I always love a good Valentine’s craft, but find the handmade Valentine thing to be too high stakes … I’m never sure if I should blame the kids for inefficiency, or myself for forgetting all about the holiday until an hour after dinner on February 13th. (I know, it’s me.) This year, instead of manic Valentine making, we decided to create a few edible treats before the holiday.
These heart-shaped mini cakes were fairly simple to put together. The night before, I baked the sheet cake and whipped up the frosting. Then, the following afternoon, my 3-year-old assistant and I got to assembling the cakes. With some advice on where to position the cookie cutter, she was great at cutting out the cake hearts. Next up was the frosting, which was more hands-on for me, since spreading frosting is a bit of an acquired skill. Finally, my little one added the sprinkles. This is an area in which she has a lot of expertise and likes to display her signature ‘piled high in the center’ technique.
I’ve shared one of my favorite yellow cake recipes below. Feel free to skip this step and use your favorite mix, but keep in mind that cut-outs are best suited to a cake with a denser crumb. A really moist cake could be tough to work with, especially for kids.
The pink frosting I made gets its hue from a bit of beet juice, and while the beets add loads of bold color, they don’t affect flavor in the least. You can always substitute the frosting for the store-bought kind if desired.
Before you get started, here are some helpful tips:
- Cake ingredients need to be measured precisely, so supervise closely to make sure the right amounts make it in. Buttering and lining the baking sheet is a great activity for little fingers.
- Making the pink “dye” from grated beets is fun and forgiving, but be ready for beet juice stains!
- Cutting and assembling the little cakes is a great craft for kids of all ages. Set out an assortment of sprinkles and let them have fun. Keep sprinkles (somewhat) contained by setting up your sprinkle station on a rimmed tray.
Makes: 5 two-layer mini heart cakes
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 x 1-inch deep sheet pan with parchment paper, and butter paper and sides liberally. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sea salt, and baking soda.
3. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, scraping down the sides as needed. Mix for 3 minutes longer. Add the eggs one at a time. Next, add the sour cream and vanilla. Finally, with mixer on low, add the dry ingredient mixture, continuing to mix just until incorporated.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Gently spread the batter so that it’s even in the pan. (I like to also drop the pan on the counter a few times, for good measure.) Slide baking sheet into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached.
5. Set on a rack to cool for 15 minutes, then flip out of the pan and set aside to cool completely, several hours or more.
Pink Buttercream Frosting
2 tablespoons beets
3 tablespoons whole milk
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Finely grate beets and set them in a small mesh strainer of cheesecloth. Pour milk through the strainer, and press or squeeze any of the beet juices into the milk. Set aside while you prepare buttercream frosting.
2. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-low speed for about 4 minutes. Slowly add 2 1/2 cups of the powdered sugar, scraping down sides as need. Finally, fold in the vanilla and 2 tablespoons pink milk. If frosting is too stiff, add the remaining tablespoon of pink milk. (Conversely, you can add more powdered sugar if the frosting becomes too loose.)
3. Once your sheet cake is cooled, use a 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the heart cakes. Frost the top of each, stack them into two-layer cakes and finish with rainbow sprinkles.