While I would certainly not consider myself a cake decorator, I definitely have had some fun with it in the past. So when my niece decided she wanted a rocket ship cake for her space-themed 3rd birthday party, how could I say no?
However, I must admit that the thought of messing up the BIRTHDAY CAKE for a 3-year old’s party was a little daunting. I bought a few practice cake mixes just to make sure I had a solid game plan in place!
I should also mention that this recipe is not Paleo. Something I probably should have mentioned to my brother-in-law who finished off the last of the cake, because “it’s Paleo, right”? Whoops. What I did use was Trader Joe’s Vanilla Cake Mix. Even though it’s not Paleo, it’s still quite a bit cleaner than many other pre-packaged mixes out there. Sometimes homemade Paleo cake mixes don’t have quite the same consistency as other store bought mixes, and because I knew I would be stacking these cakes, structure was pretty important.
Below is the equipment I used – without any of these, the cake would have absolutely fallen apart!
- 6-inch round cake pans (I ended trimming these so they were a little narrower than the cake itself)
- 6-inch cardboard cake rounds
- dowel rod
- large cardboard cake round
To start, I baked the cakes! I figured I would need about four and a half separate cake rounds to make the rocket ship. I was surprised to find that one cake mix took up almost an entire 6-inch cake pan, which I did not expect, which meant I went through four packages of the Trader Joe’s Vanilla Cake Mix. For a couple of the cakes, I ended up adding blended blueberries to one and blended strawberries to another, giving it a bit of color and unique taste, so we didn’t have one giant vanilla cake.
I needed to make sure the cakes popped out easily, which meant I greased the crap out of the pans with olive oil. I also filled them about 3/4 of the way full, as I wanted to make sure they didn’t come out too short. You can always shave a little off the top, but you can’t make the cake taller.
The first four pans were used for the base of the rocket ship and then angled top. The last (half) pan of cake would end up being for the wings. I did not want these nearly as thick as the others, so I filled it about 1/3 of the way full with batter.
Trimming & Shaping
I let the cakes cool out of the oven. For the top of the rocket ship – the angled section – one of the cakes did not come clean out of the pan, leaving an exposed top. At first, this bummed me out, but it ended up being the perfect piece to shave down to a point for the top of the cake. I placed this piece on a cardboard cake round for stability. Using a serrated knife, I slowly started working my way around the cake, shaving off the sides until it came to a point.
For the other 3 main pieces, my goal was just to make them as flat as possible, so that they’d be easy to stack. Most cakes will round in the oven, so I just took a serrated knife and carefully shaved that off, creating a flat top. For the shorter cake, the one I was going to use for the wings, I flattened the top and then cut it into quarters, so I ended up with four triangle pieces. I popped each of them in the freezer individually, so they would be easier to work with and frost.
After the cakes had started to harden in the freezer, I slowly started assembling. I placed the first cake directly on the large cake round (that I had covered in tin foil). I frosted the top and stuck another cake directly on top of that and frosted again.
At this point, I wanted to make sure everything would line up and be centered, as I wanted to run a dowel down the middle for further stability. Using one of the cardboard cake rounds (which have pre-cut holes in the center), I centered the dowel and pushed that down through the two levels of cake.
Once I had the center, I layered a cardboard cake round directly on top of the frosting, followed by the last regular cake and ran the dowel through all three layers. After doing this, I could see that the dowel was a bit too long and see where I needed to trim it so that it wouldn’t stick out the top of the cake.
The last piece of cake, the top of the rocket ship, was already sitting on a cardboard cake round, so I placed that directly on top of the other frosted piece and the base was assembled!
I was still a little nervous, not going to lie, but it was starting to come together! I had two hours until the party…
Frosting the Rocket Ship!
I wanted to frost the entire base before I tried adding the wings. I started with a “crumb layer” of frosting – basically you do a quick frosting job and pop it back in the fridge to harden. This makes it much easier to frost later and make it look pretty without pulling bits of cake into the frosting.
At this point, I went ahead and added the wings as well. Using three of the four quartered pieces, I frosted the inside layer (so it would stick) and placed them evenly around the cake. Using toothpicks, I inserted them at an angle from the back for just a little extra stability. I added a “crumb layer” to these as well and placed the entire cake back in the fridge.
I chose to do a white rocket ship, with a blue top and blue wings, and red accents. After the crumb layer had set, I re-frosted the bottom part white and used blue frosting for the tip and wings. Then, using a cake decorating kit, I outlined the bottom of the rocket ship in blue, and added red accents around the tip and the wings.
Finally, of course we needed a giant “3” on the rocket ship!
The most stressful part of this entire situation was driving the cake three miles to the birthday girl’s house. Luckily we made it without incident and our niece was very excited to see her rocket ship! Phew…
I was pleasantly surprised how this cake turned out! I had a vision in my head and wasn’t entirely sure how that would translate to real life, but it came out actually looking like a rocket ship!