First birthday parties are my absolute favorite, mostly because it’s so much fun to watch a little babe figure out how to eat cake for the first time! My tiniest niece turned one a few weeks ago, and I was so delighted to get to make her smash cake. It got me thinking about sharing my best tips on smash cakes with all of you, since they’re super easy to make and the perfect DIY project if you’re planning a first birthday for your little one (or in charge of the cake for someone else’s babe). From the perfect sized cake pans to a great vanilla cake recipe and decorating ideas, I’ve got you covered!
The Perfect Smash Cake Size
Since babies are small (and their stomach’s are even smaller), you’re going to need a set of tiny cake pans to bake your layers. I absolutely love these 4-inch cake pans because they’re the perfect size, have removable bottoms for easy release, and they come in a set of four so you can bake multiple layers at once.
I typically bake three layers for smash cakes, but have also created a four-layer tower cake that ended up being super cute for a first birthday. It’s totally up to you on how many layers to bake, but a 4-inch diameter is just the right amount of cake in my opinion.
Vanilla Smash Cake Recipe
You don’t have to get crazy with a recipe for your smash cake. In fact, vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream is the perfect starter cake for a baby. It’s simple, classic, and pretty universally loved. I’ve got a great, easy vanilla cake + vanilla buttercream recipe modified for those 4-inch cake pans below. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:
Since it’s an adapted version of my vanilla cake recipe, it’s totally tasty! As in, you’re probably gonna want to finish off whatever your little one doesn’t.
Vanilla Smash Cake Recipe
A triple layer 4-inch vanilla cake recipe that’s tasty and perfectly sized for a smash cake. Top with vanilla buttercream for a classic flavor combination.
- 1 1/4 Cups (130g) cake flour, sifted before measuring
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 Cup (77g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 Cup (155g) granulated white sugar
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
- 1/4 Cup (60g) sour cream, room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 Cup (118ml) whole milk, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 4-inch cake pans by spraying the sides and bottom with cooking spray (Baker’s Joy is my favorite). Sift the cake flour and then measure by spooning and leveling it in your measuring cup. Add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter for on high for two minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Add in sugar and continue to mix on high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. Turn the mixer to low, add the egg and yolk and mix thoroughly. Scrape down the bowl and paddle and add the vanilla and sour cream. Mix for one minute on high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more.
With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the milk slowly and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps (without over-mixing). The batter will be slightly thick, but pourable.
Pour batter into prepared cake pans (about 2/3 of the way full) and bake for 25 minutes. They’re done when they spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for five minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack for an additional few hours of cooling. Make sure they’re entirely room temperature before filling and frosting with vanilla buttercream frosting.
Make Ahead Tips: these tiny cake layers can be made ahead and stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to two days. Alternatively, you can store the plastic wrapped layers in the freezer for up to two months. When you’re ready to decorate, just thaw them at room temperature before filling and frosting.
Smash Cake Decorating Ideas
The best thing about smash cakes is they’re going to get totally destroyed. That means you don’t have to get too intricate with your cake decorating or fret about design flaws. While you can decorate the cake any way you want, here are a few of my favorite ideas (with tutorial links to help you get the look!):
Smash Cake With Pretty Piping
This is one of my favorite easy looks for smash cakes, and the same design I created for my little niece! All you need is a few of your favorite piping tips and a smooth frosted cake.
After frosting the cake with buttercream, I chilled it for thirty minutes while I mixed up a buttercream color palette (there are five different colors on this beauty). Then, I piped rosettes with Wilton Tip 1M, ruffles with Wilton Tip 104, and filled the rest in with Wilton Tip 4B to create open stars.
Spatula Painted Smash Cake
To get the look, fill and frost the cake and chill it in the refrigerator for thirty minutes while you mix up your buttercream color palette. Then, apply the colored buttercream to the cake by swiping it on with your icing spatula in a random pattern. There’s a full tutorial with additional tips here. You could also use the same technique to create longer spatula swipes for a look like this:
Smash Cake With Ganache Drip
If you want to top a cake like this with fresh flowers, be sure to check out this blog post first. You’ll want to be sure to choose flowers that are either edible or food-safe (non-poisonous) and prepare them properly before placing them on the cake. When your little one is ready to smash it up, remove the flowers and let them go crazy!
However you decide to decorate, this vanilla smash cake recipe is sure to be baby approved. Let me know if you end up trying it in the comments below, or tag me on Instagram so I can see what you whipped up!