I’m a cook, not a baker…

I love to cook but I’m quite a nervous baker. I think it’s because there are so many things that can go wrong with baking because it’s much more ‘science-y’.

So far this year I’ve made two big birthday cakes. One for my daughter’s first birthday and one for my Mother-in-law for her 70th. I don’t claim to be an amazing cake maker, but I was happy with the results of a couple of simple ideas so I thought I’d share for any other amateurs looking for something practically fool-proof!

As you can see, each time I’ve made a simple sponge; filled and covered it and then decorated it in ways we all can quite easily manage. This recipe makes a light, moist vanilla sponge, that keeps really well so you can be confident it’ll still be delicious made a couple of days ahead of the occasion!

Here’s what you’ll need in terms of equipment and ingredients, and the method:

Equipment you’ll need


Springform cake tins

Cake tin liners (I use the pre-cut circles for the bases and then line the sides by cutting greaseproof to fit)

Mixing bowls – one for measuring, one for mixing

Electric mixer – hand or stand (or good old fashioned elbow grease)

Cake skewer

Fondant smoother

Appropriately sized cake board

Things to decorate with depending on your desired design

Cake Ingredients

450g self raising flour

4 tsp baking powder

8 eggs – medium or large work fine

450g soft margarine (I use Aldi’s baking margarine)

450g caster sugar

12 drops of vanilla extract

4 tsp milk

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 160ºC/140ºC fan
  2. Line your baking tins
  3. Sift the self raising flour and baking powder into your mixing bowl
  4. Add the remaining ingredients – eggs, margarine, sugar, vanilla and milk – to the bowl. Beat until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Divide between the two tins
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Keep an eye on the cakes so that they don’t brown too much. Test the centre with a skewer and if the skewer comes out clean it’s cooked.
  7. Let the cakes cool in their tins for 10 minutes and then turn out onto wire cooling racks.

I’ve got two small kids so at this point, once the cakes are cool, I wrap them separately in cling wrap to decorate later or the next day.

Next step: crumb coating!

I tend to make enough buttercream to cover and fill my cakes. Here are the quantities:


250g margarine or unsalted butter

500g icing sugar (sifted)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk if required

Strawberry jam for filling the cake

1kg fondant icing

  1. Cream the margarine
  2. Gradually add the icing sugar and combine with the margarine so it doesn’t puff everywhere.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and stir in
  4. If required to loosen the texture add a tiny bit of milk at a time until the consistency is spreadable
  5. Unwrap your cakes and place the centre bits of the cake so that they are facing upwards. I’ve found putting the bottom cake onto your cake board is a good idea at this point.
  6. Spread strawberry jam all over what will be the bottom almost to the edge
  7. Cover the other cake in buttercream in the same way and sandwich them together
  8. Use a pallet knife or a spatula to spread a thin and even layer of buttercream all over the top and sides of your cake.
  9. Pop the cake somewhere cool so that the margarine is the right consistency and not too ‘melty’ for the next step.

Next step: Fondant layer

This is the bit that always unnerves me but you just have to do it with conviction!

What you’ll need:

Rolling pin

Icing sugar

1kg fondant icing

  1. Sprinkle a tiny bit of icing sugar onto the work surface and spread it out
  2. Rub some icing sugar onto your rolling pin so that it doesn’t stick to your fondant
  3. Warm up the fondant in your hands and squeeze it like you’d play with pay dough or Plasticine. I find it makes it more pliable and easy to roll out.
  4. Put the fondant on the work surface and carefully roll it out into the appropriate shape of the cake. Keep rotating and turning so that it doesn’t stick.
  5. Once the fondant is 2-3mm thick (depending on your preference) you need to try and cover your sponge. Pick it up with two hands and carefully but confidently place it over the centre of the cake. It should look like a ghost haha

Cake with fondant draped over that looks like a ghost

  1. Work your way round gently smoothing the fondant down with your hand, trying not to dent it or leave fingernail marks.
  2. Cut off any excess using a small knife.
  3. Smooth with the fondant smoother, rubbing in circular motions until the fondant is as smooth as possible

Time to decorate!

For each project I’ve kept it quite simple. I don’t know how to use piping bags or anything like that so I’ve stuck to making or buying bits to put on each.

The bunting cake was created using skewers, string and pretty craft papers. I cut a diamond shape out using a small template I made and then glued the diamonds shut around the string. I then created a longer chain which I pinned on the cake at intervals to drape it.

For the cake with the posy of flowers on top, I bought some ribbon from my local haberdashery for 20p and pinned it at the back and the posy for the top was from Hobbycraft.

I hope this was helpful for you. I’d really love anyone who makes it to let me know how you get on with it in the comments below. Happy baking!

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