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When it comes to children’s birthday parties, the cake tends to take centre stage. Yes, you can have a custom design made to your exact specifications but we all want to have a go at making the cake ourselves. This is one of life’s most thoughtful gestures and one that forms those happy childhood memories. But with a never ending list of to-do’s, we all need shortcuts. So, here are my top five tips to create a show-stopping birthday cake for the kids.
Now I don’t claim to be any sort of baking expert but many years of design study and then teaching has taught me a thing or two about making. More to the point how to achieve the best results in the shortest time. Now show me a parent that doesn’t need to know that!
What to do when you have a cake fail
I recently received a panicked message from a friend who was making her daughters birthday cake, let’s call her L. Now L is a superwoman, not afraid to give anything a go and like many of us, wants to do her absolute best in the process. But by her own admission, L is not a natural when it comes to the creative arts. Nevertheless, she attempted a fondant covered Paw Patrol cake for her daughters party.
This is how the message went, gotta love her!
I’m going to dab on a bit of royal icing and stick a sugar paper paw on it and that’ll do for the cookies. F*@k doing the paws. I’m already doing homemade sausage rolls and cake!
It’s such a pressure though for the girls as they are old enough now to want a wow cake and I fear their disappointment if it fell apart etc. If I were doing it for myself or C or a mate there would be humour in f*@king up.
Sound familiar? I know I have been here many a time before.
Let me just say that this cake was huge and covering the cake in fondant icing was proving challenging so I offered to lend a hand… and arms, it was big!
Don’t be afraid to have a go!
I would always encourage you to have a go at making a birthday cake, these will be some of the fondest memories your kids have of growing up. I bet you can remember all of the amazing cakes your own mum made you. Me too.
It all turned out fabulously for L, she was thrilled with her results and amazed at how easy it was once I’d shown her the cheats that I’m going to share with you.
Remember, you are the only one who will judge the birthday cake with that super critical eye! The kids already think you are a superstar and have nowhere near the high standards that you do. And your friends have all been there before so even if you have a cake fail, trust me they will not be the ones to point it out. Be brave Mamma!
My top 5 tips for creating a show stopping birthday cake… fast
Here are my top five tips for making an amazing cake. Depending on your skill level you will want to use all or some of them to help create that show stopping birthday cake. Here goes…
- Get the right tools for the job. You will have MANY years of making birthday cakes so a small investment now will save you your sanity in the long run. Read on to see what’s in my essential cake toolkit.
- Buy ready to roll fondant icing. Mixing your own colours is time consuming and tricky. * I know, I had my own challenges just this Christmas!
- Keep the colour palette to a minimum. See above, this can get quite expensive and wasteful as you may only need a tiny amount of each colour.
- Use templates for decorations. If you can keep your design two dimensional, it will be tons easier as you can use paper templates to cut around. See my Fox Cake Template post for a demo on how to use templates.
- Invest in a food pen. These are an absolute game changer for smaller details like eyes or whiskers etc. and much less fiddly than cutting teeny pieces of fondant.
The essential tools you need for creating awesome cakes
- Cake board A cake board will minimise your handling of the cake itself. It will also give you extra decorating space for adding names. This one comes with a flat pack box which was great as I didn’t have a large enough tin for my finished cake.
- Cake turntable If you only buy one thing, make it this. Being able to turn the cake as you spread the buttercream is much quicker which helps to avoid any lumps and bumps under the icing. You’ll also find that working from an elevated level when draping the fondant icing over the cake is much easier.
- Angled spatula A good sized angled spatula will help apply the buttercream evenly. Starting with a good foundation is key to saving time when smoothing out any bumps later.
- Fondant smoothing tool This inexpensive but essential tool will smooth out the fondant icing and help it stick to the buttercream. You can make do with just one but two will give you those sharp cake edges that the pro’s achieve. Use small circular motions and make sure that you hold it at 90 degrees to the cake sides, otherwise you’ll end up pressing the cake in at the bottom!
- Small soft brush I use two small make up brushes, which are much cheaper than artist brushes (unused for make-up I might add). One is used to apply water when sticking pieces of fondant together. And the other is used dry to dust off any pesky bits of icing sugar.
Avoid sticky fondant with ready to roll icing
Let me tell you, I had such a nightmare with mixing custom coloured icing this past Christmas. I was trying to achieve a deep holly leaf green but after half a bottle of food colouring it was still way too light. Worst of all, the fondant went too soft and sticky making it impossible to work with. I tried adding icing sugar to rectify the tackiness but this made the colour lighter still, needing more food colouring, making it sticky again. This was all on Christmas Eve after the shops had shut, can you imagine my frustration? I had to admit defeat and change my design in the end.
The valuable lesson I learnt from this is to use coloured ready to roll icing when short on time. I’ve tried a few different brands over the years and love the range of colours from Renshaws Ready To Roll Icing.
Keep the colours in your design to a minimum
Have you ever noticed that the best designers limit the number of colours used in their products? Not only do they look better, there’s a practical angle too, especially if you followed my advice and used ready to roll icing.
- Firstly, the cost of your cake will soon add up if you’re having to buy lots of different packs of icing.
- Secondly, you often only need small amounts of a colour for details like ears and eyes.
By simplifying the colours I used in my fox cake, I managed with orange, cream, pink and black. The pink area was so small, I used an off cut of cream icing with a tiny amount of pink food colouring mixed into it. I have since discovered that mixing a light colour can be done easily if its a small amount.
Use a template for the cake decorations
A template acts as a guide and is simply a paper or card shape that can be cut around. The advantage of this is that you get to work out the details of your idea on paper before committing to a final design.
If you haven’t used a template before, you might have noticed that the proportions of your designs might look a little off. Or perhaps the edges were a bit wonky. It’s tricky to get a consistent look when you make a freehand cut.
You can draw your own templates or search for a ‘vector’ image online. A vector is a simplified outline image without colour.
I will be sharing some of my own cake design templates with you from the most popular kids party themes over the coming weeks. So do check back soon.
Draw small details with a food pen
Food pens use edible ink and are amazing for adding small details or to write a text as simply as you would use a regular pen. Great if you aren’t a master at piping icing. The ones I have found come in a four pack and you can choose any four colours from a range of twenty seven.
Have a go at creating your own show stopping cake!
I am confident that if you follow these tips then you’ll create an amazing birthday cake that you will be super happy with. And if you do get stuck, I’ve been busy creating a whole bunch of cake templates for you to use for free. The first Fox Cake Template is ready to go and is a really simple one to get started with. If you want more cake hacks then all future templates will be under Printables, so check back soon to see what’s new.
I do hope that you are feeling inspired to have a go at creating a show stopping birthday cake and I’d love to hear about your own top tips to get brilliant results. Likewise if you have any questions for me, don’t be shy, I’d love to help! Just pop a comment in the box below…
Enjoy the sugar rush!
* Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission.