How to make a smash cake for a first birthday

What do you do when your child’s birthday is one day, but the party is another day? I wanted Kate to have a special birthday cake on her actual birthday, even though her party was the following day.  You only turn 1 once, right?

Since I loved the idea of taking smash cake photos, I decided to figure out how to bake a smash cake, and then to figure out how to have a smash cake photo session at home without it turning into a disaster!

How to make a smash cake

The cake and the photo session were inspired by photos from Mrs. In Training.  I was really hoping to get a similar look and I’ve gotta say I am SO HAPPY with how the smash cake photos turned out!  I’ll post more about the photo session soon.

As for the smash cake itself, here’s how it turned out. This is the first time I’ve ever even used a piping bag, or attempted anything fancy with icing.  So it’s not flawless, but it’s an easy project for a beginner, and I’m really happy with the cute cake I ended up with:

How to make a smash cake for a first birthday

How to make a smash cake

Use one box of cake mix and one tub of icing.  I used French Vanilla cake and Creamy French Vanilla icing and added a little bit of red food colouring to make it pink.

I didn’t want to buy special small cake pans to bake the little cakes, so I used two round 4″ Corningware dishes I found in my cupboards, and they worked perfectly!  Definitely check your cupboards before you head out to buy a small cake pan – as long as it’s oven safe, and the size you want, then you can use it!  Even an oven safe mug would work!


The little cakes definitely came out of the oven with rounded tops:


But not to worry, if it happens to your cakes you can just cut off the rounded part with a sharp knife to flatten them out:


Take some icing and spread it in the middle to make a middle frosting layer.  Honestly, this is optional.  Let’s face it – as a smash cake for a 1 year old, this extra effort is not going to be appreciated by anyone but you!


Put the other cake on top of it:


If you want the icing to make the large rose like flowers like mine, use a large open star icing tip and a piping bag:


Make little circles, starting at the center of the circle and working your way out:




Continue making these little circle flowers and fill in the other gaps as needed until you have covered the top:


Then use the same technique on the side of the smash cake:


It ended up using a lot of icing, but oh well… it just added to the messy fun of the photos!

If I had a coupler for the large icing tip that I used I would have switched the icing tip so I could add rosettes around the bottom of the cake where it meets the plate.  But I wasn’t about to waste another icing bag, so mine had a bit of a gap between the icing and the plate where you could see cake if you looked at it straight on.

How to make a smash cake for a first birthday

Oh, and the two little 4″ round dishes only used up half of the cake mix.  So I used the other half to make 11 pretty little matching cupcakes:

cupcakes with pink frosting

Giving the smash cake to Kate was SO MUCH FUN!  She loved it, and I love having the photos!  Like I said, I’m going to post more photos from her photo session soon!  Here’s what the cake looked like by the end of it though:

First birthday smash cake |

[Edit: You can check out our other first birthday party ideas here and the rest of our first birthday party photos and tutorials here.]

PS - Here's a list of my favourite link parties.

  • Abby

    How fun! I’m already in the process of compiling ideas for my little one’s first birthday in July. I want a smash cake, but the ones I’ve seen are way too big. I have the perfect size Corningware in my cupboard, though. Thanks for sharing!

  • michelle

    what a fun little cake! i bet it was really delish too!

  • Juggling Act Mama

    Hello there!
    I’m stopping by from the Mop it up Monday’s link up – I love those beautiful swirls you made with the frosting – so pretty!
    Happy Monday!
    Juggling Act Mama

  • The Domestic Life Stylist

    You did a great job! Looks delicious too. We did not have a “smash cake” for our daughter but I think that it is a cute idea.

    Lisa-The Domestic Life Stylist

  • Carissa Rasmussen

    this is such a cute cake! i love the idea of using it for any bday though

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      That’s true! It would definitely make a cute cake for any birthday! :)

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  • Debbie @ One Little Project

    Thanks Judy! Sorry for the slow reply! I just checked out your link party. So happy to have you here! :)

  • Chelsea

    It’s adorable! My little girl’s first birthday is coming up. I need start practicing for her cake smash!

  • onetoughmother

    This is such a gorgeous little cake! You did a great job on the icing, and I’m sure your sweet birthday girl loved it :) Thanks for linking up to Shine on Fridays!

  • Heather A

    I have those same ramekins and have never thought to do that! What a sweet little cake you made!

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  • Miz Helen

    Hi Debbie,

    What a great cake! Your recipe is fabulous and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday. Have a great weekend and come back soon!

    Miz Helen

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  • Lindsay AFM

    Love this!! So cute! You were featured at Artsy Corner today :)

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  • Trisha

    That is super cute! I pinned it to save for when my babe turns one next April! I really want to do two smash cakes, one for her and one for her dad since they share a birthday. I think it would make for a great photo op. Thanks for the tutorial!

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  • Tatum Puryear Duckworth

    Hi there! I love love love your smash cake. I tried duplicating your steps, but when it came to icing the sides the circles did not stay in tact. The kind of stretched out and fell down. How did you get the side icing to stick in place?

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Thanks! I’m pretty sure my circles on the side didn’t stay in tact either. I remember that by the end, my hands must have really warmed up the piping bag because the icing got really soft. So the side icing roses were more oval like than circle like. I just tried to poke at the cake with the tip every once in awhile to get it to stick. And I’m also pretty sure that I have the bad side facing away from the camera. That always helps too. :)

      • Tatum Puryear Duckworth

        Thank you!

  • Shelley

    Did you do the photo session before the actual party? I can’t decide.

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  • Cakesterpiece

    Such a cute idea for a smash cake!

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  • bethany

    The flowers look so pretty. And it’s way easier than I was expecting! I’ve never used a pastry or piping bag or done any of that. Every time I try icing a cake, it snags some of the cake and drags cake along with the icing. I don’t know how to do it neatly. Oh yes, this applies to cupcakes, too. Always a nasty mess. A delicious, nasty mess.
    Anyway my little guy only almost 6 months. I’m considering not doing cake at all because of the sugar, but I may change my mind. I could always come up with a healthier option. I mean, if he’s never had refined sugar before, he won’t know the difference. :)
    I could still use the icing idea…maybe with pureed fruits and yogurt? I have no idea. I’m not the cook in the house! HAHA. Sorry to ramble! I love the look of the cake. And Kate is super cute!

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      I’m sure cake out of pureed fruit and yogurt would be great, I just have no idea how you would make such a thing! If it makes you feel any better, the cake in these photos was the first time I had ever used a piping bag, so it’s really not hard at all to make these patterns! :)

  • Tara

    Can you tell me the tip number for the large open star decorating tip you used to icing the cake? All Wilton tips are numbered. Thank you!!!

  • Amy Phillips Arey

    Debbie- how long did you bake the cake?

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Eeeek… didn’t I say how long above?? It’s been almost a year since I made it, so I don’t remember exactly how long. It would have been longer than the directions for cupcakes, but shorter than the directions for a full cake. Just keep an eye on it and use the toothpick test, I guess?

      • Tara

        Bake as instructed on the cake batter box…That’s what I did and it turned out just fine.

  • Tara

    Hi, I am making this cake today, its so cute! Can you tell me what number the icing tip is? Thank you!

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Hi Tara – My cake decorating supplies are in storage so I can’t confirm the exact Wilton number, but I used a large open star tip, which I believe was Wilton 1M. Here’s a great website that shows you what the different icing tips do: Hopefully that helps! Good luck!

      • Tara

        1M worked, thank you! I had the same problem, the roses on the sides would not stay on, but they look great on top!!!

  • Kimberly Cox

    Adorable :)

  • Holly

    love this idea !! brilliant to use the 4” corningware. love a savvy mama ! :]

  • geronimonkey

    I’m a little confused. This is an entire blog post which boils down to “make a cake using a packet mix and cover it with ready-made icing”. Am I missing something?!

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      This is a doable smash cake post for busy moms who need some direction on smash cake size and cake decorating. If you want a gourmet homemade cake recipe there are plenty on Pinterest – all the power to you for having time for that with a one year old!

      • geronimonkey

        I would never suggest making a cake from scratch for an infant. A parent who does that either has messed-up priorities or too many hired helps. I was just amazed that anybody a) needed to be told this in the first place, and b) required a detailed tutorial on how to make a packet cake when said tutorial literally amounts to “make a cake according to the instructions on the packet and then put icing on it”. Hence me asking if I was missing something. But clearly I wasn’t; I guess some people just need everything spelt out in explicit detail . . .

        • Dani-B

          Making a basic vanilla cake from scratch takes just as much time as adding in oil and eggs to boxed cake mix. To say that a parent who decides to make a cake that contains only flour, butter, milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla and baking powder instead of boxed cake mix, which contains who knows how many modified ingredients, preservatives and palm oil, “has messed up priorities” is judgmental and ridiculous. Every parent should do what is best for them and their child. I work and have a baby who is almost one, and will be putting aside a half an hour one evening after he goes to bed to make him a cake from scratch for his first birthday. Just because I choose to do that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with parents who choose a boxed cake mix. Everyone is different. Stop judging.

          • geronimonkey

            If what you say is true (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never made a packet cake mix) then all that does is add weight to my initial question as to why “how to make a packet cake” is even being blogged about in the first place. But regardless, you crack on, love. I honestly couldn’t care less how you choose to spend your evening. I hope you enjoy the cake.

          • Debbie @ One Little Project

            Sorry Dani-B! I’ve blacklisted her from commenting on this site again. I like to keep things friendly and constructive here. I agree that it was judgmental and ridiculous!

  • Angie

    Thank you Thank you! By baby girl is turning One in two weeks, and I’ll be doing a little Smash Cake photo session! I didn’t do this for my now almost 4 year old girl, because I guess I got a little intimidated then it just passed me by. I’m so excited, this is easy enough for even ME to do. God bless! I’m following you on facebook too. :)

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Thanks Angie! I hope it all goes well! It doesn’t have to be perfect to end up with great memories and amazingly cute photos! :)

  • jacqueline

    This is so brilliant! I’ve been searching for small bake pans online for days now, so glad I stumbled on your page! How far up did you fill the corningwares, if you can recall? I’m making a tie-dye cake for a friend’s son’s first birthday and will make matching cupcakes with the extra batter- thanks!

    • Debbie @ One Little Project

      Thanks! It’s been awhile, so I can’t remember exactly how full the corningwares were. I would guess around half full judging by the photos that I took of how big the cakes were when they came out of the oven. A tie-dye cake sounds like lots of fun!

      • jacqueline

        thanks so much! Tie dye cake will be a ton of bowls but hoping it will come out cute, doing a test run in a few days. But will be practicing my roses for my own daughter’s smash cake – thanks again for the step by step tutorial!

  • Carrie Smith

    This is wonderful! It gives me hope because I never do any fancy stuff with my baking, either! My son’s birthday is coming up a couple of weeks and rather than spend lot of money on a little cake I I’ll try this!