Do you have a big birthday coming up? While store bought cakes are great, a home baked treat can add that extra touch of love and personalization. And often times with kids, they want something so specific that home-baked is your best option.
Baking a cake can be simple, or complex, depending on how you want to go about it. Here are some ideas, from super simple to more involved.
If you want to go simple, just grab a standard cake pan, either square or circle, use your favourite recipe, then spread some icing (you’re forgiven if you buy this pre-made) and use an icing pipe or coloured icing to write a special birthday message on top.
If you want to make it a bit fancier, bake two thinner cakes that you can layer with icing, fudge or fruits in between. Just make sure to adjust the baking time accordingly to account for thinner cakes. Shave a bit off the top of one to make it as flat as possible, use that as your bottom, spread the filling inside, then put the top layer on. Leave it open so the birthday girl or boy can see what’s inside, or cover the entire cake surface in sweet icing.
My favourite type of cake to make this way is carrot cake, with cream cheese icing in the middle and on top. But other great birthday options include chocolate (you can’t go wrong with chocolate) or sponge cake with fruit.
When it comes to kid’s birthday parties, cupcake cakes are all the range. Essentially, you just bake a dozen or so cupcakes, then position them in a rectangle or circle shape with icing overtop. The kids can peel each apart individually – no knife needed.
Kick it up a notch
Want to kick your skills up a notch? Try to make a cool design on top of the cake. You can make a standard shaped cake then use fondant, icing, and a few props, to create a fun design – loot bag toys, like cars or princesses, are great for popping on top, as long as everyone is aware that they aren’t edible. Or, buy a cake pan that already comes in a fun shape that you can then decorate. You can get one shaped like everything from a tractor, to Hello Kitty, or even a Teddy Bear.
But you can also maximize a standard shape, For example, ice a circle-shaped cake to look like a baseball for a sports fan, or cut a football shape out of a large rectangular cake. (That’s also a great excuse to “taste test” the leftover cake pieces!)
Check Websites like Pinterest for some really clever ideas on how to cut and create kid’s characters out of cakes.
You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make a baked masterpiece. Following a few instructions online, and some practice with fondant and icing tools can make you look like a pro.
If you’re ready to take the next step and make a cake with several layers, or a complex iced treat, make sure you have the tools on hand to do so.
Check out this 177-piece decorating set from Wilton, which includes everything you could possibly need to create a beautifully iced and designed cake – from decorating tips in the form of leaves or petals; to spatulas, decorating bags, and even a practice board you can use until you get the hang of it.
Fondant is a cake decorator’s dream, because it offers a nice, smooth coat of iced surface over the cake on which you can work to add flowers or other cute creations. To make things even simpler, grab a fondant imprint mat like this one that you can roll a smooth piece of fondant over to make a cool pattern, then wrap it around your cake. There’s everything from floral patterns, to leaves, or a kid’s party theme.
Here’s a tip: if you don’t have a piping bag or tool for icing, you can simply cut a small hole from one edge of a Ziplock bag and icing tip. It works just as well, and is great if you’re just starting out and want to get a feel for the process before investing in a pro set of tools.
Grabbing the essentials
Regardless of whether you’re making and icing a simple round cake or attempting a decadently-decorated complex dessert, you’ll need the following basic tools:
A measuring cup
There is a science to baking, and you need to ensure that measurements are spot on. So a measuring cup is essential. This one from Oxo has a large, 4-cup capacity for measuring out flour and other ingredients for large cakes. But what makes it really cool is the patented, angled surface that allows you to read measurements from above rather than from the side. And you can measure all the ingredients you need – in cups, tablespoons, ounces, and millimetres.
Another option is the Joseph Joseph Nest 5-piece measuring cup set which makes it easy to scoop out ingredients, and measure from a tablespoon up to a full cup. Plus, the five pieces stack on top of one another, so they don’t take up much space in the cupboard or drawer. And they come in five, bright colours for easy identification.
Naturally, you’ll need some bowls to mix the ingredients. And even if you have a stand mixer with a bowl, often times you’ll still need a separate bowl to mix together the dry ingredients before adding them to the wet. Check out this vibrant red set of three from Cuisinart, that includes a 1.5, 3, and 5 quart bowl, all of which have pour spouts, and are dishwasher safe.
The design of the Joseph Joseph 4-piece mixing bowl set is unique, and perfect for cake baking. Each bowl has a stainless steel egg cracker on the side, pour spouts, and an individual egg yolk separator if the recipe calls for removing yolks (maybe you’re whipping up a meringue?)
There’s just something authentic about baking with a wooden spoon – it’s worth having one on hand.
While you might use an electric mixer or wooden spoon, a spatula is essential for getting every last bit of cake batter off the sides of the bowl, and beautifully spreading icing. And, of course, they are perfect for licking the leftover batter. This Cuisinart model is silicone for easy cleaning, with bristles that are heat-resistant. Once the kids (or you!) finish licking it clean, you can hand wash or just pop it into the dishwasher.
Some recipes will call for whisking ingredients, so it’s a good idea to have one on hand. (They’re a must for pancakes anyway!) What I love about this one from Joseph Joseph is that it collapses when not in use so you can slot it into the utensil drawer without it taking up too much room or sitting too high for the drawer to close.
Naturally, you’ll need something to bake the cakes in. Every baker should have several sizes on hand. This set from Wilton includes round cake pans, plus a cupcake pan if you decide to go that route (kids love cupcake cakes!) This set has one that’s great for making sheet cakes, plus a loaf pan if you want to whip up a side of banana bread. Or this four-piece cake pan set makes it easy to create a 4-layer tower cake.
Last but not least, don’t forget the candles.
So if simple is your thing, then great! If you want to get creative, then you have so many more options now then ever before. Explore some new cake designs, get the tools you needs and have fun creating a masterpiece.