I am absolutely no expert in the birthday cake making world, but what I do have is some real life experience. Creative flair has never come naturally to me. All I know is that you have just got to try. Once you have an idea in place then it is just a matter of playing around. Break down your project into manageable pieces, whatever the project may be. That way you don’t become overwhelmed by the end product.
My birthday cake project began with my son choosing a cake that he thought I would be able to make. He knew he wanted a Star Wars theme party. So it was decided that a simple cake with some iced writing on plus some Star Wars figures on was chosen.
The first part of the challenge was the cake. I knew it had to be a sponge cake so I opted for a simple all in one method. I knew that I would have enough to think about with the decoration so a simple cake recipe was required. I certainly recommend this cake if you are not an expert baker. Children will eat it and it makes a perfect base for a birthday cake.
The All in One Sponge Cake
Grease and line a 20/21cm loose bottom cake tin. (Lining just the base of the tin with baking parchment) If you need to make 2 cakes then double the ingredients, and line 2 tins. If you want to make a chocolate version then add a tablespoon of cocoa powder instead of the vanilla extract. Pre-heat the oven to 180degrees.
110g Self Raising Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
110g Caster Sugar
110g Stork (A cooking margarine that can be bought at supermarkets)
2 large eggs
2-3 drops of vanilla extract (pay the extra money and buy vanilla extract, not essence)
Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the baking powder. Then simply add all the other ingredients to the bowl. Using an electric hand mixer mix all the ingredients together making sure you mix all the flour from the bottom of the bowl. Then put the mixture in the tin making sure it is level and place in the centre of the oven 30minutes AND DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR OR YOUR CAKE WILL DROP!!!!
Remove and test in the centre of the cake with a sharp knife making sure it comes out clean. If it doesn’t then pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Then place on a cooling rack to cool completely before removing from the tin, remembering to peel the baking parchment from the bottom of the cake. The cakes will need to be stored in an airtight tin/box until you are ready to ice and decorate. It is fine to make the cake a couple of days in advance. Alternatively, you can freeze them if you want to be super organised.
Decorating the cake
In the cake you can see above I have used 2 plain sponges with a chocolate sponge split in two. This not only created a good height for the cake, it also looked attractive particularly when cutting into the cake.
If you are adding a fondant icing you will need to buttercream the outside of the cake. This will give the fondant something to stick too. The cakes themselves also need a good quality strawberry jam between each layer. This will add some flavour and keep the cake together.
For a large cake use 200g unsalted butter & 400g icing sugar and half teaspoon of vanilla extract.
The amount of butter will depend on how big your cake is. I used 175g unsalted butter and had plenty left over. The first word of warning is that the butter needs to be super, super soft. This is difficult, particularly when it is cold. I used all means including placing besides a warm dish. If the butter is not soft then it will be unsuccessful. Also if you have a food mixer this will help although I only used an electric hand whisk.
Place your very soft butter into a large bowl and whisk until it is light and fluffy. Then add some of the icing sugar, put your mixer on a slow setting to avoid a sugar cloud and begin to whisk again, continue until all the icing sugar is used. If you want to add a couple of drops of vanilla extract then do so at the end. Beat the mixture again until it is light and fluffy.
Then using a palette knife if you have one, smear the cake with the buttercream, making sure it is evenly spread. If you don’t have a palette knife just use a standard knife with a blunt edge.
If you have a local cake decorating supplies shop it is worth visiting to buy your decorating supplies. They will not only sell good quality materials and ingredients, they will probably give you some good advice too. If you are decorating your cake in a conventional colour you might be able to buy the fondant ready coloured. However, for more unusual colours you will need to colour it yourself. I bought white fondant and a concentrated food colouring. You simply add the food colouring a little at a time and knead it into the icing until you have the colour required. A brilliant tip to prevent the fondant from sticking is to dust your work surface with cornflour. It is silky soft and your fondant won’t stick. You can prepare your icing in advance then put it into a polythene bag and then an air tight container until you are ready to use it.
How much fondant do I need?
For an 20cm cake in 2-3 layers like mine you will need 800g of fondant
How do I know how wide to roll the icing?
It is quite easy really, simply place a piece of string over the cake from the left edge, over the top and to the right edge. cut the string and this is how wide you need to roll your icing.
The biggest problem you will have with the fondant icing is it drying out. This is known as ‘elephant skin’. An easy way to over come this is to simply spray your fondant with water. Only a little bit otherwise you will end up with a sticky mess. I didn’t do this and had lovely elephant skin which I managed to smooth out using a little water. Once you are ready to decorate you need to roll and apply so that the fondant doesn’t dry out. Another good tip if you are having difficulties is to roll your fondant back up and place back in the bag to allow the icing to regain some moisture. It is incredibly resilient stuff. I re-rolled the icing 4 times for my daughter’s cake.
Once you are happy roll out to just less than the thickness of a one pound coin and using a rolling-pin roll it onto your rolling-pin, then over your cake. Gently using your hands push the icing against the cake, pulling out the excess where needed. It is really easy and it will just fall into place. I did this on the cake board at first but then realised my cake board wouldn’t fit in the box so put it onto the board inside my cake box. Once iced your cake becomes a bit of a tank so you can move it around easily.
The final touches are really up to you. My son very kindly chose a design that he thought I could achieve. He knows that I can bake but that I couldn’t make anything as complex as some of the designs you find online. An ideal way to overcome this is to add your child’s favourite characters. I was rather brave in choosing to add some fondant lettering which was quite difficult. However, for ease piping some lettering on was far easier and adds the personal touch your cake needs.
Piping is easy. Buy some disposable piping bags. Make a batch of royal icing. This can be bought from all supermarkets and it is in a box with purple writing on. Make it according to the instructions and snip just a tiny end from the piping bag. Fill with the icing and gently squeeze the icing from the top as you would with a tube of toothpaste. If the hole that you have snipped isn’t big enough then snip a bit more until you can write as you would with a pen. Practice at first on your worktop to get a feel for the flow of the icing. It won’t take you long before you can write on the cake. Be confident and just go for it!!!
My pictures show the warts and all detail to the cake. But it was home made and my little boy loved it!!! He didn’t care that there was elephant skin or that the fondant letters were slightly wonky!! A 6 year old just wants a cake made with love. He loved the colour, he loved that he could put his own figures on it and make it his own, and when we look back in years to come I know I will be glad that I made the effort. We will probably laugh a little at the mistakes and imperfections but at least I tried. Everyone should try at least once. After all home made is made with love.
I really hope you have a go at making your own cake. It doesn’t need to be a birthday cake. It could just be an Easter cake or a cake for the weekend, covered in chocolate buttons for fun or smarties even. As with all my kitchen antics I just find that if you have a try then ideas start to flow. I can’t wait to make my next cake and who knows in years to come my son or daughter might make one for me too. Go on, make some memories to last forever.
Thanks for reading – Lx
P.S I would love to hear your comments….please talk to me about your cake experiences.