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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
7. STEAM ENGINE BASE CONSTRUCTION:
- 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.
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.
TRAIN CAR CONSTRUCTION
7. Trim your 2nd large cake so one side is flat, and place it behind the first with the trimmed side down.
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.
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.