I have nine nieces and nephews, all ages seven and under. You can imagine what our holidays are like-- the food is easy, the games are simple, and most everyone spends time either coloring, playing dress up or both.

So when my niece asked her mom to make a Minnie Mouse cake for her third birthday, my sister sprung into action and... called me.


I'd planned to be there for the big day (three is, after all, three whole fingers), so helping with the cake seemed like a fun idea.

We waited until the kids were in bed to get started, not because we were dreaming of some ultimate reveal, but more so because we didn't know how much mental focus it would take to create something cute from cake pans and white icing.

As a note, I'm here to tell you that no specialty items were used to bake or decorate this cake. In fact, I forgot the round cake pans I was suppose to bring from my house. Instead, we used:

  • 1 glass pie plate
  • 1 9x13 casserole dish
  • 2 vanilla cake recipes (you can use boxed)
  • 1 batch of plain white icing (you can use store-bought)
  • 1 batch of chocolate icing (you can use store-bought)
  • 1 butter knife
  • 1 serrated knife
  • 1 toothpick
  • 4 glasses of wine (optional, for some)

I'd also suggest starting before 9pm. Ideally, you'd bake the cakes the day before you want to frost them in order to allow them time to cool. Otherwise, you'll need to include those optional 4 glasses of wine and plan to stay up until about 1am.

Bake one full cake recipe in the 9x13 pan and bake according to your recipe's directions. Let the cook cake cool completely, then flip it out onto a cutting board. If flipping a glass container over to remove the cake makes you nervous, use a different type of baking pan. Meanwhile, bake half a cake recipe in the glass pie plate. We used the remaining batter for cupcakes, but you could also make another "layer" if you wanted to serve at a different time, or discard the extra batter.

Once the cake in the pie plate is baked and cooled, flip it out onto the cutting board you wish to serve the cake on; we used a white plastic cutting board, which you can see in the picture. This, my friends, is Minnie's head, so center it in the middle of the board but a little low so that you have room for her ears and oh-so important hair bow.

Using a round plastic container as your guide, cut two same-sized circles out of the 9x13 cake. You'll want to cut the circles somewhat close together, or on opposite sides of the car, to ensure you have space to cut the bow. The circles, the ears, should be smaller than Minnie's head, but you can make them whatever size you like. We used a whipped topping container to get our size. Remember, if they're too large, you can always trim them down. Place the ears by Minnie's head. We placed ours slightly askance, which gives Minny a hint of playfulness and whimsy, or just tells you how tired we were that we couldn't even line up ears!

Finally, cut the bow. We free-handed the bow, but you could also draw a quick template of what you'd like it to look like and lay it on top of the cake, if that helps your cutting confidence. Above all else, remember, this is for a birthday party-- the cake will be eaten, so don't get too attached! Place the bow between the ears to make sure you have enough space between them, then set the bow aside; it's easier to ice the ears without the bow in place at first.

Now that everything is in place (except the bow!) on your serving board, it's time to decorate. I prefer to decorate using a picture as a guide, so I searched for images of Minnie, chose the expression I wanted (pure glee!), and got to work.

Start with your chocolate icing. Cover the ears with chocolate icing using a butter knife or a fancy icing tool, if your kitchen is so resourceful as to provide one. Next, use the chocolate icing to create Minnie's hairline. If you look at pictures of her, her hair cuts in a little by her cheeks. Also, Minnie rocks a Widow's Peak, in case you hadn't noticed.

Next, get your white icing and divide it into three plastic bowls. One, you'll leave totally white for Minnie's eyes. To the second bowl, add a few drops of red food coloring, enough to create a pink-hued icing for Minnie's face. Finally, use the third bowl to make a slightly darker pink for Minnie's tongue. If you hate doing dishes, you can simply ice Minnie's face, then add more red to make her tongue, and finally more red to make her hair bow a fabulous shade of pink, but I'm ahead of myself.

Once Minnie's hair is done, ice her face in the lightest shade of pink. Then, add the white icing to make her eyes (you can either make ovals and top them with chocolate to finish her eyes or make mirrored semi-circles, then fill in the gaps with chocolate to complete her eyes). Use the chocolate to make her nose, then make her eyelashes by putting on a small amount of chocolate icing and dragging it away from her eyes with a toothpick. For her mouth, make a chocolate half circle, then drag chocolate lines with a toothpick to complete her smile. Use the second shade of pink to make heart in her chocolate mouth, which becomes her tongue.

Finally, un-frosted bow into place between the ears and ice it with the darker pink icing. My Minnie Mouse wore pink this day, but, as you Minnie Mouse fans know, Minnie has hundreds of outfits, so yours can wear a red hair bow or even one with polka dots. Ice the bow in your color of choice, then use the butter knife to create texture; I made a flat circle in the middle, then dragged the knife away from the center towards the edges to create a more bow-like feeling.

There you have it! A fairly-simple, super cost-effective custom birthday cake for your kiddo or, in my case, niece.

For the record, when she saw it the next day, she stared at it for about 30 seconds then let her smile slowly take over her face. "Is that Minnie Mouse cake for me?" she asked. I was happy to tell her that, yes, it most certainly was.

By Ashley Kappel and Ashley Kappel