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Making and Decorating a Cake Train

Stephanie has had four children, including a set of twins! She loves to share ideas on raising kids—the good, bad and ugly!

Childhood Memories Making a Cake Train

For the past 5 or 6 years, my children have been enjoying a Christmas tradition started by Grandma. Instead of trying to build a gingerbread house (hard to get the pieces to stay together and no one wants to eat the house when it's done), my mom has been making a cake train for the kids to decorate with candy!

This annual event always takes place on Christmas eve morning. Grandma makes two whole "trains," using cake mold pans from Williams Sonoma. There are seven train cars, including an engine and caboose. Other segments of the train include passenger cars and a hollowed-out cab for carrying presents/candy, etc. Of the grandchildren, each child gets to pick two train cars to decorate with frosting and candy. When everyone is done, we assemble the cake train on a huge piece of plywood, covered with foil. After Christmas dinner, the kids get to eat their creations!

Cake trains can be made and enjoyed at any time of year. In fact, children that love trains may be delighted to have a cake train for their birthday celebration! Kids ages 3 and up can even decorate their own cake train cars at a birthday party, then take it home with them at the end of the celebration. Much more practical and fun than handing out birthday treat bags.

With a molded pan, making a cake train is relatively easy, but you can also create a cake train from scratch with the directions below!

TIP: Before starting your train cake, prepare a backdrop for its display. As noted above, we used a long piece of plywood (6 feet by 1 inch) and covered it securely with foil. You can even pipe on train tracks on which the train pieces will sit, for added whimsy.

* All images in this Hub are under copyright of the author, Stephanie Hicks. Please contact me for permission to re-use

Cake Train ready for decorating!

Cake Train ready for decorating!

Cool Train Cakes!

Make a Train Cake Using Cake Pan Molds

Admittedly, making a train cake using cake pan molds is the easiest way to create a train cake! The biggest hurdle you will experience is finding a cake pan mold for a train.

Once you have a mold, you can generally use any cake recipe, or even packaged cake mix to bake a train cake. That said, you should choose one that is not overly moist because it may crumble when removing from the mold or when you try to decorate it. A pound cake mix or recipe works best for a molded cake because it is drier and firmer.

Regardless of whether you choose to use your own recipe or a mix, You will need to ensure that you have made enough cake batter for the entire train. With the train molds my mother uses, you only need a single cake mix or the equivalent recipe for a 2-layer cake or single sheet cake (9x18 inches) for each complete train. Prepare the molds first, using cooking spray and a light dusting of flour to prevent sticking. When filling the molds with dough, be sure to leave about 1/2 to 1/4 inch from the top to allow for expansion when baking.

After the cakes are done baking, allow them to sit for 30 minutes before carefully removing them from the pans. We have found that the best results are achieved when the cakes are prepared the day before decorating and allowed to cool completely, as well as dry out a bit.

Make a Train Cake from Scratch

You don't need a cake pan mold to make a train cake! The whimsical design can also be created from a large sheet cake, carefully cut and trimmed to make individual train car designs. If you don't have a large pan, bake two (or more) 9x13 sheet cakes and use them both!

As with the tips above, the drier and firmer your cake is, the easier it will be to slice and handle while you build a train cake. A pound cake recipe results in a firmer medium with which to work.

Be sure to prepare your cake pan with cooking spray and flour before adding the batter. That way, it will be easier to remove. Allow the cake to cool about 1 hour, then remove from the pan. Wait at least 12 hours (preferably 24 hours) before beginning to work with the cake. Leave the baked cake uncovered because you want it to dry out just a bit.

Before you start trimming the cake to create shapes for your cake train, make a pattern for each piece using construction paper or thin cardboard the same size as the sheet cake. Using a pencil, sketch each part of the train, then cut out the pieces and arrange on the cake, trying to avoid leaving too many scraps of cake. Using a serrated knife, carefully trim around each pattern piece.

Now you can build your train cake! Of course, simpler designs make this process easier. Frost each individual piece with a thin layer of stiff frosting. If using store-bought frosting, avoid "creamy" selections and consider stirring in 2–3 tablespoons of powdered sugar before spreading on the cake to make the frosting more sticky.

Make a Thomas the Tank Engine Train Cake

Suggested Candy Decorations for Cake Trains

  • Peppermint or spearmint disks (for wheels)
  • Life-savers (another option for wheels)
  • Cinnamon red hots
  • Gum drops
  • Thin strands of red or black licorice
  • Gummi bears or other gummi animals—create a zoo car!
  • Black licorice pieces - for coal
  • Jelly beans—miniature ones work best
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Chocolate chips
  • Peppermint sticks
  • Gum balls
  • Pretzel sticks

Decorating a Cake Train

Whether you have used cake molds, or created a train cake from scratch, decorating it is the best part!

Once you are ready to build the train, consider using a good, firm frosting to which other decorations can adhere. I do not suggest using canned frosting because it is too soft. If you do so, stir in 2–3 tablespoons of powdered sugar before applying to the train cars. You also may wish to make different colors of frosting adding 2–3 drops of food color.

For cakes made with a mold, you will lose some of the whimsical details if you frost each car entirely. We have found that its best to pipe the frosting onto each car with a cake decorating tip and pastry bag. With cakes made from scratch, covering each car completely with frosting creates a "canvas" on which you can add details with thin strands of licorice, gum drops, round hard candies, etc.

When you are working with children under age 6, they will need adult assistance with the frosting. After the cakes are frosted, or have had frosting applied to them, its time to add candy details. Not surprisingly, children love to help with this part. Put out a number of candies and other decoration suggestions (see right) and let them get as creative as they wish!

TIP: Be sure to select cake decorations that do not pose a choking hazard to children under 3!

Finally, an adult should help arrange the individual train cars onto the prepared cake display (see TIP above). Then, be sure to take lots of photos to add to your family's memory book.

Children love decorating cake trains!

Children love decorating cake trains!

© 2011 Stephanie Marshall

Comments

Fawntia Fowler from Portland on November 15, 2017:

What a good idea! I've been thinking about making a gingerbread house this Christmas, but it would only end up in the trash. Perhaps a cake train is the way to go instead!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 06, 2013:

Thanks halfpint - my kids and their cousins absolutely love this wonderful cake train tradition. Hope you have fun with it!

Amanda Bennett from Nova Scotia on November 06, 2013:

My son would love this cake!! I think we might make one in a Christmas theme for a centerpiece this year!! Thanks so much for the great idea!!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 02, 2013:

Thank you!! We love this tradition each and every year over Christmas!

Dianna Mendez on November 02, 2013:

I love this idea. Your kids make the best photo memories. I think this would make a great family project for the Christmas holiday.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on June 23, 2012:

I had never see cake train before. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up. Have a nice weekend :-)

sarahgaden from Massachusetts on June 22, 2012:

Awesome idea. I'm going to try this for my son's birthday. He's a BIG fan of trains!

sammimills from California, USA on June 16, 2012:

Very cute! I like it. Thanks for sharing. Congrats for being Hub of the day. You deserve it. Good thing I stopped by on your hub and got these great idea. :D

Pamela Dapples from Just Arizona Now on June 15, 2012:

I'm going to make this a Christmas tradition a couple days before each Christmas. What fun! And my husband is such a train buff that he will definitely want to help the grandchildren decorate the train cars. Great hub! Voting up and awesome.

Milli from USA on June 15, 2012:

Wow! What a creative idea for the kids. They are having fun making it. Beautiful pictures. The cake look so delicious. Great tradition.

Congratulations on HOTD!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 15, 2012:

Congrats! I enjoyed this Hub when you first published it. I'm so glad you were rewarded with Hub of the Day for this! It deserves it. I will share. Don't know if I should vote it up again or not (but I will)

Marlene Bertrand from USA on June 15, 2012:

I enjoyed the pictures. The kids look like they are having so much fun. What a marvelous tradition - way better than fussing with gingerbread houses!

Congratulations on receiving Hub of the Day.

Mary Strain from The Shire on June 15, 2012:

Congratulations on HOTD! This is adorable and a perfect Christmas idea. The photo of the finished train is amazing. Beautiful...

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on June 15, 2012:

Congrats on earning HOTD for this adorable cake idea. I love how you and your Mom have turned decorating cake trains into a Christmas tradition that includes the grandchildren.

I also liked the suggestion of using this as an activity at a children's birthday party.

Voted up across the board except for funny.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on June 15, 2012:

Oh, my goodness, how cute! And how easy--I did not know there were pans to make little cupcake-sized train cars.

I recall for my first grandson's 2nd birthday, (gosh--that's 16 years ago now!), my daughter and I were up ALL NIGHT LONG, decorating a single large cake train (from a cake mold) with an all-over "star-tip" pattern. She'd recently finished a cake decorating class at the time, and had only a single pastry bag--so we had to keep changing the bag, frosting and tip, washing and starting over for each color! What a time-consuming headache that was! Lesson learned: have several pastry bags and duplicate tips!! ;-)

Congrats on HOTD--This is very cute, and well done! Voted up, interesting, awesome and shared!

Amy L. Tarr from Home on June 15, 2012:

All aboard the cake train! What a cute idea for a kid's birthday party. Each kid decorates their own car.

Jennifer Vasconcelos from Cyberspace and My Own World on June 15, 2012:

Your Hub is very well put together and the idea is simply wonderful!

MissMonaye88 from New York, NY on June 15, 2012:

I absolutely love this idea. I'm definitely going to have to do this with my nieces. They love hands on things like this.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 15, 2012:

Thanks all! Really had fun putting this one together. My oldest boys are 14 and 12, so they participate mostly to help the younger cousins

Mary from Cronulla NSW on June 15, 2012:

Just wish my kids were still little!! Such a fantastic hub, layout pictures and info all so well done...great job...cheers

lovedoctor926 on June 15, 2012:

Wow! This is amazing! The train cake is a very creative idea for any special ocassion. vote up!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 15, 2012:

The entire concept of this is great with the children participating and your presentation and pictures! I will share this!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 15, 2012:

Thanks so much everyone! The cake train is one of our favorite family/Christmas activities. We always look forward to making it and I'm so thrilled that the idea/hub was picked for HOTD! Very fun - loved sharing our photos, too. All the best, Steph

moonlake from America on June 15, 2012:

When I was a young mother and had never baked much. I made a train cake for my three year old son's birthday. I got the recipe from Betty Crocker's Cake and Frosting Mix cookbook. Made it from a 9x13 inch pan. It was fun to make and he really loved it.

Enjoyed your hub.

Congrats on your hub.

Chantele Cross-Jones from Cardiff on June 15, 2012:

What a great cake, can see it would be a fun family activity at christmas!

RTalloni on June 15, 2012:

Congrats on your well-deserved Hub of the Day award!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on June 15, 2012:

Cute, cute, cute! I've never heard of this idea - love it! If you have several kids working on it, each can decorate a piece of the train. Pure genius! Congrats on the HOTD, Steph!

FunHouse on June 15, 2012:

I love train cakes! They allow for so much imagination, I do agree decorating is the best part! Beautiful hub.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on June 15, 2012:

What a fun way to get the kids in the christmas spirit. This is definitely going to be on my to do list next christmas. Love the video clips too.

Thanks for sharing stephhicks68. Voted Up and Useful.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on June 15, 2012:

What a beautiful and fascinating hub! Congrats on a well-deserved HOTD.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on June 15, 2012:

My kids would LOVE this - what a great tradition! These look like a lot of fun to decorate, and are much easier than gingerbread houses, etc. Great hub!

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on June 15, 2012:

Steph - Congratulations on Hub of the Day for such a fantastic idea. So many family traditions seem to involve food, but I like that this one involves creativity as well as eating.

Esther Shamsunder from Bangalore,India on June 15, 2012:

What a Super idea! Kids love them and moms will love to make them. Creativity unleashed for all moms!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 15, 2012:

How much fun this must have been. The little ones look as if they are having so much fun. It is so cute!!! My baby grandson is a Thomas-the-Train fan, huge fan. So, I know now that after seeing this he will need one of these. We will scare up a special holiday, maybe Thomas Day, and make one of these. Of course, he will have his little part to decorate. Thank you for sharing this.

voted up Congratulation on hub of the day

kelleyward on June 15, 2012:

I've never heard of this. What a great idea! I love the cute pics of your adorable kids. Congrats on getting the HOTD!! Take care, Kelley

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on June 15, 2012:

Steph, Congratulations on the HOTD! This is a great hub and it come just on time as I was looking something different for baking. I love the part of decorating the cake as I can use my imagination. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 25, 2012:

Thanks barbergirl - off to go read your birthday cake hubs! Best, Steph

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on April 25, 2012:

What a great idea... I especially loved the part about using it for a kids birthday party and sending a piece home! Very cool... linking this to one of my birthday cake hubs!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 01, 2012:

Cool! Train sandwiches - I'll bet those were great! My oldest (now 14) loved Thomas the Tank Engine too. I wish we had the cake train idea when he was younger too. Best to you, Steph

Yvonne Spence from UK on February 01, 2012:

Wow! I wish I’d seen this hub 10 years ago when my elder daughter was Thomas Tank mad! I do remember making a train out of sandwiches for a party, but it was not nearly as impressive as this train.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 06, 2012:

Simone, you are definitely on to something! Can you imagine what fun it would be to make a cake train with a bunch of friends? Plus, did you notice in that first video that someone made a cake train for their friend's 40th birthday with 40 train cars?? It doesn't have to be limited to kids, or to Christmas! :-) Thanks for the comment - let me know if you make one! Best, Steph

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 06, 2012:

I've never heard of cake trains before, and think THIS IS SUCH A CUTE IDEA!!! Oh my gosh!! I must MUST do this at some point. What a fun excuse to get a bunch of friends together- not to mention a wonderful reason to buy more baking supplies! Love the photos and helpful videos. Great Hub!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 05, 2012:

Thanks EG and livelonger,

LL - you are right that each train car has its own personality! I hadn't noticed that before, but that is definitely part of the charm. With 9 kids (4 of my own) and my niece and nephews, its quite a production each year, but so much fun for memory making! Thanks for the comments, Best - Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 05, 2012:

Hi Keeley, I hope your boys have a blast making a cake train for a weekend/snowy day project! Should keep them entertained for hours, especially if they help you make the cake, as well as decorate it. Have fun! :)

Jason Menayan from San Francisco on January 05, 2012:

You have some talented kids! Your train looks FANTASTIC, each car has its own personality. A great project for kids, something they can look back at when they're older with a lot of satisfaction (long after the sugar has worn off!).

Expert Gardener on January 05, 2012:

Hi,

Stephhicks68 has good points. I appreciate your hub. An interesting one so I would like to vote up.

Keep up the good work step.

EG~

Keeley Shea from Norwich, CT on January 05, 2012:

Definitely making this train cake! Both my boys will love it!!!!!! Cold, raw, snowy weather ahead - this is a great indoor fun project and just in time!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 05, 2012:

Thanks Robin - your family would love making a cake train! Compared to a gingerbread house, it is much easier to assemble and can usually be eaten by the kids within a few days of making it. I agree that it would also be really fun for a birthday party. When my oldest was a baby, he loved Thomas the Tank Engine - what a great theme for a party! Best to you, Steph

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on January 05, 2012:

This is so incredible, Steph! I absolutely love this idea and the tradition that you have started. This would be such a fun birthday party idea, too. We might have to switch the gingerbread house making tradition to this next year! Thanks for sharing; I loved all of your photos of your kiddos, too!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 04, 2012:

Hi Nicole - thanks! Our boys really love the cake trains and every year it turns out differently. Thank you for the comment. Cheers, Steph

Nicole S Hanson from Minnesota on January 04, 2012:

This is soooo neat! My boys would LOVE this!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 01, 2012:

Thank you randomcreative, anginwu and Gypsy Rose,

Making a cake train is fun for kids, but also enjoyable for adults. Great way to enjoy some delicious creativity. Cheers, Steph

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 01, 2012:

Sounds like a fun project and delicious too.

anglnwu on December 31, 2011:

Wow, this is such a clever idea. I definitely would like to decorate it. YOur kids will have such good memory of Christmas mornings.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 31, 2011:

Really cute idea! Thanks for all of the pictures and resources.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 31, 2011:

Thank you, SanneL and ktrapp,

The trains are a wonderfully fun family tradition and everyone enjoys making and decorating the little cakes. Appreciate the visit and comments. Best to you! Steph

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

The cake train is such a great idea; I've never heard of one before. And it's even better that it is part of a family tradition that all the kids really look like they're enjoying.

SanneL from Sweden on December 31, 2011:

How cool!

This is a great project. I will share this with my nieces and their children.

The trains are just so beautiful!

Voted up and pushed all the right buttons.

Thanks!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 30, 2011:

Mary, our immediate family also makes gingerbread houses each year, too! When our extended family gets together for Christmas, the kids range from age 2 to 14, so the cake train is easier in many ways to make, decorate and assemble. And yes, having fun is what its all about! Thanks much and cheers to you, Steph

Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 30, 2011:

This is an adorable idea! We make a gingerbread house every year. This year we made a candy and cookie house. I wrote a Hub about that. When you have the time, check it out. The children in your Hub are having a great time, and that's what it's all about, right? I voted this UP etc.etc.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 30, 2011:

Thanks to all of you! Making and decorating a cake train is one of the highlights of our Christmas and a cherished holiday tradition. Appreciate the comments! Cheers, Steph

Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on December 30, 2011:

How fun! My boys & nephew would absolutely love making a cake train.

This is a very well-crafted hub!

I enjoy reading about family and holiday traditions. It's rather inspiring. =]

[Voted up, interesting, useful, and awesome.]

Field-Of-Flowers from Midwest, USA on December 30, 2011:

The children did such a great job in building this. And the smile on the little boys face says it all as to the fun they are having! Thanks for sharing this. You have my votes on this one. Have yourself a great day! :-)

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on December 30, 2011:

What a fun project to do with children. The trains came out beautiful.

RTalloni on December 30, 2011:

What fun a train cake would be to put together. One day... :)