I am not a crafty mom. I do not own, nor do I ever plan to own, a glue gun. If I bring something "homemade" to the bake sale, that means I actually took it out of the grocery store packaging and put it on a different plate. At home.
That suits me 363 days out of the year.
But on my sons' birthdays — well, watch out. Hide the glue guns and the cake pans, because I go a bit insane. I will stay up till 3 a.m. pinning a million ideas for their parties and then, unlike my normal course of action, I will actually try to MAKE those things.
There's one catch: My surge in ambition does not come with an increase in skill. I don't suddenly know how to use fondant or papier-mâché. So I've become somewhat of an expert at spotting projects that deliver the "wow" factor but require low levels of domestic talent.
Here are a few of my favorites — minimum effort for maximum impact.
1. Construction site cake
This one is brilliant because if your cake comes out all wonky or collapses a bit when you try to get it out of the pan, it's all part of the plan! Whoever first thought of this concept deserves a medal.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle apples
These are so clever and so easy, featuring green apples and fruit roll-ups for the masks. The only special material you need are candy eyes, which are sold in large packs — but be warned that when you have leftover candy eyes, all food will start to look like it needs a face. Every sandwich that came out of my kitchen for three months after the party had eyes on it.
Be doubly warned that these apples, while cute, should never be served in place of a cake. I can't be responsible for any damages that ensue if you attempt to serve these apples to a dozen 5-year-old boys who were expecting a traditional sugary treat. Safety first, people.
3. Barbie cake
I've never made this personally, but it looks pretty brilliant. Make a bundt cake, stick a princess Barbie in the hole in the middle, slap some pink icing on it, and bam, you've got yourself a princess cake. Ah, who am I kidding? Get the light blue icing. You know it's going to be an Elsa cake.
(Note: Judging from tutorials on Pinterest, making a princess cake can actually be quite complicated, requiring several cakes cut into various layers. I say, try my bundt cake version instead, spackle with extra icing, and make it work.)
4. Elmo cake.
I saw this online and thought, "I can't do that..." but then I did! The keys: an Elmo-face-shaped baking pan and plastic Elmo eyes, nose and mouth. You can buy those online. It's also possible to make Elmo's features out of fondant, but if you knew how to do that, you wouldn't be reading this list, now, would you?
5. Pirate cake.
Because every kid goes through a pirate phase, this is a good one to have up your sleeve. White icing with blue food coloring, plus Swedish Fish for the sea, crushed cookies for the sand, foil-wrapped chocolate coins for the treasure, and a Playmobil pirate figurine or LEGO or whatever you have lying around the house. Now it's a parrrrrrrrty, matey!
5. Pizza cake
Everyone knows the two food groups of any children's birthday party are pizza and cake, so why not combine them in one glorious concoction? Red icing for the "sauce" and grated white chocolate for the cheese make this one easier than it looks. (Pictured: My son's 5th birthday. Now THAT is the look you want when you bring out the cake.)
6. Basketball cake
Another one I haven't tried, but it looks pretty easy. And even if it doesn't end up looking as perfect as the pictures, which, of course, it will not, you've still got a cake covered in candy, so you really can't go wrong. When in doubt, add more candy.
7. Edible image cake toppers
This is as close as you can come to just Googling the theme of your child's party and having a cake appear. You make a cake (or buy one from the grocery store), then press one of these edible image sheets into the frosting, and bam! You are the cake boss. It's easy to find almost any character you can think of on Amazon, Etsy, or at your favorite cake-supply retailer.
Whatever you do, the important thing to remember while making any kind of cake for a children's party is that THE CHILD DOES NOT CARE. I mean, they care deeply about cake, in general. At least mine do. But as long as you supply some sort of sugary baked good, they're really not going to notice if Elmo's nose looks a little wonky or if your icing letters are shaky. And, honestly, whatever you make, your child is going to spray spittle all over it when he or she blows out the candles. But they'll have a great, memorable birthday, and isn't that what it's all about anyway?