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I have fond memories of childhood birthdays. In particular, I remember the joy of choosing a birthday cake from the Women’s Weekly birthday cake cookbook.

I remember leafing through the book and weighing up the difficult choices – this year did I want a castle or a ghost, a duck or a dolly or maybe the log cabin (doesn’t sound like a great cake, but it had a great ratio of lollies to cake)?

I remember my mother baked me the doll cake for my fourth birthday and my best friend P had the cake on the cover (the hugely impressive train) for his third birthday.

When my nephew L turned two, Saskia and I volunteered to make his birthday cake – inspired by the Women’s Weekly cakes of my childhood. L had a truck cake, and we were very pleased with our efforts:

L’s sister H was turning two so we volunteered again to bake the birthday cake. We decided to make a butterfly cake, in her favourite colours, pink and blue. Of course, my first port of call for inspiration was the Women’s Weekly cookbook, but sadly, the butterfly cake in that book isn’t great. I had a trawl of the internet to try to find a good template and came across a good one here. I thought the shape of this cake was great and also liked that it used several cakes, which is obviously better to feed a crowd.

First step is to make the base. It is recommended that you use a butter cake as this type of cake is quite dense and can withhold the weight of lots of decorations. You can either make the butter cake yourself using the recipe below, or otherwise just use a packet cake. While I ordinarily abhor the easy route, I think it is acceptable here given that the recipe requires you to bake three cakes and the cake is to be slathered in icing in any event.

I made a double quantity of butter cake:

Then divided it between a round and a square tin and popped it in the oven:

I decided to make a chocolate loaf cake for the body of the butterfly. I used a gluten-free packet mix so that I would also be able to eat some of the cake (I chose a packet which was just a simple chocolate cake, rather than chocolate mud).

The cakes should take about 30 minutes each but since I had all three in the oven at once, I kept an eye on them. The cakes took varying amounts of time to cook. I turned the cakes out and let them cool completely before decorating.

While the cakes were cooling, I made the Vienna cream frosting. This involved beating the butter until it was “as white as possible” (whatever that means):

Then add icing sugar and milk. I made a double quantity of icing and then divided the icing into two and tinted one blue and one pink with food colouring. It is recommended that you add the food colouring incrementally so that you can achieve the desired colour. I found adding colouring in drop by drop quite tedious, but it was fine in the end.

To assemble the cake, cut the round cake in half. Cut the square cake in half on the diagonal. Trim the loaf cake (ours was about 20cms) and round the edges. Place the loaf cake in the centre and the portions of round cake and square cake on the edges to make wings:

Note that we also trimmed the corners of the wings slightly so that it fit snugly against the body of the butterfly.

To decorate, we pulled the ‘wings’ away and iced the body with chocolate frosting. I used bought frosting (yes, I am ashamed) but you can also make chocolate frosting using the recipe below. Saskia dipped a skewer in food colouring and dabbed it on the smartie to make an eye.

Next, we iced each ‘wing’ separately. We found it easiest to ice the inner corner first, then move the wing into place against the body. We then covered the rest of each wing with icing and decorated with smarties. To finish, we made some ‘feelers’ from trimmed strips of liqourice and smarties. We used a little icing to hold the smarties in place.

The end result:

And here is the birthday girl with the cake:

Do you think she liked it?

Tell us, what was your favourite childhood birthday cake?


Vienna cream

Note: this is for one quantity – you will need three quantities for the cake

125g butter

1 ½ cups icing sugar

2 tbs milk

  • Have butter and milk at room temperature.
  • Place butter into a mixer and beat until it is as white as possible.
  • Gradually add about half the sifted icing sugar, beating constantly, add milk gradually, then the remainder of the sifted icing sugar.
  • Mixture should be smooth and easy to spread with a spatula.

Chocolate: Add 2 tablespoons of sifted cocoa to the icing sugar.

Butter cake

Note: this is for one quantity – you will need three quantities for the cake

125g butter

½ tsp vanilla

½ cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ cups self-raising flour

½ cup milk

  • Pre-heat oven to 190 C.
  • Beat butter with vanilla until light and creamy.
  • Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Stir in half the flour and half the milk. Stir until combined.
  • Add remaining milk and flour.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes.
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7 Responses to “Kid friendly cooking: Butterfly birthday cake”

  1. Truly impressive effort! That cookbook is a classic – I once made a snowman birthday cake for my (2)5th birthday!

    Jetsetting Joyce

    • Emily says:

      The snowman is very cool – with the fluffy icing and odd use of eggshells for eyes!

      While the kids adore the cakes I love the idea of baking one of these for an adult party too, I have been plotting baking one for Mr M for his impending 30th!

  2. nicole says:

    My sister and I had almost every cake in this book as kids…and Mum still has her dog-eared, icing splattered cover. Love it!

  3. Jan Allen says:

    I used to have the same Womens Weekly Birthday Cake book and made many of my childrens’ cakes from it. My daughter now wants to make the train for her son’s birthday and I can’t find my book anywhere. Can’t find it anywhere to buy either.
    Can you help with the information and instructions for the train ( on front cover)
    I am happy to pay for the information if you want to send it etc.
    Thanks in anticipation
    Jan Allen

    • Emily says:

      The instructions are a little convoluted but basically:
      Buy a 225g sponge roll
      Bake 4 loaf cakes (25cm x 8cm) – the book says you will need 2 packets of cake mix for this, I would think you would need a bit more.
      Cut loaf cakes in half vertically to give 8 pieces. 4 are for the tops of the 4 carriages and 1 is for the back of the engine.
      Cut remaining 3 pieces in half horizontally to make 6 pieces. 4 of these form the base of the carriages, 1 is the bottom of the engine. Cut the last piece into quarters, and use the bottom quarter to extend the base of the engine (the back of the engine will sit above this piece). Discard the rest.
      Cut a 4cm wide slice from the sponge roll, hold upright and cut out a smoke stack with a 2.5cm plain cutter. Use the rest of the roll for the engine.
      Arrange the cakes – each carriage has a large piece of loaf cake on top and a small piece on the bottom. The engine has the large piece of cake upright, with a small piece on the bottom (plus the extra quarter piece). The sponge roll sits on top of the base, and the smoke stack is on top of that.
      Make 2 quantities of vienna cream (recipe is in my post). Divide into 5 colours. Ice the cakes.
      Join carriages with pairs of jube rings, decorate sides with smarties. Use liquorice to define the tops of the carriages and the tracks. Use chocolate biscuits as wheels (you will need 20). Use chocolate sprinkles to decorate smoke stack. Fill carriages with coloured popcorn. Push some popcorn on to a pipe cleaner and extend from the stack to make smoke.

      Hope it all goes well! Would love to see a picture if your daughter makes the cake!

  4. Gill says:

    My mum once made me a cat with licorice whiskers and covered in flaked chocolate for fur. Yum.

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