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  1. Wednesday, January 11

    Anna’s Hamburger Birthday Cake

    Like most parents, I come up short in lots of ways. But there is one thing I am committed to as a mom that I have yet to fail on: birthday cakes. (I probably should knock on wood after making such a bold statement!) I blame my own mother for this obsession, thanks to the truly memorable birthday cakes she made for me as a child. Each year I let the kids choose whatever they want for their cake and then I tackle it. So far I’ve had pretty good success and I love sharing the cakes with you so you can make them, too!

    How to Make a Hamburger Birthday Cake from @janemaynard

    Anna had her birthday last month and requested a hamburger birthday cake. (This girl has a thing for cakes that look like savory foods, apparently.) It was her “family year,” which means no party, just a fun night with the fam. Rogue One came out on her birthday, so we went and saw the movie together. She could pick anywhere to go out to eat but decided to do takeout hamburgers and come home to eat in the living room while watching old Gilmore girls episodes. Naturally a hamburger birthday cake was in order!

    Anna and I did some searching on Pinterest and found a lot of ugly hamburger cakes as well as a lot of cakes that were just too much work. But then one caught our eye on a blog called Gluesticks. The mom had used unfrosted chocolate and vanilla cakes to make the bun and hamburger patty. Genius!

    How to Make a Hamburger Birthday Cake from @janemaynard

    Here is how I made the cake and a few notes for you if you decide to tackle this project yourself. (Click here for the Gluesticks instructions. She piped frosting for most of the decorating, but I hate washing frosting tips so took a little bit of a different approach.)

    • Make 2 yellow cake rounds and 1 chocolate cake round, all the same size, for the bun and hamburger.
    • For the lettuce: toss shredded coconut in the green liquid food coloring. Tip: I didn’t let the “lettuce” hang off the edges enough, wish I had concentrated more coconut to hang over the edges so you could see the lettuce better.
    • For the mayonnaise: Use white buttercream frosting in between layers 1 and 2 and layers 2 and 3, frosting out to the edge so you can see the “mayo.”
    • For the veggies and cheese: Either use marzipan or white rolled fondant. Separate and make a few different colors – red, green and yellow-orange. Roll the fondant/marzipan flat then cut into the shapes you need. I cut triangles freehand with a knife in the yellow fondant for the cheese. I used a medium-sized, smooth-edge round cookie cutter for the tomatoes. I used a small-sized, ripple-edged round cookie cutter for the pickles.
    • For the seeds: Pipe white frosting on top for the seeds!
    • I recommend using smaller round cake pans. I used my 9-inch cake pans and, well, it was SO MUCH CAKE. Plus I think the dome would have held better if the cake had been smaller. Bottom line: 9 inches was too big, 8 inches probably would have felt too big, too. However, those sizes will work for sure if that’s all you have or if you do in fact need a lot of cake. Otherwise, go with smaller cake pans!
    • Make sure you grease and flower the pans REALLY WELL and use parchment paper on the bottom. My cake ended up sticking to the pan a little too much on the edges in some parts. Those parts did not look pretty and I had to hide them in the back.
    • Do not use cake strips for this cake, at least for the yellow cake rounds. You want the yellow cake to dome so that the top resembles a hamburger bun. Two quick notes: First, you will still want to level one of the yellow layers and the chocolate layer since they will be stacked. Just the top yellow layer should have a dome. Second, my cakes did dome in the oven but for some reason settled down flat after cooling – I think it was the homemade cake recipe I used. I think boxed cake mix may work better in this instance. If your cake does go flat, I recommend putting more frosting between the 2nd and 3rd layers, concentrated in the middle to make the top layer “poof” up a bit more like a bun. (I didn’t do that and you can see that my bun looks flat.)

    Click here for my cake decorating post with TONS of tips for making and decorating cute cakes. That post also includes the buttercream recipe I used.

    Happy hamburger birthday cake making!


  2. Wednesday, January 13

    Easy Ladybug Cupcakes

    Today I wanted to share the easy ladybug cupcakes I made for Cate’s birthday. One of my “things” as a mom is making fun birthday cakes for my kids, but this year Anna simply wanted a cake made out of donuts and Cate wanted chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing. While I was a little disappointed to not be making more elaborate cakes, I will admit it was a nice break, especially one week before Christmas.

    Quick tutorial for easy ladybug cupcakes from @janemaynard

    Then, the day of her birthday, Cate informed me that she wanted ladybug cupcakes. I was like, “Uh, what?” I was completely unprepared, but really wanted to come through for her. Luckily I had some red cupcake liners and a pack of candy eyes in the cabinet and was able to pull these off!

    Quick tutorial for easy ladybug cupcakes from @janemaynard

    These ladybug cupcakes are seriously EASY.

    • Cook the cupcakes in red or black cupcake papers.
    • Make a batch of buttercream frosting. Color about 2/3 of it with red food coloring (you’ll need a lot of food color!). Color the rest of the buttercream with black food coloring.
    • Frost the cupcakes with red buttercream using a butter knife, spreading the frosting on smoothly (doesn’t have to be perfect!).
    • Place the black frosting in a piping bag with a small, round tip. Pipe on the outline of the wings, the polka dots, and a head, as shown in the diagram below.
    • Finish off the ladybug with small candy eyes placed on the black icing piped on as the head, right at the edge of the cupcake.

    How to decorate easy ladybug cupcakes from @janemaynard

    I was able to knock these cupcakes out no problem, and the design is so simple even the non-artistic among us can pull it off.

    Click here to get the recipes I used for the chocolate cake and buttercream frosting. (Feel free to use a cake mix, I’m not keeping track!)

    Happy decorating!


  3. Tuesday, September 29

    Another Birthday, Another Cake! Owen’s Anchor Birthday Cake

    If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I like to make fun birthday cakes for my kids. Before you start feeling guilty for not making fun birthday cakes for your kids, don’t, because I promise there are plenty of other things you do as a parent that I’m failing at. If, however, you are like me and making fun birthday cakes is your thing, I do like to share my cakes with you so you can steal my ideas!

    how to make a kids' birthday anchor cake by @janemaynard + recipe for vanilla cake

    Owen had a pirate themed birthday party this year and he decided he wanted an anchor cake. Nate and I tried to talk him into a pirate flag cake. That would have been SO EASY…just a 9×13 cake with black frosting, topped with a fondant skull and crossbones rolled out and cut into the right shape…if only. But alas, he wouldn’t go for it. Anchors away!

    At first I thought an anchor cake would be easy peasy. Shaping the cake was in fact simple, However, frosting the cake was WICKED HARD. So many nooks and crannies around the edge! My frosting skills were no match and this was my worst-frosted cake ever, but it still looked cute enough and 4-year-olds surprisingly don’t notice these things.

    how to make a kids' birthday anchor cake by @janemaynard + recipe for vanilla cake

    Here’s how to make an anchor cake!

    • Bake a 9″ x 13″ cake.
    • Draw your anchor shape onto the cake oriented vertically by scoring the top of the cake with a sharp knife, then cut the cake into the shape. Make it a nice tall anchor. It’s okay to have the top circle cut off and the side “arrow” thingies cut off because you can…
    • …use the large cake scraps to shape pieces to round off the top of the anchor and add to the arrow-shaped sides.
    • For the chain, I mixed black food coloring into white fondant to make grey. I rolled out skinny snake shapes and linked them together. The final touch was to lightly brush the chain with metallic edible silver dust from Wilton. That was Anna’s idea and it made the chain look AWESOME. I rolled out a thin white disc for the hole in the top of the anchor where the chain is attached.

    how to make a kids' birthday anchor cake by @janemaynard + recipe for vanilla cakeClick here for my comprehensive “Amateur’s Guide to Making Super Cute Cakes,” which includes a recipe for chocolate cake and buttercream frosting as well as LOTS of tips for shaping and decorating cakes. And, because I’ve never shared it before, below is the recipe for vanilla cake we use, which was what Owen requested. This recipe comes from my favorite cake book, Cakes for Kids by Matthew Mead. The book is out of print but there are copies on Amazon.

    how to make a kids' birthday anchor cake by @janemaynard + recipe for vanilla cake

    The best part of Owen’s cake had absolutely nothing to do with the cake. The wind blew out his candles while we were singing. Nate quickly relit them all, then the wind blew 3 of the 4 candles out again. Nate went to relight them AGAIN. Instead Owen just rolled with the punches and blew out the one candle. It was super cute, although I suspect that he knew 1 candle was easier to blow out than 4. Crafty guy.

    Vanilla Cake
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    This is a great basic vanilla cake recipe from Matthew Mead's "Cakes for Kids" book. I've re-written the directions in my own words.
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for pans
    • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ⅔ cup butter at room temperature
    • 1¾ cups sugar
    • 2 large eggs, room temp
    • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1¼ cups milk
    • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange or lemon zest (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. This recipe works for 24 cupcakes, 2 8-inch or 9-inch cakes, or 1 9x13 cake. If using cupcake liners, place liners in muffin tin and set aside. If using cake pan(s), lightly grease the bottom of the cake pan, line it with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper and the sides of the pan. Lightly flour the pan. Set aside.
    3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the 2½ cups flour, baking powder and salt.
    4. Using a stand mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.
    5. Leaving the mixer on medium speed, add ¼ cup sugar. Beat for 3 minutes. Keep adding sugar ¼ cup at a time, mixing for 3 minutes between each addition until you've added all the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes.
    6. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating at medium speed for 30 seconds between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    7. With the mixer on low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, then ⅓ of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined for each addition. If using zest, add it now.
    8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then give the batter one more mix at high speed for 20 seconds.
    9. Spread the batter in the pan, filling cake pans or cupcakes ⅔ full with batter.
    10. For 8- or 9-inch cakes, bake for 30-35 minutes. For 9x13 cake, bake for 35-40 minutes. For cupcakes bake for 10-12 minutes. Toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean when done.
    11. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a knife, cut around the edges of the cake, then invert the pan over the wire rack, lift pan to remove cake and peel off parchment paper. Let cake cool completely on the rack. For cupcakes, let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing.

     


  4. Wednesday, December 17

    Anna’s Deep Dish Pizza Cake

    It’s birthday season in our home, which means I’m busy whipping up cakes for the girls! This year Anna requested a deep dish pizza cake from Cakes for Kids by Matthew Mead. I am absolutely delighted with the results and wanted to share it with you!

    how to make a cake look like deep dish pizza from @janemaynard

    This cake was actually quite easy to put together. Here’s how to get it done!

    • Use a 9-inch cake. After you remove the cake from the pan to cool, wash the pan. When you level the cake, take off about 1/8-1/4″ so that when you put the cake back in the pan for display, there is space between the top of the cake and the top of the pan.
    • Once the cake is back in the clean pan, frost the top with red-tinted butter cream for the sauce. I used red, a bit of orange, and a smidge of green to make the red color. Pipe the “crust” around the edge with buttercream that has extra vanilla extract mixed in (to make it a little more brown). I just used a ziploc bag with the corner cut to make the fat pipe with the frosting. Use cinnamon to add brown spots to the crust, rubbing in lightly with fingers.
    • Marzipan is the key to the beautiful veggies on top! For one 9-inch cake you need a 7-ounce package of marzipan, found in the baking aisle at the grocery store. Divide the marzipan into 4 equal parts. When you roll out the marzipan, place parchment paper both underneath and on top when rolling. For the mushrooms, roll out the marzipan thin and cut mushrooms freehand, using a bit of cinnamon to add color. For the bell peppers, knead in green food coloring with a bit of brown, then roll pieces of marzipan out into a skinny snake shape, make circles and then crimp the circle like a pepper. For the pepperoni, knead in red and a bit of brown food coloring into the marzipan and then roll out thin. Using a small circle cutter, cut circles and then texture with a pastry brush (genius!). I used the rippled edge side of my round cutter for the pepperoni. For the onions, roll out the marzipan then use concentric round cutters to make the onion shapes.
    • Unsweetened shredded coconut worked perfectly for the cheese! I sprinkled most of the cheese directly on the “sauce,” then placed the veggies and sprinkled a bit more “cheese” on top.

    how to make a cake look like deep dish pizza from @janemaynard

    Voila! Deep Dish Pizza…that tastes like cake! It was seriously funny all afternoon with the cake sitting on the counter. It really looked like a pizza!

    how to make a cake look like deep dish pizza from @janemaynard


  5. Friday, September 26

    How to Make an Airplane Birthday Cake + Friday Show and Tell

    Okay, so there’s a lot of “mom stuff” I don’t do. I’m not crafty. I don’t make baby food from scratch. I am a terrible gardener. The list goes on and ON. But I do absolutely love making my kids’ birthday cakes. Every year they tell me what they want and I figure out a way to make it happen! For Owen’s 3rd birthday he requested Ripslinger from the movie Planes, or as Owen put it, “the green bad guy plane.” I was a little nervous but I pulled it off! The best part was Owen loved it and today he’s asked multiple times to see pictures of the cake. (That splash sound you hear is me turning into a puddle on the floor.)

    how to make a kids airplane birthday cake by @janemaynard

    how to make a kids airplane birthday cake by @janemaynard

    This cake was one of the easier ones I’ve done, so I have to share the step-by-step with you. Here’s how to make an airplane birthday cake!

    • Bake a 9″x13″ standard cake. I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe (which you can find in this linked post) and it made for a nice tall cake, which gave the plane more height. I doubled the frosting recipe in that same post, which gave me enough frosting for the crumb coat and final coat with a bit left over.
    • After you bake the cake, freeze it. Once it’s frozen, make one cut as shown in the diagram below, then flip one of the pieces so it lines up with the other piece perfectly when you stack them.

    template for cutting a 9x13 cake for an airplane shape by @janemaynard

    • The fat end of the triangle you created is the front of the plane – the smaller end is the back of the plane. Shape the front to round it off. Once the cake was done, I wished I had also angled the back end of the plane down a bit so that the entire plan had an upward slant towards the front of the plane, instead of just parallel to the ground (know what I mean?). Feel free to play with the shape or just keep it super simple like I did.
    • I used one of the pieces of cake I cut off the front when shaping the nose of the plane to create the cockpit on top.
    • Frost between the layers, and then follow the directions in my cake-making guide post for frosting (freezing cake, crumb coat, etc.) The beauty of this cake is you only need ONE COLOR OF FROSTING! Save a bit of white for the window, but other than that you can just make all the frosting one color.
    • For the wings and things, I used cardstock! Just cut them into the shape you like and then stick the shaped wings and things right into the cake. You can get colored cardstock or just color white cardstock with a permament marker the color you want he wings to be. (Since I was making Ripslinger, I also made the flames out of cardstock colored with permanent markers and stuck them to the side using frosting as glue.) Don’t worry, no marker transferred to the frosting anywhere!
    • The propellors were 2 popsicle sticks colored with black Sharpee marker, broken in half and then stuck in the front. I should have put a black circle of frosting or a Junior Mint on the front in the middle of the propellors. I didn’t, but you can!
    • White frosting and black piped frosting made the window in the cockpit, and chocolate chips, stuck pointy side in, served as the eyes.

    Show and tell time! I just have one quick share today. I put together a really fun post for Babble of CRAZY stuff my friends’ kids have eaten. It’s pretty awesome. Be sure to click through and check it out!

    As usual, feel free to share anything you like in the comments, it’s show and tell after all!


  6. Thursday, December 19

    The Girls’ Birthday Cakes + Chocolate M&M Frosting

    One of the only over-the-top-Mom things I do is make fun cakes for my kids’ birthdays. Cate and Anna had both of their birthdays this week so I’ve been a busy baker! Anna opted for a vanilla cake shaped like a fish. Cate decided to go with chocolate cupcakes topped with M&M frosting. I wanted to share the cakes with you, since I always do, as well as the recipe for the frosting because it was YUMMMMMMMMM.

    chocolate m&m frosting from @janemaynard

    Anna’s cake was inspired by a goldfish in the Cakes for Kids book by Matthew Mead that we love so much! The cake is essentially a 2-layer cake (8 inches or 9 inches works) with a thin crescent cut off the top or each layer before frosting. Those crescent pieces become the fins. The frosted layer cake gets tipped up on its side and and then the fins are added, with toothpicks securing the top and back fins. I think this might have been the hardest cake I’ve made so far, surprisingly. It didn’t come out as cute as I’d hoped but it did come out better than I expected! 😉 Anna was completely happy with the cake and that is all that matters!

    anna's fish birthday cake from @janemaynard

    I think what made this cake so tricky was that I made the fins a different color than the body (to look more like Flounder from The Little Mermaid), but it’s hard enough attaching those fins without having to worry about the frosting colors mixing. Bottom line: this cake was hard but we made it work!

    anna's fish birthday cake from @janemaynard

    Cate took it easy on me and just wanted chocolate cupcakes with M&Ms. I decided an M&M frosting would be good and took inspiration from a recipe on the blog Cookies & Cups. I changed the recipe to a chocolate buttercream frosting and made it a little thinner. The frosting was fudgy and crunchy and oh-so-delicious. Quick note: when the frosting is just made, the M&Ms are still crunchy, but as it sits, the M&Ms get softer. This is not a bad thing, but it goes from crispy M&M fudge frosting to chunky-chocolate fudge frosting. Just wanted to set expectations properly! If you can whip up the frosting last minute, that’s what I would do! This is not to say that we haven’t happily enjoyed the leftovers!

    chocolate m&m frosting from @janemaynard

    If you’d like to see the misadventure I had when I started to frost the cupcakes, click here. Fair warning, it’s scary! Moral of the story? Always use a star tip when piping chocolate frosting. And that’s all we’ll say about that!

    Chocolate M&M Frosting
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened to room temperature
    • 3 cups powdered sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • ⅓ cup cocoa powder, sifted into the bowl
    • 1 cup M&Ms, processed to a coarse dust in the blender
    Instructions
    1. In a stand mixer or with beaters, beat together all of the ingredients on medium-high speed until well-mixed. Spread on cake or cupcakes and eat immediately! M&Ms will be crunchy at the outset but will soften as the frosting sits.

     


  7. Tuesday, September 24

    Little Blue Truck Birthday Cake

    I love making my kids’ birthday cakes. The tradition stems from my childhood. I remember so many of the cakes my mom made for me and I also remember being sooooo excited for each of those cakes. They made me feel special and like my mom could work magic. My brother and I have both continued the tradition with our own children. It’s one of those things that I really love to do for my kids.

    little blue truck cake | thisweekfordinner.com

    little blue truck birthday | thisweekfordinner.com

    little blue truck and big green toad cakes | thisweekfordinner.com

    Each time I make a cake I share it on the blog (let’s be honest, I like to show them off!), but I never get around to explaining how I put the shapes together. I thought I’d give a quick rundown of how I assembled the Little Blue Truck cake.

    First and foremost, be sure to read through this post to get lots of tips for successfully decorating cute cakes. The instructions below mostly focus on how to create the shape of the truck, but the tips in that post are just as important!

    I decided to make Little Blue just a day or two before Owen’s party, so it was pretty last minute. I was planning to do a 2-dimensional cake in the shape of Little Blue as he appears on the cover of the book. While the cake was cooling, Anna found a 3-dimensional truck cake in our favorite book Cakes for Kids and plans changed!

    In Cakes for Kids, the truck cake utilizes loaf pans to create the shape, but since I had already baked a standard square cake for my 2-dimensional version, I went with my own design. It actually worked really well, so here’s what I did!

    cutting instructions little blue truck cake | thisweekfordinner.com

    • Find something to use as a “lift” for the cake – I used four blue duplo legos (I should have used white or black). Cut a piece of cardboard that is just a smidge smaller than the largest piece of cake. On your cake board (the final board the cake will be displayed on), line up the legos (or whatever you’re using as a lift) underneath the cardboard cutout so that the legos are near the edges and placed where the wheels on the truck would go. Set the cardboard cutout aside, then secure the legos to the cake board using frosting. Freeze so frosting gets hard and legos stay in place.
    • Put a dab of frosting on the cardboard cutout, then place the largest piece of cake on the cutout, lining it up so you can’t see the cardboard. Frost cake with crumb coat then freeze.
    • Place one of the smaller pieces on top of the frosted cake,  where the cab of the truck would be, making sure to use frosting to attach it to the cake below. Spread a layer of frosting on top of the small piece you just placed, then add the second small piece on top. Shape the two small pieces using a knife so it’s narrower at the top. Apply crumb coat of frosting and freeze.
    • Frost cake with the pretty layer of frosting.
    • Use white rolled fondant to make the windows, bumper, headlights, license plate and grate. I added a smidge of black food coloring for the bumper and grate and a smidge of yellow and orange food coloring for the license plate. Windows and headlights stayed pure white. I used a black edible pen to draw in the eyes on the headlights and lines on the grate.

    little blue truck cake cake | thisweekfordinner.com

     

    • To get the right size and shape for the windows/etc, I held up a piece of cardstock to the cake, estimated the size for each piece, then drew out the pieces and cut them out of the cardstock. I adjusted the templates where necessary then traced the shapes on the fondant with a knife, then cut the pieces out. Be sure to roll the fondant out quite thin or it will look too bulky on the cake (some of my windows were a little thick!).
    • Place truck on top of legos on the final cake board, securing with frosting.

    little blue truck cake lego lift | thisweekfordinner.com

    • Dab a bit of frosting on the edge of an Oreo cookie then stick to the sides of the cake, covering up the legos from the side, for wheels. If a little frosting squishes out around the edge of the Oreo, use a toothpick to clean it up.

    little blue truck cake | thisweekfordinner.com

    • If I had planned ahead a bit more, I could have filled the back of the truck with animals, but I didn’t, so Little Blue had a light load that day!

    There are some fancier Little Blue Truck cakes out there that are sooooo cute (you have to check out this one – thanks for the link, Hillary!). But my simpler version worked just fine and Owen was ecstatic about his cake, crying out “Little Blue Truck!” every time he saw it. Plus, it is a pretty generic truck so you could make whatever color truck you want!

    owen and his cake | thisweekfordinner.com

    A quick note on the big green toad cake: I simply cooked an 8-inch round cake and then cut a few pieces out around the edges to make a shape of the toad’s head, with fondant for eyes. Super simple!

    big green toad cake | thisweekfordinner.com

    My various birthday cake links if you’re interested!


  8. 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!