1st Birthday Smash Cake Recipe + Decorating Ideas

first birthday smash cake ideas

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.

four inch cake pans for smash cake

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:

vanilla smash cake recipe by sugar and sparrow

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.

first birthday smash cake ideas
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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. 

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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

Recipe Notes

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.

first birthday smash cake decorating ideas

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

If you’re wanting something colorful, yet super simple, this spatula painted technique is perfect! All you need is a color palette with three or more colors and a small icing spatula.

painted buttercream cake by sugar and sparrow

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:

spatula painted smash cake by Sugar and Sparrow

Smash Cake With Ganache Drip

This was a smash cake I created for an elegant first birthday party and I love the look so much! It’s a simple semi-naked cake design topped with white chocolate ganache drips.

semi naked smash cake with white chocolate 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!


12 Comments

    • Hi Remya! You can substitute all purpose flour, but the cake will be more dense and heavy. The pride of this cake recipe is that it’s light and fluffy! Luckily, you can make DIY cake flour using all purpose flour and it’s super easy to do – that way you can ensure that the end result is the perfect texture.

      To make your own cake flour, spoon and level one cup of all-purpose flour and remove 2 Tbsp. Add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Repeat per the amount of cake flour you need, then sift the flour and cornstarch mixture 4 times (don’t skip that step!). After sifting, spoon and level to re-measure the amount of cake flour you need.

  1. My littlest ones cake smash photo shoot is this weekend and I might just make ALL of these and surround her with beautiful sugar creations! lol Thanks for the inspo!

    • That would be amazing, Christine! Happy birthday to your little one and hope she loves her cake!

  2. Becky-Lee Freeman


    Hi
    These are so beautiful
    Thank you for posting your tutorials
    The cake smash I am attempting fir my daughter’s first birthday is themed orange pink and teal. Do you think these colours would work together in the longer spatular swipes?
    I was thinking teal on the bottom then orange then pink.

    • Hi Becky-Lee! I think orange, pink, and teal will look wonderful with a spatula painted design! I say go for it!

  3. I’m really surprised that there is only one egg and one egg yolk.

    Do you think I can add sprinkles to make it a funfetti cake? Thanks!!

    • Hi Terri! It’s a really small cake (only three 4-inch layers), so 1 egg and 1 yolk work perfectly. Any more eggs would start to weigh down the cake. And you can totally add sprinkles to this recipe! I would add about 1/3 cup of sprinkles (coated in a little flour so they don’t sink!) to the batter at the end.

  4. Jessica Rodriguez

    Hi Whitney, I want to make one of these cakes for the first birthday photoshoot. What size cake stands are you using?

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