The Cake-troversy.

As you already know, this year was not a “normal” birthday year for the girls. We chose a Disney Cruise (I’m sticking with “GOOD CHOICE!”) instead of a party, which also threw off the most exciting birthday event (for me): The Birthday Cake.

It all started in 2011, when I hopped on Pinterest and found “the cake” that Zoe HAD TO HAVE for her first birthday – homemade, of course. Problem? I don’t bake (or cook for that matter). The great news? My husband does. His mother, in fact, is a fabulous baker and for years has come to our home each Fall and filled our house with the delicious smell of cookies, scones and bars, using every (unexpired) baking product in our pantry – and reorganizing our pantry to boot.

But I digress.

The point is that every year or the past 7 years I have thrown down the gauntlet for my husband (he loves it, right?), mining Pinterest for the PERFECT cake for that year – attempting to provide just the right challenge. I’m thoughtful that way.

My hard work (or is it HIS hard work?) has generated the following amazing creations, every single one of which has just served to make me love my husband more.


1-owl cake

This cake looked simple enough, right? I can’t seem to find the Pinterest photo I texted to Bart to say “this one”, so you’ll have to trust me when I say he NAILED IT. Remember, we were barely parents at this point, so I think pulling off ANY cake with style after a year without sleep deserves an award.

What’s under the hood? A deliciously moist (not kidding) Duncan Hines white cake. The frosting? Homemade, always, all 4 colors (including black for the eyes). Those “feathers” are each individually placed white chocolate flakes.

The Cake-troversy? When it came time to cut the square cake into the owl shape, “someone” was hesitant – you only get one shot to get it right. So believe it or not, I did the cutting, quickly and with confidence. My only contribution (other than inspiration, of course) to perhaps any of the cakes.

YEAR TWO: The Flower

2-flower cakeFor this cake, I found a flower-shaped pan and Zoe’s favorite color (at the time): Purple. She even matched the cake.


What’s under the hood? A deliciously moist (still not kidding) Duncan Hines white cake. The frosting? Homemade, always, all 3 colors – and LOTS of it.

The Cake-troversy? Sure, a flower-shaped cake pan might make it easy to achieve the overall flower shape, but what about the center? Should it be a circle (which leaves gaps between the beautiful petals and the center) or should it just be filled in (as you see above), leaving those petals to be perfectly purple and round. And so, the chef was not 100% happy with the final product on this one – a pattern that will continue.

YEAR THREE: The Hello Kitty Cake

3-hello kitty cake

Another year, another well-shaped pan to inspire the greatness you see above. NONE of these neat pan shapes really show how and where to strategically place icing.

What’s under the hood? A deliciously moist (yep) Duncan Hines white cake, again. Per Bart, “I never make a yellow cake”. The frosting? Homemade, always, all 4 colors – and the placement and shape of those eyes and the yellow on the bow was fun to watch.

The Cake-troversy? To be honest, this may have been one of the least controversial cakes. Phew. However, in true perfectionista fashion, the chef was again not 100% happy with this one. And what, is this 3-horn “Unicorn Hello Kitty”?! This was also the first year we hired entertainment – a “drum circle” that was more like a middle school band instructor duo, much to my dismay…

YEAR FOUR: The OMG It’s Elsa Cake

4-elsa cake

For Zoe’s 4th birthday, the game changed. Yes, I found a cake on Pinterest, as usual, but I was 100% certain he would say NO to this one as it looked IMPOSSIBLY HARD to me. Without flinching, he said OK, and a doll dress cake pan followed – along with not one but two Elsa Barbies (one for the cake, one for the kid).

What’s under the hood? A deliciously moist (woot!) Duncan Hines white cake, again (getting bored with this one?). The frosting? Amaze-balls. Homemade, of course, but also delicately applied in small circles and covered in shimmering sugar flakes. And come on, that is ELSA blue. You can’t buy that color, you have to MAKE it, and goshdarnit, Bart Johnson did.

The Cake-troversy? OMG. Baking the cake? No problem – and it really was delicious. However, it was a super hot September and took so long to apply those tiny circles that (if you look closely at the bottom of the skirt) the icing literally began to melt. My panicked husband was sweating in the kitchen then quickly shoving the cake into our wine cooler to stop the madness. This cake is probably the most amazing homemade one I have personally seen at a kids birthday party, but note to self: One cake is not enough for 50 people. Thankfully, Bart supplemented with cupcakes. What a guy!

Pretty sure Zoe had no complaints, but then, she also celebrated with Elsa:


YEAR FIVE: The Rainbow Cake

Keep in mind that THIS year we had not one but two princesses to please. As Zoe turned 5, her sister turned a magical ONE. Remember how first-kid-first-birthday cakes are usually meant for the kid to shove in their faces? Well, once you have two that either means two cakes or, as we cleverly handled with ease (unless you check Ella’s face), one gets a cupcake:

5-rainbow cake

What’s under the hood? A CHANGE! Another deliciously moist (still) Duncan Hines cake, but this time RAINBOW COLORS. There were layers of rainbow colored-cake beneath this amazing buttercream frosting. Check out the DEPTH of that cake! Amazing. The frosting? Homemade, as always, but this time he also used a semi-circle of fondant on which he lovingly placed 7,000 rainbow colored M&Ms, followed by clouds of marshmallows.

The Cake-troversy? Other than the sheer SIZE of this cake, which in my opinion was the MOST moist of all, the only controversy here was the placement of those M&Ms, which looked easy until you got started… oh, and the writing. That same “someone” has terrible handwriting, so it was up to me to not screw up his entire cake with my scribble. Good news? This party had a unicorn and a rainbow cape – I don’t know how anyone even noticed the cake.


YEAR SIX: The BB8 Star Wars Cake

6-bb8 cake

I hesitate to report that this year the one I thought looked “so easy” did NOT look “so easy” to my husband, so there was work involved in convincing him it was “just two circle cakes”. HA!

What’s under the hood? Another deliciously moist Duncan Hines white cake. The frosting? While the entire Pinterest photo was a fondant frosting, I assured the annoyed (and saintly) father of our children that white buttercream would work just fine, which is when he pointed out that the OTHER colors would NOT be easy (or great) unless they were fondant, which is apparently not easy to “work with” (whatever that means).

The Cake-troversy? You guessed it: The Fondant. Each circle, line and cutout you see on that cake above had to be hand-cut from fondant, then carefully placed to not destroy the buttercream frosting below. I personally think Bart did an outstanding job, but not without an (understandable?) amount of cursing.

YEAR SEVEN: The Dinosaur Cake

7-dinosaur cakeNow this cake may not LOOK very challenging, but once you know all the details that were involved in making it amazing, I think you’ll be impressed.

What’s under the hood? The most possibly moist Duncan Hines CHOCOLATE cake. The frosting? A to-die-for homemade chocolate buttercream icing, sprinkled with crumbled Chips Ahoy! cookies to replicate the prehistoric landscape needed for these dinosaurs to thrive.

The Cake-troversy? You’re going to pass out on this one: There is an actual TAR PIT on this cake. See the dark shape in the upper left of the cake? To make that happen, Bart carved out a “tar pit” shape in the top of the cake and filled it with a dark chocolate fudge. Not kidding. And somehow we got that cake all the way to the venue without incident. Zoe placed all the dinosaurs on this one (as only a real paleontologist could do) and her neon dinosaur outfit made her impossible to miss (possibly the worst color choice for a dinosaur though, right?):


YEAR EIGHT: The Almost Without a Cake

Alright, so you already know we chose a Disney Cruise over a birthday party this year, but given the travel challenges involved, there was NO WAY we were going to get a cake on that ship. And sometimes, I can be quite determined… How could we NOT have a homemade “I love you” cake – especially with no party?!

And so, one night not long before their birthdays Bart went out to Game Night (silly goose), and I sat on the sofa with a girl on each side, surfing Pinterest for this year’s birthday cake challenge for Dad. At which time, the girls found THIS:


HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! In case you don’t make cakes, you won’t know the complexity of pulling off the cake above. The ENTIRE frosting is fondant, including pressed patterns, cutout layers, bases for the “towers”, and hand-cut letters for ONE kid (much less 2).

Still, I was certain Bart could adapt and make a go of it. Couldn’t we just replace that fondant with the delicious buttercream frosting, remove the frills and place some princesses?! Wouldn’t those towers look just as good if you simply “glued” a sugar cone and a regular cone together with that squishy frosting?! The answer? Not that easy.

You’ll have to wait for the picture so I can get it far enough from the one above for my husband not to kill me. I had to beg to post it. See Cake-troversy below…

What’s under the hood? A Red Velvet cake! Yes, Duncan Hines, and yes, super moist. The frosting? More buttercream homemade frosting, crafted to a princess purple (by request) and an almost pink (that’s my take, but then, you’re not allowed to criticize if you don’t contribute) trim.

The Cake-troversy? This cake almost broke our marriage. Ever seen the movie A Christmas Story where the father fights with the boiler in the basement? If not, you might want to watch that first. The scene in our kitchen the night before we were to bring our birthday cake to our friends’ house for a joint birthday celebration (their daughter was turning 5 and loved princesses, too) – well, our cake scene makes that one look tame.

The cake layers themselves were absolutely perfect – or “a little puffy” if you ask Chef Perfect. The purple frosting I THINK started out OK but somehow went downhill as he tried to cover the red of that lovely velvet cake. Then my handsome prince put gold and white shimmery sprinkles on top, maybe to hide the purply lumps (there was one section that protruded with frosting goodness – “my piece” as I was told). This was when the cursing really started in earnest, and at almost 10 pm all I could do was hope he didn’t throw that cake away…

As he went to apply the “pink” (which looked peach to me), I found out that it’s not as easy as squeezing it out of the bag to “recolor” it a little – and I wish I hadn’t asked. Once we agreed that it was OF COURSE PINK, we went about applying the doors and testing the cone towers. I still maintain that my “stick it together with frosting” idea was best and after trying “baking glue” (or whatever that is), my way – right or wrong – was chosen. There was a thought that the tiny doors would be difficult to draw, so I suggested popsicle sticks as guides (then putting icing on those), which is what you’ll see shortly.

Marriage (mostly) intact, we put that cake in the wine cooler for the evening and here are two reasons why I KNOW it was the right choice to make a cake:

  1. First thing in the morning, our girls rushed out wanting to see the cake. Even BEFORE the towers or princesses were applied, they GASPED when they saw it in sheer delight, and Zoe exclaimed, “My dad is the BEST cake maker EVER!”
  2. When it was time to put on the princesses and light that cake, even my husband was OK with it, allowing the KIDS to apply the final decorations, including the fondant balls for the top of the towers – and, as you’d guess, they all loved it.

And so, that’s how THIS cake came to be:

8-princess cake

Oh, and it was delicious.

For next year, I think I have to figure out a better approach than the last minute “pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeze?” and allowing the kids to select their own (more challenging than anything I can even dream of) cake design.

Because I sure do like my marriage :)

Suggestions welcome!

6 thoughts on “The Cake-troversy.

  1. Bart is a saint. Love that his hard work was appreciated by the girls… Sounds almost as good as Christmas morning! And I 100% approve of replacing fondant with buttercream. Fondant might LOOK cool, but the taste is MEH.

  2. We love you & your delicious cakes & meals, Bart! 👑 Love the way Susie can make memories come to life 💫 Zoe & Ella are truly blessed!!! Love Nina

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