The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Kid Birthday Cake Madness: My Big Round Cake Pan and the Seductive, Expensive World of Cake Pans

By Vicki McClure Davidson


I know many folks who are Wilton addicts. Wilton, for those who are not "in the know," is a company that manufactures a vast collection of specialty cake pans. To look through their inventory is mind-boggling and seductive.

Yeah, this recently discontinued Scooby-doo-shaped cake pan is adorable, but honestly, how often will you use it? | Photo credit:
Yeah, it's an adorable Scooby-doo shaped cake pan, but honestly, how often will you use it? | Photo credit:

A relative of mine took a Wilton cake decorating workshop years ago, and within a short time, she had purchased enough Scooby-Doo and Mickey Mouse and Smurf-shaped cake pans to force-feed an elementary school. The world of exotic and cartoon-based cake pans is unexpectedly seductive. Yes, they are adorable. But, how many Garfield the Cat cakes would anyone realistically make in a lifetime? Or, in a 5-year period? Averaging $15.00 - $30.00 per pan, it's an important question to ask.


Simple Is Better: My "BRCP"

So, for my children's birthday cakes, I had to make a decision. Bakery-made or homemade cakes? No contest—homemade.

But, instead of going with my crowd of mommy-friends for the cartoon-character-shaped pan that would be old news after just one outing, I opted to invest in a 14-inch round cake pan. My big, round cake pan—my "BRCP"—has been one of my better kitchen investments that keeps on giving.

Initially, I needed the BRCP in order to make my brainstorm, my sole creative burst of cake design to make... wait for it.. a Pokeball.

If you haven't ever heard of Pokemon, the once-wildly popular kiddie anime cartoon, trust in that any child ages 2 through 14 in the late 1990s/early 2000s would immediately recognize the magical white and red ball purported to house numerous Pokemon creatures. Pikachu was the most popular. The show was equally successful in its country of origin, Japan. I'm not sure if the show is still on, or if kids still try to "collect 'em all," but in our house for several years, Pikachu, Charmander, Bulbasaur, and all their magical Pokemon friends ruled in our house.

Originally, I had wanted to purchase a Pikachu cake pan, but they cost an arm and a third of a leg. Since the Pokemon series was all the rage with the pre-teen set, buying a Pokemon-related cake from a bakery necessitated an advance order and more money than I spend in a year on hair products. Running with the Pokéball idea, I felt creative and frugal.

My friend Sylvie, a devoted cake decorating hobbyist, made such a so-simple-it-was-genius Pokéball cake, using my BRCP, that was such a huge hit with my daughter, who was turning 8, and her friends that she had to make another for my son the following year. The next year, my BRCP made our first baseball cake for my son's birthday (whoa, I actually conceived and made this one).

My BRCP has also been used for baking meatloaf, deep-dish pizza, eggrolls, burritos, and huge Italian casseroles. Can a Scooby-Doo cake pan claim the same? I think not.

Point here is that while having a decorated birthday cake for a child's party is as expected as getting a sunburn your first time that season to the beach, a cake is just a cake. It will only be admired for a few minutes half-heartedly by the party's attending adults ("Hmm... there goes my diet... and I could have made that for less money than she spent,") and not really admired at all for its artistry or whimsy by the young party guests ("Is it chocolate or white cake underneath?", "I call dibs on Pikachu's eyes!"), before the mini-savages devour it.

While ordering a cake from a bakery seems like a great time-saver, when you really analyze it, it isn't. Think about it — drive to the bakery, pick out and order the cake. Day of party pick-up. I've never been able to walk in and then out with a kid-themed cake in hand, but always had to make a return trip on the day of the party to pick it up. Not the day I wanted to be out and about, let me assure you. And bringing the half-sheet or full-sheet cake home without smudging the inch-thick whipped frosting is precarious and a big fat time waster on the day I most needed to be home, finishing with cleaning and present-wrapping.

And, for me anyway, the icing is always a crap shoot. How horrifically sweet will it be? Enough to melt the enamel off your 6-year-old's baby teeth? Or will it have an odd, artificial aftertaste, especially in the purple frosting area?

When all is said and done, a store-bought/bakery-made cake will cost more than a homemade cake and doesn't save a significant amount of time for you. We at the Frugal Café discourage it.

Frugal Cafe Rule of Thumb #14: Never spend more on a child's birthday cake than you would spend on a pair of really good pantyhose.



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