Cakes vs. Cupcakes


     A birthday party without the cake? Don’t be absurd!

    A gorgeous custom cake simply makes the celebration, doesn’t it? There’s nothing like those oohs and ahhhs as little guests admire the exquisite artistry and detail, remarking on each intricate swag and swirl and the deft application of details such as edible  glitter and candied roping.

    Don’t you love hearing 5-year-olds discuss the merits of marzipan as opposed to the limitations of softer buttercream frosting? And, of course, there are all those discriminating comments made when the cake is actually served.  You’ve heard 4- to 6-year-olds discussing the cake’s texture and marveling over how moist and delectable it is, haven’t you?   

    Sorry. I couldn’t resist. But I’m making fun of myself, because way back when I first started this children’s party business, I thought an exquisite cake was an absolute prerequisite to a fantastic party. 

     Hundreds of parties later, I am convinced that cupcakes are the only way to go for children 7 and under.

     Very few young children actually like cake, although many do appreciate the icing. A cupcake happens to be the perfect vehicle for getting icing to little mouths! And the smaller the hands, the smaller the cupcake needs to be.  Preschoolers often struggle with forks and cake – and it’s a pretty sure bet that at a party of 12, at least one slice of cake will somehow slide right off the plate and into the preschooler’s lap. If you serve cake to a group of prescholers, you can pretty much count on spending some time on your knees to scrub cake icing out of your dining room carpet after the party. 

      In addition to the mess, custom cakes carry a huge price tag. The cost may run anywhere from $30 to far more than $100. Writing the check may cause you to wince,  but I promise you that the real pain occurs when you take a hard look at your dining room table at the end of your child’s party and take note of the untouched, wasted slices of cake on all those plates.   

      If the notion of serving cupcakes instead of cake just doesn’t have the right “feel” to you, I should hasten to point out that presentation is everything. If you put a dozen cupcakes on a serving tray, they are not going to look like much.  You’ll need to dress them up a bit — and there are many ways to do this.

      My favorite way, and the method we use at The Party Fairy, is to use a tiered server. Height adds impact to anything served. But if you do not own a pretty tiered server, you can add impact to a simple flat serving tray, too, simply by placing some sort of tall, whimsical figurine in the center of the serving tray and surrounding it by cupcakes. This has the added advantage of allowing you to tie in the theme of the party. Check out toy stores and discount stores for perfect “finds.” A pirate party, for example, could feature a tray of cupcakes surrounding anything from a toy pirate ship to a ceramic palm tree or a parrot.  A future blog entry will offer some suggestions for where to find these kinds of inexpensive centerpieces and decorative items.  

       Cupcake trees are gaining in popularity, and I would be remiss if I failed to suggest one. A cupcake tree is a metal stand with individual holders for each cupcake, creating a tabletop presentation with height. But the truth is, I do not personally care for the look of cupcake trees. If you do, they are widely available at reasonable prices at any store selling kitchen goods.

     Many cake decorators also create beautiful cupcakes. Recently a mom brought to one of our parties an adorable teapot cake surrounded by 16 cupcakes decorated to look like individual teacups with candy handles. Adorable! But this party was for a little girl turning 9. Preschoolers would simply have dropped these beautiful teacups in their laps and onto the floor by attempting unsuccessfully to hold the cups by their candy handles. It would have been a disaster. 

       My rule of thumb is that the younger the child, the simpler the cupcake design should be. For preschoolers, it will be far more cost effective for you to buy basic, inexpensive cupcakes at your favorite grocery store and dress them with a trinket on top. Preschoolers adore cupcakes with ”treasure”  such as princess rings or gold-covered chocolate coins.  Children in grades K-3 begin to appreciate more elaborate cupcakes, with flowers or butterflies fashioned from jellied candies.

      By fourth grade, your child is ready to enjoy a more elaborate birthday cake.  Now is the time to spend the money on an exquisite concoction designed to impress and awe.  But if you can’t afford a huge price tag and still want a beautiful cake,  be sure to check out my post titled How To Dress Up Any Cake. 


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