Birthday cake traditions: homemade or store-bought?

For the first few years of our son’s life, Aron was a real stickler about birthday cakes. They had to be homemade.

A homemade cake was one of the ways his family made birthdays special, showed their love, and he has many fond memories tied to the planning and decorating of cakes.

So we set about making Hudson’s first birthday cake, and it was a ridiculous affair. I’d decided we’d keep it very simple—vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and stripes, in colors that would make it resemble a Hudson Bay Blanket. But we’d realized that we’d need to make it large—two double-layer cakes, side-by-side—so what should have been the simplest endeavor was suddenly a huge challenge.

We were living in New York, in the East Village, and the party was—of course—beside the Hudson River in a park. How would we move it? We found a baker’s supply store in Chelsea the week before and bought a giant pink box, as well as some other decorating supplies. Then we realized the four cakes would each have to be baked separately, owing to our very small oven. Finally, we misjudged the quantity of frosting required, so we ended up making something like three separate batches of buttercream. I think we finished around 3 o’clock in the morning! But surely one day he will look back on it and understand the depth of our love, right?

Here’s the thing: because a good cake has to be fresh, you can’t get ahead on this—which drives me crazy! In a way, it’s the thing that makes the most sense to outsource—especially if you’re doing a lot of other things to set up for a party.

Since then, I’ve come to enjoy the creativity that goes into planning a special cake for the kids, but I’ve convinced Aron to cut corners with me a few times in the name of efficiency. Last year, for example, for Hudson’s astronaut-pool-party themed cake, we bought an unfrosted sheet cake from Costco to cut into the shape of a rocket and then decorated it ourselves with homemade frosting (the best part anyway).

I’ve also kept things very simple by sticking decorations into and around cakes as often as possible. For Skyler’s birthday, we even made the guests do the work.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d both prefer something from a bakery—preferably with a rainbow of frosting and their favorite cartoon characters. And I know that, growing up, the tradition of going to a special bakery near my house was something I looked forward to.

Do you have strong feelings about homemade versus homemade birthday cakes? Any special cake traditions?

P.S. More posts about cake, including the best first cake recipe for kids and our first wedding anniversary cake. Also, there was way too much cake that first year and we had too much fun with fake tattoos.


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