Why spend a fortune on your kids’ next birthday cake? If you really want to be the coolest mom on the block, it’s easier than you think to whip up an epic custom cake. Even if you’ve never made a cake that didn’t come in a box with instructions, we’ve found some very simple tricks for adding a few bells and whistles that will take your baking from basic to spectacular. Keep in mind, most kids couldn’t care less about whether you’ve created a gourmet tour de force, for them it’s really all about the decorations.
We’ll start with the easiest, most basic ways to make birthday cakes special: candy and food coloring. Sweets like M&Ms or Skittles are great for making mosaic patterns like a basketball, rainbow numbers or a modern abstract pattern because they’re small and brightly colored. You can actually make gorgeous rosettes with Airheads. Thanks to this handy guide from Food Network, you can make frosting in any hue under the sun with just a the basic four-color box of food coloring. For vivid, super saturated color, try Americolor Soft Gel Paste. You don’t need to have an artistic bone in your body to come up with a masterpiece.
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Though the outside decoration is always key, it’s even better when you add a surprise inside too so keep the food coloring handy. Multi-layer cakes in rainbow or ombre hues are always a fun crowd-pleasers. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can get even more of a WOW factor with some double baking techniques. Use a cake pop pan to make bright polka dots or cake/cookie cutters to make any interior shape you want. Nestle your baked cake shapes into the batter for the layers, bake again and voila! We love the Name Cake with the birthday boy or girl’s name inside every slice!
There are several tricks for creating even fancier birthday cakes — they require a few more steps but you definitely don’t need to be a pro to pull them off. Nothing’s quite so impressive as a cake covered in a perfectly smooth layer of colorful fondant. All you need are marshmallows, sugar, water and food coloring — coat the entire cake with your base color and use cookie cutters to make shapes, patterns, or letters. Who knew?
Want to put a face on your cake? Lisa Edoff walks you through her amazingly easy method for reproducing a black and white photo of your child (or their favorite celeb) using a stencil and cocoa powder. All you need are balloons, gelatin and edible luster dust to create breathtaking iridescent gelatin bubbles that will make a fairy princess cake truly magical. Speaking of fairy princesses…if you’ve got a little Frozen fan who’s dying for an Elsa cake, Brass Tacks & Basics has a great tutorial for making an amazing full-color image out of icing.