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How to make a kids' birthday cake, like a professional.

Have you noticed how the good old store-bought cakes no longer cuts the mustard when it comes to kids’ birthdays?

It seems that cake making is now a competitive sport at kids’ birthdays between mums. So if your child is getting older, and you don’t want to shell out on a professional cake, then let me help you.

Now before I start, first and foremost, I am not a professional in any sense of the world. I just like decorating cakes for my kids.

I think I’m getting slightly better at it as the years go on.  If you’re a bit nuts like me and want to have a crack, cake decorating can actually be great fun. It can also be extremely frustrating if you’re winging it like I have been. So I thought, why not share what I have learned at 2am after half a bottle of wine, many tears and some swear words that would make Sharon Osborne blush.

Firstly, don’t stress. It may look like these mums have participated in Cake Boss challenges, but it’s not as hard as it seems. Trust me, I once made this.

I wish I got this from pinterest.

1. Cake

Some things you can get around. This isn't one of them. Don't go covering a styrofoam box in fondant, it will only end in tears. Yours and the children's.

Shhhh don't tell anyone but this was a last minute job featuring pre made sponge cake from the supermarket.
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However, there are some sneaky ways you can make this easier on yourself. From what I've found timing is key. Leaving everything until the last minute is going to be stressful, so plan in advance. Make a cake like a chocolate mud that freezes well. Then just give yourself enough time to defrost it over the course of a day or so and you're good to go. If you're really pressed on time, there is nothing wrong with a store bought pre-made sponge cake. I'm guilty of this one.

2. Icing

Buttercream icing or ganache is probably the best bet here, and buttercream is easy to make. You can buy some pre-done thingies, but really it's butter and icing. Maybe some milk if you're a bit wild. You can do this.

Firstly and most importantly you need to ice your cake when it is COMPLETELY cooled. DO NOT try and save time and ice while it's just a bit warm or your icing will be falling over faster than a 17 year old with a fake ID at schoolies.

Now, the aim here is to get the icing as smooth as possible. Use a palette knife (breathe, it's a fancy name for a flat knife) to smooth the icing out as much as possible. Cover the sides in the same manner and then leave the cake to set properly.

In the fridge is best.

Do not even think about rushing into the fun stuff yet because unless the icing is set properly, your fondant is going to get squishy. Think of the buttercream icing as the spanx under your LBD. It smoothes out all the lumps and bumps. (Ironic isn't it.)

3. Fondant

The best stuff comes from the speciality cake shops. Choose a design that's pretty simple if it's your first attempt and take a picture into the store because they will be able to help you.

See the cake sitting smugly up the back. It almost sent me to the nut house.
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Generally in my opinion, Satin Ice is great stuff. It comes in a wide range of colours, but you don't need to buy the huge tubs for every colour you need. Just get the big tubs for your main colours, and a tub of white. You can then mix in fondant dyes to get different effects. Try and chose something that uses only a few colours, otherwise it can get pretty pricey. Ker-ching.

While you're at the store, get a fondant smoother. It will make your life heaps easier.

Ok, you're home with your supplies. Keep the fondant you're not using in the plastic bag or it will dry out and crack. Weather can play havoc with fondant so if it's too hot, try and get the air con cranking, and use icing sugar to prevent it going sticky.

Check that your buttercream (or ganache) is set and then roll out your main colour to cover the cake. This can get tricky. Don't roll out too thick, or thin. This is just a practice makes perfect kinda situation. Too thin, and you risk it ripping, too thick and people will wonder whether there is cake under there. When you're happy with the fondant, roll it over the back of a rolling pin, rather than trying to pick it up in your hands, and gently roll over the top of the cake. Then use your hands and fondant smoother to iron out any bumps and lumps.

4. Decorations

Depending on the kind of decorations you go for, you can do some of this ahead of time. Figurines, cake toppers and the like can be done in advance and kept in an air tight container.

Thanks to youtube for the step by step piglet tutorials. My son later wore this cake as a hat.
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You know how I said before not to cover styrofoam in fondant? That was then. This is now. For some decorations such as blocks or cubes or whatever, this may actually be a more cost effective and neater way of doing things. I made letter blocks for my sons first birthday to sit in front of the cake and at the suggestion of the lovely lady at the cake shop, I actually did cover foam in fondant. It was much easier than trying to level out fondant that kept cracking and warping on me. I hope I don't need to enforce that this is a non edible decoration.

If you've got something specific in mind, check out Youtube for step by step tutorials. There is every chance that you're doing things the hard way, and some smart cookie has thought of a much easier solution. Use their knowledge.

Do you have any other hints and tips for cake decorating?

And here is a gallery of do-able cakes that make you look like a professional to inspire you. CLICK THROUGH the gallery.

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