Here we are again (and again, and again, if you so desire). Another party, another cake, another story of how flour, eggs and butter become birthday magic. Only this time, Little e is old enough to help. It’s her brother’s cake, after all, and she takes it as seriously as she does all the rest of his things (that is: they are all hers first, not matter what).




I will admit I was a little nervous offering to let her help. At four-and-a-half, she’s often more hindrance than help in the kitchen, more fingers in the mixing bowl than volunteer dishwasher. And that’s fine. That’s expected. But with a time crunch (cake must be iced and assembled while birthday boy naps and before guests arrive), I wasn’t sure how well it would go. Would there be candy everywhere? Arguments about sticky fingers in the icing bowl? Morsels of cake going missing?







I have since learned some strategies for having a preschooler in attendance when icing a reasonably complex birthday cake.

  1. Have bright, fun things to occupy them while you work. Preferably things that are part of the cake preparation. Little e spent a nice chunk of time organizing piles of candy assigned to each family member, to be eaten later, after the party, at a candy picnic (her words, not mine).
  2. Sacrifice some cake for peace. Luckily I had leftover cake after forming the train cars, so this became the decoy cake, iced with spare chocolate icing, to be pulled out when fingers started to wander. Also makes a nice snack for the primary cake decorator.
  3. Let young minds make decoration decisions. Which train car should have the “coal”? Which one should have the “fruit salad?” How can we best recreate a 1920’s steam engine reminiscent of the Royal Hudson?
  4. Answer the questions. This was the hardest. Staying present to hear, really hear Little e’s many (many) questions as we worked (“Do you think Daddy would like another candy banana in his pile?” “How many smarties is this?” “Does blue candy make your poop blue?”) was a battle of staying in two moments–mine and hers. Do you turn the radio down when you’re looking for a particular house number while driving? This was one of those moments when I wished I could turn the preschooler down to concentrate on icing the train’s caboose. But. I answered those questions. Because I knew if I didn’t, they’d get more insistent and more annoying and louder and whinier, and then no one wins, least of all the cake. Because why are we doing this in the first place? To have the memory: remember when we made your brother’s cake together?





All of which is to say, we made it. Literally and figuratively. The train left the station. We took the cake. It was sweet. High fives all around. Happy second birthday to our little Tiger.




Cake recipe notes:

Vanilla cake is Nigella Lawson’s Buttermilk birthday cake.

Icing (sort of) from The Kitchen Magpie

Train design from here.


What strategies do you use when working with kids in the kitchen?