My kid is allergic to eggs, so she can NEVER have cake at parties unless I make it. And while I love to cook, I am no baker. (Sorry to any pros who might be reading this!) I have, however, become the go-to birthday cake-bringer in my friends and family circle. It started out as a necessity, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it!
With a few hacks like these, you can learn to make awesome birthday cakes too…
Step 1: Bake a rectangular 9×13 inch cake
Your choice of flavor — boxed or not — whatever. (This recipe has no allergens, except gluten, and OMG is it ever good. And impossible to mess up.)
Or if you want to be fancy schmancy and do a stacking cake… Bake the same recipe in two cookie sheets so it is really thin and flat. Do check it because this will make cooking time shorter though.
Step 2: Allow to cool completely
Do not cheat, or your icing will run.
Step 3: Optional stacked cake
Blend one small container of softened cream cheese and one tin of fruit pie filling of your choice.
If you cooked it in two cookie sheets, just spread the filling over one and layer the second cake on top.
If you decide to do this after you have baked a thicker cake, you can still do it. You will need to carefully slice it in half, separate it in two, spread the filling and replace the top half. Like an Oreo cookie. A bit more finicky but do-able.
Step 4: Frost your cake
Be lazy and used jarred stuff. Blend in some food coloring until it looks nice. Then just slather it on. I’ve gotten handier with practice and now have a special offset spatula for icing, but it’s really not necessary.
If not having the top perfectly flat bugs you (although your guests won’t notice, I swear!) swirl that baby around. Move your icing into swirly shapes with a knife point. It’s a design choice, right?
Do the sides as best you can. And do them last. Honestly, I can’t get the sides perfect, ever. There are always stray crumbs and what not, mostly because of the stacking thing. Using extra thick icing helps a bit. It always bugs me. But then I always get gasps and compliments when I bring out a birthday cake. No-one ever commented on the ugly sides.
Step 5: Add a big decoration
Add a toy or something. Not a tiny cheap plastic cake topper. A real toy. Or medium-sized action figures. I actually buy the toy first, and plan the cake around it. Figure out a general theme and find a toy to match. This is the genius bit. Everyone focuses on the wow-factor and no-one cares if the cake base is a bit (or a lot!) lopsided.
Fiddle around on your upside-down cake pan (not your cake) to decide where you want it to sit.
Create a fight with the figurines. Have a princess tea-party. Create a whole Game of Thrones scene with dragons. Go all out! I’ve done cakes where a giant Hulk had smashed his way partly into the cake. A mermaid one. A My Little Pony cake that had a mini train with the ponies inside that actually ran in a circle on the tracks laid down on the top.
The only cake pic I have left (RIP computer) is this Loader one, but I have had fun with many…
For adults, I have done a giant pile of fresh fruit. Or fresh flowers. Or a Video-game character swords fight. Or a sail-boat. (Most adults have a passion for something and they are still giant kids inside… just saying.)
Step 6: Add candy
I like smarties. Or sprinkles. Or fancy crystal colored bits. Or all of the above.
I have used licorice and jellies to make sea-weed. And a red Fruit Roll-Up to make a Hello Kitty bow. The web has tons of inspiration.
Step 7: Add candles and an inscription
They sell little tubes of gel for writing on cakes. My advice is to go really slow. The stuff is thick, you have to sorta let it fall or settle to get it right, man this is hard to explain. Practice on an empty plate a bit.
Or don’t write anything. Everyone should know whose birthday party this is!
Step 8: Wow everybody
Gobble it all down.
My point is, cakes are fun and they don’t need to be perfect. There is a fad of paying hundreds for cakes that are truly works of art. (And I really admire the artists who create them.) I think Pinterest makes us afraid to attempt to make stuff ourselves, because we can never hope to attain such heights. My experience in amateur cake decorating has been really positive. People don’t ever appear mad at my cakes — even if they are sometimes crooked. They just seem really grateful for the uniqueness and effort that went into them.
Best of all, we can have our cake, and my daughter can eat it too!
Fess up: Who else is not a perfect cake maker, who pulls off easy birthday cakes? How do you do it?