Easy Ways to Make a Cake Feel Fancy (Even for Non-Bakers)
There are the time-honored holidays that call for cake (like memorable birthdays), but really, you can always invent a reason to celebrate with cake! The question really is: how to dress up any old cake so it looks a little fancy-pants for the celebration. And if you’re a non-baker who’s gotten in over-her-head with Pinterest ideas, then you’ve come to the right place for solutions. We chatted with Jenny Rosenstrach, creator of the blog Dinner: A Love Story, and author of three books, most recently “How to Celebrate Everything”. She shared the scoop on geniusly simple ideas for dressing up any cake — no piping bags allowed.
+ What decorating ideas do you like for birthday cakes?
Jenny: You don’t need a lot for a cake to feel celebratory — for the lollipop cake, it’s such a simple perimeter that almost any birthday candles would work, whether they are tall, short, or patterned. What I love about the lollipops is that it’s simple and elegant, but still fun for kids. Every kid gets at least one lollipop as part of her slice.
You can do a reverse stencil, too. If it's someone's tenth birthday, cut out a "one" and a "zero" from parchment paper, place them on top of a cake, and cover with sprinkles. Peel off parchment paper.
+ What do you do for non-birthday cakes?
Jenny: As far as I’m concerned, there’s no event too small in a kid’s life that’s not worth celebrating. That cake you see in the lollipop birthday cake is also delicious on its own, sprinkled with powdered sugar. I make it all the time even when there's no birthday to celebrate. I sometimes make my own stencils out of parchment paper for the powdered sugar — like the A+ cake, is always a hit when a good report card comes home. Another sweet idea, for a simple cake, a very simple perimeter of nonpareil sprinkles.
+ What are your favorite decorating ideas for cakes meant for kids?
Jenny: My decorating tricks for kids are the same as decorating for adults: I keep it simple. Mainly because I, too, am intimidated by the Pinterest-ready chefs out there. For a secret agent themed birthday party a few years ago, the cake was pretty basic — vanilla layer cake with chocolate frosting — but on top I wrote "Happy Birthday" in scramble so it was like a secret code. That is a good example of what I call a huge success: Minimal effort, maximum effect.
You really can't overstate how delighted kids are by the unexpected — a doughnut cake fits into this category. For classroom birthday parties, we used to stack three doughnuts and piled on a bunch of munchkins around them and stick candles all over. Pancake cakes fit into this category, as do brownies. One of my daughters doesn't even like cake (I know, right?) so she requests birthday pie. You basically don't have to do anything to a pie except candles, because the concept of a birthday pie is so delightful on its own. Lastly, I went to a birthday party recently where a cake was made with rice krispy treats as the layers, and covered with chocolate frosting. So cute, surprising, original, and, most of all, easy. For princess parties, I once covered vanilla-iced cupcakes with luster dust — which gave them a sweet sparkly look.
It's also fun to cover every last inch of frosting with candy. The trick, though, is to use all the same color. I like red. So frost your cake, then artlessly cover the sides and the top with red gum drops, red licorice coils, M&Ms, skittles, crushed peppermint sticks, nerds, whatever. Really fun.
+ Have you tried anything decorating-wise for cakes that has been a total fail?
Jenny: Don't make the mistake of overestimating your talents when there's so much store-bought help out there. I tried to draw a duck on my daughter's first birthday cake (because it was her first word), and it came out a total disaster. Knowing what I know now, I'd just buy little figurines and surround the plate with them, stick a few candles in the middle and call it a day.
A big thanks to Jenny Rosenstrach for sharing so many easy-peezy cake decorating ideas! Her book is filled with sweet ideas for adding in meaningful family rituals and ways to celebrate the everyday.
Now you’ve got the cake, what about the birthday gifts? Here are gift ideas for his birthday, for her birthday, and for making that double-digit 10th birthday feel extra special.