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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Make an Ordinary Birthday Cake Look Great, in Little Time

With very little time to devote to making a cake look pretty on a budget, I planned ahead with this latest one. I baked the cake layers a week ahead, and kept frozen. I had cans of frosting bought on clearance for 37 cents a can. I had some pretty doilies bought at 80% off after Christmas at Michael's Crafts  two years ago. I used a beautiful cake stand that was a wedding gift 30 years ago. I added artificial flowers which I already had, for the top decor.

On the morning of the birthday

An hour before frosting the cake, I took the layers out of the freezer and set on the counter to come to room temperature. At the time of frosting, I cleaned up the silver base of the cake pedestal with my jeweler's rouge polishing cloth and washed and dried the glass top.

I had gold and white doilies to choose from. I chose the gold as I thought it would make the cake look even more special. The doily cost about 5 cents.

On top of the gold doily, I set strips of waxed paper over the outside edge, to protect the doily from messy frosting. You'll see in a minute what this step does.

I set the bottom layer on the waxed paper and doily lined pedestal and began the frosting.  I used not quite two cans of frosting. The reason this frosting was on markdown, I believe is that it was an unusual flavor. It is cinnamon bun flavored frosting, to be used in conjunction with a cinnamon bun cookie mix, also promoted last fall. I bought several of each when I found them on clearance.

When using canned frosting to ice a cake, it's helpful to stir the can up, well, just before spreading. The frosting spreads more readily after stirring. I frosted the entire cake and smoothed the side and top with an offset spatula (easier to use for frosting than a table knife).

It was time to take the waxed paper out. I make sure the cake is centered on the pedestal, adjusting as needed. Holding onto the waxed paper strips on the far side of the cake, I gently slide the near waxed paper strip halfway out. If the frosting is coming away from the cake with the waxed paper, I simply "cut" it off with a table knife by scoring where I want the frosting to break. I go all around the cake and gently slide all pieces of waxed paper in this way, hanging onto the far sheets of waxed paper as I go (this keeps the cake from moving off center). Lastly, I finished pulling all of the waxed paper strips out.

These are the waxed paper strips which caught the excess frosting that would have otherwise looked messy on the cake pedestal and doily.

Last, the top of the cake needed decor. I took some inexpensive artificial flowers and pulled several blooms and leaves off of the stems.

These were dusty, so I washed them in the salad spinner, then patted dry. The reason I mention they were inexpensive is this variety can pull apart and then be put back together again, as opposed to being completely fused, stems to blossoms. I made a pile of blooms and leaves on top of the cake. And there it is, one homemade, reasonably easy and quick, lovely birthday cake that I think would rival any bakery cake.

Frugality doesn't always mean doing things the hard way. Sometimes, it just means doing things the smart and thoughtful way.


  1. Absolutely beautiful. I'm sure your daughters appreciated it. What flavor cake did you have to go with cinnamon frosting?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I went with a vanilla cake. It turned out to be pretty good. Cinnamon frosting is an odd one to match something up with, other than spice or coffee. One daughter doesn't like chocolate with cinnamon, so that idea was out. Vanilla worked.

      Have a great day, live and learn!

  2. Beautiful!


  3. That is a gorgeous cake!


  4. So very beautiful....I smiled when you described how little each item cost. I love when buying ahead or using what's on hand creatively saves money. It is like hitting a home run. Hope your daughters had a wonderful birthday!!

    Have a nice day!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      Thank you, and I think they did, and are still. A couple-friends of ours is taking them out to lunch today, so nice of them.
      Have a great day, YHF!

  5. Lovely! I'm sure your daughters thought so, too. Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      I think so. I hope your day is going well!

  6. What a lovely table! Delightful, and I'm sure super-tasty!

    Have you ever done the thing where you use a doily to sprinkle with sugar, cocoa, or sprinkles to make a pattern? It's sometimes pretty, and then you can reuse that cheap doily over and over really easily. :) I still have some doilies from the early 80s. LOL

    Have a great week! Sara

    1. I think the doily with sprinkled sugar or cocoa looks so elegant but I've never tried it. I sometimes make individual chocolate souffles (easier than it sounds!) and through trial and error, discovered that filling my tea infuser with powdered sugar allowed me to gently top my souffles without clumps and to have more control. Decorative finishes are not my forte and I need all the help I can get! ;)

      Lili, you have a gift for creating simple beauty. I think I need to invest in an offset spatula--whenever I frost a cake, it always looks messy, no matter how hard I try!

    2. HI Sara,
      that's especially pretty, and simple, for confectioner's sugar on top of a pan of brownies or chocolate cake. My mom did that. I use a mesh sieve to sprinkle confectioner's sugar over brownies. It looks so finished, but takes little effort.

    3. Hi Kris,
      I bought my offset spatula with a coupon at either JoAnn fabrics or Michaels, I don't remember which, but I had a 50 or 60% off coupon, so it wasn't too expensive. The offset one really helps.

    4. Hi, Kris--

      The tea infuser is a great idea. Years ago, I found that only a teaspoon or two of powdered sugar was enough to top a LOT of french toast, if I put it in a little hand-held sieve I had. The tea infuser is an even better idea!

      If you're already getting nice, even coverage with that, you could probably do fine with a doily. And if it isn't absolutely perfect, you can re-dust the whole thing heavier (if you're not a perfectionist. :))

      Do you just make the souffles in small ramekins? I bet it cuts down the baking time some, as well as being a fancy, pretty presentation. (Some things don't dish as prettily as they present when they are whole.)

      Lili, I think it's also a pretty topping for carrot, spice, pumpkin, or banana cakes. And if you like cocoa, that's pretty on white and yellow cake.

      Hmmmmm...spice, carrot, or banana cake sounds REALLY good right now! :) Sara

    5. That does sound pretty with a spice or carrot cake (or other "tan" cake. I may have done the sifting treatment on gingerbread (the cake type, not cookie), if I remember. But I think in winter this would look especially pretty using a doily on gingerbread. I was hoping to have enough bananas for banana bread this week, but it looks like all but one was eaten. And I thought I had overbought bananas! I'll try harder next time.

    6. Darn, your banana over-buying didn't work! I was telling my hubby about your son bringing bananas home from work, because this week DH brought me some from his work. I've eaten some, but a couple might hold for banana bread/cake.

      YUM, gingerbread (cake style!) That sounds delicious, too! :) Take care-- Sara

    7. Sara, I bought what even I thought was a ridiculous amount of bananas, at 42 cents/lb. I bought 28 bananas almost 2 weeks ago, and we managed to eat every single one. I thought this morning that I could use the last one in something, but it was gone before I could get to it! Oh well. It's a sign that we're eating healthy.
      How wonderful that your hubby brought home the bananas! Yep! Those were the good ol' days when my son was bringing home bananas every other week. That hasn't happened in a while!

    8. Hee, hee, that WAS a lot of bananas (and a great price!) Don't you find that, even though food is resources and you hope it lasts,it's actually also gratifying when you buy/make something and it all gets eaten up... proving that it hit the spot with our families and was a great choice? That makes me happy, even if it makes me change my original plan. :)

      I still have some banana slices in the freezer for smoothies, so rather than slice what's left of the free ones to freeze, I'm going to try and use up my last few ripe fresh bananas in some kind of banana baked good this morning. I've mostly run out of baked goodies in the freezer. :) Have a great day! Sara

  7. Beautiful, Lili. Those extra little touches, the doily and the flowers, make it so special.

  8. Beautiful! Thank you for the tutorial and I love your last sentence!
    Melody in OR

    1. Hi Melody,
      Thank you. And that last bit is so true, right?. Sometimes it's just a matter of using some thought.
      Have a great day!


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