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Category: birthday cakes

  1. Sunday, December 9

    Week 307 Menu

    First off, thanks for all the well wishes last week! Everything is all better now (thank goodness!) and we really appreciated your kind words and tips!

    The December rush is in full swing and we’re having a lot of fun! We held Cate’s birthday party yesterday and it went so smoothly. Side note: seven- and eight-year-old girls LOVE party games. It doesn’t take much to entertain them! Cate chose an animal theme for her party and decided she wanted a giraffe birthday cake. I was so happy with how he came out. (Click here for my how-to-make-cute-cakes-even-when-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing post.)

    Soooo…our family has some news. We are moving to San Diego in January! Nate has a great job opportunity in San Diego so we are moving back! We are really going to miss the Bay Area terribly, but it’s fun to move to a place we love and know well. For the next month or so we are going to try to use up food in the freezer, so there may be some random stuff on the weekly menus!

    MONDAY:
    – Chicken strips (we have a bunch of these in the freezer!)
    Carrots

    TUESDAY:
    Stefania’s Braised Chicken (I have a few pounds of chicken legs in the freezer)
    – Rice and Salad

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Take out (swim lesson night)

    THURSDAY:
    – Leftovers from Sunday, Monday and Tuesday

    FRIDAY:
    –  Homemade pizza ~or~ paninis (tbd)

    SATURDAY:
    – Chuck E. Cheese for Anna’s birthday (it’s her family year so she got to choose the “restaurant”)

    SUNDAY:
    – Breakfast for dinner

    You know the drill…please post your menu for the week, no matter how small or big, plain or fancy!


  2. Wednesday, September 26

    An Amateur’s Guide to Making Super Cute Cakes

    If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love making cakes for my kids’ birthdays. The birthday cakes my mom made for me as a child are cherished memories, so it’s something I want to pass on to my own children.

    When I started making cakes for our kids, they never came out quite how I envisioned, but I’ve gotten better with every cake and finally feel like I have a handle on the process. I suppose I could have just taken a class at some point, but where’s the fun in having someone who actually knows what they’re doing share their wisdom with you? 😉

    Owen’s 1st birthday party was on Saturday. I made a doggie cake for him because, as a 1-year-old, there are only two things in the world he loves: things with wheels and doggies. I spent several hours getting the cakes ready for the party and when I was finally able to show Owen the final product, he got super excited and giggled, just like when he sees a real dog! That excitement made all the hard work totally worth it. The cake ended up being a huge hit at the party, and not just because it was cute (which it was!). It was uber delicious, too, so I will share the recipes at the end of this post!

    After all these years of figuring out how to decorate cakes on my own, I wanted to share my learnings with you. Remember, I’m an amateur…but I think most of us are, so hopefully these tips will be as helpful to you as they are to me!

    1. Make the cake two days in advance and freeze it.
    When you start decorating you want the cake to be frozen, so for time-saving purposes, it’s a good idea to bake the cake at least two days in advance. After baking, let the cakes cool completely on a cooling rack, wrap in plastic then freeze.

    2. Use cake strips!
    Have you tried the cake strip trick yet? I will forever be indebted to my friend Lindsay for sharing this trick with me. I get flat cakes out of the oven EVERY TIME. Click here for all the details.

    3. Decorate the cake the day before you are going to serve the cake.
    The times that I’ve saved the cake decorating for the day of the party were always far more stressful times and the cakes were not as well done. I HIGHLY recommend decorating the cake the day before you need it!

    4. Make a ton of frosting.
    The frosting recipe I will share below is enough to frost a 2-layer cake. When I know I’m going to be making a “cute” cake, I usually triple the recipe to be safe.

    5. Spread a crumb coat on the frozen cake then refrigerate.
    When you’re ready to start icing the cake, do a crumb coat first. This is a thin layer of frosting that goes on before the final layer. If the cake is frozen it is much easier to ice. The crumb coat is an extra step but SO WORTH IT. It’s really wonderful to have a layer of frosting where it doesn’t matter if crumbs show…it makes all the difference. Once the crumb coat is on, refrigerate or freeze the cake again until the frosting firms up (30-60 minutes).

    Also, a quick note on carving. If you need to shape your cake, it’s helpful to carve it when it’s frozen. If it takes a while for you to get it all cut up, you may want to stick in the freezer again for 15-30 minutes before doing the crumb coat. Bottom line – frozen cakes are easier to deal with the whole way through the process!

    6. Don’t let the food coloring dictate the colors.
    I have a set of eight food color gels that I use, which provides me with lots of color options. However, I never use those colors straight up – I used to be a painter, I can’t resist mixing the colors! One of my favorite tricks is using brown to tone down the colors. I find most of the default food colors are a little bright for my taste. Adding a hint of brown makes nice, rich colors. Click here for a chart from Wilton for more color-mixing inspiration.

    This color was made using blue, brown and black.

    7. When you mix a color, make more than you think you need.
    I love making my own colors, but there is one problem…it’s tricky mixing the same exact color more than once. When you create a color, make sure you mix more than you think you need so you don’t run out halfway through the princess’s dress or Superman’s cape!

    8. Seek out inspiration for designs!
    I have a book called “Cakes for Kids” by Matthew Mead that I LOVE. Either get your hands on that book or another similar title and use it for tips and inspiration. Searching the web is a great tool, too. I always do tons of looking around for shapes and ideas when coming up with the design.

    9. Keep it Simple
    A simple design can be powerful and it’s much easier to execute, so the likelihood of success increases dramatically. And remember, cut the cake into the shapes you need when it’s frozen!

    Spiderman ended up being super simple – I just had to shave off the edges of a round cake!

    10. Draw the design ahead of time.
    Draw your design out on paper ahead of time, real-size. You can then lay that over the cake to cut it to the right shape and it’s not quite as scary when you put frosting to cake.

    11. Buy a couple flat spatulas.
    I randomly picked up a couple straight spatulas at Michael’s once, not realizing how awesome they are. They have totally changed my ability to spread icing on cakes – it looks so much more smooth and pretty than when I use a butter knife. I have two angled straight spatulas – one little, one big. They are wonderful!

    12. Buy a set of decorating tips and don’t be afraid to use them.
    You need decorating tips in order to decorate the cake, so make sure you have a set! I recommend using gallon-sized freezer ziploc bags instead of piping bags – it’s just a lot easier for clean-up. Also, I generally spread a flat layer of buttercream over the whole cake and then either use the small round tip to draw on the cake or a flower tip to fill in areas, like Spiderman’s eyes and the doggie’s nose.

    13. Use waxed paper under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean.
    I wrote about this trick that my friend Nikki shared with me a few years ago and I still use it every time I frost a cake. Place your cake on the serving platter. Tear up strips of waxed paper, about 2″ – 3″ in length, then tuck them under the edges of the cake all the way around. When the cake is completely iced, carefully remove the paper. I use a thin knife to sort of hold the icing back so it doesn’t stick to the wax paper and pull away from the cake when I remove the paper.

    14. Cake boards are awesome!
    I love these cake boards for displaying the cake. They come in white, which looks cute, but you can always cover them with another color paper if you like (like pink for Hello Kitty). I bought a pack of big, round cake boards a few years ago and they’ve been wonderful to have handy!

    15. Have fun!
    If you don’t have fun doing this, then don’t do it. I really love doing making these cakes, so it is worth the work. Make sure you’re having fun!

    I know it seems like Wilton sponsored this post, but they didn’t (although, I should have thought of that!). They just have great products that work! Wilton also has a page on their site “Cake and Dessert Decorating 101” that is very helpful if you want even more tips.

    A word about the cake:
    For years I used cake mixes and I encourage you to do the same. They’re easy and taste good. However, I have started making my cakes from scratch just because I found some recipes that I love…and I guess I like to make things harder on myself than I need to. The chocolate cake recipe below is seriously AWESOME. Just sayin’.

    And a word about the frosting:
    I love homemade buttercream and use it for almost all of my cakes (recipe below). I hate store-bought frosting. Making buttercream is in fact super easy so you should just bite the bullet and do it! The recipe below is perfect – my frosting comes out right every time.

    I have used swiss meringue buttercream at times – it tastes fabulous and you can play around with how the surface of the frosting looks a bit more (for example, on the elephant cake I could create texture that I would not be able to do with regular buttercream). It’s a bit more work to make, so if I don’t need the flexibility of texture, I just stick with regular buttercream.

    I’ve also used 7-minute frosting because I needed to (you have to check out Anna’s ghost birthday cake…so funny), but I HATE HOW IT TASTES, so I will only ever use it again if I have need to pipe little ghosts.

    Feel free to chime in with your own cake decorating tips and tricks!

    Chocolate Cake
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • From Matthew Mead's Cakes for Kids
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for the pans
    • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¾ cup unsalted butter (Jane note: mine was salted, it was fine), at room temp
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 3 large eggs, at room temp
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1½ cups whole milk (Jane note: mine was 1%, it was fine)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Lightly grease two 8-inch rounds OR two 9-inch rounds OR one 10-inch round. Line bottom of pan with waxed paper or parchment paper, grease again, then coat pan with thin layer of flour. If doing cupcakes, line 24 cups with liners.
    3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
    4. Using an electric mixer, on medium to high speed beat the butter in a large bowl for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar ¼ cup at a time at medium speed and then beat 3-4 minutes more or until well combined. Scraped down sides of bowl. Beat 2 minutes more at medium. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
    5. With the mixer on low, add flour in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beating until just combined after each addition. Beat on medium-high speed for 20 seconds more.
    6. Spread batter in prepared pans - fill pans ⅔ full. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (make sure you don't undercook! You want no jiggling in the middle and a clean toothpick).
    7. Place cake on wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto the rack, lift of the pan, remove waxed paper and let cool completely on rack. Cupcakes should cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing.

    Buttercream Frosting
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
    • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
    • 6 tablespoons cream or milk (cream is better)
    Instructions
    1. Beat butter with a mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment). Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin (which is unlikely), refrigerate for a few minutes; it will thicken as butter hardens. You can add up to 2 teaspoons of vanilla, but if you need white frosting leave the vanilla out!

     


  3. Friday, December 16

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year…Birthday Cake Time!

    While the rest of the world is celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the like…you know holidays involving winter, snow, lights…well, our house is celebrating birthdays galore! Both of my sweet daughters were born just a week before Christmas. It’s crazy town. But (as long as I can survive the stress) it’s lots of fun!

    Since their birthdays are so close to Christmas, each year I make them whatever birthday cake their little hearts desire to make sure their day is special and non-Christmasy.

    Anna is having a “Glamour Party” this year, which evolved into a “Hello Kitty Glamour Party” when she discovered the Hello Kitty plates and napkins at Target. So, a Hello Kitty cake it is! Hello Kitty by the way is an AWESOME subject for a cake. SO easy. Thank you, Anna! She was so cute this morning, staring at her cake the whole time she ate breakfast.

    Cate picked out some kitty cat cupcakes from my favorite kids’ cake book. For some reason I thought Juicy Fruit was white. It’s yellow. So yeah, yellow ears and whiskers is what we got. I’m pretty sure Cate won’t mind!

    Because I would like to make this post semi-useful to you, I used regular buttercream frosting this year (adding a little cream cheese to the frosting for Cate’s red velvet cupcakes). And I most definitely did a crumb coat on the Hello Kitty cake (a thin layer of icing on the cake that picks up all the crumbs, followed by 10 minutes in the freezer before doing the final coat of icing). And for the kitty eyes, just use a food writer on M&Ms. Instant cat eyes!

    Even though the birthday cakes invariably cause me to stay up way too late at night, I must admit the torture is fun. 😉


  4. Tuesday, December 21

    Pink Elephant on Parade…and Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

    For her birthday, Cate selected the elephant cake from my handy dandy Cakes for Kids book. Honestly, I think the main reason she picked the cake was because it was pink. I was happy to oblige – it was a straightforward design and super cute. And I could make cupcakes for all the kids, topped with Circus Peanuts to tie it all together (see photo near the end of this post). The cake and the cupcakes were a hit!

    Like I mentioned on Sunday, Cate’s elephant cake tasted light years better than Anna’s ghosty cake. And not just because chocolate cake will kick angel food cake’s patootie any day of the week. But the icing I used for the elephant cake is to die for. The book had suggested frosting the cake with a recipe that uses shortening, because it’s easier to handle and would work for creating texture on the elephant’s skin. But, uh, hello? Shortening? Blech. I promptly picked up the phone and called my good friend Faye, the pastry chef in my life. She suggested I whip up a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which would also be easy to work with and have the added benefit of actually tasting like food.

    I’m not exaggerating. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is the creamiest, smoothest, most flavorful frosting I’ve made. I don’t even usually like frosting that much. I love this stuff.

    And, sure enough, I was able to gently press a sieve into the surface of the icing to create a super cute texture that every pretty pink elephant aspires to.

    Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
     
    As described over the phone to me by my friend Faye Stein
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 4 egg whites
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 15-20 ounces butter (american style, the regular stuff you get at the store), room temperature
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    Instructions
    1. Combine the egg whites and the sugar in a KitchenAid bowl. Place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk thoroughly until the temperature reaches 165 degrees (which actually happened faster than I was expecting). The mixture will be shiny and the sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, place on mixer.
    2. With the whisk attachment, whisk at high speed until it’s a meringue, stiff peaks forming. Stop whisking, let mixture cool until bowl is cool enough to touch and the mixture is room temperature.
    3. Whisk at medium high speed, breaking off pieces of butter and adding, mixing after each addition. The mixture will stay quite soupy and you’ll think there’s no way that this is going to turn into frosting…and you’ll get ready to grab your phone to call me and find out what you’re doing wrong even though I told you it would work (that’s what I did with Faye)…but you just keep whisking and whisking, and then all of the suden it’s right. It suddenly turns into creamy frosting wonderfulness. (I added about 15 ounces of butter total the first time I made it, 12 ounces the second time I made it). At the point that it looks like actual frosting, add your vanilla and any food coloring and whisk again for a few minutes.
    4. Leftover frosting can be frozen for future use. Once you’ve refrigerated or frozen the frosting, if you want to mix it in the mixer again you should use the paddle attachment, not the whisk attachment.

    For the cupcakes, I stuck with my usual buttercream frosting, which is also very tasty and delicious.

    Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
    • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
    • 6 tablespoons cream or milk (cream is better)
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    Instructions
    1. Use a fork or electric mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment) to cream the butter. Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin (which is unlikely), refrigerate; it will thicken as butter hardens.

     


  5. Thursday, December 16

    Happy Halloween! Er, I mean, Birthday!

    What? This doesn’t look like a birthday cake? To me it screams “I have a Christmastime birthday!”

    Anna really really really wanted this Halloween cake for her birthday. I figured, you only turn 3 once! And her big birthday meal where she gets to eat anything she wants? Hot dogs! I do believe that might be the perfect third birthday.

    The more I stare at these ghosts the more they look like thug snowmen with sunglasses. Perhaps Anna was going for a winter theme after all. Or maybe she’s rebelling against having a birthday so close to Christmas. Whatever it is, I love it.

    This was my first foray into the world of Seven-Minute Frosting, which is essentially meringue that tastes just okay but looks really cute. There is some technique involved with preparing it, but it’s not too hard. And the frosting is actually quite forgiving. If you mess up, just scoop it off the cake, smooth everything out and start again. I made a LOT of awful looking ghosts before reaching the final product!

    I got the idea for this cake from Cakes for Kids by Matthew Mead. LOVE THIS BOOK. This ghosty cake is an angel food cake with frosting filled in the hole. I doubled the frosting recipe below so I was sure to have enough, but make sure you use a large bowl because it made a LOT of fluffy frosting. I used a big ziploc bag with a smallish hole cut in the corner to pipe the ghosts.

    One birthday cake down, one to go…

    Seven-Minute Frosting
    This version is from Cakes for Kids, and I paraphrased a bit here and there
    – 1 1/2 cups sugar
    – 1/3 cup cold water
    – 2 egg whites
    – 1/4 tsp cream of tartar OR 2 tsp light corn syrup
    – 1 tsp vanilla extract

    Mix sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar/corn syrup in the top of a double boiler or a heat proof bowl that can be set over a simmering pot of water. Using an hand mixer on low speed, beat for 30 seconds.

    Boil some water in the bottom of a double boiler or in a pot. Place the top of the double boiler or bowl on top. Cook over medium heat, constantly beating with the hand mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form (probably 7-10 minutes for a single batch). Remove from heat, fold in vanilla then beat again for 2 minutes. Let frosting cool to warm or room temperature before working with it. Discard leftover frosting.

    The frosting is perishable, so make it the day you plan to serve it and refrigerate any leftovers.

    Addendum: This cake did not taste great. Anna hardly ate any. The frosting is just so sweet. The angel food was yummy, but the combo of the frosting and the cake was just a little dry and too sweet. HOWEVER…I’ve been thinking about it – if there had been sliced strawberries to top on each slice, it would have been much better. Next time…


  6. Friday, December 18

    Birthday Cake Success!

    Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember my annual stresses over birthday cakes. Last year I begged you all for birthday cake tips, and then I chickened out and made a layer cake that was cute and tasty, but not very adventurous.  Our little Anna likes Spiderman a lot. It’s pretty cute. I decided that I would make her a Spiderman cake this year. Thankfully his head is a simple oval, so this was a good cake for me to get my feet wet with.

    spiderman birthday cake 1 web

    Do you mind if I brag a bit? I love her cake! I’m so happy with how it came out. YEA!!!!!

    spiderman cake 2 web

    I will say this. I didn’t cheat at all in the process.

    • I used cake strips, of course.
    • I froze the cakes before assembling and frosting.
    • I made the frosting from scratch, so I could make a ton for not much money and have plenty to work with.
    • I used wax paper to keep the cake platter clean.
    • I applied a crumb coat of frosting first before doing a top layer of frosting.
    • I used tons of food coloring to get the color of icing I wanted.
    • I practiced decorating with frosting before attacking the cake itself. (This was big for me, I hate “wasting” time practicing!)

    All of this meant it took longer to make, but it was well worth the effort. Thank you for indulging me and letting me show off the cake! Maybe next year I’ll try a more interesting shape. Or maybe I should just stick with things at are oval-shaped. 😉


  7. Tuesday, January 6

    Birthday Cakes Continued!

    I’m sure you’re all dying to know how Cate’s strawberry birthday cake came out after my lamentations on Anna’s birthday.  Success!  Granted, I cheated and just did a layer cake.  But I’ve screwed those up before too, so I was quite pleased when this one actually came out.  Yippee!

    So, what did I do?  It’s been a few weeks so let’s see if I can remember.

    • Used cake strips when baking.
    • Froze the cake before icing.
    • Iced the sides first…focusing on the gap between the cakes first, then working up and down from there.

    • For both the sides and the top I did a thin layer first and didn’t worry about crumbs, then did another layer on top that actually looked nice.
    • I don’t have a cool frosting-spreader-spatula-thingy, so I used a regular old butter knife and used the edge of a cereal bowl to scrape off excess and/or gunky frosting as I went along.

    I’m a painter, not a sculptor…so doing a layer cake and then writing/drawing on top is more comfortable for me.  However…I will try doing a shaped cake again another year.  Especially after the helpful comments on my last cake post. And, if you want some really great decorating tips, make sure to read Becky’s comment (it’s #13 on my other cake post). She is a Wilton cake decorating instructor and makes cakes for a living…so she had some really fantastic tips.

    One more thing…the moms at the party were asking for my recipe. It’s an old family secret that I just can’t share. Yeah right.

    • Cake: Pillsbury Funfetti Cake Mix
    • Filling: Jello Vanilla Instant Pudding mix (follow directions on package) with sliced strawberries laid on top of the pudding layer.
    • Frosting: 1 C butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 4 1/2 C powdered sugar, 3-4 Tbsp Milk.  Beat butter (at room temp) and vanilla on medium speed for 30 sec. Slowly add half of sugar. Add 2 T of the milk. Beat in remaining sugar and enough milk to desired consistency.

  8. Wednesday, December 17

    Birthday Cakes….ARGH!

    I grew up with a mom who made amazing birthday cakes. Snoopy, rainbows, lions, cars…you name it, she’s caked it. I remember my birthday cakes. I loved my birthday cakes. I want my kids to remember and love theirs.

    There’s one slight problem. I stink at it. I had trouble just frosting this tiny little cake for Anna this week! Seriously.  And the reason the bundt cake in the background looks cute is because it’s out of focus.  It did NOT live up to the image in my brain.  It DID taste good, though…anyway…

    Cake masters!  I know you’re out there!  Divulge your secrets! Please share your best cake decorating tips, recipes, anything. I need help!!!

    (Oh, and Cate wants a “strawberry” cake for her party later this week…any ideas on that front are welcome, too!)

    If you want a taste of the ideal that’s in my head…here’s the cake my mom made for Cate last year. Too cute! Yeah, my car cake would NOT have looked like that.