On the Road Birthday Cake

On the Road Birthday Cake
I’m pretty sure that nothing besides my first born son’s first birthday would induce me to make a cake this over-the-top.
Remember this?

Well, this snuggly little newborn is now one and is looking a lot more like this these days, walking along furniture like it ain’t no thing and handing out smiles and waves hello like it’s his job.

On the Road Birthday Cake

To celebrate, Owen had several rounds of birthday-ing with various groups of friends and family. I think he may be beginning to expect cake and candles after every meal at this point. For our “Minneapolis” birthday party this last weekend, Eric made this little video of Owen’s first year, which yes, of course, makes me sob like a baby almost every time I watch it.

I knew I wanted to make a cake that involved buses for Owen. This kid is obsessed. He spends large percentages of his day happily looking out our front window at the passing traffic, excitedly and aspiratedly yelling “BAH! BAH!” every time a bus – city or school – goes by. He’ll even be across the room playing on the floor – or better yet, happily nursing first thing in the morning – and he’ll hear a bus go by, pop up like a meerkat, and yell “BAH!”

On the Road Birthday Cake Sure he loves his ccckkkaaahs! (trucks) and boooofs! (dogs), but buses are his true first love. So I thought I’d make the intersection outside of our house. The first thing I did was order some buses, cars, and street signs from Amazon, and then I set to doing some research. I turned first to the cake master – Deb from Smitten Kitchen – and after an hour of reading, turned to her chocolate wedding cake base. I doubled it so it wouldn’t seem too flat, making six 8×8″ cakes in total, and cut them in half to make the road.

And then I set to finding my frosting…I went with the classic American vanilla buttercream frosting from the Savory Sweet Life – and tripled it to make enough for a filling layer and to cover the top and sides of the road. I dyed it gray with some black frosting dye from Michael’s, and added some roadiness with yellow and white stripes from those pre-tipped Wilton’s frosting cans you can buy.

On the Road Birthday Cake All in all, it was several hours of work, and I may or may not have cursed under my breath a time or two as parts of the road crumbled – even as Eric assured me that we could always tell people there’d been a massive earthquake before the party if the whole cake flopped. But I’m so glad I did it – it turned out better than I thought it would, and the taste! The chocolate cake was moist with tiny hints of coffee and cinnamon, but not so much that kids would balk at it. And the frosting belongs on every cake for the rest of all time.

On the Road Birthday Cake This is truly an over-the-top cake for an over-the-top kid. I can’t believe how much I love him…how much a part of our family he’s become in just one short year…how he used to not be able to hold his head up and now he brings me books to read and fake laughs when he knows he’s being funny. How is that even possible? I’ve been writing Owen letters each month this year, and when I read through them, I just get more and more excited to know the kid he’s becoming.

Birthday Cake


On the Road Birthday Cake

On the Road Birthday Cake

(assembled road cake idea by Carpé Season) (cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen ) (frosting recipe from Savory Sweet Life )

(yields one giant double-layer road cake, app. 40 pieces)

This road cake is definitely over the top, but so fun to customize once done. I highly suggest making the cakes a day ahead of time and then frosting it the day of your event. This cake can sit in room temperature for a whole day as long as it's not blazing hot or sitting directly in the sun.


FOR THE CAKES (makes six 8x8" cakes):

6 c. cake flour

6 c. sugar

3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

6 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. salt

6 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature (+2 tbsp. for buttering pans)

3 c. buttermilk

6 eggs

3 c. freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

parchment paper


FOR THE FROSTING (makes app. 9 c. of frosting or enough for the top, sides, and filling of this cake, with a little leftover for patching mistakes):

4 c. unsalted butter (8 sticks), softened (but not melted! Ideal texture is like icecream)*

12-14 c. confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED (suggestion: use "cane" powdered sugar)

1 tsp. table salt

4 tbsp. vanilla extract

up to 16 tablespoons milk or heavy cream (I ended up using about 9 tbsp.)

*Do not soften your butter in the microwave. Just get it out several hours ahead of time, and give it a few squeezes in your palms now and then).

black frosting dye


three 13x19" cake boards

yellow Wilton ready-to-decorate icing cans

white Wilton ready-to-decorate icing cans



(I suggest making the cakes the day ahead of your event so that you don't go completely crazy.)


Preheat the oven to 350*F. Butter 8x8" square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment - cut to fit the bottom - and then butter the top of the paper too. (The butter underneath acts as "glue" to hold the parchment paper in place.


In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With an electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.


Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. (You seriously want to be thorough when scraping - all the way down the sides and in the bottom of the bowl - don't be lazy here or you'll regret it!) Divide the batter among the three prepared pans; each pan will take about 3 1/4 c. of batter.


Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool until the pans are cool enough to handle without oven mitts - about 15 minutes. Use a knife or spatula to loosen cake from the sides of the pan if necessary; then carefully turn them out onto parchment-paper-lined* wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are completley cool. (*the parchment paper keeps the cake from sticking to your wire racks, which one or two of mine did).


If making the cakes a day ahead of time, like I STRONGLY SUGGEST, once the cakes are cooled, wrap them in 2-3 layers of plastic wrap. I took the extra step of wrapping mine and then putting them in a gallon-sized ziploc bag. You can use cake-boards or your tetris-skills to make sure the cakes don't get crushed in the fridge. You can also freeze the cakes and make them way ahead of time if needed.



Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer on medium speed. Add 12 c. of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter (it will look pretty powdery still, not creamy like when you make cookies). Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 8 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar a little at a time. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.

Add black frosting dye, a tiny bit at a time, until thoroughly incorporated and the color that you're looking for.

(There were some great cake frosting tips here ).



To make a large enough cake board, I taped 2 cake boards together on their long sides using duct tape on the underside, and moving tape on the top. Then, to reinforce it, I used duct tape to tape an additional cake board perpendicularly to the bottom of the other two cake boards.


Cut any dome-age off of your cakes carefully and evenly. Brush them all over with a pastry brush to get rid of any crumbs. Cut cakes in half. Make one road 3 cake halves long; to make the intersection, place 1 cake half on each side of the road (perpendicularly). Once your bottom layer of road is layed out, cover with a thick layer of the frosting for filling, using the frosting to fill in any uneven cake surfaces.

Carefully place cake halves on the top of the cake road you've layed out (after they too have been brushed for crumbs). Lightly push down on the top layer. Using a rubber spatula, the back of a bread knife, a butter knife, and prayer, spread frosting first on the top as evenly as possible, and then on the sides and edges of the cake, being careful to wipe off any stray crumbs from your spreading device.

Paint pedestrian crosswalks and yellow dashed lines on the road with the Wilton icing cans with the smallest round piping tip, and then carefully place your vehicles and signage on the road.

This cake can be kept at room temperature as long as it's not blazing hot outside or sitting directly in the sun all day, which is why we should all love buttercream frosting.

After cutting into it and serving, it is kept best wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer-safe ziploc and freeze it for several months in pieces or large chunks.


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6 thoughts on “On the Road Birthday Cake

  1. I love the birthday cake, how special for little Owen! The video is amazing Liz….your husband is so talented. I really enjoy reading your blog. Happy Birthday to Owen…..

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