Self-taught baker, blogger, and mother of five Amanda Rettke created her first surprise-inside cake four years ago. Since then, she has crafted countless confections that reveal rainbow hearts, butterflies, balloons, and even houses (!). The busy baker also homeschools her children, writes for FoodNetwork.com, and recently released her debut book, Surprise-Inside Cakes. Amanda’s recipes range from simple to intricate, so you can recreate her inventive designs no matter your level of kitchen experience. Read on for her tips for whipping up better-than-the-bakery desserts—it’s a piece of cake!
You were first inspired to bake a surprise-inside cake while preparing for a potluck. Where in the world did this idea come from?
To put it simply, I wanted to bring something completely different. It was Halloween and I knew everyone would have run-of-the-mill seasonal desserts. I knew I could make a pumpkin-shaped cake, but that wasn’t unique enough. When I saw a few white cupcakes sitting on my counter, the idea just hit me: pop them inside, in the shape of a candle. Honestly, I was shocked that it worked. And, ironically, that cake never made it to the potluck—we ate the entire thing at home!
And you had never done this before?
That’s right. In the kitchen, I had no formal—or even informal—training whatsoever. In fact, my husband did all the cooking when we first got married. So I had to teach myself everything. I was so terrible that the first time I tried to make a cake that I forgot to add some of the wet ingredients. Whoops!
So what’s the process like in creating one of these confections?
I use three general techniques. The first is deconstruction, when I stack multiple layers, cut shapes out, and fill in the holes with another piece of cake or a cake mixture [Rainbow Cake, page 41]. The second is batter manipulation, where I place different colored batters into the pan in a specific pattern [Leopard Cake, page 109]. And then there’s the twice-bake method [Candle Rose Cake, page 131], where I stick hand-molded cake shapes into new batter.
Okay, you’ve got me hooked. How do I begin?
Twice-baked is where to start. Cut a design from a sheet cake (like the hearts in my Candle Rose Cake) and place it in a clean cake pan. Then surround your shapes with cake batter, which acts as insulation and keeps everything moist.
And once I’ve mastered the twice-baked method, what’s next?
Move on to a layer cake. It seems simple, but it really does challenge your cutting, leveling, and frosting skills. Plus you’ll learn how to physically handle a cake and, in turn, build a strong comfort level required to move forward with other designs.
That’s easy enough. But with the other, more intricate cakes, it seems there is a lot of measuring and geometry involved…
Actually, there are only a few cakes that I’ve measured beforehand. Most others require such a trial and error process that I typically just get right into it: I dig in, cut out shapes, and add new colors and textures. To me, cake is a form of art.
With all this creativity, do your kids like to join in on the fun?
This is one of the best things you can with your kids. For my kids, the idea of making a cake and then playing with it is thrilling. I’ve also found ways to incorporate baking into home-school lessons: measuring, cutting, and building three-dimensional designs.
I can see beginners (like myself) getting frustrated when their cakes aren’t executed perfectly. Did this happen to you? How did you overcome it?
I’ve had more failures than successes by far, yet we’ve always found a way to hide the evidence … haha. But in all seriousness, I had more than 60 cakes that didn’t make it into the book. Because I’ll have an idea that I then try to create and it turns out nothing like it’s supposed to. For an important event, practice making your cake at least once ahead of time. Get a sense of what you need to improve on when you go to polish the final product before the big day. The plus side is that no matter what the result, you get to eat cake!
One of my favorite lines from the introduction is: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be appreciated.” What does this mean to you?
You know, I really believe that mantra applies to all avenues of life, but especially with baking. There is a great debate between using boxed mixes and from-scratch recipes, but I just can’t embrace choosing sides. In my opinion the same amount of love goes into both. No one cares if you jazzed-up a store-bought treat or if your homemade cake slides halfway off in the car on the way there. When people bake and share their creations, they are simply spreading joy.
Where do you find the time to “practice, practice, practice,” as you advise, while balancing a high-traffic blog and busy family life?
The truth is everything doesn’t stay balanced. A typical day for me: We eat breakfast together as a family, and then the kids and I start school—sometimes that includes me holding a screaming baby, or changing a dirty diaper. Each day can be a struggle just as much as it can be a blessing. I can’t strive for perfection, but I do strive to make it through my day with peace. To us, the things that matter most are learning something at the end of every day, and figuring out how to be better the next.
CALLING ALL PARENTS: We want to see your most creative birthday parties.
If you threw a stellar party for your child’s birthday, here’s your chance to show it off.
Send photos of your cake, DIY décor, and kids’ activities to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in a future issue of Parents and/or on parents.com.
Don’t forget to include your full name and contact information, a link to your blog or website, and a brief description of the party, and why you chose the theme.
Created by author Norman Bridwell and published by Scholastic, Clifford was once the runt of his litter but he grew and transformed through the love of his owner, 8-year-old Emily Elizabeth. Since 1963, over 70 Clifford books have sold 126 million copies and been published in 13 languages.
I’m not a crafter. But I am cheap. And after splurging on a generator for my house when Hurricane Sandy hit last week, I decided to do a little DIY for my son Grant’s 4th birthday.
The party theme was a Batman birthday — I used last year’s Halloween decorations (cut-out bats hanging by fishing wire) as the main decoration, hanging them from the ceiling and even sticking them to the walls. And I bought a big piece of poster board and had my husband create a Pin the Tail on Batman game. There’s no tail but it still worked OK.
But the most important part of the party (at least as far as I was concerned) was creating a Batman cake. I’m a decent cook so I figured I could do this. But when I googled “batman cake” and looked for ones on Pinterest, they were all made out of fondant or in fancy shapes. I just didn’t have the patience. I decided to hit my local Michael’s and see what else I could do instead. I stumbled upon this Wilton product: Sugar Sheets. All you do is cut out the image that you want and plop it on the cake. And you can eat it too! I thought it turned out pretty well! Grant and his friends did too. It was demolished in 10 minutes. Which is also why I’m grateful I saved the money and did it myself!
If you’re looking for inspiration for fun crafts to try out this weekend or ideas for some simple, kid-friendly recipes to cook next week, you’ve come to the right place. This is the first installment of our new weekly Pinterest roundup, where we’ll feature the most popular pins from all the Parents pinboards. Check them out below, and leave a comment telling us what you like to see most on Pinterest!
Bring the kid’s menu home with these low-fat chicken strips. They only take ten minutes to prep, and you can make them even more fun by serving it with your kid’s favorite dipping sauces. The best part? Since they’re baked instead of fried, each serving only has 6 grams of fat!
To make this adorable ladybug, have your child dip yarn into a blend of equal parts water and glue before wrapping the sticky strands around two different-sized balloons. Let them dry completely before popping the balloons and adding antennae made from chenille stems and black felt dots to the body.
These healthy Blueberry-Banana Stacks are guaranteed to make snack time more enjoyable. Get the little ones to help pile each treat up, and watch them disappear as fast as they can make them.
Looking for custom invitations for your kid’s next birthday extravaganza? This cupcake invite is only one of the many free templates you can choose from, and we’ve made it easy to make them your own. Just download each pattern, fill in your information, and print them out!
Sign up for our free birthday newsletter! Get personalized party tips and ideas specific to your kid’s age delivered to your inbox each week leading up to the big day.
The creative force is strong with Tammy Bertrand. She hosted an out-of-this-world Star Wars birthday for her six-year-old son, Joey. The Jedis-in-training earned light sabers by playing games, such as docking Darth Vader with a water balloon. Defeating the Empire works up an appetite, and the party guests loved to refuel with Tammy’s homemade Yoda cupcakes.
Tammy shared her tips for making her yummy Yoda. Whip up a batch of your favorite cupcakes, then follow our instructions to make the face.
Candy eyeballs (find them in the baking section)
Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum
Add a few drops of green food coloring to vanilla frosting. Mix until even.
Once cupcakes are cooled, frost with green frosting using a knife or spatula.
Fill a pastry bag or Ziploc with green frosting and make two round dots where the eyes will go. Add a wriggly line above the eyes for character, and below the eyes for the mouth.
Press eyeballs onto small rounds of frosting so that frosting comes up around the edges.
Cut gum pieces in half and snip one corner from each to create a point. Stick to the sides of the cupcakes.
Make sure to read our Tech Savvy Parents blog by Leticia Barr — she has some family- and budget-friendly ideas for celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday with fun online activities. March is also National Reading Month, so get your kids hooked on books with classic Seuss favorites such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Horton Hears a Who! Or plan a trip to the colorful Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure in Universal Orlando — where favorite characters, scenes, and places from the books come to life.
Update: Play a matching game online, The Many Languages of Dr. Seuss, to see if you can match the English versions of his book titles with the translations in other languages. You may need to print the image out and use a pen or pencil to draw lines between the titles. After you’re done, find the answers at www.smartling.com/seuss.
What are your favorite Dr. Seuss books? Which ones do your kids love?
Tomorrow, February 29th, is Leap Day! As you probably know, this date rolls around just once every four years, so if it happens to mark your child’s birthday (one in 1,461 people are born on Leap Day, with about 200,000 across the country and 4 million worldwide), you’ll want to be sure to make the occasion extra-special and memorable. We’ve got tons of creative ideas on how to do just this, along with helpful suggestions on when and how to celebrate your little one’s special day on those non-leap years. See it all in our new Make a Leap Birthday Special slide-show at Parents.com. And a special Happy Birthday shout-out to all the Leap Day babies!