If you're doing a themed birthday party, I feel like the cake should be a big part of that. Especially if there are little kids involved, who notoriously love them some cake (even if, like Espen, that's just in theory and they love every part of the process except eating more than two bites of the darn thing). So for us making a train cake for the birthday party was really a chance to go all out. Except, oh, we really don't know much (anything!) about cake decorating.
Have no fear, the internet is here! I started out by browsing (and browsing!) through Pinterest in search of ideas that I liked, and while searching, I came across this cake that very handily had its own video tutorial (you can find the video and recipe directly here, unfortunately I can't embed the video here on my blog). We followed the instructions really closely, right down to buying a cake mix and frosting from a box - yikes! I even set aside my fear of food coloring for the occasion and dyed those little trains red, green and blue. The only real difference is that we shaped our engine a little differently because we thought theirs looked too much like a boat. Ours looked more like a truck, so take your pick!
|The before shot.|
A few tips from an inexperienced baker
- Read the recipe and your shopping list closely and several times over. I didn't, and that is why we ended up with an extra box of cake mix and frosting that are still in our pantry.
- I don't recommend it necessarily, but it turns out that if you only have one cake pan, Betty Crocker cake mix is perfectly happy to sit and wait while you bake one cake at a time.
- When the recipe says to let the cake cool completely, they mean it. I put ours in the fridge until Nick was home and could help me, and cold cake is much, much easier to work with.
- Bake early enough in advance to allow for disasters. I baked mine in the afternoon (nap time!) and we put the cake together after Espen was in bed that night.
- Doing a crumb coat (ie., putting on a thin coat of frosting and letting it set before frosting again) is pretty genius. Do what the nice lady in the video tells you.
- Having a real frosting tool to get a nice smooth surface would be really nice, but an un-serrated butter knife does the job too.
One actually useful thing we came up with was the cake tray. We didn't have anything long enough to fit the train, so we taped together some flattened cardboard boxes and covered them with wax paper. Definitely a bit of a ghetto solution, but it beat going out and buying something that we would use once! I thought about wrapping it in gift wrap to look a bit more festive, but I was worried about the ink in the paper soaking into the cake and whatnot, and this way the tray didn't end up competing with the cake. Another bonus was that we could make sure that we could still fit it into our fridge overnight.
|A little reality blogging: Our kitchen at 1 AM when we finally finished!|
|And a prettier shot taken the next day, when we'd actually cleaned up a bit.|
Decorating the train was the really fun part. I went to the bulk candy section of our cute local grocery store, and just got as much as I thought we'd need for each part. The licorice train tracks are trim came from a big packet. I wish they had them in the bulk section, though, because we ended up with a huge amount, and I would have liked the option of using different colors on the train itself. But as it was, I didn't want to end up with huge amounts of candy just for a few licorice ropes, so I settled for just the black ones. The wheels are candy circles (the ones that taste like peaches), although round cookies would look cute too. The smoke stack is two Rolos stacked on top of each other, and the "cargo" on the train cars are as follows:
A fairly standard candy choice, but they just look like something you'd expect to find on a little train like this. They were also the most popular candy cargo by far, so this little carriage was pretty much depopulated by the time the party was over.
These are pretty awesome! They are absolutely functional little blocks, that you can also eat. I thought they seemed like something a toy train might carry, and were a nice little nod to one of Espen's other interests. We bought ours locally, but they are also available here on Amazon.
I admittedly don't love the flavor, but thought these were too cute and fitting to pass up. They were kind of pricey, but it only took a handful to fill up a train, and it also turns out that they are produced here in Utah, so yay for local businesses! You can find the exact ones we got here, or get something really similar here on Amazon.
And that, my friends, is how we made our train cake.