Melissa Kossler Dutton, The Associated Press
Kay Martin decided early on that she wanted special celebrations for her children’s birthdays. For her, that meant homemade, hand-decorated cakes.
“I bought a cake-decorating book before my first kid was even born,” said Martin of Plain City, Ohio. She wowed guests at her daughter’s first birthday with a three-dimensional cake shaped like alphabet blocks. “It got rave reviews,” she said.
Since then, she has created cakes resembling a country cottage, Legos and Noah’s ark for her two daughters.
For a growing number of parents, making creative, even over-the-top birthday cakes has become a treasured family tradition. A survey by the Craft and Hobby Association, using data collected through March 31, said the number of U.S. households decorating cakes rose from 9.5 million in 2008 to 11.3 million in 2009.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in food crafting,” said Victor Domine, spokesman for the Elmwood Park, N.J.-based assocation. “Millions of people across the U.S. decorate their own cakes not only as a way to save money and celebrate economically, but also as a creative outlet.”
Amy Dunn figures she has saved hundreds of dollars over the years by making her own cakes. The mother of three also enjoys the challenge of finding the right cake to fit the theme of the child’s party.
Dunn doesn’t like to use decorating tools, so she usually relies on cookies, candies and ingenuity to bring her cakes to life. She once used Twinkies and cookies to create a cake depicting six girls in bed for a sleepover party.
“I don’t make any claim to professional-looking cakes,” said Dunn, of Apex, N.C. “The cakes look homemade. That’s part of the charm. They’re made with love.”
The sleepover cake remains a favorite of Caroline Dunn, 11.
“My mom made each girl attending my party in cake form,” she said. “I loved to look at each piece of cake and how it resembled her.”
Every year, Dunn also makes Caroline a doll cake using the same figurine and pattern that her own mother used for her birthdays when she was growing up.
Dunn’s first attempt at cake decorating was a teddy bear for her oldest son’s first birthday.
“We lived in Florida at the time,” the 49-year-old said. “I wasn’t sure who would melt first — me under the pressure, or the cake.”
First birthdays often prompt moms or dads to try cake decorating, said Nancy Siler, a spokeswoman for Wilton Food Crafts, an Illinois-based company that specializes in cake-making products. Many even take cake-decorating classes to prepare for the big event, she said.
“It’s an opportunity to show family and friends that you love your child and that you’re a good mother,” she said. “It is an expression of love. It is your creativity coming out.”
When Leslie Green’s daughter, Emma, was turning 3, mom spent hours making a Sleeping Beauty cake. When Emma was turning 4, Green tried to talk her into cupcakes, but Emma insisted on a Little Mermaid cake.
“She said, ‘I don’t want cupcakes. I want a pretty cake like last year,’ ” recalled Green, for whom cake-making then became a tradition. Party guests marvel over her creativity. She said she has lost sleep over her cakes, but loves doing them.
“You can make people so happy,” said Green, of Tampa, Fla.
Martin’s 6-year-old daughter, Lexi, is already looking forward to her next birthday: “I go to school, so I’m going to have a school bus cake.”
Martin said she’ll start researching school bus cakes a few weeks before her daughter’s birthday, checking out various Web sites where proud moms post photos of their creations and offer tips.
“When I start, I will not know what it will look like,” Martin said. “There’s always a certain point where I ask, ‘Why did I get into this mess?’ and I think about scrapping the whole thing. I like to take on the challenge of it.”
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