Ask Holly: Remembering My Mom and Her Amazing Birthday Cakes

barbie cake

My mother was a master of figuring things out. After my brother and I were born, instead of buying cakes for our birthdays at a bakery, she took a class in cake decorating. Every cake she made was a labor of love. You knew the party could start when that cake arrived.

Cakes1She made huge sheet cake adored with Holly Hobbie, Snow White and Lowly Worm. She bought and borrowed molds for Micky Mouse, Donald Duck and Snoopy. Cakes were baked in bowls to make a princess skirt or a mermaid’s tail  on a rock. Some were cut-up cakes “glued” back together with frosting. She would use poster board for a cowboy hat rim. Around the base of a cake tulle, ribbon and or silk flowers were used to cover-up a multitude of travel misses.

Here are some of my mother’s best birthday cake tips:

  • cakes 3She almost never made cake from scratch. She usually used white Duncan Hines cake mix. Her secret was her frosting (see below for her recipe).
  • Make the cake ahead of time, frost and freeze. This makes the cake moister.
  • When frosting a cake first spread a thin layer of frosting and let it set up. This is called the crumb layer and makes the second thicker layer of frosting spread cleanly.
  • If creating a design on the cake trace it out with a toothpick after the base layer of frosting is done.
  • Stay away from tricky patterns on the edge of the cake or anything that drapes. Edges are the most difficult to make look uniform.
  • To make your frosting look super smooth dip your frosting knife into a bit of water and then smooth the knife over the cake.
  • Avoid marzipan. It tastes terrible and is difficult to work with.
  • Use simple patterns such as dots and stars. They are easy to master and very forgiving.
  • If transporting a cake always bring extra frosting and your frosting bags with tips for touch-ups.
  • USE PROPS. Who cares if something on the cake is not edible? Her favorite trick was to push silk flowers around the base of the cake.
  • If you are not comfortable writing with frosting print out the message and make it part of the cake.
  • Black food coloring taste awful. So avoid cakes with too much black.

barbie cakeMy Mom’s Famous Frosting

  • 1 cup shortening (try getting the sticks they are much easier to work with)
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (this is what makes it so yummy but take out if someone has a severe tree nut allergy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix first five ingredients together, then add one cup of powdered sugar at a time until combined. This will keep for weeks if covered in the refrigerator!

I have so enjoyed sharing her wonderful birthday cakes on Barista Kids through the years. Since her swift passing this past January I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that she is gone. So it is with great pride and joy that I can share more of her creations here and hopefully she inspires someone else to bake and create.

In the last month both of my children have come to me crying in the middle of the night stating that their birthdays would never be the same without Grandmary. I told them they were right, their birthdays will never be the same without her, but I would now make the cakes and I had the very best teacher.

In Loving Memory of Mary Korus 1944-2013

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  1. Thanks for bringing back sweet memories of my mom’s glorious birthday cakes. She made the same with Barbie dolls decorated with gorgeous icing skirts. Also made dozens of clown-faced cupcakes for school parties, each one with perfectly drawn faces. Amazing watermelon sculptures filled with fresh fruit. She rarely cooked dinner, but her artistic interpretations were sublime.

  2. Thank you all. LL thanks you made me smile too. My mom did that this with the watermelon as well.

    The Barbie cake was so popular that it was also used for the mermaid and the fairy cake. The doll is a special type with no legs so the cake does not have to be so tall. They sell them in craft stores.

    I may have to do a tutorial. So who wants a Barbie princess cake for their birthday?

  3. I would love a Barbie Princess Cake for my Birthday. And an Eiffel Tower cake as well! I love your Mom’s cakes, they are beautiful and done with such a combination of love and pride. What a treat to see this on a Saturday morning. All props to your Mom, Holly, and to you too.