Every little boy deserves a fun birthday cake, and my nephew is no exception. As soon as his second birthday party ended last year, I started looking for the perfect “Hey! I’m three!” cake. I settled on an awesome train confection because my nephew was obsessed with trucks and trains. And then the unthinkable happened.
My nephew became obsessed with pirates.
So the train cake went out the proverbial window, and my mom and I started searching the net for inspiration for a pirate cake. Wow, there are some fun pirate cakes out there! I am amazed at how creative people are! After looking at a lot of images, we decided on a pirate galleon, complete with billowing sales and candle cannons. But when we raided my brother’s old Playmobil pirate ship for sails, we also found Playmobil pirates with swords, a treasure chests, and a rowboat with oars.
That’s when things got a bit out of control.
If you have a treasure chest, you need someplace to bury it. And if you have a rowboat, you need someplace to row it. And perhaps an octopus to attack. Suddenly the cake project got a lot bigger.
The galleon ship ended up sailing in a sea of cupcakes not too far from Treasure Island. On deck, the captain dueled his first mate, who had taken up her sword to put a stop to his malicious marauding. (Yes, you read that right – girls are the best pirates!) True to its name, Treasure Island held two scurvy mates with their booty. And in the middle of the scene, pirates rowing back to the ship were under attack from a ferocious octopus.
I’m not going to lie and say that this cake-scape didn’t take any time at all. It took a lot of time. We were as efficient as possible because we used box mixes for the cakes and cupcakes, and bought frosting from the store. My mom also made the cakes and cupcakes a day in advance. And both of us worked on assembling the cake-scape. It took a while to put the thing together, but it really wasn’t that hard. (Notice the difference between time-consuming and hard – this is an important distinction!)
My favorite part of the process was my little nephew dragging up a chair to watch me frost the ship. When I set down the knife, the first thing he said was, “Who’s going to lick that knife?” This kid has his priorities in the right place.
Directions for each part of the scene are below. My mom and I got inspiration from numerous pictures online, but the final design was ours. This is one cake that kicks booty (pirate booty, that is)!
Pirate Galleon Cake
2 box mixes for 9×13 cakes, along with the ingredients called for on the box
3-4 containers of chocolate frosting, the “whipped” kind if you can find it
small tootsie rolls
4 strands red licorice (I used Twizzlers)
silver pearl sprinkles, like these
1. Cover the bottoms of two 9×13 pans with parchment paper, and butter and flour the bottom and sides of the pans thoroughly. Make the cake mixes according to the directions on the box, and bake them in 9×13 pans. Let the cakes cool in the pans.
2. Turn out one cake onto your presentation board and tuck strips of wax paper around the bottom. These will catch any extra frosting; when you pull them out at the end, you’ll have a clean board. Cut one end of the cake into a broad point, as in the image below. Save the extra pieces for the island. This is the base of your ship.
3. Turn out the second cake onto a flat surface and cut a point the first cake. Set the extra pieces aside for the island.Then, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches down from the point, make a cut across the width of cake. You’ll set this piece on top of the pointed part of the base. It will be the front deck of the ship. You might need to level the base cake a little bit before stacking on the second piece. Also, smear some frosting on the base before setting the second piece on top: this will help keep it in place. Make a second cut across the width of the cake about two inches in from the back. You’ll stack this on the back of the base, and it will become the back deck of the ship. Again, you may need to level the base cake first, and remember to smear the base with some frosting before placing this second piece on top. Save the remaining middle piece for the island.
Here is a diagram of how to cut the second 9×13. The blue pieces are the ones that become part of the ship and the red ones should be set aside for the island.
4. Frost the entire ship with a thinnish base layer. I had a lot of trouble with this because the frosting kept pulling up the cake. Just keep patiently working at it and don’t worry if the layer is thicker than base layers usually are.. Let the frosting set for about an hour in the refrigerator or another cold spot, as long as the surface is flat. In the meantime, you can work on the island or cupcakes.
5. After the cake is chilled, put on a second layer of frosting. Use a wooden skewer or knife to draw lines in the frosting so that it resembles wooden planks.
6. Decorate! We used tootsie rolls to make posts along the sides of the ship, then laid twizzlers on top for the railing. We also lined the front of the ship with twizzlers. We positioned the lifesavers along the side of the ship as portholes, then put a candle in each porthole. The sails came from my brother’s Playmobil pirate ship, and I attached them to wooden skewers to position them on the ship. Add some dueling pirates, a ship’s wheel (which I snagged from the Playmobil ship, but a round pretzel would work), and a treasure chest full of silver pearl sprinkles. You’re ready to set sail!
cake pieces left over from pirate ship
one can vanilla frosting, the “whipped” kind if you can find it
red, yellow, and green food coloring
silver pearl sprinkles, like these
a dollop of chocolate frosting
1. Make brown frosting for the island by stirring into the can a couple drops of red food coloring, a few of yellow coloring, and one or two of green coloring. Adjust the colors to get the shade you want.
2. Arrange the cake pieces on a smaller serving board to make whatever type of island you want, using dollops of icing to hold the pieces together. I kept my island pretty flat, but you can go for mountains if you’re brave. Frost the island with a thinnish base layer, then set it in the refrigerator to chill for 30-45 minutes.
3. Frost the island with a thicker top layer. About an hour before serving, sprinkle the island with brown sugar (your sand). Add some digging pirates, and a treasure chest filled with the silver pearl sprinkles. Done!
Cupcake Ocean and Octopus
1 or 2 box mixes for 9×13 cakes, along with the ingredients called for on the box
cupcake papers, ideally blue or an ocean-ey pattern
one container of vanilla frosting, the “whipped” kind if you can find it
blue food coloring
candy eyeballs like these
gum paste in whatever color you think an octopus should be
1. Make the mixes according to the directions on the box, but bake them as cupcakes, using the ocean-ey cupcake papers. Each box mix should make a dozen cupcakes, so make as many as you need to accommodate your party guests. Let the cupcakes cool completely.
2. While the cupcakes are cooling, use the gum paste to make the octopus. Roll a ball about 2/3 the size of a golf ball, then make four long strands, about 4-5 inches each. Flatten out the bottom of the ball and attach the the long strands to the flat part in the middle of the strand. That way, each strand becomes two tentacles. Stick the candy eyeballs in the top of the ball. You’ve got an octopus! Set it aside to dry. If you want it draping over a rowboat or other prop, let it dry in position.
3. Add 5-6 drops of food coloring to the container of vanilla frosting and stir. Don’t mix it in completely, as you want some lighter streaks in your frosting “waves,” but make sure you mix down to the bottom of the container.
4. After the cupcakes have cooled, frost them, leaving little peaks and waves in the frosting. Add a couple of goldfish crackers to some of the cupcakes, and sprinkle all of them with the blue sprinkles.
Assembling the Scene
Place your ship at one end and the island at the other. Scatter cupcakes between and around the two. Set the rowboat on top of a couple of the cupcakes, and position your octopus in attack mode. Ahoy matey! Let the fun begin!