When it comes to kids’ birthday parties, there’s no escaping the pressure of the lighthouse cake.
Whether your child is looking for a celebrity theme or wants you to replicate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent ladybug “stress bomb,” it can be easier to order a truly Instagram-worthy showtopper. But they are not cheap.
With the rising cost of living on the minds of many, we asked the cake experts how to save money without presenting a decorating disaster worthy of an Instagram hashtag #cakefail.
* Recipe: Chocolate and Coffee Bundt Cake
* Recipe: The Easiest Chocolate Cake Ever
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Enter the kitchen
It might seem obvious, but Rachel Hart, the woman behind the One Handed Baker Instagram account, says baking your own cake is the best place to start if you want to cut your birthday party costs.
“I would say shopping for ingredients, there’s a huge difference in price with things like butter,” the mother-of-two says.
It’s also worth checking your garden (or asking your neighbors) for free ingredients, such as lemons, oranges, and passion fruit.
“[Using free lemons]you could make a lemon cake, with lemon curd and lemon frosting,” she says.
Destitute Gourmet’s Sophie Gray, whose two children are now adults, says home-made will not only be cheaper, but generally taste better.
“Ask your friends and family [tried and true recipe] recommendations,” she says. “Or buy a box mix if you’re really desperate. It will cost more than making it from scratch, but still cheaper than buying ready made.
No shame in being small
Although the huge, tiered layered cakes look impressive, Hart says a huge amount of birthday cake isn’t eaten, especially if the cake is rolled towards the end of the party when everyone has done the full of party food.
His solution is to opt for a smaller cake, but serve it on a large cake stand. This way it will be cheaper but still look great.
And the icing?
Professional birthday cakes may conjure up images of thick layers of buttercream and fondant, but Hart insists these aren’t necessary expenses when creating a cake with a wow factor.
She recommends making a basic icing, using icing sugar and a little butter. If you want to raise the “fancy” stakes, Hart suggests a “naked cake”. By design, it only requires a small amount of frosting. And it looks impressive.
“There is a very fine scraping of buttercream around the edges. There’s a lot less butter there, so it’s a lot cheaper to make.
Save the chocolate – and the lollipops – for the top
For a simple cost-cutting measure, Hart recommends avoiding recipes that call for chocolate.
“Cakes can be just as good without it, and I hate spending money on an ingredient if it’s not really necessary,” she says.
“My favorite chocolate cake that I’ve made dozens of times uses cocoa powder instead of chocolate, and I decorate it with a basic chocolate frosting mix of cocoa powder, icing sugar, ‘a tiny bit of butter and water.
As for the top of the cake, however, Hart says to go crazy with chocolate.
Her chocolate cake is a favorite of her family. She stacks it with chocolate treats such as crumbled flakes and Maltesers.
“The kids think it’s amazing. It can sound as good as a professional in terms of people saying “wow”, and there’s no skill in that.
You can also overload the top of your cake with popsicles for the same “wow” effect.
Themes can be daunting when trying to stick to a budget, but Hart says your local $2 store is your best friend in this situation.
“You can print photos of Taylor Swift or Harry Styles. Stick them on skewers and prick the photos on top of the cake. A few mini glitter balls from the $2 shop, a few lollipops and colorful sprinkles, and it looks just like this Harry Styles themed cake,” she says.
Gray agrees that decorations don’t have to be expensive.
“There are very simple and effective tutorials online to facilitate [decorate] children’s cakes with lollipops … [as well as] various other easy-to-find items, from unicorns to dinosaurs,” she says.
Inexpensive plastic toys are also an economical way to decorate cakes. For example, sit in plastic mini-trucks among chocolate “land” made of flakes and Maltesers for a backhoe-obsessed child.
“It’s really cheap and the kids think it’s great.” It’s important to keep theme expectations realistic, says Gray.
“If Miss 6 wants an Elsa cake and you’re not sure you can make her vision come true, let her know. Better yet, let her help you. Then it’s a joint effort, and she’ll understand at how difficult it is.
Rachel Hart’s Easy Chocolate Cake
• 75g softened butter
• 1¾ cups White sugar
• 1½ tsp vanilla flavoring
• 3 eggs
• ½ cup cocoa powder
• 2 cups plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 cup Milk
• Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter a 20cm diameter cake tin and line the bottom with parchment paper.
• In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. (I use a hand blender). Add vanilla essence and continue beating until light and fluffy.
• Add the eggs one at a time, beating well each time.
• In another bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder. Add it to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk.
• Pour the mixture into the buttered mold and bake for about 50-60 minutes. After 45 minutes, I check the cake and cover it with foil for the remaining time. This ensures that the cake does not dry out and makes it beautifully moist and delicious.
• Once the cake is cooked (the center of the cake springs back when touched), remove from the oven and leave in the pan for a few minutes, then unmold on a wire rack to cool.
• Once cold, decorate with chocolate frosting.
• 2 cups icing sugar
• 1 tbsp cocoa powder
• ¼ teaspoon butter, about
• ½ teaspoon vanilla flavoring
• splashing hot water
• In a bowl, sift together the icing sugar and cocoa powder. Add the butter and vanilla essence, and just enough hot water to achieve a spreadable consistency. (If you accidentally add too much water, sift in a little more icing sugar).
• When the cake is cool, spread the frosting on top, dipping a knife in hot water if necessary, to achieve a smooth finish.