How to make a train cake

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If you're having a train themed party, here's a perfect idea for the birthday cake. This train cake is easy to make and decorate. Baker and author Liv Hansen for the Betty Crocker Kitchens shows how to get a train party on track with this great train cake.

How to make a train cake

Turn two loaf cakes into a train cake:

  • Start with two cakes baked in loaf pans. Cut the domes off the top and flip them over. (It’s best to chill your cakes in the freezer for about 30 to 45 minutes before cutting them to reduce the number of crumbs.)
  • To make the train cars, cut one of the cake loaves in half and then in quarters.
  • To make the engine, cut off two sections from the sides of the other cake, to make it more narrow than the train cars. Discard the two pieces you cut off.
  • Take the main piece of the same cake and cut at an angle a small triangle off each side at one end of the cake. Discard those two pieces. Cut a small piece out of the midsection of this cake. To do this you are going to move to the middle of the cake and then carve down about half-way to make a small square. (Don’t cut all the way through the cake.) To cut out the square take a smaller knife and cut that portion out. Take that piece and place it in directly on the cake, right in front of the square hole you just cut out. Use some frosting as glue to keep the piece in place.

Crumb coat your train cake
  • Mix four distinct frosting colors so each train car can be its own color and the engine can be its own color. You are going to use the frosting to crumb coat your cakes and to frost the cakes later. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that prevents crumbs from showing through the final coat of frosting.
  • Add a dollop of frosting to each section of the train cake and spread a thin coat using an offset spatula. Push your spatula with a firm touch almost like a wave. You can angle your spatula just a little bit to help smooth the frosting out.
  • After you have all your pieces of cake crumb coated you should put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Frost your train cake
  • To frost, take your crumb coated cakes and put a nice big dollop on the piece of cake you are working with. This frosting should be the same color as your crumb coat.
  • Start at the top of the cake and then frost the sides. It’s a good idea to put a little bit of extra frosting on the sides of your cakes, because sometimes when you are working with rectangular cakes the sides tend to sag over a bit.
  • You’ll want a nice thick coat of frosting on the cakes. Work with the frosting to smooth it out, making sure everything is covered.

Make train tracks
  • Cover your a 24 x 18 inch piece of cardboard with colorful, food-safe paper.
  • Pipe frosting onto your presentation surface to make train tracks. Start by making a half moon design and then make a second half moon right under it. Leave a couple of inches in between for the two half moon designs. Once you’ve got that done, take the frosting and draw vertical lines through the two lines—to attach the train tracks. To make these train tracks hold the pastry tube in place and squeeze it until you have little dot then pull it across, stop with another dot and end it by swishing your pastry cone quickly. (If you get breaks in your lines that means that you aren’t squeezing your pastry cone tightly enough and you are moving too fast.)

Put the train cakes on the tracks
  • You can use a long spatula to move the train cakes to the tray. Gently work your spatula underneath the cake and then place your hand under the cake to guide it to the tray. Place the cake carefully on the track by sliding it off your spatula, using your other hand to guide it.


Use a variety of candies to decorate the trains:

  • Place jelly rings on the sides of the cakes to serve as wheels.
  • Line the tops of all the cakes with licorice. Place two pieces of licorice on each cake, each one toward the outside edge.
  • Now the train needs its cargo. Fill the tops of the cakes—in between the licorice lines—with a variety of candy.
  • To decorate the engine, you can place some blackberry candies in the engine, which looks like coal.
  • Build a steam stack using two larger candies like peanut better cups—place the cups right on the nose of the engine.
  • As a final touch, you can add two gumdrops as lights to the front of the train and make the grill for the front using three pieces of licorice.

Betty Crocker's train birthday cake recipe serves 15.

Transcript <!--StartFragment-->

LAURIE: [Whistle] All aboard for a terrific train party! I’m Laurie Gelman from howdini.com, and toy trains are such a huge favorite for boys and girls that all kids are going to love this train cake! Mom, you can engineer this yourself – with a little direction from our conductor, Liv Hansen from Betty Crocker Kitchens. Hey Liv, how are you?

LIV: Good, Laurie, how are you?

LAURIE: Good to see you –

LIV: You, too.

LAURIE: And I’m excited about doing a train cake. I thought initially, oh, perfect for a boy. But actually my girls love trains.

LIV: Yeah, you could do it for anybody.

LAURIE: Terrific, let’s go!

LIV: Okay. What you’re going to need are two cakes baked in a loaf pan. As you’ve noticed, there’s little domes on the top of each. I’m going to slice off the dome, and I’m using a serrated knife. It makes it really easy to cut across. Its sort of like cutting bread. You wouldn’t want to cut bread with just a dull knife.

LAURIE: Right. And I noticed these are a little chilled, too.

LIV: Yeah. You want to chill your cakes maybe in the freezer for about half an hour to 45 minutes, and that will firm it up, and you’ll have fewer crumbs. Okay, so one of these will be the engine, and the other one’s going to be the train cars. So I’m going to make this one into the trains cars, and basically all you have to do is cut it in half, and then in quarters.

So the next step is, we’re going to cut off two sections off the side. Just to make it a little narrower.

LAURIE: Oh, because its the engine car.

LIV: It's the engine.

LAURIE: Gotcha.

LIV: Okay. Want to take that?

LAURIE: Yup.

LIV: Now, we’re going to cut at an angle, a little piece off here, and a little piece of here. So then we’re going to cut a little piece out, a little section. I’m going to carve down half way, you don’t want to go all the way through the cake.

LAURIE: Right.

LIV: And then I’m going to take a smaller knife, because it’s a little bit easier to control, and I’m going to cut that portion out. Just lift it up.

LAURIE: Oh, okay.

LIV: And then I’m going to place it here. And that’s going to –

LAURIE: It’s a little height.

LIV: Exactly. And now we’re going to start assembling and crumbing our cake. I have some color frostings over here. We have blue and green and yellow. And we’re going to use that to crumb coat our cake. Now what I would recommend is, first, put a nice dollop on top and just smooth it out. And some of it will come over the sides, and that’ll help you frost the sides. For the top, what I recommend doing, is sort of trying to use the full length of your spatula, and sort of go back and forth, pushing with a, you know, pretty firm touch, almost like a wave. You can see I angle my spatula, just a little bit.

LAURIE:Oh, I see. Okay.

LIV: And then, for a small cake like this, you have an option. You can do the sides first, after you have all your icing on. And that gets a lip on the top, and then you can scrape that off. Or, you can do the top first, and then sort of scrape it off down the side and pull away. Now the hardest part is the corners. Now what I recommend doing is going all the way up and even over the corner a little bit. So again you get that lip on that corner, and then you can scrape it off.

LAURIE: Oh, I see.

LIV: Now what you can do after you have everything crumb coated, you would put it in the fridge. I just want to show you one thing about this. You can actually use the chocolate frosting as a glue. Because if you’re going to start icing this, this piece is going to move around..

LAURIE: Right.

LIV: So you just want to adhere it. Just use a little bit of that, a dollop. Great.

LAURIE: And then you would crumb coat this as well.

LIV: And then you would crumb coat it all. But I have one ready to go.

LAURIE:Thank goodness!

LIV: Okay so, let’s move this out of the way.

LAURIE: I’ll take this.

LIV: Looks good. This one’s ready to frost.

LAURIE: Okay.

LIV: Okay. So I’m just going to start with the blue. I’m frosting the top first, then I’m going to do the sides. Another trick when you’re doing rectangular or square cakes is to put a little extra frosting on the corners, because sometimes they tend to sag over a little bit. So again, I’m just getting it covered. It looks a little messy, but we’re going to clean it up after its completely covered.

So now that we have it frosted, I think we’ll assemble it on the tray before we put the candies on. And I’m actually going to pipe a train track on first.

LAURIE:Oh, cool.

LIV: And I’m just using a pastry cone filled with the chocolate frosting that we were using before.

LAURIE: And you get a pastry cone where?

LIV: Oh, well, this one I made. You can make them out of parchment paper or cellophane. You can also buy disposable pastry bags, or you can buy decorating tubes that already have icing in them.

LAURIE: Oh, great.

LIV: What I’m doing is I’m holding in place and I’m squeezing until I have a little dot, then pulling across, and ending on another dot and sort of tail of by sort of swishing your pastry cone quickly. Sometimes if you get breaks, that means you’re not squeezing hard enough and you’re moving too fast.

LAURIE: Oh, okay.

LIV: So now its time to put the trains on the tracks. So what I have is a larger offset spatula. You could use a pancake spatula, any kind of spatula that you can find that’s pretty flat. And push it underneath the cake, and then gently lift up and get your hand under there to guide it. And then I’m going to place it right down on the track and slide it out.

LAURIE: Fantastic.

LIV: Now it's time to decorate it with candy. So we have these little gummy rings. So do you want, what we can do is put two on each, like that.

LAURIE: Okay. On both sides?

LIV: All around, yeah.

LAURIE: Okay, I can do that.

LIV: And the tops are going to get a little bit of licorice.

LAURIE: Okay.

LIV: So now it needs its cargo.

LAURIE: Right.

LIV: So let me turn that around again. And maybe we can put some little chocolate candies in this one, or jelly beans. And I’m actually going to put a little coal in this steam engine. Oh, that looks great.

LAURIE: Okay.

LIV: That looks perfect. Let me do some jelly beans too.

LAURIE: Okay. And we also have some of these gummy rings that you can –

LIV: I’ll put another one, keep it nice and colorful. I’m also just going to put a little, put some cookies in here. And then we’re going to decorate the front of the steam engine.

So now its time to do the smoke stack. And you can use little peanut butter cups, or whatever candies you like. Just place them –

LAURIE: Cute.

LIV: Right there, and maybe some lights. So I’m going to put the front grill on, and I’m going to put a little licorice again.

LAURIE: That is one cool looking train.

LIV: Thanks for helping.

LAURIE: Oh, thank you so much, this is so great. And you know what, with the train theme, its easy to keep your party on track, you can give the kids their own engineer’s cap and whistle, create train ticket invitations, and make your home into a train station with a ticket window and track numbers over the door. I’m Laurie Gelman for howdini.com.

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meet theexpert
  • Liv Hansen

    Liv Hansen Professional Baker and Author Liv Hansen is the author of three books, has appeared on the Today Show, Top 5 (Food Network), The View and Roker on the Road, and was a finalist on the Food Network Challenge: Haunted Gingerbread. more about this expert »

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