As a mum, your child’s birthday can bring up a range of emotions- where did the time go, how am I going to have all those kids in my house, why does he want THAT as a present, what am I going to do about a cake?!!
Over the years of running my cake business, I came across so many mums who sheepishly told me they had contemplated making their child’s birthday cake, before deciding they couldn’t face it. While I loved being able to help them, it made me realise that perhaps it just seems too daunting to do yourself!
Making a birthday cake for your child is such a special gift- and despite what social media says, it doesn’t have to be perfect! It just needs to make your child smile. But here are my 5 handy tips for making the birthday cake saga just a little more manageable for you.
Baking the cake.
Martha Stewart may have this down pat (and for the record, I adore her!) but not everyone is a baking genius. Trying to bake from scratch can be stressful and difficult, and it takes a lot of time. The ultimate timesaver (and best known secret) is purchasing ready-made naked cakes from a wholesale supplier. In Sydney, there are a couple of companies that bake for you- you do need to order a few days in advance, but they will have a range of flavours you can choose from, and you can be safe in the knowledge that the cake/s are baked perfectly every time. All you have to do with them then is decorate them!
If you still prefer to bake, mixes are a great alternative to starting from scratch- and are designed to be sturdy and hold well. You can purchase from any supermarket (and yes, the more you pay the better the taste will probably be, so keep that in mind- no frills will most likely mean no frills!) and follow the instructions, or you can purchase baker’s mixes from most cake supply stores. Again, these mixes are designed for the purpose of being decorated, so will be sturdy and hold shape.
Tools of the trade.
You will always need at least a few basic tools to decorate a cake well. Whether you work with fondant or buttercream, here are some good essentials to have on hand- and if you expect to make more than one in your lifetime, not a bad thing to invest in!
· A proper spatula- I’m not talking about the rubber scraper one, I mean a metal, flat ‘bladed’ spatula (flat or angled). It helps you apply the frosting, and can even help make it smooth.
· A cake or bench scraper. I prefer acrylic cake scrapers, because they give a perfectly clean and smooth scrape, but any scraper will do the job, and help make your frosting smooth and straight.
· If working with fondant, a fondant smoother. The best type of smoother is a bit of acetate, but you can purchase plastic smoothers from a cake supply store. This will help smooth out your fondant, and get rid of fingerprint dents and air bubbles.
· A ruler. This may sound weird, but especially if you’re wanting to layer your cake and fill in the layers with frosting goodness, you’ll need a ruler to make sure you’re cutting your cake into even-thickness layers! Also helps for making sure your cake board or platter or cake stand is the right size for your cake!
· Other good tools are a decent rolling pin (I prefer one which rolls independently of its handles), a stand mixer, and piping bags/tips (good for buttercream decorations!).
Hows and Whats.
Actually decorating the cake is the most important part, and my best advice is- if in doubt, ask Google. Quite literally. There are plenty of cake decorating books (hello Women’s Weekly kids cakes!) and they are great too, especially if you’re opting for a specific theme, or shaped cake, but the internet has something books and magazines don’t- real questions and answers of real people, and even better, videos of people doing it! If you’re unsure how to do something, how long to leave something somewhere, or how to get a certain colour, hop onto Google and type in “how do I …….”. There is a wealth of knowledge on there, especially for cakes. It will save you pulling your hair out, and sometimes the simplest suggestion you find will turn a potential mistake into victory.
And of course, if you want to take it a step further and learn even more in-depth techniques, you can purchase my step-by-step tutorials which guide you through making a professional-looking cake yourself!
Looking after the cake.
One of the most common questions I get asked when it comes to my cakes is “do I put it in the fridge?”. If you’re working with fondant, the answer is a big fat NO! Fondant does not like moisture, so putting it in the fridge leads to a sticky mess when it comes back out. Buttercream cakes are fine in the fridge, but can also just be kept in a cool temperature (air conditioning) at least for the day of the party. Same goes for any sugar embellishments- figurines, flowers etc. They don’t go in the fridge either! Unless a cake has uncooked dairy in it (such as fresh cream, which I strongly advise against in cakes covered in fondant, because it can’t be refrigerated), it can stay out*.
*This instruction is in relation to standard baked cakes covered using buttercream and/or ganache or fondant. Any cakes containing fresh dairy products (such as gateau styles, or fresh cream, or even ice cream cakes) are best kept refrigerated, and not used for the purpose of decorating in the discussed style.
Appreciating the cake.
If you’ve put the time and effort into making a cake for your child, do me a great big favour, and take an awesome photo of it! Be proud of what you’ve created. I don’t just mean in your kitchen on the bench, I mean find a nice spot where you can get nice lighting on it (daylight is best) and take a nice, clear shot of your creation. Once the party kicks off, and the kids get their hands on it, you’ll lose the chance, so hold onto that memory of what YOU made, and keep it as a reminder of how wonderful you really are.
Naked cake supplier (Sydney) www.mondonakedcakes.com.au
Cake supplies stores (Sydney) www.cakedecoratingsolutions.com.au
Cake decorating tutorials by Felicity www.felicitycook.co/videos