easy fire truck cake {tips on cake decorating}

fire truck cake | movita beaucoup

I made this cake last week to mark Oliver Rutherford’s third birthday. He likes buttercream more than any other Rutherford, which makes him the best Rutherford in my books. I thought you might enjoy some pointers on assembling a cake of this sort. Mostly because it is SUPER EASY. If not, scram. You won’t like the rest of this post.

First, and most obvious, choose a cake. I made an old-fashioned white cake – recipe below. It tastes of vanilla and almond, and has a lovely, soft crumb. You could use any flavour of cake you like, and depending on how many people you have to feed, make any size or shape that suits. Alternatively, you could use styrofoam cake forms and hope no one notices.

Tight on time? Bake your cake a few days ahead of time, level the layers, and then seal in plastic wrap and freeze. This is a real time saver on decorating day, as you can take the cake out in the morning, and then kick back and drink coffee in your underwear while it defrosts (don’t remove from plastic wrap until completely thawed). I baked and frosted Oliver’s cake the afternoon before the party, then stored it in a cake carrier (without the embellishments) in the fridge overnight. I would like to assure you that I decorated this cake with pants on.

fire truck cake | movita beaucoup

Choose a frosting. I’ve posted a good-for-decorating buttercream frosting recipe below. This buttercream recipe uses butter for flavour, and shortening for stability. You can use any sort of frosting you like – but make it something stable so you can affix your decorations to it. The butter and vanilla included in my recipe won’t yield a perfectly white frosting. For snow white icing, replace the butter with shortening, and use clear, artificial vanilla extract. I know some of you don’t like shortening. I also know that I don’t really care that some of you don’t like shortening.

Aways make sure your cake has completely cooled before frosting. The buttercream recipe I have provided below will yield just enough to crumb coat and frost the cake I’ve suggested. I didn’t want thick frosting – a little less sugar at a kid’s party is a survival tip I utilize. I’m fairly small, and a kid high on sugar could do some serious damage. If you’d like a thick coat of icing, I’d recommend doubling the recipe. Also, if you are new to decorating, I’d make a larger batch, so you can relax and enjoy the process without freaking out about shortages. Extra frosting will also allow for piped borders if so desired.

Leftover buttercream can be frozen for later use. Or eaten by the spoonful in bed. No judgement.

fire truck cake | movita beaucoup

I always crumb coat my cakes, chill for 30 minutes in the fridge, and then final coat the cake. Turntables are invaluable when frosting, as are pallet knives and offset spatulas. I don’t worry too much if my frosting isn’t perfectly smooth, as my signature style is a rustic, homestyle type of deal. It’s my thang. For a perfectly smooth cake surface, fondant is a great way to go. I don’t like eating fondant covered cakes, so I stick to buttercream. Here’s a video tutorial on assembling a layer cake from RealSimple, a tutorial on leveling & crumb coating cakes from BraveTart, and some more tips from Smitten Kitchen.

Make some embellishments. I used pastillage (gum paste) for the embellishments on this cake.  You can make pastillage from scratch, or buy it pre-made. Gel paste food colouring is perfect for tinting. I chose pastillage rather than fondant because once it dries, it’s rock hard. That rock hard stability will allow your decorations to hold up whilst sitting in buttercream and in humidity – a real problem in these here parts. One look at my hair will confirm that for you.

A few days before the party I made the fire truck, flames, letters and numbers, and allowed them to dry on parchment paper. (They get hard within about 24 hours.) To make the fire truck, I googled fire truck colouring pages, and found an image to use as a template. Colouring pages are a great source of simple, clear designs. This is the one I used. Find one that suits your fancy and skill level, then embellish as you like. I looked for a design with straight, easy-to-cut lines. I scaled the truck on my printer to fit the size of my cake, printed a few copies, and cut out the various parts of the template I planned to use.

fire truck cake | movita beaucoup

I dyed some pastillage bright red, rolled it out thin (about 1/16″), laid my template over-top, and cut out the body of the truck. I repeated the process for the embellishments – I used colours and add-ons that I thought would be cute. You can use a sharp paring knife for cutting, or invest in a tool set for fondant/gum paste. I use a very thin coat of shortening on my rolling surface to prevent sticking. I roll my pastillage out on my counter and then transfer to a large, glass cutting board (sprinkled with icing sugar) for cutting the shapes. You can also buy rolling mats for this purpose.

Once all the pieces were cut, I assembled the fire truck on parchment paper. To affix the embellishments onto the truck, I brushed a teeny-tiny bit of water on the back of each piece with a damp paintbrush, and then gently pressed them on. For the ladder, head/taillights and siren, I brushed a little water on the edge that would be connecting with the truck. The water acts as a glue. Too much water = a gummy mess and shiny, sticky patches, so don’t be doin’ that. Also, you basically get one shot at placement, so be sure you’re putting the embellishments where you want them. Allow the truck to dry on the parchment (on a flat surface) overnight before attempting to lift and move.

I used Wilton fondant cutters for the letters and numbers, and free handed the flames. I guess that time I spent in prison for arson finally paid off. I dried the various bits on parchment paper.

fire truck cake | movita beaucoup

When working with pastillage/fondant, always keep the portions you aren’t working with well wrapped in plastic so they don’t dry out. This happens very quickly, so wrap ‘em right away. If you don’t heed my advice – and let’s face it, you won’t – you could knead the tiniest bit of shortening into the pastillage to soften it.

To affix the decorations to your assembled cake, use some royal icing or buttercream – just a little will make them adhere. Royal icing is a type of icing – you don’t have to order it from Buckingham Palace or anything. You can make your own royal icing, or use a mix/pre-made stuff. If your frosting is soft/room temperature, you can probably just press the embellishments on, but I like placing my embellishments on a chilled/firm cake as it’s a bit more forgiving if you have to make adjustments. I attached the embellishments just before pick-up on the day of the party, as fondant and pastillage don’t hold up well in the fridge (though there is some debate about this). The Rutherfords stored the cake in my carrier in a cool place (not the fridge) until ready for serving.

Always have a little extra buttercream and/or royal icing on hand for fix-ups before the party/during delivery, and make extra decorations just in case. For example, Oliver’s name was supposed to be in yellow, but a couple of the letters got messed up on decorating day, so I used a set of spare letters I made instead. See? Smart! And no panic on decorating day.

To cut the cake at the party, we removed the firetruck, and sliced away. Pastillage is edible, and softens once it’s on the buttercream. Like fondant, some people will just leave the pastillage on the plate. Others will gobble it up.

Also, despite my clear indications of Oliver’s age ALL OVER THE CAKE, Mr. Rutherford put four candles on top of the cake. {sigh}

fire truck cake | movita beaucoup

Finally, remember that if you’re making a cake for someone, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t worry if your buttercream isn’t smooth and your cake slants a little to the left. The act of baking a cake for someone is one of love and generosity. There is great delight in the receiving of a handmade treat and the licking of buttercream from fingers…

. . .

CLICK HERE for OLD-FASHIONED WHITE CAKE. When you click, you won’t get an actual cake – just the recipe.

CLICK HERE for DECORATOR’S VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING. Again, clicking the link will produce a recipe, not an actual bowl of buttercream.

(FYI, none of the links in this post are sponsored. Who would sponsor someone who uses the word poop as often as I do? I just thought they’d help your find cool crap on the interwebs. I’ve had good luck ordering from Amazon Canada & US, and Golda’s Kitchen.)

49 Responses to easy fire truck cake {tips on cake decorating}

  1. shannon October 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    you mean i have to actually go about the business of PICKING A CAKE prior to making and decorating a cake? Whatever…too much work. :)
    this is a fabulous tutorial: i’ve never worked with gumpaste, like ever in my life. i want to, just have never gotten ’round to it, and it intimidates me slightly. you give me courage, tiny ballerina. those rutherfords are lucky.

    • Amy October 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      we better use this tutorial and get practicing for Natalie’s wedding cake! ;)

      • movita beaucoup October 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

        Great idea, Amy! We should TOTALLY put a fire truck on Natalie’s cake!!

    • movita beaucoup October 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

      Shannon, gum paste is the bomb. Also, just think of the things you can do with it for Ginger 2013. Think, woman, think!!

  2. mellissa @ ibreatheimhungry October 8, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    This cake is all kinds of adorable! I loved the step by step tutorial! Now if I only had more patience…

  3. mommyinbonlee October 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    Adorable!

  4. Willow October 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    I wish clicking the link would produce an actual cake, and actual buttercream… *sigh*

    On second thought, if that were the case, I probably wouldn’t do anything with my life but sit in front of the computer and search for food.

    Wait… how is that different from what I already do?

    You’re making me question the very essence of my being, woman!

    Also, your cake is adorable, and your decorating wisdom astounding. I’ll bet that was one happy 3 year old. :)

    • movita beaucoup October 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

      Oliver sat at a little table and quietly ate every bit of his slice of cake. As in: he talked to no one and remained focused on the cake, and only the cake. Kids were screaming, things were whizzing by his head, and still… total focus.

  5. Caroline October 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    I scrammed! Cutesy cake though :-)

    • movita beaucoup October 8, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      Caroline, you are very good at listening to instructions. I salute you.

  6. Amy October 8, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    ok first off, this cake is adorable…i would expect nothing else from you, though ;) I love the fire truck.
    Second, how have I never heard of that cake leveler?!?! I NEED one! I also really want a turntable. Now you’ve got me wanting to go bake a cake for someone!
    Ff course there were four candles, silly…3 for age and one for good luck! I guess they don’t teach you these things in baking school ;)

    • movita beaucoup October 8, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      Oh, Amy! Cake levellers are the bomb! I love mine, and it cost about $5. Best investment ever.

      Also, I will now tell Mr. Rutherford that he’s not as stupid as I thought.

  7. Liz Mackie October 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Thank you!

  8. AHAnto October 8, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    I do enjoy your posts! I plan on making the styrofoam version – and if I give it away as a thoughtful, loving gift, I probably won’t BE there when they notice I didn’t bake it myself.

  9. Me October 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    This is adorable!

  10. natalie @ wee eats October 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    OMG SUCH AMAZING TIPS! (and an amazon-cart-worth of amazon links for me to BUY ALL THE THINGS!) If you could, however, find a way for the link to give me a bowl of buttercream and not just link to a recipe for buttercream, now THAT would be impressive.

    I love this cake, btw. It’s adorable. I think I can use a lot of the info here for the BF’s birthday cake… wonder if I can freehand a pastillage dinosaur…

  11. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef October 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I’m with you on the buttercream vs fondant. Cute cake!

    • movita beaucoup October 10, 2013 at 6:52 am #

      Fondant is so pretty… and yet, me no wanna eat.

      • Eggton November 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

        I agree with you on fondant being pretty but icky. I once left a bunch of plastic bags next to a radiator and the radiator came on and they all melted and when I woke up the radiator looked like a bundt cake covered in fondant. It tasted almost as gross as actual fondant.

  12. spree October 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    You are a buttercream wizard and an awesome thoroughly delightful storyteller, Movita. ! I know JUST the person to share this with and I’m off to do that now! What a cute cake you bake!

  13. gottagetbaked October 8, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    This is such an incredible post with amazing tips and all I can think about is how awesome it would be to sit around in my underwear drinking coffee. That was my takeaway message. I’ll pin this in case I’m ever motivated enough to decorate a cake. My version will end up in one of those photo galleries showing hideous epic cake fails of when people try to copy pinterest photos.

    • Stacy October 9, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      Forget the coffee, Nancy. Let’s sit around in our underwear and drink wine. Then at least we’ll have a good excuse for the state of our cake.

  14. Cheri October 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Lovely. I, too, find fondant revolting.

  15. Karen @ Karen's Kitchen Stories October 8, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    Fabulous. I have two grandsons and can’t wait to make such a cake! Got the leveler. Now I have the excuse to buy the turntable.

    • movita beaucoup October 10, 2013 at 6:58 am #

      You will adore your turntable. It will change your buttercream life.

  16. themessybakerblog October 9, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    This cake is too cute. My 30th is coming up. I really like Alice in Wonderland. Only if you’re feeling spunky, though ;)

  17. Stacy October 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Happy birthday to Oliver who is three, despite the candles. Love all the tips but especially the one about making spare parts. Panicking would not be pretty on birthday party day.

    • movita beaucoup October 10, 2013 at 7:04 am #

      No, it would not. When my letters got messed up, I was all: the world is ending! And then I was all: wait, I’m a genius!

      Perfection.

  18. CateyLou October 9, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    This cake is SO cute! I love it. Thanks for the decorating inspiration!

  19. Mama's Gotta Bake October 10, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Movita, cake decoratiing is not my area of expertise, thank you for your many helpful tips!

  20. Averie @ Averie Cooks October 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    This is an amazing post. Pinning to my How To Make…. board.

    ” I also know that I don’t really care that some of you don’t like shortening, so…”

    And eating leftover frozen buttercream. You too? :)

    Less is more with sugar/frosting at kid parties. YES!

    Last month I was at the Duncan Hines Test Kitchens and a Wilton rep was there and she fondant decorated this cake from start to finish. Holy moly. It was so over my head. You would have LOVED IT!

  21. glutenfreezen October 11, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    Adorable cake! And I agree, eating fondant…ick. I could swim in buttercream all day long. :)

  22. bakerbynature October 17, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    Oh my sweet, dear, talented friend… this cake is just too cute! I love it.

  23. wendy@chezchloe November 5, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    Darling Cake – ok i was going to say adorable but ms glutenfreezen said it first. But really a work of art and love. Sweetness through and through.

  24. shelleyorama November 11, 2013 at 3:14 am #

    Umm cake is nice and all, and styrofoam certainly has its place, but I was wondering if it would be ok with you if I just made the buttercream and iced, say, the back of my hand…repeatedly? Better yet, icing, spoon, done.

  25. Toni in Canberra December 11, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    Movita, this is a witty and inspiring post…here i sit in bed late at night looking for shortcuts for the almost 4 year old’s cake (last years nearly killed me!) laughing my head off…actually i don’t think a bunch of 4 year olds would notice if i used styrofoam as they just like to scoff into the buttercream but their parents probably would!

    • movita beaucoup December 12, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Maybe just put EXTRA buttercream on? Hope the parents don’t notice? It could work…

      Good luck with the cake!

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