Lisa Faulkner’s Birthday Cake 101

Lisa Faulkner
Image: Chris Terry

Super baker Lisa Faulkner shares brilliant ideas, sage advice and clever cheats for making impressive birthday cakes with minimal effort.

Last year my daughter asked for a horse cake. I thought, oh my gosh, how am I going to do a horse? Then, actually, maybe I don’t make a horse but I go online and buy a beautiful plastic figure horse. Kids just want it to be exciting, colourful or themed on what they love. It doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s not a competition. This whole thing of ‘what do my children want?’ is a bit silly. They just want to say “wow!”. We get very frightened but some cream cheese frosting and a bit of glitter can make a simple cake look really pro.

Layers make the simplest cake more impressive. If you double your batch and do 4 tins it’s safer – if one doesn’t work you still have 3 to choose from.

I did a three-tiered chocolate cake – my mum’s recipe – I doubled the butter icing and piped pink rose swirls. It sounds difficult but it was so easy. Add two candy straws and cardboard flags and some ribbon and the result was a horse who had won a race.

My sister has three children. She doesn’t really like cooking (though she’s a great cook) but she makes amazing cakes and comes up with the most fantastic ideas. For my niece’s 14th she made a big hamburger. Two sponges with a chocolate sponge for the burger, then fondant icing – yellow for the cheese, green for the lettuce and red for ketchup. She put it on a red checked board. It looked incredible but actually took very little effort. That’s the key.

I recently bought a big rectangle tin which so far has made a football pitch and a treasure trove – again some figures from the internet or a couple of necklaces from Claire’s Accessories to put on top means the actual cake can be really simple. If you have nothing to dress it with, you can make a batch of cupcakes and put them on top of any cake.

Ultimately, don’t forget that cakes are there to be eaten! So just make them delicious, use a tried and tested recipe, and don’t over cook them. Five minutes before the recipe suggests I always check my cake.

Lisa Faulkner

Lisa’s top tips:

  • Keep it simple. If you bake a straight forward square or rectangle cake you can buy fondant icing if you don’t want to make it.
  • Most of the time I make butter cream because it takes no time at all. I always make double so I’ve got enough for a crumb layer under the fondant. I use roughly 2kg of icing sugar for one cake. Just swirl it on.
  • For colour I always use Sugarflair – you can’t scrimp on colour. If you’re using normal food colour for red velvet cake it always ends up brown. The Sugarflair colours are beautiful and it doesn’t have a weird aftertaste.
  • The rectangle tin is by far the best thing I’ve ever bought: great for brownies, flapjacks and the best base for cakes. Mine is 8” by 12” by 3”.
  • Baking in a Pyrex or pudding basin lined with greaseproof paper is very easy and gives a great shape for a skirt for a princess or half a planet.
  • Use royal icing: it’s easier to work with than fondant. You can use marzipan – it’s lovely to handle and has a bobbly texture. I love marzipan and my daughter likes to make berries though she won’t actually eat them. It’s an acquired taste.
  • Make a sponge or chocolate cake that you know, don’t experiment at the last minute.
  • If you have a busy week planned remember that cakes freeze very well, sponge cake in particular. Just wrap them in clingfilm and then defrost the day before you decorate it.
  • If you’re planning to do something spectacular use a fruitcake as it’s really sturdy and you can make it weeks before and really throw it about and it won’t break. If you plan to add loads on top, it will be the best base.
  • Chocolate butter icing or any chocolate icing hides a multitude of sins. I’ve broken cakes before and managed to stick
    them back together. A bit of chocolate ganache goes a long way.
Lisa Faulkner
Tea & Cake With Lisa Faulkner is available in all good bookshops and online at Amazon. All images © Chris Terry. 
Lisa Faulkner is a cookery author, TV cook, actress and former winner of Celebrity MasterChef. She has written three cookery books. You can follow her on Twitter @lisafaulkner1