Saturday, September 2, 2023

Bread Pan Train Cakes

For two years in a row, when my oldest son was younger, he asked for a train cake for his birthday.  He STILL remembers these cakes and talks about them.   Read on to learn how I made them. 

A 3D blue steam engine train cake with a cupcake for a smokestack, followed by a yellow coal car filled with crumbled oreos for coal, and oreos for wheels, on top of graham cracker tracks, sitting on a pizza tray covered with birthday paper (multicolor dots) on a table with a blue Thomas the Tank Engine tablecloth.
A train cake, sideways view, with cupcake wheels on a Engine with a double cupcake smokestack, a box car, and a caboose.   There whip cream "smoke"  and it's sitting on two overlapped silver cardboard trays, on top of a blue plastic tablecloth.   There are red decorative details on the Engine.

As you can tell, the frosting is not perfect on either of these.   I'm not a master baker or cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination.  But that means that you don't have to be either to make these cakes!   They don't take a lot of skill...just time and BREAD PANS.

Picture of two bread pans, one larger, and one smaller.

Yep, that's right, these cakes were made using bread pans. The first type only uses a larger bread pan (around 9 X 5"....doesn't have to be exact), and the second also used a smaller bread pan (around 6 X 3"). Both also require cup cake tins.

Now, they will take some time though.    It may take you a couple hours just to frost and decorate these things (never mind the time baking them).  And frosting anything can be tricky...but just know it doesn't have to be perfect.

TIP:  If you add frosting on thick it's easier to fix mistakes and less cake crumbs get into the frosting. 

You don't need a lot of special tools to make these cakes.   I do think a frosting spatula makes things so much more easy, but you can use other tools to spread that frosting.  And while you can use fancy cake piping tools to do some of the details on these cakes, store grocery store bought icing writers or cookie icing will do the trick too.

DISCLAIMER:  In the paragraph above, and a few other places on this page, you will find some affiliate links through which I could earn commissions.   Hopefully they are also helpful in defining terms though, too, and wont feel too spammy.

Train Cake 1
This is the same picture as the top of the page.  It's the upright 3D blue train engine cake with yellow coal car

For this cake you will need:

  • 1-2 bread pans, around 9 X 5"*
  • One cupcake pan.
  • Baking cups (for cupcakes)
  • 1 Box Cake mix (flavor of your choice)**
  • Oreo cookies
  • Graham Crackers (optional, for tracks)
  • Candy decorations (optional)
  • Food coloring (whatever colors you want for your train)
  • White frosting to color (2-3 tubs)
  • Chocolate Frosting OR black food coloring (if you use chocolate cake mix).
  • Plastic baggy and rolling pin (or something else to smash oreos).
  • Icing writers or cookie icing in color you want for your train window, OR a piping kit (if you prefer to pipe frosting for the window)
  • A frosting spatula (recommended) or knife, for spreading frosting
  • Large mixing bowl, smaller bowls, and something to stir with.
  • A large plate or something else to put the cake on.   Should be at least as wide as a cookie sheet. (I used a pizza pan covered in wrapping paper)

*If you want a super small cake, like for a child's smash cake or something like that, you could use smaller sized bread pans.    This would also make the cake fit on a smaller plate.  You will need to use a mini-cupcake pan if you are doing this with 6 X 3 or similar bread pans.

**The train chimney will be the color of your cake mix.  If you get a white cake mix you can add food coloring to get another color you would like. 

1.  Mix cake mix as directed.

2.  Line cupcake pan with 2-3 cupcake liners and fill half way with cake mix.     Pour mix into bread pans  until they are about 1/3 filled (or do one pan at a time then clean and repeat).  Cook for whatever time is listed for cupcakes on the box.  Test with toothpick to make sure cupcakes and cake is it is done and cook more if needed (you will probably need to cook bread pan cakes quite a bit longer, but it may be less than for other cake sizes listed, so I start checking when the cupcakes are done then check every 5-10 minutes).  You may have extra cake mix, and that's fine.  It can be used if anything goes wrong with the first batch.  

3. Make your frosting if you are doing home-made frosting.  Mix the colors you want for your train in separate bowls or containers (I just bought several .  I used chocolate frosting for under my "coal car" as it blends better with the oreos, but you could also use white frosting and food coloring.

4.  Prep your cake plate.  If you have a "not so pretty" cake plate (such as a cookie sheet), you can line it with birthday paper like I did.  Lay down pieces of graham cracker to make tracks. 

5.  Take cakes out of pans and let cool.  You can take your larger cake and put it directly onto the cake plate on top of the graham cracker tracks, with the curved side facing up (do not trim it).   It should be placed to one side, to leave room for the coal car.  This piece will make up the bottom half of your engine, as shown below.

Train cake 1 with bottom cake section circled in red.

6.  Cut the 2nd bread pan cake it in half.   One half will form the top of the Engine, and the other will form the coal car, as is shown below.

Cake one with the portions circled in red that are made up by the 2nd bread pan cake.

7.   I did not trim the bottom cake before placing the top piece on the engine.  You can see this created a bit of a sloped back affect (like a cartoon train made to look like it was going fast).   If you prefer a straighter look you can cut an l shaped section the size out of the bottom cake to place the top piece into.   Before placing the top piece, frost the top of the bottom cake.   This will help that piece stick and add a tasty layer of frosting. 

8.  Finish frosting the top of the cake.   Just smooth as flat as you can (it can be imperfect and still look cute).  A frosting spatula can help with this (I found it super handy), but you can also just use a butter knife (spread with non serrated side).   You can use Icing writers or cookie icing with the nozzles to draw windows (or you can pipe them out of frosting with piping tools  if you have them, though this can be a bit more challenging).  I placed some candy balloons on ours, and you can decorate it with any type of candy if you would like.  

9.   After the engine is frosted, place an unfrosted cupcake on the top/front to make a smokestack.

10. For my coal car, I cut off a sloped piece to make it look like one side was bigger.  If you prefer it flat you could just trim off the top of the cake to make it flat, or trim one side so that it matches the slope of the other (so that when you add the Oreos it will look like a mound).   Set this on the tracks behind the engine.

11.  Take out 12 Oreo cookies and split them apart.  Set aside the sides with frosting.  Put the sides without frosting in a plastic baggie and roll over it with a rolling pin until the cookies are crumbled into small chunks.  Set aside.

12.  Frost the sides of the coal car with whatever color you would like it to be.   Do not frost the top yet. 

11.  Frost the top of the coal car with either chocholate icing or another dark brown or black colored icing.  Stick the oreo chunks on the frosting to look like coal.

12.  Press the frosted oreos, frosting side in, on the side of the engine and coal car to make wheels.

You now have a completed train cake!

Train Cake 2

This is the same picture as the 2nd picture at the top of the page.  It was the sideways train with one car and one caboose.

For this cake you will need:

  • 1-3 bread pans, around 9 X 5"*
  • 1-2 small bread pans, around 6 X 3"
  • One cupcake pan 
  • Cupcake liners
  • Cake mix (flavor of your choice)*
  • White Frosting to color (3-4 tubs)**  
  • Food coloring (whatever colors you want for your train).
  • Icing writers or cookie icing in black or another color for your train window, OR a piping kit (if you prefer to pipe frosting for the window, which I did).
  • A frosting spatula (recommended) or knife, for spreading frosting*
  • Large mixing bowl, smaller bowls, and something to stir with.
  • 2 Rectangular cake boards (for placing cake on).  

*The train chimney will be the color of your cake mix.  If you get a white cake mix you can add food coloring to get another color you would like. 

**You will need four tubs of frosting IF you plan to frost your cupcake wheels.  I used chocolate frosting to frost mine.    

NOTE:  You can add as many train cars as you like in the middle, but will need to adjust the amount of cake mix and

1.  Mix cake mix as directed.  

2.  Line cupcake pan with 9-12 cupcake liners and fill half way with cake mix (you only need 8 cupcakes, but it doesn't hurt to have a few back up cupcakes).  

3.  Next prep bread pans by buttering and flouring the pans.   You will need 3 cakes from larger bread pans, and two from smaller bread pans.     Pour mix into bread pans until they are roughly 1/3 full.   You may have some leftover mix, which
can be used if anything goes wrong with the first batch.

4.  Cook both bread pans and cupcakes for whatever time is listed for cupcakes on the box.  Test with toothpick to make sure cupcakes and cake are done and cook more if needed (you will probably need to cook bread pan cakes a bit longer, especially the larger ones, but it may be less than for other cake sizes listed, so I start checking when the cupcakes are done then check every 5-10 minutes).

5.   Let cakes and cupcakes cool. 
Add food color to your frosting (one color per tub), and stir well.  Close lids until you are ready to frost.

6.  You may want to take two of the larger cakes and arrange them on the first cake board to make sure they fit (or all three if you manage to find an exceptionally long  cake tray).   I just overlapped my trays.  
You could also cut the back of one board and the front of the other to make the right size, and then just smoosh them together on the table so it looks like one tray  (and if you do this it's even more important to try out the arrangement of your cakes beforehand).  

  • Take one of the larger cake pans out and trim the arched side so it is flat.   Lay it horizontally on one side of the cake cake board with the trimmed side down (to make it easier to frost).  You may want to measure it against the size of your smaller cake pan cakes when trimming so they are the same depth.
    (NOTE:   Hey, you may notice that in my final I actually just put the rounded side up in my final cakes.  I can't remember why I did this.  It could be that the bottom of some of my cakes didn't make it out of the pan well.   It could be that I just decided I didn't want to trim stuff.   I'm suggesting this now because it's worked in other different cakes I've made using bread pans, and I think it would have made this look a little nicer, but it didn't look bad as is, so you can skip the trimming if you want). 
  • Next take one of the smaller bread pan cakes, and cut off roughly 1/3 of the cake.   Place it above the larger cake like it is positioned in the picture below (I placed this arch side up in the picture, but bottom side up would probably be more even). 
  • Frost this cake now, before adding the box car behind it.  
  • Lastly, arrange two cupcakes above the front of the larger cake to make a smokestack.  You will need to put a dot of  frosting between the two cupcakes so they stick together, and then press them into the frosting on the bottom cake.

Cake Layout - Engine


7.  Trim your 2nd large cake so one side is flat, and place it behind the first with the trimmed side down.  


8.  Trim your 3rd large cake so one side is flat.   If working with two boards, overlap or arrange them as you will present them, and then put your cake trimmed side down towards the back of one of the boards, lined up behind the other cakes.  (If you are only working with one board, just line it up behind your other cakes). 

This shows all three cakes in the train cake lined up on two cake boards which are overlapped so they sort of look like one board.

9.   Place the 2nd smaller cake centered above the larger caboose cake/

10.  Add food color to your frosting (one color per tub), and stir well.  Frost your cakes. Add any details you would like (such as windows and decorations, using your preferred tool:    Icing writers or cookie icing  or piping bag.  I used a wide flat piping tip to make the windows and line the roof of the caboose, but you could also do these other ways.
11.  If you want, frost your cupcake wheels (optional).  I only frosted the top.   Put a small dollop of frosting on the bottom of the cupcakes and place them beneath the train cars as shown above.   This frosting dot will help attach them to the cake board.

12.   In the first picture of this cake (2nd picture at the top of this page) you can see my "whip cream" smoke.  I do NOT suggest using whip cream for this.  It looks ok there but in a few minutes it was whip cream puddles.  If you do want to make smoke, I suggest doing so with white frosting.   You can experiment with frosting on a paper plate to find your preferred method for making clouds.    

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Africa and African Countries: Resource List

The following are resources I've found related to African and African countries.   Mostly it's free online resources.

I haven't used all of these resources personally. I'm not an expert on this topic, and nor do I have a cultural or ethnic heritage related to Africa, so I wouldn't be the best person for a "best of" list.   This is just a "what I've come across" list.  I'm compiling this because I feel like Africa is a region of the world that wasn't given enough attention in my own education, and I have tried to give my children more knowledge of Africa than I have.   

When the pandemic first hit and many parents were suddenly home with their children and looking up resources to homeschool (or just do something educational with their kids until they were back in school), I made a Africa Unit Study with the idea that maybe some parents would use this while their kids were home.  Since then I've collected more homeschooling/educational resources on this topic and needed a separate post to share them.   Enjoy.

Note that this is a mix of secular, neutral, and Christian curriculum.  I've tried to mark if the curriculum is religious, but may have missed some, so make sure to preview before using if you want to avoid religious or non-religious materials.


BOOK STUDY:   These are resources intended to be paired with a book related to Africa.  The book is usually not included (but libraries often have them).  I will try to put more info about the book after the link.

LAPBOOK:   A homemade book about a topic, often to be put together in a folder or notebook.

UNIT STUDY:  A topical study, often incorporating various subjects in a way that ties them back to the main topic.   Can be as short as one day, or as long as a year or more.


Africa Unit Study by Imaginative Homeschool (Me!)

Africa Unit by Adventures in a Messy Life
(I've included her individual country units in the Country section below, but at this link new African country studies will be shared here as she completes them).

Africa Countries Color by Number (Multiplication)

Free sample pages from Geography Through Art
These have a few African crafts.  Christian curriculum.






Central African Republic

  • Free sample pages from Geography Through Art
    (On pg 12, numbered 30, they have a craft related to butterfly art which is done in the Central African Republic and several other African nations, not mentioned.   I suggest also taking a look at this page to see examples of this art.)




Burkina Faso



Cape Verde (Cabo Verde)


Note:   I've included some resources on modern Egypt, but am not including resources on Ancient Egypt here because there is SO MUCH available and it would take up too much of the page.









  • Ready to Read:  On the Savanna,  by Gather Round Homeschool
    Christian curriculum mixing geography and phonics lessons, themed around the African Savanna.   This is a single sample lesson from a larger unit, and covers Tanzania, and the phonics concepts of ar vowel teams and r-controlled vowels.   The Tanzania material could be used separately from the phonics material.

If you know of other resources that should be on this list, please leave me a comment about them.  Thanks!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Quick Tip: Recycled Card Holders

My kids love Wrigley's gum...I love the little plastic containers that they come in.   They are so handy once the gum is finished....

Remove the paper after the gum is gone, and you can fill them with flashcards, playing cards, Pokemon cards, Baseball Cards whatever.   (And yes, it would take at least two of these to hold an UNO deck, but you get the idea).

Unfortunately, they don't quite fit index cards, but these are great for everything else.  They stack really nicely too, and hold up well if thrown in a purse or totebag (unlike the packages the cards originally came in).

Your cards may smell like peppermint afterwards if you don't wash them very well, but the kids I tutor now consider this a perk, not a problem.  They love the minty smelling game cards I have. 

(This post is not sponsored by Wrigleys or Uno.   All opinions are my own).

Friday, January 13, 2023

Story of the World - Chapter 16: The Return of Assyria

Story of the World Chapter 16 Lesson Plans
Ashurbanipal on a Lion Hunt

They're back!   We learned about the Assyrians in Chapter 8, and now they are making a re-appearance. 

For those new to my site, this is part of my history series where I share supplementary activities for Story of the World history chapters.  If you aren't using Story of the World, you can still use this page to supplement your lessons:  Just skip over the "While Reading Story of the World" section, and browse my suggestions of books and scroll down to enjoy the Assyrian Banquet activity. 

I almost always supplement our Story of the World reading with pictures from other books.   Here's the books I used for this chapter.   Your library may have other books that would work just as well.

DISCLAIMER:  Here and elsewhere on the page, I include some links through which I can earn commission (but, I usually  suggest looking for these in your library, which of course is free). 

Mesopotamia - DK Eyewitness Book
This book has been one of the books I've used the most during the first half of Story of the World.   It's been the best picture reference related to all things about the various civilizations in Mesopotamia which Story of the World talks about.  The index makes it easy to find what I need (though since it's not organized by nation/city-state in most places they are scattered throughout the book).  Still, this is one I'm glad I bought.  

Bible Lands - DK Eyewitness Book
This is a great DK book about the various places mentioned in the Bible.  It's a respectful secular book that I thought I would use much more than I did throughout Story of the World, but I just ended up finding better illustrations elsewhere most of the time.  It did occasionally have something I used though, such as the illustration of Assyrian siege towers I used in this chapter.

The Assyrians by Elaine Landau
While I was really happy to find a book JUST on the Assyrians in my library, and this had some excellent pictures, it's not one I would feel the need to buy.


SECTION 1:  Ashurbanipal's Attack
For this section we looked at several books.  Really, DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia  would have provided sufficient pictures on it's own, but I had grabbed some other library books too, and picked the best pictures from each (it's nice sometimes too to have several books open at once so I don't have to flip pages).  There are some slight changes between the revised and original version of SOTW you can find here.

Paragraphs 1-3
We used the nice map in The Assyrians by Elaine Landau, which showed both the smaller area covered during early Assyria, and the vast area covered during the Assyrian empire.

In paragraph 3 there was one semi-error.  It said "The Isrealites were never allowed to return back to their own land again."  But later in SOTW it talks about how they were allowed to return under King Cyrus.   That was over a hundred years later, so those people who were drivien out by Ashurbanipal wouldn't have returned (only their descendants), which is probably what the author meant.   Still, I felt like it was confusing so I skipped that line.

Paragraph 4
DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia pictures a carving of Ashurbanipal in his palace (pg 47), and an earlier Assryian king on a lion hunt (pg 44-45).   I found a picture of smaller section of the banquet carving here (also included below, in the activities section).

Paragraph 5
DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia has a large picture of a section of carving showing Assyrian soldiers in pairs with bows and shields attacking a city and climbing ladders over the walls (pg 42-43).   I found this same carving online here. I've found better pictures online of the archers and shield bearers recently (see below.  You can click on the pictures to see them larger.)
Assyrians in formation with bows and large basket shields
This photograph by Mike Peel ( is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Two types of Assyrian basket shields, one smaller, and one larger (both held by sheild bearer protecting archer).This illustration shows two different styles of basket shield.

Paragraph 6.
Bible Lands, in it's section on the Siege of Lachish (pg 46-47), shows an amazing carving of Assyrian's using a siege tower and battering ram (and also has an artist's rendering of one), as well as pictures of Assyrian armor and weapons.

SECTION 2:   The Library  at Nineveh
The Assyrians  had both artistic renderings of Nineveh and a picture of the formerly well-preserved ruins of the walls of Nineveh (sadly, I learned that Isis recently destroyed parts of these ruins recently,  and also destroyed many other artifacts of Nineveh.)   You can still see pictures of the gate that was destroyed Ninevah here.  There are also some excellent photos, map, and reconstructions here (with pictures you can mouse over to enlarge). 

We followed this by reading the Story of Jonah in a children's Bible.

This amazing digital recreation of the city of Nineveh is worth watching.

from Kais Jacob on Vimeo.


An Assyrian Banquet

Assyrian Relief of the Banquet of Ashurbanipal From Nineveh
This photograph by Mary Harrsch is licensed under the

Did you know that people from this time actually wrote down their recipes in cuneiform?   They did, which means we have lots of recipes, though it takes a little interpretation to figure out what they meant sometimes.   Thankfully, there's some historian cooks out there who did the hard work for us.

A fun activity is to make an Assyrian style banquet using some of these recipes.  I suggest making some or all of the dishes below with your children.   You could even have a pretend banquet, decking the table with fancy tablecloths and dishes and enjoying food fit for a king.  The passage suggested below would be a great piece to read to set the mood before you eat.

Silk Road Gourmet has a wonderful narrative description of an Assyrian Banquet in the first four paragraphs of the this post.   I suggest  stopping after the line "One by one the dishes you have waited all afternoon for are revealed" in the fourth paragraph, because after this she lists off broths to make a point--that the recipes on a translated cuneiform tablet were probably not all broths, but that, as she describes later...

I don’t think that any of the recipes translated by Bottero are broths. Rather, they are general guidelines for the flavors of dishes that range from koreshes, curries and soups to braised meats and dry pilafs – it all depends on the relative proportions of liquid and solid ingredients. Amounts of ingredients are almost always absent, so the exact dish prepared is left up to the cook.

A lot of the technical stuff after those four paragraphs wouldn't be interesting to most  kids...but they might enjoy making the recipe at the end of the post for Lamb with Barley and Mint.  Or not.  Maybe lamb and mint isn't really a kid-friendly recipe (I remember disliking something similar as a small child).  But, these other ancient recipes ARE a  more kid friendly and also not too hard to make:    

Mersu - Type 1
What I especially like about this one is the note down at the bottom that Coconut (an optional ingredient used), "might have been known by the neo-Assyrian period."   The Neo-Assyrian period is exactly the period of our chapter, so you can imagine this new and exciting food from abroad being introduced to the Assyrian court.

Mesopotamian Wheat Bread
Easy recipe kids would enjoy eating and making, with common ingredients.

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