Birthday cakes – ‘3’s and a crowd

I still can’t quite believe that Andrew and Tom share a birthday. I know it’s a 1 in 365 possibility, but still, that seems quite small to me. This year is particularly cool because they are 3 and 30 on the same day. To celebrate, we had a family weekend with all four of the boys grandparents, two aunts and a cousin – so quite a crowd to eat the cakes that I baked. Since Andrew’s first birthday, I’ve instated the tradition of baking him, and then Joel too on his birthday, a celebration cake – do you remember the ‘o n e’ cakes, the Thomas the Tank Engine cake and the racing car cake? Most years I’ve baked Tom a cake for his birthday too, though usually just a plain cake with no fancy decoration or modelling involved.

This year I wanted to make a special cake for both birthday boys, and include a number 3 on both cakes. I should say now that this wouldn’t have been physically possible if we weren’t living at Granny and Grandad’s house and therefore have extra pairs of hands to entertain children, go shopping for ingredients and clear up afterwards.

Along the same train of thought that I had for Andrew’s ‘o n e’ cakes, I decided on a big 3-0 for Tom – after all, it is his big 3-0 birthday. And actually it’s quite easy to make a 3 and a 0 from round cakes baked in conventional tins. The 0 was just a round cake with a hole cut out of the centre, and the 3 was cut from two smaller round cakes – I drew a diagram on paper first of how the two almost semi-circle bits would fit together, so I could better visualise what I had in my head, and made myself a template to do the cutting.

30 cake

It had to be chocolate cake for Tom as this is one of his favourites. I chose a chocolate fudge cake recipe from the BBC website, which turned out to be very brownie-like in consistency. Chocolate tastes good (sorry, stating the obvious there!) but it’s a bit boring in colour, so I wanted to decorate the cake in bright colours. That’s where several packets of Smarties came into play. Granny managed to find some big boxes for only £1 each at a local newsagent, and I spent an evening sorting them into each colour (I was going to get Andrew involved in sorting out colours because he likes that kind of task, but then I wondered whether I’d end up with enough at the end?!…one for the plate, one for me, one for the plate, one for me…) It was surprising how many I needed to cover the cake in a rainbow design, because there were more of certain colours in each box, so I had to go and buy some more to have enough of each colour of the rainbow. Stuck on with some cholcoate buttercream, they gave the cakes an eye-catching finish. The final detail was a set of candles in rainbow colours that spelled out ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’.


It was more difficult to decide what to make for Andrew – he has lots of ‘favourite’ characters and vehicles, and they seem to change from one week to the next, with a few being long term such as Brum. Since living with Granny and Grandad, Andrew has become rather obsessed with Thunderbirds (or Wonderbirds as he prefers to call it). Grandad is a massive fan, and is keen to encourage Andrew in his enthusiasm for the models and puppets. So when I was thinking out loud about Andrew’s birthday cake planning one evening when he was in bed, we all knew straight away when it was suggested that a Thunderbird cake – of course Thunderbird 3 – was perfect!

I studied Grandad’s DVDs and books that feature the rocket, and made sure that I had all the bits to model and decorate the feat of engineering that was to become the Thunderbird 3 cake. All of it was edible, except for some red straws and cocktail sticks for the three shafts that run down the side of the rocket to the engines at the bottom, and some wooden skewers that held the main structure upright inside and that slid out once we’d cut into the top. The cake was a simple 6,6,6,3 sponge – 6 ounces of self-raising flour, butter and sugar, plus 3 eggs – made in Granny’s new Kitchenaid mixer. I baked it in a deep square tin and it rose to about 3/4 full.

Once the sponge was fully cooled, I cut out cylinders using a long metal cutter (actually it’s the equipment they use in fancy restaurants and on Masterchef when shaping rice or mashed potato (for example) into neat piles on the plate). I then stacked these on top of each other, sticking them together with buttercream, and then sliding 3 wooden skewers down through the layers to hold it all together. I added the straws for stability, attaching them to the sponge at the sides using cocktail sticks, and anchoring them at the bottom into a big lump of white royal icing shaped into a small cylinder for the engines. To achieve the pointed top of the rocket, I crumbled some cake and mixed it with some buttercream, then shaped the mixture (just like you make cake pops) into the right conical form.

tb cake

Then came the trickiest part – covering with red royal icing. In hindsight I should have covered the main body of the rocket whilst it was lying down rather than already stood up and fixed into place, but hey, this is the first (and probably last) time that I’ve ever made a Thunderbird 3 cake. I covered it in sections after glazing the sponge with warmed apricot jam to make the icing stick.

The finishing touches made it all come together after the stress of getting it covered in red to my satisfaction. The black stripes on the long side shafts were a liquorice Catherine wheel unraveled and twisted around the straws. Other bits of black were the same liquorice, including the small number 3s on each of the three engines at the bottom. White features were added using white butter icing piped through a rectangular nozzle, or a writing nozzle for the ‘THUNDERBIRD’ down the centre. The silver fins all the way around the centre were white royal icing sprayed with silver shimmer spray for cakes – I cut these triangles out and sprayed them earlier in the week, then left them open to the air to dry out a bit so that they didn’t flop when stuck onto the side of the upright rocket.

Finally I added three white candles, and waited to see the face on one very excited little birthday boy – it was amazing! I enjoy making these kind of cakes, even though parts of the process can be challenging, because it’s all worth it when the boys show their appreciation. The rest of the crowd were pleased with the cakes too, and I was assured that they tasted just as good as they looked (no style over substance, to quote a Great British Bake Off phrase).


I have no idea what will be on the cards for next year’s birthday cake, but he has a whole year to change his favourite characters, and Joel’s special day will come before then too. In the meanwhile, I’ll sit down with a cuppa tea and a slice of cake – we still have enough to feed another small crowd….any takers?

Cupcake of the month (March): vanilla, with little egg nests

cupcakes march 2You may remember that back in February I introduced a new monthly feature on the blog – Cupcake of the month – inspired by a calendar I was given for Christmas with a different cupcake recipe each month. This month the recipe was for vanilla cupcakes, with a slightly more unusual order for combining the ingredients than I had come across before. It’s not exactly the same recipe as appears on the calendar (I always adapt recipes!), mainly in that I halved all the ingredients, used marg instead of butter, missed out the salt, and doubled the amount of vanilla. I bought vanilla ‘flavouring’ instead of ‘essence’ last time I went shopping for it because they didn’t have any essence, and I knew that flavouring wasn’t as strong, so put twice as much in; disappointingly though, they still don’t taste strongly of vanilla, so I won’t be buying that again!march cupcakes

The decoration suggestion on the calendar was a swirl of buttercream icing with mini eggs on top. Although they look very creative, I thought I’d go one step further and combine these relatively plain cakes with another of my favourite things to make and eat at Easter – chocolate egg nests! You can’t beat a bit of shredded what covered in chocolate and honey, shaped into a nest with a couple of mini eggs in it 🙂 Andrew loved helping me make these too, not least because I let him lick the spoon! He was fascinated by the mini eggs and interested to learn about nests and count the eggs into them – he’s very into numbers and counting.right now. We made some small nests (I would make them bigger if we were eating them on their own) that fitted nicely on the top of the cupcakes, held on with a blob of buttercream (that was the ready-made stuff left over from Andrew’s birthday cake).

If you’d like to have a go at these treats for Easter, here’s the recipe……

Ingredients – makes 10

  • 130g self-raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 55g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 150 dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • shredded wheat
  • chocolate mini eggs
  • buttercream icing (I had some ready-made stuff left over – or you could mix 25g butter/marg with 50g icing sugar)
I don't know how much shredded wheat we used - we just crushed til we had the right consistency
I don’t know how much shredded wheat we used – we just crushed until we had the right consistency


  1. Put 10 fairy cake cases in a fairy cake tin and 10 cupcake cases in a muffin tin.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth.
  4. Beat in the margarine and egg until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour the mixture into the cupcake cases until they are about half to two thirds full.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Meanwhile, make the nests…. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  8. Stir in the honey.
  9. Crush shredded wheat in your hands over the bowl and keep doing this, stirring it now and then into the chocolate, until the shredded wheat is nicely covered and the mixture is thick enough to spoon into the fairy cake cases.
  10. Spoon a small amount into the bottom of each case, and press two mini eggs into the centre.
  11. Chill in the fridge until set.
  12. Once the cakes are baked and cooled, and the nests are set, assemble by putting a small blob of icing in the centre of each cake and pressing a nest down on top of it.
  13. Store in an airtight container and eat as fresh as possible.
I'm sure more chocolate went round his mouth than in it!
I’m sure more chocolate went around his mouth than in it!

Thomas the choo choo birthday cake

Compare this.....
....with this! (Not bad I think)

It’s that time of year again, when I get to bake a special cake for Andrew and Tom (they share the same birthday). Last year for Andrew’s first birthday, I made a three-part cake in the shape of the letters ONE, because he wasn’t really into anything specific like a character from a book or TV programme. This year was very different – I had several characters to choose from, such as Brum, Fireman Sam, Noddy, Bob the builder, Postman Pat…… and Thomas the tank Engine. I decided that Thomas was the easiest to turn into a cake because of his shape, so I set to and created an edible Thomas.

The cake was a classic sponge cake, with the following ingredients:

  • 330g sugar
  • 330g margarine
  • 6 eggs
  • 330g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
The base cakes

I made this sponge mixture in the usual way, by creaming together the sugar and margarine, then beating in the egg, and finally adding the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and stirring until well combined. I poured this mixture into two loaf tins and 4 holes in a muffin tin. They were beaked at 180ºC (fan) for around 10 minutes for the muffin-sized sponges, and around 40 minutes for the loaf-sized sponges, until a knife inserted into the centre came out clean. I then let them cool fully before I started anything else.

My model, ready for copying, stood in front of the base cakes waiting for them to cool down.

Next it was time to cut the cakes up to model the shape of Thomas. I began by cutting the top off both loaf cakes, to make them flat on top. I kept one loaf as a rectangle to make the base of the train, and cut the other loaf and muffins up to use to build up the rest of the train. I stuck all the bits together using jam.

The base cakes cut and stuck together with jam to form the train shape.

Once this cake model was finished, I set about decorating it with icing to make it into Thomas. As I don’t have much time these days, fitting baking, modelling and icing in around feeding Joel, I bought ready-to-roll blue royal icing and ready-to-squeeze blue buttercream icing. I rolled out the royal icing to a couple of millimetres thick, and draped to over the cake. Amazingly, it fitted just nicely except a few jagged edges which I trimmed off before sticking the edges to the cake using jam. I made sure I pushed the icing into all the corners, so I didn’t lose any of the cake shape. I used the small amount of trimmings to make the little blue hump on his top a bit behind the funnel, by rolling them up into a ball and sticking it on.

Covered in blue icing - I later cut the roof icing off to stick on the back, and covered the roof in chocolate

The two ends didn’t get covered, but that was fine for the face end because it’s not blue, and for the back end I cut the rectangle of icing off the roof of the driver’s cab and stuck it on the back using buttercream icing. The roof of the cab is black, so I covered it with melted dark chocolate, as I did for the ring around the face at the front too. For the wheels, I used liquorice Catherine wheels and stuck them on with a blob of buttercream icing. For the very front of the train, I melted some white chocolate and added some red gel food colouring, and smeared it onto the cake. Once all the cake was covered, I used red and yellow writing icing to draw the lines and number one onto the body of the train, and blue to draw on his face features, with white chocolate buttons for eyes. The funnel was half a Quality Street chocolate covered toffee finger stuck on with a blob of buttercream icing.

Then all that was left to do was stick 2 candles in it and bring it out for tea on their birthday! Andrew immediately recognised it as Thomas the choo choo, which meant a lot to me – I’d done a good job it seems 🙂 Not only did it look like Thomas, but it tasted good too, and that’s the most important thing about a birthday cake.

Look it's a Thomas choo choo!!
Birthday boys blowing out the candles

Chocolate and marzipan star cupcakes

When an email popped into my inbox the other day, from a friend asking if anyone could bake cakes and/or sell them to help her and her sister raise money for charity, I thought that I could help. Baking is a great way to keep Andrew from getting bored and makes a change from the DVD and youtube watching that goes on at the moment. And we get to help raise some money, so it makes it even more worthwhile. The charity they’re fundraising for is Asthma UK, which supports asthma sufferers and their families. My friend’s sister is asthmatic herself, and despite this she is running the London marathon in April as part of her fundraising efforts too – now that sounds much harder than baking cakes! 

As it’s nearly Christmas, I decided to go for something a bit festive but not the traditional mince pies etc. as we already have so many of them at this time of year. I think it’s easier to sell little individual cakes rather than whole ones or slices of whole ones, so I went for cupcakes. They are chocolate sponge, with chocolate chips, and have a marzipan star on top (that’s the festive twist, in both flavour and shape!) The star is held on with a bit of buttercream icing, and on top of the star there is a little swirl of glittery purple icing to finish it off. The sponge has ground almonds in, partly to make it a nice moist sponge, partly to blend with the flavour of the almonds in the marzipan. Oh and the cupcake cases are silver, to make them extra sparkly for the festive theme.

Andrew enjoyed helping me – he stirred the mixture a few times at different stages, and he rolled out marzipan and cut out stars (his favourite job). During our baking session, I noticed that he has a new phrase to say: “Mummy do it” and, more often, “Andrew [A-tar] do it”. I’ve given the recipe below, if you’d like a bit of inspiration to have a go at your own Christmassy cupcakes. This made 16 cakes. Enjoy!


  • 170g sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (or ready done chic chips)
  • ready to roll yellow marzipan
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • glitter sugar


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and place 16 cupcake cases into muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add the four, cocoa, ground almonds and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream icing by mixing the butter and icing sugar until smooth and stiff; then add the splash of milk to make it a little less stiff and a good consistency to work with.
  10. Spoon a small blob of icing (at this point without colour) onto each cupcake; then add the glitter sugar to the remaining icing (I chose a purple glitter sugar).
  11. Roll out the marzipan to a few millimetres thick on a board dusted with icing sugar.
  12. Cut out 16 stars, and press them down quite firmly onto the top of each cake.
  13. Finish by putting the remaining glitter icing into a piping bag and piping a small swirl onto the top of each star.

Victoria sponge, with a twist

At the weekend we had arranged to meet up with some of my school friends and their families. When we planned this a while ago, we thought a barbecue at one of their houses would be a nice idea for a summer’s Sunday afternoon. As July went on, this looked less and less likely, and there was talk of relocation to a family pub somewhere. However, in the end the sun came out for the weekend, and we managed to have our barbecue. I was put in charge of bringing pudding (more my thing than meat at the best of times, let alone when I’m really not liking the smell of cooking!), so I decided to whip up a quick and easy classic British cake on the Saturday morning before we left to head over to the Midlands.

My choice was the Victoria sponge. You can’t really go too wrong with it, and it’s not too sweet or stodgy, so just what I like at the moment. Once the cake bit of it was baked, I packed the two halves into a tin, as my plan was to do the jam and icing sugar bits the next day at my parents house where we were staying. We had lunch at my parents’ on Saturday, and what should Mum bring out for pudding…. but a Victoria sponge that she’d baked! It was complete with candles for my birthday – a lovely surprise being as I’d almost forgotten about my birthday this year as it’s crept up so quickly with me being so busy. So this weekend became the weekend of Victoria sponges 🙂 Not a bad thing to have two of in my opinion. Mum had in fact put buttercream icing as well as jam in the middle, so not technically a classic Victoria sponge, rather one with a bit of a twist. As the jam she had was quite tart, not too sweet, the buttercream icing was a great complement to it, and I decided to make this addition to my cake for the Sunday too.

What I didn’t plan for was the hot weather on the Sunday! During the three-quarter hour car journey to our friends’ house at lunchtime, the two halves slid apart as the buttercream icing melted slightly and lost its grip on the jam in the sandwiched cake. When we arrived I had to do some patching up, but in the end, after a couple of hours in the cool kitchen, it didn’t look too bad. And it tasted good, that was the main thing!

OK, so not the most attractive cake I've ever baked, nor the most stunning photo of it, but I forgot to take a snap before the car melting incident, so this is how it looked after its cooling off period just before we ate it! The jam and buttercream are a bit messy, the icing sugar has gone into the top of the cake in patches, and the paper plate it's on looks awful. But it still tasted yummy, and that's the point of baking in my opinion.


  • 110g margarine
  • 110g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • jam for the filling
  • for the icing in the middle (optional): 75g margarine and 150g icing sugar
  • icing sugar to dust


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, and grease 2 medium round cake tins with margarine.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla essence and beat well until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour half the mixture into one cake tin and half into the other.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden and springy to touch.
  7. Let cool and remove from tins.
  8. Once cool, spread jam generously over one of the circles of cake.
  9. Mix the margarine and icing sugar for the icing together until you have a smooth paste. Spread the icing over the other cake, the one without the jam.
  10. Put the side with the jam onto the side with the icing to make a sandwich.
  11. Dust the top with icing sugar to finish.
  12. Store in cool place, especially if the weather is hotter than you’re used to!! Preferably just eat it though 🙂