There is something so special about watching a baby taste cake (or even sugar) for the first time. You always imagine them diving into their very own smash cake and being covered with frosting from head to toe, blissfully loving this sweet goodness they have only just discovered! But I must say that all four of my girls were not too thrilled with it at first. To make matters worse, two of them burned their fingers on the candle. There were tears from each of them at some point along the way. But in the end, these are always some of life’s most memorable moments, no matter how they go down!
With this being my fourth go-around at a first birthday cake, I have learned a thing or two… definitely a lot of what NOT to do! :) This is also the first time I have seen a daughter turn one since Pinterest came into my life. (Oh boy!) There are lots of ideas out there now to make it extra fun… and the photo ops, people!! This is a once in a lifetime chance to get some pictures of your child that you’ll never forget. So a few weeks before my youngest turned one, I started flipping through ideas on Pinterest. I’m a minimalist in certain ways, and it was just going to be our little family of six sharing this moment, but I did want a few special touches to help make it memorable.
After some searching, I got most of my inspiration here at Life with the Rudys with this simple set-up of a high chair and a “ONE” banner. We actually no longer have a high chair, though. (I’m a big fan of just using a booster seat either like this that attaches to the table or like this that attaches to the chair–saves space in your kitchen; less expensive; many high chairs swallow up the youngest babies just starting solids; and the baby can join the family at the table this way, too! If I could do it all over again, I would probably skip the high chair! That’s what I’m doing this time with my fourth daughter–we put her right into a booster seat that attaches to the chair and has its own tray. Just my two cents…)
Since we don’t have a high chair, I wanted to use a cute chair for our daughter’s birthday fun for two reasons:
1) It would make for cuter pictures, of course!
2) I can pull the chair back so she won’t burn her finger. (Babies always reach for the candle!! And if it’s really close to them–on a high chair tray–they will inevitably burn themselves…)
So, I grabbed one of the colorful chairs from our playroom. (We bought our playroom table and chair set at Land of Nod almost 10 years ago. I can’t tell you how well it has held up–it has hosted many a tea party, that’s for sure!! We did paint the originally-white chairs to make them four different colors along the way, though, to add some color to the playroom. Hence, the handy bright pink chair for this occasion!) The playroom table was going to be too high, though, I realized. I tried propping the baby up on a pillow on the chair (with her secured to it with my belt!), but she still didn’t seem very stable. So we were just about to take a cardboard box and create a little table for her (my oldest daughter’s idea–smart, I thought!), when I walked right past a mini-bench that I use as an end table in one room. I had forgotten about that… perfect!
Now I had the chair and the table… I just wanted to add a little “One” banner, some balloons, and a hat… and we all decided that having her eat in her diaper would make the most sense since she would surely be a mess. So we stuck her sister’s pearl necklace on her to “girl” her up a bit–too cute! And now we just had to bring out the cake!
Read further to see how I put it all together. Such a fun day! And would you look at that face… clearly, she is fired up!
* View her other smash cake here from her little party with her friends later that week… polka dots! So easy to make it. :)
In this post I will detail the following:
1) Smash Cake
2) Chair Trick
3) “One” Banner
4) Simple Party Hat
1) The Smash Cake (A Mini-Layer Cake)
You can’t have a first birthday without a cake! You can certainly cut your child a piece of a larger cake, but it’s extra fun to let the guest of honor have their own smaller cake–called a “smash cake.” That’s what I did this time around… I looked for some ideas on the internet, but most of them were really involved with intricate icing. I do enjoy making my own cakes, but 9 times out of 10, I’m going to open a box and then open a container of frosting. That’s my compromise–you have to simplify somewhere, right?!
I couldn’t find anything I loved online that I wanted to imitate, so I came up with this stacked mini-cake. I imagined her really getting into it–knocking it over with all of us laughing! It didn’t really happen that way, of course, but I still think this was a fun little first birthday cake!
A) FIND A WAY TO CREATE SMALL LAYERS
I used a mini-pie pan to create my layers. You could also use any other small oven-safe dishes.
B) MIX YOUR CAKE BATTER
I simply bought a boxed cake mix. I followed the instructions, although I always sub either applesauce or Greek yogurt for the oil. Here, I used applesauce. I don’t notice a difference between the two substitutes. Honestly, you will never miss the oil!! I promise. I have made cakes this way for years and years… I never, ever put the oil in anymore. I take cakes and cupcakes to parties this way–no one ever knows!
* Check out this great chocolate muffin recipe (so easy!!) where I sub Greek yogurt for the oil. You might also like these super-moist healthy pumpkin bars where I replaced an entire CUP of oil with applesauce. Yum!
C) CHOOSE YOUR COLORS
I used gel food coloring, but keep in mind that the colors will be more intense than with liquid coloring. (For comparison, I used liquid in this post.) It can be hard to find anything but gel these days. If you’re ever in a pinch, think outside the box–last summer I used red Jell-O powder when I didn’t have any food coloring on hand at my parents’ house. Easy! You could also use various juices.
* Something to think about if you are using colored frosting: my friend once made an Elmo cake for her son’s first birthday, but with all the red frosting, her child looked like he’d been in a terrible accident by the time he was done eating!! It was so funny, but she later said that perhaps red wasn’t the best frosting color after all! :)
D) MIX YOUR COLORS
I went ahead and put some gel in each bowl, but next time I would go one color at at time. The bowls with a lot of gel were all pretty similar. I had to go back and add a bunch of white cake batter to lighten some colors–luckily I hadn’t used all of it!
I sprayed my tin well with Pam to make sure the mini cakes would pop right out.
F) REMOVE WHEN CAKES SPRING BACK TO THE TOUCH
I rarely use toothpicks when I bake. I hate making a zillion holes in the food as I check to see if it’s done (again and again), especially if the holes might be visible (like with banana bread). Here, I was going to cover up the layers (and potential holes) with frosting, but I still prefer the touch method. If you touch the cake lightly, it shouldn’t make a dent–it should spring right back up. As soon as it’s fully set and doesn’t sink in when you touch it, remove it from the oven.
G) IF LAYERS WON’T STACK WELL, TRIM THEM SO THEY’RE FLAT
These little layers would never stack, so I trimmed each piece with a handy cake leveler. You could also use a serrated knife, but it can be hard to make each layer exactly the same. These big “saws” are awesome because you can level a cake perfectly, no matter how big it is. And it’s kind of fun to use, too. :) Your cakes will sit so much better if you take a second to flatten them out like this.
Now we have six perfectly flat, uniform layers. And the kids (and Dad… okay, and Mom) are excited to eat the scraps!
H) IF THE EDGES ARE TOO BROWN TO SEE THE COLORS, TRIM THEM
I decided to trim each edge of my layers because I didn’t feel like you could appreciate the colors. But I knew I wanted my layers to be visible. If you are going to frost your edges, you could skip this step.
* I do think that by trimming the edges, my cake layers weren’t as sturdy. So if you are planning to frost the outside edges, your cake may be “stronger” than mine.
I just used a sharp knife to remove the outside brownish edge.
I really liked this look much more–now you can tell that each layer is a different shade of pink.
I) PLACE LAYERS IN THE FREEZER TO MAKE FROSTING EASIER
When I am baking, I almost always freeze the cake before I frost it–especially if I am stacking any layers. You won’t believe how much more smoothly the frosting will go on because you won’t have to worry about the cake crumbling at all. You can actually press with the knife/spatula. Oftentimes I freeze the layers a day or two ahead of time, and then I frost it a few hours before serving–and then just let it sit out so it comes back to room temperature. Or I may even freeze the layers; remove them and frost; and then return the entire frosted cake to the freezer. (I’ll then remove the cake from the freezer the morning that I’m serving it.) Personally, I never worry about wrapping it up all perfectly before it goes in the freezer. I just put it right in the freezer as is (with wax paper or parchment paper between the layers), and it seems to be just fine. I actually think freezing it makes the cake seem more moist, too. Maybe it somehow seals in the moisture?! No idea, but it works! :)
P.S. I mean, would you look at all that ice cream?! Seriously. I think we have problems. Not sure if you can really see it all, but there are six different flavors in there! And yes, our freezer always looks like that.
J) FROST YOUR LAYERS WHILE STILL FROZEN
This is the part I wasn’t able to follow myself. Long story, but I was out with my daughter’s all-day school event, so I called my husband and had him remove the cake layers from the freezer. I was afraid they would still be too frozen for the baby to eat it that afternoon! But by the time I got home, the layers were completely back to room temperature, so that made it really hard for me to frost them. They kept tipping over, and the bottom layers were getting squished from the weight of the upper layers. I think if the layers were more solid (frozen), it would have made the process much easier.
All in all, though, I think the less-than-perfect cake is actually kind of perfect for a baby who’s supposed to mess it all up anyhow! Here’s how it turned out…
2) The Chair
Using a cute chair might lend itself better to getting some extra-special pictures. Here, I used a chair from Land of Nod that we normally have in our playroom. (We bought it years ago, so this model doesn’t seem to be available any longer; although their chairs and furniture have all been well-made and sturdy in my experience.)
My Mom Trick
Even though this is a child’s chair, it’s high enough off the ground where she could hurt herself if she fell. So I simply wrapped a belt around her waist and through the back of her chair so she was secure. I often bring a belt like this to parties away from home, too (as shown in this post at her party). When my kids were really little, it was always hard for them to sit on those chairs in party rooms–even though the chairs were tiny and like 12″ off the ground! Kids don’t last long being secured to a chair (!), but at least while they eat you can know they are safe. Especially at a time like this–eating birthday cake for the first time!
Here is the belt in action. With her securely on the chair, I could back away without stressing about her falling. That allowed me to take plenty of pictures and enjoy the experience!
No Burned Fingers
The other bonus when using a chair: you can pull the chair back away from the cake–and the candle–so your little one’s fingers are at a safe distance. If you use a high chair, the baby can only get so far away from the cake. So if you bring the cake up to the high chair’s tray, the odds are good that the baby will reach right out (that candle is interesting!) and touch the flame. That’s happened to us twice–ugh! When you are singing, taking pictures, and filming video, you aren’t really thinking about the baby touching the candle–at least we weren’t! Now we have learned!! Our kids were fine both times, but it definitely takes away from the experience when your guest of honor is bawling before she has even taken a single bite of the cake!
3) The “One” Banner
For this simple banner, I just printed out each letter on three separate pieces of cardstock. (The font used is Cooper Black.) I then trimmed the edges a bit with a paper cutter so there was even space on each side of the letter.
Then I folded the bottom edge a bit to figure out where the center was (without taking the time to measure). I pinched the center just a bit so I could see it, and then I measured up two inches and drew a tiny mark. Next I used a ruler to draw a straight line from that mark to each corner. Cut the “triangle” off, and you’re good to go! I simply taped each letter right on the tiny table we were using.
4) Simple Party Hat
I went to our local party store with every intention of just buying a hat, but I wasn’t finding what I wanted–something very plain and pink. I ended up just getting a basic pink hat, and then I went home and printed a large “1” (using the font Bernard MT Condensed) on regular copy paper. When I cut it out, I left a little of the white around it to create a border, and then I glued it on using my kids’ glue stick. Easy! And it was just what I had been looking for!
I was actually going to make one for her 5 little friends coming to her party later that week, too. For them, I was going to print out their first initial. But I never quite got to that… but the idea is there for you to use!
Now we just need the birthday girl!
When our new one-year-old got up from her nap, all we had to do was strip her down and add her pearl necklace! (You know, typical birthday attire…) She was borrowing her sister’s necklace, and it cracked me up because each time the baby would reach up and tug on it, her sister would gently pull her arm away from the pearls while saying, “No, no… that’s my necklace.” It will be interesting to see how these interactions change when they are teenagers sharing clothes!!
Here’s a glimpse of how the cake-eating went down…
Woohoo!!! I have no idea why I’m wearing next to nothing and Mommy strapped me to a chair, but I love all the attention!
What a special memory for all of us! I hope this post gave you some ideas… or that it made you smile at the very least! :)
I’d love to hear what you’ve done for your child’s smash cake fun!
* View her other (polka dot!) smash cake here that she had at her party.