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Birthday Cake Baking Basics: a Beginner’s Guide

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Without a doubt, one of the things I like best about being a mom is having the ability to make my boys’ birthday cakes. I suppose I’m a little old fashioned in that I truly believe if there is homemade cake, colourful balloons and a nicely wrapped present, everything else that happens on a birthday is secondary. Some years there are big birthday gifts (that’s the 10th birthday in our household) and other years there are simple celebrations. But regardless of the type of party we have there is always, always a homemade cake.

When my kids were little the cakes weren’t always pretty. I used boxed cake mix and smothered them in cloying icing. The result was often a colourful mess. But when the boys hit their third and fourth birthdays, I knew it was time to do something about this growing birthday cake passion of mine. So I enrolled in the baking program at George Brown College in Toronto, and followed that up with a cake-decorating certificate from a private school close by. To this day my cakes aren’t perfect, but they’re nice, and making them is one of my favourite things to do.

I’€™d like to pass along some of what I know to you, our readers. We’€™ll cover the tools I like to have on hand for cake making, a few of my favourite go-to recipes and simple icing techniques that will make your cakes look amazing with little effort on your part.

So before we get started I want to share my favourite tools for making a pretty cake. These are the simple, no-frill items I keep on hand for easy cake baking and decorating:

  • Cake pans: 6″, 8’€, 9″, 10″ and half sheet pan
  • Palate knife: small, medium and large
  • Off-set spatula: one small
  • Piping bag, tips (round, star and leaf) and coupler
  • Parchment paper
  • Assorted gel-paste food colourings
  • Cake stands (I happen to collect them)
  • Rotating cake stand (optional)

There are a few other tools I keep on hand, but they usually only come out for specialty cakes and I’ll talk more about those when the time comes. However, the items listed above will yield the prettiest of cakes and in future posts I will cover how to use each, plus instructions for some piping and icing techniques that will impress your party guests.

I’m curious though, how do you feel about making birthday cakes? Do you prefer store-bought cakes or making your own? What’s the best cake you’ve ever made? Feel free to share a picture in the comments.

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