I started my cake decorating career back with Bananas in Pyjamas for a little guy called Tom for his first birthday. Tom has now just celebrated his 15th birthday! Wow, how time flies. I have always enjoyed being creative aaand this is one of many outlets for that. It just so happens that as a nanny in London, it turned out to be a sought after skill – and much used I might add!
I spent hours as a kid pouring through the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book – it has just been reprinted as a vintage edition (feel old much? It cost $5.98 according to the price sticker). It’s back by popular demand and now available at bookstores and selected supermarkets throughout New Zealand. I fairly consistently use the butter cake recipe for the cakes that I do now as the mixture is just the right amount of everything – texture, ease of cutting, moisture etc, although I have previously been known to have used Betty Crocker’s chocolate cake mix too (shhhh, don’t tell anyone!). The “Muck” digger cake I made was chocolate and beetroot and both the kids and adults loved it! The cake is best made the day before so that it has time to rest before manipulating it.
The way I go about it is to use my good friend Google. I google an image that I am looking for, say a dinosaur, and go for the most simple, least cluttered image (colouring-in images are perfect). Next I blow them up on a photocopier and match it to my tin size (which happens to be a roasting tin – cake-dedicated for me… but lined with paper is good for a regularly used one). It takes approximately three portions of cake batter (see recipe at the bottom of the page) to make a roasting tin cake. I will have spent at least one trip to the supermarket or dairy looking at available sweets beforehand to get an idea of what is around. Then when I am clear about what I am going to use, I start buying bits. Tic tacs for the teeth of the dinosaur, chupa chumps for scales, liquorice allsorts for spots and pebbles for toes. The red liquorice twists cut crosswise makes excellent little flowers (as seen on castle). I always get too many sweets, but I don’t want to be limited with my creativity… and anyway, the ants really seem to enjoy my sweet collection on a fairly regular basis (this is because I like chocolate, not sweets).
For decorations I take trips to Spotlight – fabric flowers for little princess type cakes and all sorts of decorating needs. Sunny’s, Ikes Emporium and the 2 Dollar Shop – they always have fabulous bits and bobs for cakes like treasure for treasure chests and stickers for cake boards. For a cake board I often use a chopping board or a tray and just cover them in fabulous wrapping paper (and cellophane) or tin foil depending on the look I am going for. For the dolphin I used blue shinyhologram paper, which gave a water effect. I love to add stickers to the board to add a sense of fun.
To cut the cake for a level surface, I get the biggest bread knife I can and try to be careful. I have used egg cups on either side of the cake and had them slide with the knife resting on it (as much as possible) but once roughly done, I flip the cake over and use the perfect bottom side and prop up any corner issues with the bit I cut off.
For the decorating I cannot recommend www.millyskitchen.co.nz or www.homestore.co.nz highly enough. They have a brilliant range of products for cake decorating, and you can buy online. I am sure there are others out there too, but these guys have the Wilton products that are fab! Here you can get the paste colours (less moisture in the icing for easier handling), the icing bags and nozzles and all things that one needs to be ready and not disappointed. I have heard that people do have success with using plain plastic food bags for icing cakes, but I have found they always burst. My thought on this is that if you have kids and are planning on making their cakes each year, invest in a few reusable bags and nozzles and enjoy the experience. I use disposable ones only because I am too lazy to wash them out!
I recently made a turtle cake and was inspired by some I had seen online, and then thought I would make one better – certainly the 3 year old was chuffed with my efforts and had told me exactly what colour was to go where. Kids love to be a part of the process too. I did do this really ugly one of a skull with orange and blue stripes on it. It was done to the specification of a 6 year old boy who handed me a picture and said “This is the cake I want for my birthday”. I would NOT have thought of that myself… but the mini bar of Green and Blacks chocolate for the teeth – that’s me.
If there is one thing that I have really learnt over the past 14 years of making cakes it is: Don’t get too attached to finding “the perfect kind of decoration” -allow yourself to be creative with what is readily available to you. You do not want to be traipsing around shops for hours looking for a perfect sweet, only to find that they are not made anymore… I have used all sorts of things – biscuits, Mr Potato Head parts, candy canes, boxes covered in paper, streamers, ribbons, fabric flowers that were around to create some pretty cool cakes (if I say so myself). I do it for the love – not the money, I find they cost anywhere from $20 through to about $70 for lots of decorations and ingredients, but it’s totally worth it!
Recipe from the Australian Woman’s Weekly Party Cake book
125g (4oz) butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup castor sugar
1 ½ cups self-raising flour
⅓ cup milk
Have butter at room temperature, beat butter with vanilla until light and creamy, add sugar, beat until light and fluffy; add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in half the sifted flour with half the milk, stir until combined. Add remaining milk and flour, stir in lightly, then beat lightly until mixture is smooth. Spread into greased tin, bake as directed in individual receipes. Cooking times are the same as for packet butter cake mix.
28cm x 18cm (11 in x 7in) lamington tin 30 minutes
20cm (8in) ring tin 35 minutes
30cm x 25cm (12in x lOin) swiss roll tin 20 minutes
2 x 25cm x 8cm (lOin x 3in) bar tin 30 minutes
20cm x 10cm (8in x 4in) loaf tin 50 minutes
223cm x 12cm (9in x 5in) loaf tin 50 minutes
25cm x 15cm (lOin x Sin) loaf tin 45 minutes
Deep 18cm (7in) round cake tin 1 hour 10 minutes
Deep 20 cm (8In) round cake tin 50 minutes
Deep 23cm (9in) round cake tin 45 minutes
Deep 15cm (6in) square cake tin 1 hour 10 minutes
Deep 20cm (8in) square cake tin 55 minutes
A moderate oven 190′ to 200′ C (375’to 400′ F) in electric or 180′ C (350′ F) in a gas oven.
125g (4oz) butter
1 ½ cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Have butter and milk at room temperature, place butter in small bowl of electric mixer, beat until butter is as white as possible, gradually add about half the sifted icing sugar, beating constantly, add milk gradually, then gradually beat in the remaining icing sugar; mixture should be smooth and easy to spread with a spatula.
(Recipe used with kind permission)