The Perfectly Imperfect Train Cake

On my children’s birthdays, I want them to have a smile that is unforgettable: wide, genuine, unbreakable. I want it to be there the moment he wakes up in the morning til he places his head on his pillow that night.

But the world doesn’t stop for our childrens’ birthdays. Making sure the wide smile lasts from sun up to sun down might require shortcuts. Sometimes hacks are needed to make sure the day exceeds (ok, at least meets) any expectations.

This year, my middle child’s third birthday fell the day after two back to back out of town work trips (not to mention that his birthday is a week after Thanksgiving. Sorry December babies. You totally get the short end of the stick). With no time to be a Super Mom, I was really close to throwing in the towel…

But this three shaped cake pan was nagging at me. A year earlier for our oldest’s birthday, I had found an adorable train cake on some nice girl’s blog. I decided I could do it. I ordered the pan from Amazon. Two days before his birthday, the oven broke. No 3 shaped train cake.

Now, the lonely, never used 3 pan was staring at me. Yelling at me to not throw in the towel for my middle child’s birthday: he’s the middle child! For goodness sakes, don’t middle child him!

Dutifully I headed to Kroger. I couldn’t find the original instructions I had found a year earlier. So I winged it from memory. There were some fails and it certainly didn’t look perfect, but I learned this concept is pretty forgiving.

Here’s my hack version for moms like me who want to do something creative and festive for their kids but may not have the talent / skill / time, etc. to tackle a beautiful, bakery quality finish cake (hats off to those that can!)


  • Pans: I used a cake pan shaped like a 3. This same concept can be applied to a classic 9×11 pan or any number-shaped pan. But age 3 does seem to be peak, uncontrollable train obsession age.
  • Nutrition: you might read this and be like: what?! the same girl who wrote this, avoids foods with ingredients she can’t pronounce and watches sugar!? I try to temper all that with reality. There are moments where the sheer happiness emitted from my little people is simply more important. The moderation rule allows this to happen. Yeah, we try to follow our healthy food rule 85% of the time. So the other 15% I’m ok with my 3 year old eating a sugar-loaded cake from a box that looks like a train track because he literally lost his mind when he saw it.



  • Cake Batter: From scratch or a box and any flavor or variety – all work.
    • I was tight on time and went with the box.
  • Black Tube of Decorating Icing
  • Tub of Icing
  • Pretzel Sticks
  • Small Toy Trains


  • 1) Prepare and bake the cake
    • Prepare the cake batter according to the box or recipe’s directions
    • Grease the pan really well
      • This is important, I skimped on this step and had a major fail
    • Follow the cake’s baking instructions
    • Let it cool
      • This is another step I tried to fudge. Turns out cooling is really important for the cake to come out of the pan in one piece, but this is also where this concept is surprisingly forgiving.
    • Remove the cake from the pan
      • This proved to be the most difficult step for me. I didn’t let it cool all the way (because I was short on time).
      • Using a knife to separate the edges of the cake from the pan helped.
      • The cake separated / cracked a little when I removed it from the pan. I was able to “glue” it back together with the icing. See next step.
  • 2) Decorate the Cake – Focus on the main decoration. Remember: all they really care about is the train on the tracks.
    • Ice the entire top of the cake
      • Most versions of this cake show green frosting. That requires the extra step of mixing food coloring into the icing. I didn’t have the time.
        • My solution: it’s snowing in Sodor!
          • Is anyone else as amazed to learn that Sodor has a wikipedia page?
      • Another casualty of not having time for the cake to fully cool: specks of the chocolate cake in the icing. I noticed it. The kids did not.


  • Use black icing to make the tracks – Give the base / white icing a few minutes to set.  Then, using the tube of black decorating icing, trace each side of the outline of the three.  Try to keep the lines as equidistant as possible.


  • Lay pretzels across the tracks – Place the pretzel sticks across (perpendicular to) the black icing.

I added the H because he loves seeing the first letter of his name on things!

  • Place trains on the tracks.

These were the only trains I could find. Over half of our trains were missing. Turns out a few had been tossed into our Christmas Tree and the others were hidden under a dresser at the grandparent’s house.

Happy Birthday baking! You will feel like a rockstar when this thing is finished and your kids will think so too! It’s not Pinterest perfect, but I’m not trying to win any baking contests. I’m just trying to make my son smile really really big.



Let me know if you have any birthday celebration hacks that have made your children’s days! Follow by email on the right hand side toolbar or like or comment. I love hearing from you all!

8 thoughts on “The Perfectly Imperfect Train Cake

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s