Today I’m switching up topics and I’m going to talk all about how to make an owl cake. Why this rather than another serious personal finance topic like revealing the real definition of the middle class or pointing out the inconsistencies of the media when it comes to the subject of the middle class?
Because being smart with your money is also about living a great, fun, frugal life! And because it’s Friday and I thought you might like something fun for the weekend.
Frugality Without Creativity Is Deprivation
This is a quote from The Tightwad Gazette, one of the four books that changed my financial life, and it’s stuck with me for many years now. I’ve been a mom for almost my entire adult life. Frugality was necessary back when I was 23 with a newborn baby and a low salary, but I never wanted my son to feel deprived.
So I absorbed many of Amy Dacyczyns tips for being frugal with little kids. One of those tips was to always make homemade birthday cakes. Not only were they less expensive, they also tasted better and had less “weird” ingredients.
Making homemade birthday cakes also started, as I’ve mentioned before, with my oldest sons allergies to dairy, eggs, and nuts. Buying a vegan nut-free cake back in 2003 would have been cost-prohibitive, so for years I experimented with different recipes. I finally settled on the chocolate cake recipe I still use today, including with this owl cake. Only today I use butter, milk and eggs rather than the substitutes I used to use.
The Idea Process
Long time readers will know that making these kinds of fabulous cakes isn’t new to me. Just check out this Minecraft cake post (with many other cakes featured, from a Super Mario star to Totoro) as well as this post about having fun, frugal kids parties. Every year I try to do something new and unique – often something I’ve never seen before. No, not even on Pinterest.
This year I asked on Twitter if anyone had suggestions, and my friend Stephanie from Poorer Than You actually was the one who suggested the owl cake. Thanks Stephanie for the great idea!
So I went to the usual source of my inspiration – which is a Google image search – and couldn’t find anything I really liked. I wanted a 3D owl cake that wasn’t covered in fondant, because I don’t like how it tastes. It’s pretty expensive stuff to put on a cake if you’re just going to take it off.
I have seen you can make your own fondant out of marshmallows, which I’m totally trying some time. But I didn’t really have the time or energy to try it this time.
So I decided to brainstorm my own owl cake idea. I have a ball-shaped cake mold that I’ve used before to make a Pokeball cake, an Elmo/Cookie Monster ball, and Totoro. I figured a ball-shaped owl might be cute. Funny story – the ball mold is actually passed down from my mother. She originally used it to make a cake for my brother when he was a kid, about 25+ years ago. It’s similar to this mold but mine has a small pan in addition to the ball halves.
I did a quick sketch of what the owl might look like and showed it to my turning-three year old. He liked it but asked for an orange owl. I was planning to make a blue one, but heck, it’s his birthday. So orange it is!
Operation Owl Cake – Execution
I spread the two bowls and the small round cake pan with butter and coated that in flour. This makes them totally non-stick so the cake doesn’t get stuck when you try to take it out. Then I made the cake batter, which is my favorite awesome chocolate cake. Recipe is below.
This is a chocolate cake made with cocoa powder – ideally dutch cocoa but I didn’t have any, so I used regular. I always use the buttermilk, but you can also make “sour milk” by putting a few tablespoons vinegar into milk and letting it sit for five minutes. This also works for making “sour soymilk”, which I would do when my oldest had allergies. I don’t know if it works for other non-milks.
Once the cake was baked and cooled, I “crumb coated” the two halves and the small cake with frosting. I actually had some leftover chocolate frosting in the fridge I used for this step, but if you just make the buttercream, you can use that.
After coating with a thin coat of frosting to lock in crumbs, you pop it in the fridge for about 30 minutes to set and harden. Then you can decorate! The fun – and time consuming – part.
I made up a batch of Rice Krispie treats (using cereal and marshmallows from Aldi’s). I used those to make owls ears, then used toothpicks to secure them to his head. I then used a knife to trace the lines where I would decorate the owl.
I then decorated the bottom cake by dying some of the buttercream blue, and coating it with the frosting. I used a small amount of fondant for the branches, although you could also use brown buttercream. Then I used a leaf tip and a piping bag to create leaves on his branch. I was trying to make it look like he was sitting on some branches in the sky.
Then I put the ball of cake on top of the bottom tier, securing with some large wooden skewers so he wouldn’t fall. Then I popped him outside to cool.
Once he was cool and the bottom tier of icing was hardened, I started decorating the ball. I made the belly light orange, the wings and area surrounding his eyes red, and the body a medium orange. I also used the light and medium orange on the inside of his eyes, and secured his eyeballs with a small ball of white icing. I used a different leaf tip and piping bag to make it look like he had feathers.
Ta – da! An owl. Alex, my three year old, loved his owl so much that when he woke up the next morning he couldn’t stop looking at him. He kept talking to him, showing him his wooden owl, and all day long he kept opening the fridge to take a peek. He also alternated between asking for a bite, and not wanting to eat the owl because it was so cute. My older two boys, 14 and 10, also did not want to eat the owl. I guess I made him too cute.
And that’s it! That’s how you make an owl cake. It’s something I find fun, and the boys love it. I hope they’ll have fond memories of their fun cakes when they’re older.
What sorts of fun and creative things do you like to do? Interested in trying to make your own owl cake? Want to hire me to make you a cake? Let me know in the comments!
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I’ve linked to the products I used on Amazon in case you want to check them out, but I typically buy all my supplies from the craft stores with coupons. These are affiliate links, so if you buy them I would get a small commission at no cost to you.
5 thoughts on “Making an Owl Cake – Plus My Awesome Chocolate Cake Recipe”
You make baking look so easy Liz! What a lovely cake, such a lucky kid.
And I have to ask – did you all eventually cut into and eat the cake?
Of course! I told my kids if we don’t eat it, we’ll have to throw it away. And that wouldn’t be good
I am seriously impressed with your cake making (and artistic skills in general)!
I love it! Although now they’re getting so nice people don’t want to eat them
Ha that is a problem.