Baking cakes for birthdays and celebrations is one of my most favorite pastimes. Geeky, I know, but the ritual of baking and decorating a cake fills me with joy, and I love lighting up the faces of the people I love with a humble, handmade cake. But, as I've got a busy work and family life, there are occasions when I do not have to time bake a cake — even from a boxed mix. Instead I rely on a little-known secret of the grocery store bakery that makes me feel like a champion while still gleefully presenting a handmade cake to delighted guests.
The Grocery-Store Hack for Semi-Homemade Cakes
You can buy vanilla or chocolate rounds (nine-inch are the most readily available) and containers of either vanilla or chocolate frosting directly from the bakery section of your grocery store. Bakeries, especially those in your grocery store, keep a stash of frozen cakes and big batches of frosting at the ready for last-minute cake orders, and they will happily sell you these parts for way less than an assembled cake.
It is always wise to call ahead and check in with the bakery — especially during particularly busy times like the holidays and the month of June, which is full of weddings and graduations. Calling ahead also means the bakers can pull frozen cake layers from the deep-freeze and start thawing them for you.
The cost of these cakes will fall somewhere between the cost of cake ingredients and the cost of a fully decorated cake. For example, three (nine-inch) chocolate cake layers and 24 ounces frosting from my local Publix cost me $20, while a fully assembled nine-inch custom cake costs about $24.
Once you've got your cakes home, you can customize the color and flavor of the frosting by re-whipping it with a few drops of food color, your favorite jelly, or sprinkles. You can also enhance the flavor of the cake with fruit, jam, or pudding fillings and decorate the cake however you see fit.
I love this trick when decorating a cake is my main objective. My daughter recently turned 5, and although she loves to bake alongside me, she loves decorating even more. This year she really wanted to decorate her birthday cake. We ran short on time that week for baking, but we picked up cake layers and frosting from the store and we were able to build and decorate her cake together the night before her party. I didn't spend the day stressing about getting the cake cooled before bedtime and I didn't have to clean the whole kitchen afterwards (although, admittedly, I still had to sweep tons of sprinkles up). I actually got to enjoy the best part of cake-baking with her without being distracted by cleaning or stressed for time.