Many of my friends have asked a few questions about this whole cake baking thing that I partake in.
Why do I do it? When Sarah was little, I decided that I wanted to be the one to make all her cakes. I don't know why. For me, this was part of my present to her. At first the cakes were simple iced cakes. Those were before the digital age and I don't have a scanner to upload them here.
How do I have the time? The simple fact is that I make time to do this. There is no other way around it. When the kids were little, I would work mostly while they were in bed. As they grew, they became my helpers or I found an activity that they enjoyed. Ashton loves to bake. He helps add flour and other ingredients to the bowl and then gets to lick the mixer paddle! If he gets interested in the cake, I give him a little fondant to play with or he can decorate the leftover cake. And I sometimes resort to letting the TV babysit. And no, I don't care if you judge me for that!
Cake Genesis - Originally all my cakes were out of the box and iced with container icing. I happen to like Duncan Hines and don't mind using it! The problem came when I started putting on more elaborate decorations. For one of my early cakes, I added candy decorations as part of the theme. They started falling off at the party! I did some online research the next year and found ways to make the icing stronger.
Food Network eventually began airing episodes that featured professional cake decorating. That was when I became aware of fondant. I've tried making it from marshmallows and that was not a fun experience! Currently I purchase the Wilton Fondant at Hobby Lobby or Michael's. They always have 40-50% off coupons which brings the cost of a five pound box to around $10. Fondant can be challenging to work with. But with each cake, I've gotten better. In addition to that, YouTube and Google are great ways to find smart ways to do a plethora of decorating techniques. The big thing that I'm still perfecting is how to get the fondant smooth on a cake. On a good note, even when I screw it up, I usually have decoration that can cover my imperfection! On the Oliver cake, the scarf covered a whole lot of messed up fondant!
I'm still not great at piping decorations. Part of that is my lack of practice. I currently have a good amount of icing left over from the Oliver cake. If I have time, I may practice with some of it.
Level Your Cake - This can happen by cutting it down so that it's even. I had an uneven oven for many years and had to make additional cakes to get enough level pieces to make a normal height cake. Where there is a will, there is a way. I've recently learned that if you take a metal flower spike (the thing you use to make a rose on) and place it upside down in the center of your cake pan, it will help your cake bake a little more evenly. There are other items on the market and people swear by different methods. I tend to go the cheap, but effective route!
Food Coloring - Spend the extra money and get the food coloring at the craft store. Either Wilton or Americolor work the best. The liquid stuff does not work as well and can not be used in fondant. Hobby Lobby just started selling the Americolor brand and I like it because it's squeezable.
Character Cakes - I love being able to buy little figurines for cakes. I recently did a Toy Story cake for my son and we purchased figures to put on it. In addition to looking great, he still plays with the figures. It's the easiest way to decorate a cake and your kids love it!
Ideas - Some things I just come up with myself, but others come from pictures online. Sarah and Ashton like to research their birthday cakes and let me know which aspects of each cake they would like to have incorporated. For the younger kids, I pick the flavors. Sarah is old enough to pick her own flavors now. I've moved away from box cakes and have started trying different recipes on allrecipes.com or cakecentral.com. I only use recipes that get great reviews and I always read a good amount of comments. This lets me know if I need to make changes to the recipe before baking.
Smash Cakes - For first and second birthdays, I make a smash cake. These cakes allow the little ones to make a huge mess while the adults enjoy the pretty cake. The cakes are covered in icing. If I can't get the icing smooth, I use a star tip or a grass tip to make the sides look decorative and to cover the imperfections.
I'll stop here, but would love to answer any questions you have. Just message me on facebook or leave a comment here!