Cake decorating for amateurs

Well, we successfully made it through another birthday party for young Charles. Aside from the fact that I spent last night collating 25 goodie bags that I forgot to give it out, it went rather smoothly.

I find that each year I’ve gotten better at streamlining the process — life is too short to be stressed about a kid’s birthday party, right? The source of my angst tends to be the cake. I have always baked a cake for the kids instead of buying one. This is not because I’m some sort of baking snob — I use a box mix — it’s just that a) I have wonderful memories of the gumdrop-decorated cakes my mother used to make for us as kids, and b) I am kind of a control freak. Plus, making pretty things is, y’know, MY JOB, so it seems sort of lame to outsource it. But it always takes longer than I expect, leads to a lot of cursing, and never turns out the way I envisioned it.

Coming off today’s triumph, it seems like the perfect time for a little retrospective of Bruel birthday cakes and what I have learned along the way.

Here is this cake that launched them all:

You CANNOT imagine how much blood, sweat and tears — and icing — went into this friggin’ cake. But I learned a lot about cake decorating making this thing:

  • plan on applying two (or more) layers of frosting, because the first one gets all filled with crumbs
  • use only vanilla cake (chocolate cake crumbs + white frosting = disaster)
  • do NOT wait to frost the cake until 2 hours before the party, in case you need to go out and buy more frosting to cover up the horrible mess you have made
  • sprinkles hide a multitude of sins

Needless to say, the next cake I made went much better (could it have gone worse?), but it was TOTALLY tedious:

Yep, those are all mini M&Ms that I sorted by color. I don’t think the one-year-old fully appreciated my effort.

The next one was for Charlie’s 4th birthday, at which point he was old enough to put in requests, hence the bright green train:

I made my own buttercream frosting for this one, but thinned it with too much milk, so it looked a little funky up close.  Everyone raved about the taste, though, which I think was due to the combo of homemade frosting and Duncan Hines cake mix. Note the liberal use of sprinkles once again. (By the way, not so easy to put sprinkles on the SIDE of a cake…)

Next was Miss Kate’s second birthday:

Those are mini-chocolate chips, a last-minute substitution when I decided I was not up to my original polka-dot design concept. As you can see, the outline of the “K” got a little wonky and sort of looks like an “H.” Oh well.

This year I tried to steer Charlie towards something not too complicated, like a rocket, but he decided on a CHINESE DRAGON (inspired by the goodies Daddy brought back from his trip to China). Grrrreatttttt… I’ll just whip up one of those. I did some research on both dragon designs and decorating techniques, but in the end I winged it, and I think it actually came out pretty cool:

Perhaps I’m hitting my stride on these things. Kate’s birthday is not until December, but she has already decided that HER cake will be a butterfly. Stay tuned…

3 Responses to “Cake decorating for amateurs”

  1. The cakes are gorgeous, but what I don't understand is how 25 *KIDS* forgot to wrangle goody bags out of you at the end of the party…

  2. BEAUTIFUL ~ so creative! Love 'em all. And, I'm glad you're enjoying the process more and more as time advances. You're a pro now!

  3. Holy moly. This is a labor of love and a chronicle of organization. I am so impressed with these cakes. I try to make the cakes from scratch and then Eli only eats the frosting.

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