For Little One's Birthday, Focus On Cake And Fun Will Follow
Copyright 1994 Miami Herald
From Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services
Selected and Prepared by Tribune Media Services
By Felicia Gressette
Without cake (and ice cream), you haven't really had a birthday party. So, we say,
focus on the cake and the fun will follow. Making a cake in your own kitchen, with the
birthday boy or girl, is an experience to remember for the child and the adult baker. It's a
great family tradition to start.
But you're too busy to bake a cake. You don't bake anymore. You don't know how to
bake. You're afraid the cake will flop. Relax. We have a recipe that is as easy as a mix and
tastes a lot better. (I promise: You measure the ingredients into the bowl of an electric
mixer and turn it on. Then you put it in a pan and bake it. That's all. It is delicious.) We
have a foolproof, no-cook frosting.
We have ideas for decorating that a child could do, and we've tested them with a
preschooler. This makes a homemade birthday cake possible even for kitchen klutzes.
And you will be a hero to your kid. It's a great feeling.
For more adventurous bakers, we have a light-as-air, old fashioned fudge cake with a
rich fudge icing. (This, I confess, was my birthday cake of choice as a child, and the recipe
is from my mother.)
While cake and ice cream are the high points of a kid's birthday bash, we're not
without other notions for easy ways to feed young party-goers.
We confess that most of these ideas are best suited to smallish gatherings, which we
much prefer to the mega-parties that seem to be the rage these days. If you are having
the entire kindergarten or Sunday school class or neighborhood or all of the above, we
say: Have your party at the park, order pizza to be delivered and spring for the cake from
But if your style, like ours, runs to a small bunch of friends, close family and the like,
you'll find plenty of ideas that work.
Here's our primer on parties:
Isn't the worst moment of a kid's party when you stand there, frantically trying to dig
ice cream out of the carton? Do this instead: Scoop the ice cream in advance, making
nice big balls. Roll them in coconut, chopped nuts, crunchy cereal or sprinkles, then set
on a wax paper-lined baking sheet or in paper baking liners. Freeze until firm, then
wrap in lots of plastic wrap. At party time, you're ready.
If you're using cones to serve, put a marshmallow or banana slice in the bottom of
the pointy-ended ones to prevent leaks.
To nobody's surprise, pizza is often the food of choice for kids' parties. You can order
it (the chains will deliver to a park if the party's not at your house), but making it can be
a fun activity to build the party around. You can buy the dough from a neighborhood
pizzeria or Italian market or buy pizza shells at the supermarket. You can make the
sauce or use bottled. You can let the kids grate the cheese, or you do it in advance. Have
an assortment of toppings -- pepperoni, cooked ground beef, veggies -- and let the kids
help assemble the pizzas. Then you bake them -- pizza takes about 10 minutes at 500
degrees. You could also start with frozen mini-pizzas and let each child have his or her
Offer juice, lemonade, water and/or milk as well as soft drinks so that children have
a choice. Mix orange sherbet and ginger ale for a fizzy, creamy treat that kids like. Or
offer jazzy, fizzy treats by mixing white grape juice with seltzer and crushed ice. (The
purple juice makes stains and the other parents will remember you with loathing every
time they do the laundry.)
We found this great and easy idea in ``The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book.''
Bake your favorite cake in a 9- by 13-inch pan and cool it. To decorate, make or buy
white frosting and frost the sides of the cake white. Tint the remaining frosting blue,
and frost the top. This is the water. Use a piece of graham cracker for the diving board
and use different colored Life Saver candies as float rings. If you're into miniatures, you
could add some palm trees, little people or a ladder. This cake was a huge hit with a
certain 4 1/2-year-old when we made it. It's fun to put together. It's another ``Penny
Again, make your favorite cake in a 9- by 13-inch pan. When it has cooled, carefully
cut into the shape of a fish. (See diagram.) Attach the ``fins'' with toothpicks, then frost.
Decorate (I used Betty Crocker tube icing from the grocery store), adding scales, eye and
Invite the kids to come in their pajamas and serve them pancakes, wonderful
pancakes studded with chocolate chips or raisins or coconut and topped with fruit or
chocolate syrup or even whipped cream. You can buy the syrups at the supermarket; try
apple pie filling as an option. We've included an easy pancake recipe.
You be the short-order cook (get a chef's hat) and make the 'cakes to order on an
electric griddle (borrow or rent). Serve milk and juice to drink.
We personally dislike those little bags full of candy and trinkets, but we know kids
love 'em. Still, we have a few other ideas:
How about Frisbees? Use them as plates, then let each kid take one home. You can
provide markers for kids to label their Frisbee or do it before the party yourself.
How about plastic sun visors you've decorated with fake jewels (use a hot glue gun)
and markers? The kids could make them at the party, or you could do them in advance
and use as place markers.
How about Polaroid pictures? You could set up a funky stage or have old jewelry,
hats, etc. Take the pictures, then insert them in little colored paper holders. (Easy to
make from construction or poster paper; just fold in half, then cut out window for
If pizza's not your thing, offer mini-hamburgers baked in buns (use frozen bread
dough or refrigerator biscuits; don't forget the ketchup before baking) or go with the old
hot dog in the crescent roll trick.
Yes, some children like salads, and most of them like to pick and choose their
favorite ingredients. So set up a miniature salad bar, with lettuce (iceberg is a favorite
with kids), shredded carrots, grated cheese and whatever else you want. Ditto for
dressings. This is a good idea when you're having pizza.
Peanut butter and jelly, cheese and turkey are good choices. Trim the crusts from the
bread (this is a party, after all) and cut the sandwiches into fun shapes, like triangles. Or
spread one side of the bread, then roll up and slice like a pinwheel.
These are cool and fresh and alluring to children. Alternate melon balls or chunks
with strawberries and pineapple chunks. Serve with a creamy, sweet dip, such as half
cream cheese and half yogurt whipped with orange or pineapple juice.
For appetizers at a child's birthday party, you can serve up crackers, pretzel sticks, nuts
if the kids are older, raisins, M&Ms and serve them in a flat-bottomed ice cream cones at
each place. Or set out in bowls for munching.
Serve each guest in an individual picnic basket -- buy quart-sized berry containers
from the supermarket, then line with a checkered napkin or bandanna. Fill with a
sandwich, a piece of fruit, some veggie sticks.
Put two paper plates together, top to top, and punch a few holes around the edge. Fill
with a sandwich, cookies, fruit, then tie with ribbons through the holes and write the
children's names on top.
If colored icings aren't to your liking, try melted chocolate as an always-available
option. Simply take a heavy-duty zipperlock plastic bag (such as for freezing), add a
handful or two of semisweet chocolate chips and melt in hot water or the microwave.
Knead to be sure chocolate is thoroughly melted, then snip off a tiny corner of the bag
and ``write'' with the melted chocolate.
A few years ago, we wrote: ``Who's 2?'' on a birthday cake (banana walnut layers,
cream cheese frosting), and it was dramatic and delish. And easy.
These are good resources for party-givers. All are paperbacks; we especially like the
Penny Whistle books.
``Birthday Parties'' by Vicki Lansky, The Book Peddlers, $6.95.
``The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book'' by Meredith Brokaw and Annie Gilbar,
Simon & Schuster, $14.
``The Children's Party Handbook'' by Alison Boteler, Barrons, $9.95.