My limited business license prevents me from selling anything made with licensed themes or characters, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give tips on how to DIY a character cake!
Sure you could go out and buy a specially shaped character cake pan, but how many times are you really going to use it? Unless you plan on making dozens of Sponge Bob cakes, these expensive pans are kind of a waste. Besides, if your kids are anything like mine they’ll likely outgrow their favorite cartoon character before you get your money’s worth out of the pan anyway.
So what do you do when you want to DIY your kid’s next birthday party but have no idea where to begin with the cake? Here are some ideas:
Cutout cakes are a great idea when you don’t want to go overboard with cake construction. They can be as simple or as detailed as you want to make them, all you need is a sheet cake, a sharp knife, and a good template to get started.
To make a template you can use a blown up image from a coloring book, a hand drawn image, or an online printable. For my son’s Bot cake I used a printable poster from Nick Jr.’s website that I put together and cut out to get the shape for the cake.
When choosing a template you want to make sure there aren’t a lot of small, detailed pieces that jut out of the cake because these pieces will usually fall apart if not held up with structural supports like toothpicks, dowels, or skewers. I learned this the hard way with Bot’s arm that ended up needing a bamboo skewer support to keep from flopping over. Lesson learned: cut around and “draw” in the detail with icing.
For the cake, any firm cake (think pound cake or sponge cake) will do. If you aren’t a from-scratch baker Duncan Hines’ Butter Golden cake mix works fabulously for cutout cakes! Just be sure and follow the mixing instructions exactly to achieve the proper texture, then fill the pan 2/3 full. A 9″x13″x2″ pan takes one box of cake mix.
Freeze or chill the cake for a half hour before cutting it to get the cleanest edges and avoid crumbling. Arrange your template over the cake, then cut carefully with a sharp knife. Avoid rough, sawing motions as much as possible, and be sure to take your time. If you notice the cake getting too soft or crumbly, put it back in the freezer or fridge to chill again before continuing.
Ice and decorate your cake according to the design. You can ice your cake with a base color and then pipe on your details, or you can cover it with fondant and use cut out fondant or candy pieces for the details. For my son’s Bot cake I iced the cake in buttercream, then used fondant cutouts for the details, then outlined the whole thing in black using a tube of store bought black icing fitted with a small round tip.
Frozen Buttercream Transfers
If you have a steady hand and lots of time, you may want to try a frozen buttercream transfer, which is an image traced in icing on a sheet of waxed paper which is then frozen stiff and placed icing-side-down on the cake. When the waxed paper is carefully peeled off you have the traced character image on top of the cake. These are a lot of fun to do but can take a looooong time depending on how detailed your image is. Here’s a youtube video by Wilton that describes the process.
If you really want to pull out the big guns you can try sculpting your specialty cake. Sculpting cake can be very challenging and takes a lot of practice to get right, but makes for some beautiful cakes. Anyone who’s ever seen Ace of Cakes or Cake boss knows exactly what I’m talking about!
Here are two examples of sculpted cakes I did for my kids’ birthdays
You don’t have to be a pro or spend a lot of money to DIY an awesome birthday cake. Just have fun and be creative!