One of my friends recently asked me why I had never collected together in one place all of the birthday cakes I have made for my sons, and it occurred to me that it was high time I rectified that oversight. Sure, I’ve posted pictures of them on here, or on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram (are you following me in those places? You really should be following me in those places…) but I’d never put together a post to send to people and say “Look! Set your eyes upon my mighty works of flour, and sugar, and fondant!”
So… here we go.
Note: I may be a professional cupcake eater, but I am not a professional baker or cake decorator or anything of the sort. Compare these to professional cakes done by people who know what they are doing, and they’re pretty lame. But I had a lot of fun making these and just count myself lucky to never end up with a cake-wreck.
Back in 2010, as my (then) 1-year-old, Tucker, began to rapidly approach his second birthday, I decided I wanted to make a fun cake for him. Something he’d love and that would let me dip my toe into creative cake decorating — something I hadn’t done for many, many years.
At the time he was, like most 1-year-olds, absolutely off his rocker for Elmo. So much so that we actually cut him off from television for a while. But I have to be honest, I like the little guy too. It was a no-brainer to make an Elmo cake.
Also, a friend had an Elmo cake pan she was willing to lend me (thanks Jess!), so there was that too.
Many hours of hard labor later, my first fancy cake was done.
Sure, my kitchen was so red-splattered from all of the red food dye needed (did I mention it was also a red velvet cake? It was a red velvet cake.) that it looked like the set of Dexter. The wash clothes I used to clean up were permanently dyed pink.
But it was worth it.
As my son grew, so grew his obsession with Alex Trebec and Jeopardy!. You can read more about that here.
And so when I asked my then-2-year-old “What kind of cake should Dada make for you this year?” his answer was, unsurprisingly, “A Doot Doot Cake!”
I plotted out what I wanted to do, and it was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at using that fondant stuff that I was always seeing on “Ace of Cakes” and “Cake Boss.”
I think it turned out pretty great!
Another year passed, and this time I was greatly anticipating Tucker’s 4th birthday. I got particularly excited when he told me that he wanted an Octonauts cake this year, because it was one of the shows he loved that I loved too — maybe even a little more than he does. I just love the look of the characters, both in their 3D form on the show and in the original Meomi illustrations in the books.
Because of my love of the character design, my major goal this year was to plan and execute the cake so that it was as “on model” as possible with the character on the show. Thankfully the simple style made that pretty easy, once I made a “template” to follow.
I also recall that, in addition to stressing out over getting the cake perfect, this was the year I really, really over-did it when it came to the rest of the birthday party (decorations, more food, party activities, etc.) and exhausted myself. I committed to easing off in later years. So far so good!
By now, Tucker had a little brother, Coltrane, who was about to turn 2 — which in our family now meant getting his traditional First Special Dada Cake.
I asked what he wanted, fully anticipating the answer to be “Monkey,” since his brown stuffed monkey pal was his favorite thing in the world. This was actually a bit worrying, because I recall that at the time I was very busy and afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. But instead he said “LEGO!” and so I was able to keep it (fairly) simple. The big difference this year was that I decided to try making my own homemade fondant rather than use the store-bought kind. It was actually really easy (if messy) to make, and as I was told, the result was a fondant that was incredibly more delicious that store-bought. A little bit tougher to work with though (pretty droopy?) which was almost certainly my own inexperience. I look at this cake and think “Ack. It looks lumpy!” but he loved it and it tasted good, so we were all happy.
Tucker’s 5th birthday descended, and despite only a fleeting interest in the show and character many months prior, this year he requested a Spongebob Squarepants cake. Who was I to argue?
I’m not going to lie, I am actually super happy with this one, maybe more than any other. Thankfully he’s a character that meant I could just make a rectangular cake, rather than have to carve or bake it into a wacky shape, and could instead concentrate on the character details. Again, I wanted it to be as “on model” as possible. Lucky for me, pretty much all of my “Oh God I hope this works” ideas — like the jumbo marshmallow shirt-sleeves, the protruding fondant nose — worked out well.
As Coltrane approached his 3rd Birthday, again I stood ready to get to work on the inevitable “Monkey Cake,” but again he surprised me with deciding that he wanted a Tigger cake instead. Honestly, this was particularly surprising because other than Monkey it’s Baby Pooh Bear that shared his bed, not Tigger. But I only do what I’m told.
This time the challenge (the wonderful thing?) was the shape, so I took to the computer and did some calculations and measurements and figured out how I would be able to cut the pieces to construct a Tigger-shaped head out of a single rectangular cake. Once I figured that out, it was just a matter of getting the details right. I think I did okay.
(For extra fun, the inside of the cake was also tiger-striped, made by filling the cake pan with alternating scoops of chocolate and vanilla cake batter that spread into concentric rings.)
I’d better get planning!
I'm a proud full-time at-home daddy, a part-time children's book author and illustrator, a parent blogger, and an accidental activist. Canadian-born-and-bred, I now live in Portland, Oregon, with my lovely (and much smarter) wife and our two adorable sons.
I'm proud to be affiliated with the National At-Home Dad Network. Check them out to find a dad's group in your area.