One of the neighborhood kids turned one a few weeks ago, and I offered to do a cake as a gift for her party. Her parents are really easy going and basically gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted with the design. Which in theory sounds great, but in reality I very quickly overthought it and got myself thoroughly overwhelmed thanks to Pinterest. There are so many different directions to go: sweet pretty-in-pink, cutesy animal vibe, sassy and kind of grown up theme turned kid theme, and of course the go-to TV / movie character. Although the party itself didn’t really have a theme per say, the invitation had an elephant wearing a party hat on it. Mom confirmed that the birthday girl really likes animals, so we decided to go with an elephant theme. I still got a bazillion ideas from Pinterest for elephant cakes, but at least it was a bit more focused.
I found this pin and loved the simple whimsy of it:
The party was at a park, so I wanted to do cupcakes for everyone attending just for the ease of serving. I love the idea of giving kids smash cakes on their first birthdays because it’s the only time in your life when people actually encourage you to stick your face into cake. Gotta live that up while you’re still cute enough to get away with it.
Then I figured out my concept: a smash cake with an elephant piped on the top on a large sky blue foam board with cupcakes made to look like balloons. Simple, easy, but also whimsical and darling. The perfect first birthday cake.
I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe and two batches of my vanilla dairy-free frosting. The smash cake was made from two 6″ rounds, and I used a total of 24 cupcakes for the balloons. I also made a batch of a basic vanilla frosting to pipe the elephant and party hat, which is the exact same recipe as the one I linked to above, except that I leave out the marshmallow fluff. It then creates a stiffer frosting that is more conducive for piping.
First thing to do after the cakes are baked and the frosting is made is to divide and color your frosting. I decided to go with red, light blue, soft green, and bright yellow for my balloons, and used Americolor gel icing colors because they’re the best. They’re not paying me to say that; it’s my honest opinion. It doesn’t affect the taste of the frosting at all and provides the best color hands down of any other brands that I’ve tried. Unfortunately, unless you have a cake supply store near you, the only place to buy it is online because Hobby Lobby doesn’t sell them anymore for reasons I can’t comprehend. Hobby Lobby sells a brand called Sunnyside Up Bakery, and I hate the icing colors. The consistency is really runny, the colors are not as vibrant, and it leaves the frosting tasting gross. Don’t even get me started on Wilton.
Divide the first batch of marshmallow fluff frosting into four equal parts. This is going to be the frosting for your balloon cupcakes, so color one red, one blue, one green, and one yellow (or whatever colors you are using for your balloons).Then take half of the second batch of marshmallow fluff frosting and color it a pale pink for the sides of the smash cake. Now take about half a cup of the last batch of frosting (the one that does not have marshmallow fluff in it), and color it grey. You do this by adding a very small amount of black icing color with a toothpick. Be careful to not add too much; a little bit goes a long way with that stuff. You’ll also need a small amount of this frosting to be colored pink for the elephant’s party hat. I chose to make it a slightly darker pink because I didn’t want it to get lost with all the other pink going on.
Make sure to cover each bowl of frosting with a lightly damp paper towel to keep it soft while you’re working. You don’t want any water dripping into it though, so really wring out the water before covering them.
The vanilla cake recipe that I used for these normally doesn’t dome very much, but this time I did have to level the layers of the smash cake a bit. Do your best to get the two layers as flat as you can. Here’s a link to a great blog post that shows step by step how to level your cakes with pictures and a video (That blog is excellent for novice cake decorators. She posts a lot of really great tutorials on helpful techniques).
For ease of getting the cake in and out of the fridge while decorating, I always use two cake boards: one that is the same size as the cake that the cake sits on directly, and one that is one size bigger than the cake, that I tape to the bottom of the first cake board using packing tape doubled over itself. That way I have something to hold that I can see as I’m moving it from my turntable to the fridge. I also use a piece of packing tape to attach the bigger cake board to my turntable so that there’s no chance of it sliding off while I’m icing, because that would be devastating. I learned this cake board trick from Krazy Kool Cakes. They have a YouTube channel that is full of wonderful tutorials on cake decorating techniques. If you are a beginning cake decorator, you need to check them out!
Once your cake boards are taped together, put a dollop of white icing on the 6″ cake board, and place the first layer on. Then using some of the white marshmallow frosting, cover the top of the cake. Once the frosting is nice and even, place the second cake on top. Now crumb coat the layered cake with the white non-marshmallow fluff frosting. The marshmallow fluff frosting does not crust, so it’s important that you crumb coat with the right frosting so the crumbs will be locked in. Once it’s crumb coated, put it in the fridge to set up.
While the smash cake is chilling, start working on your balloons. I did not use a piping tip, because I wanted them to have a smooth balloon look to them. I went for a sort of flattened dome with the frosting, wanting something in between a dome and a flat top. To achieve this, I piled the frosting on the cupcake using my flat spatula and made it dome in the middle, creating a sort of hill.
Then I gently flattened the dome by lightly pressing on it with my icing spatula and turning the cupcake around. Holding the spatula perpendicular to the cupcake, I then gently smoothed the side of the cupcake with short, swooshing motions.
Icing all 2 dozen cupcakes took longer than I had expected it to. Getting it perfectly smooth was challenging, but worth it for the overall look.
It will take about 20 minutes for the crumb coat to harden. Once it does, take it out so you can ice it. I iced the top of the cake first because I wanted to keep it white, while using pink on the side. Originally I wanted to do this “petal” effect on the side of the cake using just the pink (or pink, white and grey would have been darling as well).
I thought of the pink/white/grey combo at the very last minute and was quickly running out of time when I was frosting this cake, so I tried adding pink and white into one piping bag to at least get a two-toned color effect. However, a huge amount of the pink slid down to the end of the bag, so the white didn’t come out until halfway through the cake. I ended up scraping it all off and just going for a smooth look anyways, because the frosting was way too soft for this technique; it was not holding it’s shape.
I need to work on that recipe so that I can get it to do basic piping. It’s so tasty; I’m not ready to give up on it yet.
Although simple, the pink added a nice pop to the smooth texture.
Then it was on to the elephant. It’s really quite a simple shape when you break it down; I practiced a bit on the white board but got it down fairly quickly. Using a toothpick, I drew the outline of the elephant on the top of the cake so that I would have a guide when piping the frosting on.
Using a #2 icing tip, I piped my grey frosting along the shape I had created and filled it in.
Then using a toddler knife, I carefully smoothed the grey frosting.
Switching icing bags I cut a small sliver off the end instead of dirtying another icing tip and I piped on a pink birthday hat. Then I added a little ruffle at the base of the hat and a little pom-pom at the top. I chose to use white nonpareils to accent the hat, but if you’re worried about them being a choking hazard, you could easily pipe a few dots of white frosting on there, or leave it solid pink. I also decided to go with a pre-made candy eye for time’s sake, but again, that could easily be piped on with frosting if you’d rather avoid giving one year olds small bits of candy. I forgot to do this until literally moments before leaving when my husband pointed out to me that the little guy didn’t have an ear, but you’ll also want to pipe an ear on for him! And of course, he needs a little tail.
To give the cake a finished look, I piped dollops using a large open star tip along the rim. I achieved the two-toned frosting effect by taking the separate icing bags that had the pink and grey frostings and putting them into a 3rd icing bag side by side.
Like I said, I was down to the wire with this cake (like I am with pretty much all of my cakes). So I put my awesome hubby on placing the balloon cupcakes onto the sky-blue foam board. I wanted them to form a shape that resembled a large balloon, like the balloons in Up, with a ribbon going from the bottom cupcake to the elephant’s nose, giving the illusion that the elephant’s holding the balloons. I gotta say, he nailed the shape! He even got it on his first try. Don’t forget to put a dollop of icing on the bottom of each cupcake after you’ve figured out exactly where you want them, or they will slide all over the place.
I am so happy with how this turned out!
The birthday girl had a smashing good time too.