Children’s birthday parties are filled with noise and commotion, which is largely what makes them so much fun. The gifts might be forgotten in a couple of months, but the fun — and especially the cake — can remain a fond memory for years. You don’t need to be a skilled cake decorator to make a memorable cake, just use a few creative tips. You already know what your birthday kid likes, so making a striking cake is often just a matter of combining those elements.

Here are some things you may want to gather to decorate your cake:

  • Colorful candies
  • Licorice
  • Number cookie cutters
  • Sprinkles
  • Wax/parchment paper or thin cardboard
  • Decoupage glue
  • Construction paper
  • Thread
  • Straws or stick cookies (such as Pocky)
  • Cookies
  • Candles

Laying the Groundwork

Start by baking your kid’s favorite cake. If you want to spice up the batter, consider adding things like sprinkles, which adds a Funfetti look, or fruit puree for a natural color. You can bake the cake weeks ahead of time to cut down on your last-minute preparation and freezing the well-wrapped layers until the day before your party. That’s a professional baker’s trick, because pros know that freezing actually improves the cake’s texture and makes it easier to decorate. Now that you’re armed with that piece of knowledge, keep calm and bake on!

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There’s an old-fashioned icing kids love; it’s called boiled icing or 7-minute icing. It’s essentially a meringue that’s sweetened with a hot sugar syrup, which cooks the egg whites. It’s pure white and sticky with a marshmallowy flavor. You can achieve the same effect in less time by gently warming marshmallow fluff and using that to frost the cake. Use a metal spatula and dip it regularly in hot water to help the fluff spread more easily.

Kids love the sweet marshmallow flavor, and it makes a great frosting for decorating purposes. The snowy-white surface provides a perfect backdrop for brightly colored decorations, and its sticky surface holds those decorations in place beautifully.

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Candy Crazy

Don’t sweat making elaborate decorations for the cake. Candy-makers have that covered, in a big way. Choose small, colorful candies or break up big ones and let loose your imagination and crafter’s skills. Use lines and swaths of each color to make pictures or simpler designs such as a rainbow or stripes over the cake. Thin licorice whips make dark lines for edging your images or a swag arrangement, if pressed carefully to the cake’s sides.

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Plain ol’ number-shaped candles don’t have a lot of “wow-factor.” To make that cake you’ve worked so hard on extra impressive, use sprinkles to put the age on your cake. Press a number-shaped cookie cutter gently to the cake’s surface, and fill it in with sprinkles. When you lift the cutter away, you’ll leave a perfect number behind.

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With a little more care, you can cut your own stencils out of wax paper, parchment paper or thin cardboard from a cereal box. Use these stencils to create numbers, letter or custom shapes. Here’s a helpful trick: Brush the top of your stencil lightly with decoupage glue, to keep loose sprinkles from falling off and cluttering the design as you lift it away.

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Writing Made Easy

Writing on an already-decorated cake isn’t always the simplest proposition, especially if your cake-writing skills don’t get a lot of exercise. There are a couple of ways to work around that and make the cake even more memorable.

One alternative is to cut diamond shapes of colorful paper and fold them over a piece of thread to make a line of triangular flags. Write a birthday message on the flags and then insert straws or Pocky — the stick-like Asian cookies — into the cake and string your flags between them.

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If you have good cake-writing skills but want a little margin for error, use cookies. Write the happy birthday message on one large cookie and center it on the cake or use a row of smaller cookies with one or two letters on each. Cookies on cake — a double sugar rush.

Creative With Cupcakes

Mix up a big enough batch of cupcakes to serve all the kids you’ve invited. You can keep them all the same or make two or more varieties, however you want to play it. Decorate the tops with colorful icing — a big piping tip is your friend here — and then scatter sprinkles or crushed candy over the top. For a really dramatic appearance, put a birthday candle or mini-sparkler in each cupcake and light them when you serve the cupcakes.

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Kids love to feel singled out and special, so if you have the time and energy you can decorate a unique cupcake for each kid using a favorite color or candy. Better yet, encase each cupcake in a personalized paper cupcake wrapper with your child’s name. That’s the kind of personal touch that takes the birthday cake experience to a whole new level.


Show Off Your Mojo

These are just a few simple ways to make a striking cake in a hurry, and there are thousands of other great ideas just waiting to be shared. How about it, is there a cake from your childhood that made a lasting memory? Did one of your own improvisations turn out to be a smash hit? Fill in a comment and brag a little.

And while you’re making special birthday memories, why not surprise the birthday boy or girl with an unforgettable gift to go with that amazing cake?

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