I’ve been a member of various BabyCenter birth boards since March of 2007, when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. It’s always been my go-to site for tips on how to introduce solids, or how get my wailing baby to sleep through the night. And perhaps most important – how to throw an over-the-top 1st birthday party.
Unbeknownst to me, all babies expect lavish 1st birthday parties complete with themes, printed invitations, goody bags, and of course, the centerpiece – a beautifully decorated cake with its own side kick – the smash cake. The latter being the cake that baby gets to smash with her clenched little fists and then smear all over her face like someone who just played a mean joke on herself.
Let’s just say I wasn’t that organized that first year. Not even close. Not that I aspire to be the kind of mom who throws lavish parties every year for my children, but even having my across-the-hall neighbor swing by for leftovers would have been a nice compromise.
Feeling a wee bit guilty, the plan to bake a cake for Lauren’s 1st birthday happened on the day of her birthday…at 5PM when I got home from work. And this wouldn’t be any old birthday cake. It was going to be a butterscotch layer cake, towering and impressive for my audience of 1. Those smash cake moms had clearly camped out on my eardrum and were gently bouncing up and down, telling me to do something historic or nothing at all.
As you can imagine, by 7:30PM, I was covered in flour and caramel, racing to get my layers iced. Lauren was perched on the counter in her bouncy chair, staring daggers at me because it was past her bedtime and she wasn’t pleased with this last-ditch effort to bake her a cake that she didn’t even want.
But at long last, the cake was done. Rodney and I stuck a candle in it, turned the lights down, sang happy birthday in a sing-songy whisper, and presented her with her beautiful cake.
She took a bite and gummed it around for a minute, frowning. And then vomited. On-the-cake. This apparently happens in real life, not just in bad sitcoms. Like watching a fake wipeout on TV, viewers would be shaking their fists at me, yelling “I hate this show. That would NEVER happen!”
Who knows, maybe it was the taste, maybe it was her reflux, but I like to think that it was her quietly feisty personality saying to me – “This was all about you lady, not me.” So these days, I follow a few simple steps that helps my kids get involved, and helps me keep my sanity.
1. Keep it simple
Do NOT show them the search results on Pinterest for “birthday cake” and ask them to choose one. We are not going to be making Star Wars, Elmo, or Minion cakes here. Keep it simple. If you need inspiration on Pinterest, search under “Simple Birthday Cakes” and there will be loads of easy-to-bake / easy-to-decorate cakes to choose as inspiration. The easier your experience, the more fun it will be. For everyone involved!
2. Let them help prep the ingredients, and make it a challenge.
Sure, we know that letting them stir the batter is a great way to get kids involved in baking, but give them a challenging role, and they’ll be over the moon with gratitude. And I’m not talking knife work here. But let them crack an egg, let them try to separate the yolks, and don’t sweat it if they don’t get it. The experience they’ll gain and fun they’ll have will be more than the price of a wasted egg or two.
3. Let them guide the decorating.
It might take all of your willpower to stand back and let them go for it, but once you’ve done your best frosting job, stand back and let ’em have at it. Put out a bunch of candies – colorful m&ms, mini marshmallows, sprinkles, whatever you have on hand, and let them show off their artistic side. I’ve been surprised on more than a few occasions when my daughter has turned out a decoration that is simpler and nicer than the complex stunt I would have tried to pull off (and likely failed). So go ahead, give up your pride in authorship (decoratorship?) and make the decorating a fun experience for them.
So go ahead, bake with your kids, forget about making the big visual impression. The best impact you can have is a happy kid who is so pleased with his or her own results.
Happy baking everyone!
- 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups sugar
- 7 large eggs, at room temperature
- 8 ounces (about 1 cup) crème fraiche, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 lemon, zested
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 10-12 ounce bag chocolate chips
- 12 ounce block semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks
- 12 ounce block bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Several bowls of mixed candies, such as M&Ms and jelly beans
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12 by 18 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.
- Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then the crème fraiche, vanilla, and lemon zest, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well.
- Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until smooth. Add the chocolate chips. Finish mixing by hand to be sure the batter is well mixed.
- Pour evenly into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan to room temperature.
- Place the chopped chocolate and heavy cream in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted.
- Off the heat, add the corn syrup and vanilla and allow the chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the chocolate mixture and softened butter on medium speed for a few minutes, until it's thickened.
- Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Have the children decorate the cake with the candies.