Bake me a cake

. October 30, 2012.

Growing up, bakery-made birthday cakes were not quite in vogue. They were around, surely, but they were expensive and not accessible to the mainstream public.  But I sure did want one. Occasionally my mom would splurge on a fancy sheet cake with pink frosting rosettes, but for the most part, we made our own.

Then the tide changed and every grocery store and club warehouse started hawking a buttercream-coated sheet cake decorated according to a myriad of childhood themes. They can still be expensive, but they’ve become the norm rather than the exception.

However, in parenting, as in life, we need to remember that we don’t have to follow the stream. We can make waves in the status quo, even when it comes to birthday parties and the cakes we serve.

You can bake your own. And it can still be cute. And it can make your child smile. And it can better fit your budget, too.

Creating a fun birthday cake is not difficult. Over the years it’s become one thing that my children look forward to on their special days. I’m not a trained
professional, but I love to make something festive.

While pastry chefs and professional bakers spend years learning their craft, the home baker can still make a pretty cool cake without a whole lot of fuss or expense. Birthday cakes at our house are embellishments of simple, easy to use ingredients. If you’ve got a boxed cake mix, a couple cans of frosting, some candy and toys, your kids will be dazzled by what you create. Think third grade diorama, notched up a bit.

Here’s how to tackle it – with your child’s help, of course!

1. Choose a theme based on your child’s interests and age. Think about what kind of scene you could depict using toys, action figures and candy. The cake will act as a stage for the toy action. Your child may know the story, movie or character better than you do, so ask lots of questions and look at drawn artwork for inspiration. As the parent, reserve creative license for yourself. While it’s wonderful to include your child in the design process, avoid letting it get out of hand.

2. Prepare cake mix according to package directions and cool completely. A simple sheet or layer cake is fine.

3. Choose a serving tray to use to hold the cake or get a cardboard cake board ready by covering it with foil.

4. Gather any toys you might use and wash and dry them well. If you can’t find toys that match your theme, locate the images online. Print them on cardstock in colored ink. Cut them out and tape them to toothpicks. Instant and almost free cake toppers!

5. Assemble all the items that will go on your cake: frosting, food coloring, candies, toys, paper cake toppers and candles.

6. Place the cake on your serving tray. If you’d like, surround it with strips of waxed paper. This way, if you’re a little messy in your frosting stage, the drips will fall on the waxed paper which you can pull away when finished.

7. Tint your frosting with the colors that suit your design. Frost your cake with a thin layer of frosting. This is called the crumb coat. Slip the cake in the fridge for a few minutes to allow the crumb coat to harden. When you add another coat, you won’t have pesky crumbs marring your
finished product.

8. Place your toys, candy and other embellishments.

9. Take a picture of the birthday child and his cake! Enjoy the moment.

Jessica Fisher is a wife, mom to six and a freelance writer. She loves the challenge of every birthday theme her kids
can throw at her. Visit her at