Today, Ayesha from Words N Needles is sharing ideas for kids helping with parties, so I thought I’d share Ella’s homemade sandcastle cake that she helped make for her birthday.
For Ella’s birthday, I gave her the choice of me making a cake, me buying a cake, or us making a cake together. I’ll admit that when she chose to make a cake together, I was tempted to buy one as a back-up, but I think her homemade sandcastle cake turned out beautifully, and I’m so glad that I gave her the opportunity to make her own birthday cake.
I wanted to share her cake today, not just out of pride (however, I am sooo proud of her work ethic in completing this cake) but because I hope to inspire you to trust your children in the kitchen and with bigger projects like this, because the possibilities for working through work ethic issues, learning about commitment and pride in a job well done, and the practical application of problem solving skills.
Maybe for your child, their project will occur outside of the kitchen – maybe they want to try building something out of wood in the backyard – but either way, supporting them and giving them the tools for success is something that I can guarantee you won’t ever regret.
Stage one of this project happened where most modern projects start now: Pinterest. We found this sandcastle cake tutorial from Living Well Spending Less (a blog that is quickly becoming a favourite of mine) and decided to try it, adding a few tweaks to make the project easier for an almost-four year old to manage.
Ella didn’t construct this cake completely independently. We were originally going to do everything in one day, but I wanted to let the cake “set up” overnight, so I constructed the layers of the cake by myself.
We used boxed confetti cake mix and baked the following cake dimensions together:
- 4 cupcakes
- Two (2) 9″ x 13″ rectangle cakes (one box of cake mix each)
- One (1) 9″ x 9″ square cake
After allowing the layers to cool, I trimmed the tops of the cakes to ensure that the layers were as even as possible so that they would sit together evenly (and not result in a crooked cake) and used my homemade chocolate buttercream icing to layer the cakes.
Next, I trimmed the cupcakes to ensure that they would be flush with the sides of the cake, and then secured them in place with a dab of chocolate buttercream, and then by inserting a chopstick straight through to the bottom of the cake.
I did a quick “crumb coat” with my homemade vanilla buttercream and left the cake to set overnight. A crumb coat is that first layer of icing that always gets bits of crumbs stuck in it — it’s to prevent cake crumbs from making their way into the final layer of icing.
The next day, we set our cake decorating station up in the center of the living room and decided to have an easy, relaxed day with cake decorating as an ongoing project throughout the day. Ella took breaks from her project whenever she felt the need, and returned to it whenever she felt ready to get started again. While there was a time frame of completing the cake that day, by creating a loose and stress-free environment around her project, she was able to really take ownership of it for herself.
(I should also mention that we had the air conditioning on so that the icing didn’t melt during this long decorating process.)
She started off by adding a fresh layer of homemade vanilla buttercream for her “sand” to stick to.
We made edible sand by combining the following in a food processor:
- 8 graham cracker cookies
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup pink sugar crystals (to remind us of our trip to Bermuda and its pink sand beaches)
Applying the edible sand coating was tricky and required patience. We used a spoon and our clean fingers to gently press the edible sand mixture up against the fresh buttercream and have it stick.
This process was probably the most time-consuming task of decorating the cake, and was a bit trickier than it looks.
Once the sand coating was completely applied, we frosted 4 sugar ice cream cones and coated them in the edible sand, before adding them ontop of the cupcakes (with the chopstick running through). These formed the “turrets” (cone-shaped towers) of our castle. (Yes, I had to include some history and language in the project.)
Next, we inserted toothpicks in several large marshmallows, wet the marshmallows with water, and dipped them in the edible sand. Ella placed them around the top perimeter of the sandcastle to make “battlements” (those square bumps on top of a castle).
I surprised Ella with a few extra decorations, including these cute Little Mermaid icing decorations — we left out the Flounders and used the starfish and seashell decorations, attaching them to the cake with a dab of buttercream.
And then we also sprinkled on several chocolate rocks and pearl decorations.
We stored the cake in the fridge overnight before serving it at Ella’s Mermaid Birthday Party, but that was more because I didn’t want to place anything overtop of the cake that might touch and ruin the decorations — as long as your house isn’t too hot, the icing shouldn’t budge if left out at room temperature.
What do you think? Would you let your child help decorate their own birthday cake?
What other long term project do you think your child might enjoy?
And, if you’d like to receive our posts via e-mail, you can subscribe to our daily or weekly newsletters: