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I love decorating cakes. I’m no professional, mind you, but my mom is super talented and taught me a few things over the years as I watched her decorate cakes for weddings, birthdays, and whatever other occasion people asked her for cakes. She taught me about different kinds of cake tips and introduced me to the world of gel food coloring.
Now that I’m a mom, making fun birthday cakes is one of the things I LOVE to do. It’s therapeutic in a way for me to stand at the counter in my kitchen and sculpt something beautiful (and edible!) for my family.
This year, Little Man had a dinosaur party (read more about it here), and it all started with the cake. A month or so before his birthday (I like to plan ahead), I had him look through Pinterest with me at some different ideas…cars, spaceships, sports…but the winner as soon as he saw it was what he called the “dinosaur world cake“.
As we talked more about his cake, he was really specific about what he wanted. His checklist was as follows:
- trees and plants (“for the dinosaurs to eat”)
- a lake (“so the dinosaurs will have water to drink”)
- a volcano
Okay, I thought, I can work with that.
Here’s what I did to make his “dino world” a reality, and how you can make one, too!
- 9 x 13 cake pan (two if you want to bake both cakes at the same time)
- Cake decorating bag and tips
- 2 boxed cake mixes (and their requisite ingredients)
- Chocolate buttercream frosting
- Green buttercream frosting
- Blue buttercream frosting
- Strawberry jam (or red buttercream frosting)
- Whoppers, Raisinets, or other chocolate candies of your choice
- Plastic dinosaurs & trees
What to do:
- First, mix up your cake batter. I made one white cake mix and one chocolate, just because Little Man wanted vanilla, but I didn’t want to deal with white crumbs getting in the frosting. You could just do two chocolate cake mixes in the same bowl.
- Bake two 9×13 cakes (I just used glass pans, but someday I’m going to invest in nice, straight-edged metal pans so that I don’t have to do as much trimming after they’re baked.) and make sure to reserve batter to bake one cupcake (this will be your volcano). Bake everything according to the package directions.
- Once your cakes have baked and cooled completely on wire racks, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze (make sure you place them on a flat surface to freeze them, otherwise your cake will be lumpy). Freezing your cake makes it much easier to trim, stack, and frost. Plus, it means you can do this step a few days ahead of time and spread out your time investment.
- Next, make a base to set your cake on. In this case, I took a leftover Amazon cardboard box, and I covered it with green wrapping paper (just imagine you’re wrapping a present). You can also cover a flat piece of cardboard, or use a large platter.
- Make your frosting. I made a batch of this simple chocolate buttercream frosting (minus the espresso powder) from Add a Pinch, and it was just about the perfect amount for frosting the whole cake, including between the layers. I also made a smaller batch of classic white buttercream frosting using this recipe from Betty Crocker. **Note: Make sure your butter is room temperature before mixing your frosting, but NOT melted. I love these tips for softening butter quickly without the microwave.
- Color your frosting. Take a small amount of white frosting out and put it in a smaller bowl. Mix blue food coloring in the small bowl, and mix green into your larger batch. **Note: when coloring icing, I prefer gel food coloring (like this set) because you can get more vibrant colors with much less dye. You can buy them on Amazon in packs, or you can buy individual colors at stores like Michael’s and JoAnn’s. Just dip a toothpick in the jar and swirl it around in your icing. Beware: this stuff stains like crazy…it is dye after all.
- When you’re ready to assemble your cake (I did mine the morning of the party), take your cakes out of the freezer and unwrap them. Trim the tops so they are mostly flat, and trim the edges to make straight 90 degree angles (I trimmed my bottom layer first and then stacked the top layer on and trimmed it to match). It doesn’t have to be perfect (frosting hides many flaws), but it helps to get the cake into roughly the shape you want the finished product to be.
- Place your bottom layer on your cake base and frost away! Frost the top of the bottom layer, then stack your top layer and cover everything. I love using my offset spatula to frost cakes. I just have a little one, and it works fine. Someday maybe I’ll invest in a larger one, too, to really get smooth surfaces. If you don’t have a fancy spatula, you really can just use a knife. It just might not be quite as smooth, but I guarantee your three-year-old won’t care.
- Now comes the fun part…decorate your cake! I just made it up as I went, starting with the “volcano.” I cut off the top of the cupcake (remember your lonely little cupcake?) to give the volcano a flat bottom and placed it upside down on the cake. I dug out a little crater in the top and frosted the whole thing with the leftover chocolate frosting.
Then I did the “lake”. I actually just used my finger to spread blue frosting into the shape I was going for, and then added some “boulders” (Whoppers and Raisinets) around the lake shore. I randomly placed more boulders around the cake, adding bushes and trees as I went until I was satisfied. I placed my dinosaurs on the cake (don’t you love the mom and baby triceratops munching leaves together?) I had intended to do the lava on the volcano out of frosting, too, but I forgot to reserve some to dye red (whoops!). Since all that I had was green and I was NOT about to mix up more frosting (I had already gone through more than a pound of butter), so I used strawberry jam I found in the fridge instead. In the end, I actually like the look and texture of it better than icing, so…happy accident!
- Last, I added what’s called a “shell” border around the top and bottom edges in bright green to finish it off. I used a star tip for this (that’s the only tip I used on this cake). If you want a great little video tutorial on how to do this, you can watch one here.
Needless to say, my Little Man, loved his dino cake! We put the candles in the volcano, so it “exploded”, which was fun. Now that our dino world is complete, I can start brainstorming for Little Brother’s birthday in a couple months. I’m thinking spaceships…any suggestions?