We want our kids’ birthday cakes to be perfect. I mean, you only turn 5 (or 7 or 9 or 13) once, right? But it can be daunting trying to copy so much of the beautiful stuff online created by trained pastry chefs. See also: Cakewrecks. So on behalf of our birthday gift guide sponsor, the cool cakes in your grocery store bakery and freezer case, we tracked down some of the most creative cake decorating ideas that we could actually do ourselves.
Hey, we’re busy! We’re all for saving time by buying an affordable but yummy store-bought cake then adding a personal touch that goes beyond writing happy birthday in gel frosting. Hope you find these 18 fun ideas inspiring too!
1. Create flowers using licorice twists.
Who knew Twizzlers could be so sophisticated? We are blown away by this DIY floral cake decorating idea using colored licorice, found at Handmade Charlotte. It’s as simple as cutting slices of candy and arranging them, and there are tons of great tips on the site. Very cool idea for older kids who love candy but don’t want a cake that’s too babyish. You can do this!
2. Write a message in gummy letters.
This fun cake covered in gummy letters we found at Parents is perfect for toddlers and early readers. (Provided they’re old enough to eat gummies, of course.) It would also be cool to use one color letter to spell out a special message, for a kid of any age.
3. Decorate the cake sides in a geometric candy pattern.
Okay, so this geometric patterned cake decorating idea by Sprinkle Bakes definitely takes more work than some of our other ideas, but it’s more about time than expertise. Such an easy way to upgrade a store-bought cake with M&Ms, jelly beans, or Sixlets. Just be sure to follow her instructions, because if you try to do an entire diagonal stripe at a time instead of going by row, you’ll go nuts.
4. Ring the cake with colorful lollipops.
We’re all for pretty cake decorating, especially when it’s this easy. This chic, modern look is achieved by simply decorating a store-bought cake with lollipops, as shown at Minted’s blog. Just be sure to get the round ones and stick with a palette; we think Chupa Chups would be awesome. Oh, and make sure there’s at least one for each kid at the table — trust us on that one.
5. Add big, bright color with rock candy.
This rainbow cake from Studio DIY, shows just how super easy it is to stick a rainbow of rock candy sticks into the top of your cake (easily available through our affiliate Amazon or your local candy store.) They remind us of big, colorful sparklers. This would probably look best on a smaller round cake, where you can cluster them together in the center for a lot of impact.
6. Cover every inch of your cake with gummy bears.
Clearly the whole decorating with candy thing is a great easy cheat, allowing you to do things you couldn’t do without a ton of fondant and a degree in pastry. Fancy Edibles offers this adorable idea for decorating a cake with gummy bears by covering every inch. In fact, decorating will be the easy part; the hard part will be keeping little fingers from plucking the bears off before the party has started.
Related: The coolest birthday party gifts for 5-year olds
7. Make a rainbow out of candy.
With some thick whipped cream and sour rainbow candy from Airheads, you can turn simple white frosted cake into a unicorn playground, a My Little Pony world, or just a really lovely rainbow cake, like this one from La Receta de la Felicidad. So smart! Our tip: the rainbow strip will wilt as it gets warm, so keep it in the fridge until it’s close to serving time. When you take an ice cream cake out of the freezer to thaw ten minutes before serving, pop it on top of that nice cool bed of frosting, and you’re ready to go!
8. Spell out the birthday child’s name with blocks.
Not everything on your cake has to be edible. We love the idea of using something for younger kids that they’ll keep and play with for a long time after the party has ended, like these personalized wooden blocks from Little Sapling Toys. Of course, if your child’s name is Sarah Caroline, you’re going to need a pretty big cake, ha. We’d recommend cutting small squares of parchment paper to put under the blocks so the buttery icing doesn’t ruin them– and also we feel a little better about natural blocks like these if they’re going to be around food.
9. Top a cake with toy animals and make a pet party
We’re swooning over this pretty cake decorating idea with toy animals from Squeak and Squirrel that is so perfect for a store-bought cake. You can add tiny animal-sized printable party hats (she offers a free template) to create a more festive party scene if you’re inclined; and even add touches like these free printable buntings from Dear Evie. While this cake design genius makes a whole table from wafer cookies along with mini cakes out of Life Savers and dollops of frosting, don’t feel you have to go all Pinterest-crazy. The animals in party hats are plenty cute for us.
10. Decorate with your kid’s favorite minifigs.
If your kid has a favorite theme in mind, whatever your child’s obsession—Minecraft, Star Wars, elves —decorate a cake with some small LEGO constructions or favorite minifigs and bring it to life easier than trying to make a Millenium Falcon out of frosting. The best part is that your child can keep and play with the toys later. Plus, we have a soft spot for a minifig’s uncanny ability to hold a candle. (Really!) If your theme is more unusual, you can also search eBay for rare characters like this LEGO birthday man minifig.
11. Use your kids’ favorite toys as cake toppers.
Because no post on birthday cake decorations for kids would be complete without a Frozen-themed cake, we couldn’t help but include this amazing one by Bubbly Nature Creations. We love the idea of saving time by buying the cake, then just making this clever blue ice candy from her instructions. And instead of cheap, disposable Frozen cake toppers, add an existing set of Anna and Elsa toys on top and now you’ve got part of the birthday kid’s gift, too. Of course you can grab any little figurines at all that your kids love, whether they’re Polly Pockets or little super heroes.
12. Make a construction cake with a toy dump truck filled with crushed chocolate cookies.
We totally love this construction themed cake decorating idea from Yelena Sweets, which is a genius way to top a store-bought chocolate cake. Throw a few chocolate cookies in your food processor (or put them in a plastic bag and crush them), then fill the bed of a toy dump truck to make it look like dirt. It’s a great shortcut for an otherwise really impressive, but really time-consuming homemade cake idea on her site. And we think her idea for rimming the base with candy pebbles is inspired. Definitely visit the site for great tips and details.
13. Set a tiara on top of a princess cake.
In our experience, princess parties can easily get, er, high maintenance. Try buying a store-bought cake (with the requisite pink frosting accents, of course) then instead of order a castle built out of fondant, simply decorate the birthday cake with a real tiara as Kellie O’Brien shows here. So smart! Sparkly! Easy! You might even add sparklers instead of candles for a true royal celebration.
14. Write a birthday message on your cake with pom pom ball toppers.
This DIY pom pom cake banner tutorial from Momtastic is such a fun, happy way to doctor a cake from the grocery store and make it feel more homemade. Our hint: make it more personal by doing a child’s first initial instead. Because we’d go crazy trying to hot glue ISABELLA with pom poms and pipe cleaners.
15. Bling out store-bought birthday candles.
If you’re throwing a party that’s all about glitz and glamour, we love the idea of decorating store-bought birthday candle numbers like this fun idea at Banman Land. But it doesn’t just have to be about rhinestones; for sports lovers, glue on ribbon and beads in favorite team’s colors. For a cars party, glue on little wheels or paint the candle to look like a black road with a double yellow line up the middle. Just be careful about glitter which looks awesome, but doesn’t taste so great.
16. Use straws to hang a birthday banner
Serve your guests drinks with colorful, old-fashioned stripey paper straws at the party, but save two to hang a brightly colored banner on the cake first to get the look of this gorgeous DIY carnival cake topper from Jordan at Oh Happy Day. Of course she’s a brilliant design blogger and crafter, and if you don’t have the time to pop magnets out of alphabet letters, or own a dremel tool for that matter, then you can get a similar effect by cutting out letters from colorful card stock, or even looking for fun paper. Shortcut: buy a cake topper banner, slide the sticks inside the straws. However it’s Jordan’s always thoughtful details, like candy peanuts and the little tiger toy topper that make this awesome.
17. Create toppers with photos of the birthday boy or girl.
Especially for a first birthday, your birthday party theme can be the one thing that matters most–your own child. This photo cake topper tutorial from Catch My Party, is just wonderful, and all it really requires is a few good straight-on shots of your kiddo and some wooden skewers. Not that parents take too many photos of their kids these days. If you’re inclined, top it off with those adorable party hats to bring some color to the cake.
18. Use balloons instead of candles on a windy day
If wind makes lighting candles hard for an outdoor party — we’ve been there, sigh — skip them and decorate the cake with small balloons, like the size used for water balloons and ribbons. Doesn’t this birthday cake decorating idea from Design Megillah look so great? And really, it just shows you how even a plain white ice cream cake from the freezer cake can be decorated to be elegantly simple with hardly any effort at all.
Thanks so much to our sponsor, the cool cakes in your grocery store bakery and freezer case, for making it easier for parents to get something yummy and pretty on the table without too much effort or money. In fact, visit the site for a coupon to save $5 on your next cake!
Also be sure to visit our Ultimate Birthday Gift Guide for the coolest ideas for kids of all ages.