5 easy cake hacks

Images and words: Sara Conway

What are your childhood birthday party memories? For me, it’s sugar rushes, sweat and The Birdie Song. The 80s delight of biting into pineapple and cheese at the same time. Grabbing platefuls of crisps and party rings. Do you know what I don’t remember, though? My cakes! Am I alone in this? Now I’m a mum I feel bad about it. I’ve seen pictures – my mum made an effort. But apart from the thrill of blowing out candles, the details of those cakes escape me.

I say this to relieve us of some responsibility. I’m a normal sane human for 360 days of the year and then in the run-up to my kid’s party I turn into the worst contestant on Bake Off – wild-eyed, flour-coated and desperate to please. Yeah, sure, I don’t bake ever – but hand me that whisk because I’ve got things to prove to, er, people. One of my friends spent three days carving a cake into the shape of her pet dog and recreating its fur with a fork and fondant icing. And then she cut it up and gave it to a bunch of 1-year-olds.

So why do we do it? It could be to show off, but I think it goes deeper than that. Birthdays stir up a mix of emotions: pride, sadness at how fast our kids are growing, and love – so much love. We channel it into buying the perfect present, planning the party to end all parties (until next year) and whipping up a storm in the kitchen. So I’m here, on one of my saner days, to give us permission to cut corners. Here are 5 foolproof ways to create an amazing cake in minutes. Use the time you save to have a drink and feel proud of YOU for raising an amazing human.

1 Toy Story: top a cake with their favourite characters

You’ll need: mini toys of their favourite characters, ready-to-roll icing, a store-bought cake (we love this decorate yourself cake from Waitrose, £7).

  1. Roll a piece of the icing and pop it on top of the cake to provide a nice contrast to the white.
  2. And then add their favourite toys.

It couldn’t be simpler.

2 Your special age: use a simple stencil to let their age take centre stage

You’ll need: a store-bought cake, ready-to-roll icing, sprinkles, card, scissors, a pastry brush and a little water

  1. Create a stencil: draw your child’s age on the card and snip it out.
  2. Roll the icing, lay it over the cake and cut around the edges so it’s the size of the top of the cake.
  3. Lay the number in the middle of the icing and paint the surrounding icing with a little water to make it tacky.
  4. Now cover the whole of the icing with sprinkles. Press them to make sure they stick.
  5. Leave it for a few minutes. Carefully tip off the excess sprinkles. And then lift off the stencil.

3 Sweet surprise: this cake has a hidden secret

You’ll need: a store-bought cake, ready-to-roll icing, toys, colourful sweets, a glass

  1. Cut out the middle of the middle of the cake by pushing a glass down through it. Save the piece inside the glass (if it doesn’t drop out, use a knife to lift it away at the edges).
  2. Pour sweets into the hole you’ve created.
  3. Cut the bottom off the piece of cake you saved and use the top of it to plug the gap above the sweets.
  4. Roll the icing, lay it over the whole of the top of the cake and trim to size.
  5. Decorate with toys, sweets and candles.

Cupcakes: easy party bag fillers

 You’ll need: store-bought cupcakes, 600g icing sugar, 300g unsalted butter, rice paper cake toppers

  1. Make the buttercream: beat the icing sugar and butter together until smooth.
  2. Now spread it on top of each cupcake and add a cake topper to each one.

5 Chocolate cornflake cake: a no-cook crowd pleaser

You’ll need: 50g butter, 100g milk chocolate, 3 tbsp golden syrup, 100g cornflakes, sweets and toys

  1. Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl above a pan of simmering water.
  2. Stir in the cornflakes.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a cake tin.
  4. Decorate by pushing the toys and sweets gently into the surface.
  5. Place in the fridge until set.