Why is it that no matter how simple or embellished, a birthday cake is such an integral part of the beginning of an age? It is a beloved right of passage in the form of a sweet confection that is so cherished by its recipient.
I used to buy my kid’s cakes at the store. I’d go to ten stores if I had to in order to find the perfect cake that matched their current interests. I really didn’t know there was another way because I never thought I could make decorative cake. It just seemed so hard!
One day I was thumbing through a cookbook by one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Sandra Lee. I saw that she made a treasure chest cake out of a frozen pound cake. It was so cute and looked simple enough that I thought I might be able to try it.
My nephew AJ had a birthday coming up, so I asked my sister Cari if I could try making his cake. Considering I had never baked anything, she was a little skeptical. She gave me the same sort of look she did when I told her I was going to train to run a half-marathon-but that is another story for another day.
I think she was afraid to tell me no, so I went ahead and made that little treasure chest cake, and it actually turned out. That was about five years ago, and since then, I’ve never bought another cake, and I have been making cakes for my kids, and my nieces and nephews.
I am inspired by the notion that a couple hours of mixing and frosting could make the day of a child that I love. They really don’t care about a perfect cake, they just know it’s something that was made just for them and that there’s no other cake like it in the world.
My nephew Carson requested a pirate cake this year. So, this is how I did it.
You will need:
2 eight inch round cake pans, and 2 six in round cake pans
Crisco and paper towels
2 boxes yellow cake mix ( eggs and vegetable oil according to package directions)
4 cans fluffy white frosting
fondant in red, black, and white (one 24 oz box of each)
some chocolate coins
powdered sugar for dusting
a cardboard cake circle to set the cake on
a paring knife and a butter knife or cake spatula
a rolling pin
a small sponge brush
You simply mix one cake mix and pour half into each of two greased eight inch round cake pans. Bake those off, and let them cool. Stack them together like a sandwich, with a layer of frosting in between like so:
Slide this into the freezer so it can harden up while you bake the next layer. Freezing the cake will ensure it hold up while you add the fondant and will also help you avoid getting crumbs in your frosting.
Mix the other cake mix and pour some of it into each of two six inch round cake pans. You are only going to use about half the mix, because you want these layers to be the same thickness as the large layers.
While the small cakes bake and cool, pull the cake out of the freezer and frost. Then, fill a drinking glass with very hot tap water. You are going to dip your butter knife or cake frosting spatula into the hot water and wipe it off with a dishtowel. Run that hot knife gently over the frosting to smooth it out. Wipe the frosting off your knife and repeat until the frosting is fairly smooth. This way when you cover the cake in fondant, it won’t have lumps.
Take your white fondant and roll it out to about an eighth of an inch think using a rolling pin. You need to make the circle of fondant quite a bit larger than your cake so you can drape it over the layers and smooth it out without folding. The box will tell you how much fondant you need. This is about 3/4 of a 24 ounce box of Wilton fondant. Use powdered sugar when rolling out the fondant like you would use flour when rolling out pie crust.
Then you just plop the fondant right onto the cake. Use a fondant spatula to smooth out the top, or just the palm of your hand. Smooth the sides down going all around the cake and cut off the excess at the bottom.
Once you cut off the excess, you can tuck the edge of the fondant under the cake to make it look tidy and neat.
Repeat the same exact steps with your smaller top layer. Then when you are done, place a dob of frosting in the middle of your large layer so you can glue the small layer to the top. Now it’s time for the decorating.
Roll out a small piece of black fondant and use one of your small cake pans to cut it into a circle which will sit on top of the cake. Then roll out some white fondant and cut out your skull and crossbones. The best way to do this is to draw it on a piece of paper first, so you have a guide. Add a little hat with some red fondant.
Sorry about the lack of step by steps here, we were busy and forgot to take pics of some steps! You can see that the cake is coming together now.
I just cut some red stripes and attached them along with the skull and the black circle we cut out earlier. Note: fondant won’t stick to fondant, so use a damp sponge brush to get one side of the fondant wet so it will stick to the other layer. Be careful not to get any water on the side that will show, because it will give it a wet slimy appearance.
Now take some fondant and roll it out into long ropes, twist the ropes together and add them to the cake for a border and glue on some chocolate gold coins with the frosting.
And there you have it.
Like many things I’ve tried in life, making birthday cakes taught me that if you are willing to accept that everything you try may not be perfect, but is still worth doing, you will learn to live a life of creativity.
The things you create are enjoyed by others and fill your life with purpose.