Ever since I shared Boy’s birthday cake post last week, I’ve had many of my friends ask me about it. Mind you, it is not a fancy cake, but it is completely homemade and not too shabby. So today I am gonna show you how to pull off a beautiful homemade birthday cake for your kids (no cake mix or canned frosting used) with minimal skill. I normally do not use fondant, though it is easy nowadays with ready-made fondant in various colors and molds in different shapes easily available in stores. I prefer the traditional whipped or creamed frosting on my cakes.
If you are looking to surprise a special kid with his/her favorite cake, then I have some tips and tricks up my sleeve. Now, as clichéd as it may sound, the most important ingredients are love and determination. When you hear nothing but their birthday dreams and plans for more than half the year, you cannot help but strive to make their special day the absolute very best. And you need to stop second guessing yourself. Believe you can, and you will! Let’s see “How to pull off the perfect cake for a kid’s birthday“, shall we?
Please note that the links to all the cake recipes and ideas shown here can be found at the end of the post.
Cake Theme & Toppers
- Firstly, decide on a theme. Most small children will be very particular about this. It can be a favorite color or character like superheroes, princesses or Pokemon.
- The easiest and best way to customize a cake in your preferred theme is by using custom cake toppers. (If you are skilled enough to roll complicated shapes out of fondant, you should probably stop reading right now). For the rest of you, your best bet is to use toys as cake toppers. Look out for mini toy figurines in the 2″ to 6″ range in stores and online. Make sure to order it in advance so you are not left scrambling till the very last minute. You can use your kids’ existing toys if you can make sure that they are clean enough to go on top of an edible cake. But using new toys as toppers will give your kids an extra set of inexpensive gifts!
- Other items that make pretty toppers are a simple ‘happy birthday’ paper bunting hung on skewers, sparkly candles, etc.
Here are a few examples from my archives to give you an idea.
Exhibit A: Hot Wheels Birthday Cake with real Hot Wheels cars and a toy traffic signal as toppers.
Exhibit B: Power Rangers Birthday Cake with mini figures and a paper name bunting.
Exhibit C: Pokemon Birthday Cake with mini figures.
Exhibit D: And lastly, this blue frosted cake with a large pink paper flower on top that I made for our anniversary last year. This will work for a girly themed birthday for tweens.
Cake & Frosting Flavors
- Decide on the cake and frosting flavors. Again, if your child has a special request, try to incorporate that. Or stay with classic cake flavors like vanilla sponge cake, yellow cake and chocolate cake. As for the frosting, you can easily make whipped cream frosting, chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting and buttercream frosting in any flavor and/or color.
- Find the perfect cake and frosting recipes that will work for you. Do a small trial run if you are not very confident. Now is not the time to be experimenting with that gorgeous but terribly complicated recipe. Stick to tried and tested favorites.
- Another tip is to use smaller cake pans (5″ or 6″) so that you don’t get overwhelmed with the decorating part. Sometimes, I bake a small cake for a celebration at home and get a professional cake from the bakery for a large party. This way, I get the best of both worlds – a homemade cake and a stress-free party day!
- Prepare cake and frosting a day in advance, if possible. Many cake recipes can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. Actually chilling the cake layers makes frosting them easier, as the crumbs don’t get in your way too much. You can wrap the cake layers in cling wrap and refrigerate. Frosting too can be made in advance and lightly whipped again before using.
A few notes on whipped cream and buttercream frosting, which are the types I use most often.
- If you are making whipped cream frosting, make sure the cream, bowl and whisk are well chilled and whisk/beat well till it is able to hold soft but firm peaks.
- The most common problem one runs into while making buttercream frosting is that they are not fluffy enough. Once all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, beat the frosting on high-speed for at least 2-3 minutes. You should be able to hold up some on a spatula or a spoon without the frosting falling off. While frosting a birthday cake, the frosting can be a tad on the stiff side. The cake has to be out for a long time and if it is hot where you live, you will simply have a runny mess in a short while. So I cannot stress enough how important it is to really beat the buttercream frosting till soft and fluffy.
- If the buttercream frosting resembles coarse sand or little pellets, then you need a bit of liquid. Add small spoonfuls of cream or milk and beat well till fluffy. On the other hand, if it is too runny, you need more powdered sugar. So always have extra ingredients on hand. Your beater should leave whisk marks in the frosting like so.
It would also be smart on your part to have some cake enhancers/camouflages on hand. I am talking about sprinkles, nonpareils, candy, cookies, and maybe even fresh berries! What these will do is help you add details to your cake and also camouflage any bloopers you might have while frosting. This might be the sneakiest hack in this entire post! It has helped me many times in my birthday cake-making endeavors.
Exhibit A: Twizzlers, M&M’s and Oreos helped create the dirt road track and other details in this Hot Wheels cake.
Exhibit B: Malt balls, sprinkles and crushed candy add texture and interest in these cakes.
Decorating the Cake
- As a bare minimum, you need a cake stand or platter and an offset spatula, preferably. I have frosted cakes with a blunt knife or even a spoon, but an offset spatula is way easier.
- Begin by laying strips of parchment paper on your cake stand. Start assembling the cake layers. You do one cake layer, a thin layer of frosting, next cake layer and so on. You may need to add a crumb coat (a very thin layer of frosting all over the cake) and chill the cake for up to an hour to firm up a bit, especially for delicate cakes like a sponge cake or very moist chocolate cake. Yellow cakes and pound cakes have a firmer texture and may not need a crumb coating.
- Finish by frosting the top and sides of the cake thickly and smoothing it. I know it is easier said than done, but my best advice is to be confident and just go for it. Be calm and give it your best shot.
- And now for the best hack of all. You frosting needn’t be perfect at all. In fact, it can be purposefully messy with little streaks and swirls all over it. These are like decorations and instantly add a semi-professional look to your cake. See the examples below.
- Once frosting is done, decorate further by piping on additional frosting or simply placing candy, sprinkles or berries on the cake.
Exhibit A: Yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting with ridge patterns and swirls in frosting.
In this cake, I ran the width of my offset spatula from bottom to top all over the sides of the cake to make those little ridges. I made little swirls with the tip of the spatula on the top of the cake, like petals or little waves. I love this little trick and I feel it actually makes the cake itself look more decadent and luxurious. Plus it takes only a couple of minutes to achieve this effect. There is no filling up of pastry bags, fiddling with couplers and piping tips and any sort of mess involved. I found the top edge of the cake was just a bit shabby, so I stuck the malt whoppers all around the cake. It’s both camouflage and decoration! The malt whoppers also served as a guide to cut perfectly even pieces while serving. A win-win-win!!
Exhibit B: Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. Very similar to the previous cake, but the top has a softer, cloud-like ripple texture achieved by running a spoon over the frosting. You can create different effects by using forks, knives, etc. This all-white cake is decorated with tiny multicolored sprinkles.
Exhibit C: A cake frosted in a petal effect. This can be a bit tricky and more time-consuming, but once you get the hang of it, it is really easy to do. You can do it all in one color or different colors for a pretty layered effect.
Exhibit D: This two-layer mini cake with a light chocolate (Nutella) frosting is simply decorated with star-shaped sprinkles on the edges and top of the cake.
Cake is done, now what?
Once you finish decorating, resist the urge to fiddle with your work and just step back. Lay down your tools, carefully strip away the parchment paper from under the cake and stick the cake in the fridge till party time. Go on and have fun decorating the rest of the place. Set the mood with fun and colorful party decor. Right before you are ready to surprise the birthday boy or girl, stick in the cake toppers and candle and see the little face light up with joy!
I know this has been a long post and hopefully, you got something out it, other than even more confusion! And if you liked it, don’t forget to PIN it for later!!
But before you go, here are the links to the cake and frosting recipes and easy DIY birthday party decor ideas.
Decorated special-occasion themed cakes
- Pokemon Birthday Cake
- Power Rangers Birthday Cake
- Hot Wheels/Race Car Birthday Cake
- Toblerone crusted vanilla layer cake
- Tricolor Petal Cake
- Bunny Cake
Basic cake recipes
- Yellow cake
- Vanilla cake
- Condensed milk vanilla cake
- Cardamom-vanilla cake
- Chocolate-coffee cake
- Chocolate sheet cake
- Orange sponge cake
- Honey Cake
- Chocolate buttercream frosting
- Chocolate-coffee buttercream frosting
- Nutella buttercream frosting
- Vanilla buttercream frosting
- Strawberry buttercream frosting
- Blackberry buttercream frosting
- Chocolate whipped cream frosting
- Simple chocolate glaze
DIY Birthday Party Decor
- DIY streamer wall and number wreath
- DIY race car cake stand
- DIY photo wall and Lego’s number wreath
- DIY paper accordion name banner
Hope you enjoyed this post!
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Do share.
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