What is more boring than another mass produced, grocery store birthday cake? You know the kind, the quarter sheet cake with the multi-colored silly string icing and sprinkle of confetti, or the kind with the archaic spread of three yellow roses in opposite corners and a sloppily written birthday message in unsteady cursive script. Enough is enough! But how can you add some originality to your celebrations without having to pay $50 or more for a cake from a professional bakery?
I began baking and decorating my own cakes almost 4 years ago, when my son reached his first birthday. I took on a complicated 3-D design, complete with integrated props! I admit that the scope of that project was a little extravagant for my first attempt, but, after hours of work, I turned out a fabulous little red wagon cake with a 3-D black handle, held by none other than the hand of my son. Inspired by sister-in-law’s wild imagination, I reluctantly printed out an enlarged photo of my son riding in his own red wagon and trimmed around his image. I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of incorporating non-edible elements into my cake creation. But I tried it, and the 3-D black dowel rod I attached to the cake fit perfectly in his hand. It did not look kooky as I had feared; instead, the cake was an astounding success. It was so precious to have a huge cut out of the birthday boy as a centerpiece for everyone to admire!
Since then I’ve learned that there are countless ways to add pizzazz to a party cake, and not all of them (not even most!) require excruciating hours of painstaking effort! Here are some ideas to spark your own creativity!
Sometimes the most beautiful cakes are the ones that are clean, classic, and straightforward. Complement the party theme by capitalizing on one element, a color or a particular pattern.
I once did a cake for a baby shower with a cowboy theme and chose to copy a cow hide animal print (black/white) onto an 8 inch round cake. I then used contrasting red icing to write out WELCOME LITTLE BRODY right at the edge of the cake, following the circular curve. It was so simple, yet so adorable, and it fit perfectly with the red bandana print paper products we used.
Another simple, yet elegant approach is to choose a color for your cake (bright pink, lavender, pale yellow) and to adorn the top or sides of your cake with live flowers in a matching tone. The monochromatic appeal of this decoration adds an exquisite effect to any celebration.
You might also choose an uncomplicated pattern and repeat it all over the cake. Polka dots done in varying sizes and two to three colors create a fabulous look for a girlie party.
You don’t have to resort to buying the “Wilton cake pan” in order to give your cake a non-boxy, non-boring, creative shape. Try the DIY approach. Freeze your cake, so it won’t turn into a crumbly mess, and then cut out spikes for a dinosaur head, wheels for a race car or for Cinderella’s coach, wings for a butterfly, bulging eyes for a frog, or a curly tail for a monkey, etc. It’s all up to you!
If you don’t feel you can freehand a design and then piece together the parts, check the internet to find plenty of stencils that can be enlarged and used as guides. You won’t believe all that you can create until you give it a try.
Three dimensional cakes are quite unique and very much in demand, as well. These, too, can be fashioned at home in your own kitchen without a kit or special pan, given a bit of patience and a little ingenuity. A 3-D fire truck cake can be formed with multiple layers of cake stacked, shaped, and iced with attention to detail, including add-on wheels (Oreo cookies) and colorful candies to represent other elements control panel, ladder, hose, headlights, flashing siren lights, etc. Other 3-D cakes (princess castle or pirate ship) are within your reach, provided you can devote the time to research, plan out, and then carry out your schemes. Elaborate cakes like these are truly spectacular labors of love.
When all else fails, accessorize! What else can you do to achieve a one-of-a-kind homemade design? Here are some add-ons that will set your cake apart:
ribbon (bow with streamers)
candies (spell out a message with M&M’s)
realistic props (a moving propeller for an airplane cake)
pre-cut designs in fondant (only recommended if you cover the entire cake in fondant)
Lastly, enhance your display. You can create a more dramatic effect by displaying your cake on a beautiful pedestal stand. Or if you are making a themed birthday cake for a child, try wrapping the cake board in a colorful wrapping paper matching the party theme.
Homemade, handcrafted cakes are a refreshing alternative to the tired, conventional designs found at most retail bakeries. Celebrate your next special occasion in style. Put your imagination to work to create a stunning cake design that is personally matched to the individual, the theme, or the type of event you are observing. You’ll be glad you did, and so will everyone else!