too much about the center of the top, as it will soon be covered with the 8 inch cake.
- Place the the 8-inch chocolate and vanilla cakes on top of the frosted 12-inch cakes and decorate following the process outlined for the 12-inch cakes. Take care that the frosting is smooth on the sides and top.
Step 6b: Pipe on green trim and flowers
- Using a #21 decorating tip, pipe shells around the two bottom edges of the cake to make green trim. If you have never made these before, do a few practice shells on a plate first. Stiffer frosting is helpful.
- Using a #3 decorating tip, pipe green flower steps along the bottom of each of the cake levels.
- Using #16 and #224 decorating tips, pipe pink and yellow flowers on each of the flower stems and on top of the cake in small clusters.
Step 6c: Place the Butterflies on the cake
- Place the already decorated butterfly cookies on the cake, as shown. If needed, use some frosting as "glue" under the butterflies to help keep them in place.
- Using a #12 decorating tip, pipe on the body of the butterflies.
- Place the antennae on the butterflies.
Step 6d: Show off to your friends and enjoy!
This butterfly garden birthday cake will be a hit at any party. My three-year old squealed with delight when we brought it out to her. The butterfly cookies, complete with candy antennae, and the frosting flowers make this cake striking and beautiful.
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