Making and Decorating a Cake Train

Updated on July 8, 2017
stephhicks68 profile image

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 its 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 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! | Source

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 to sit 30 minutes before carefully removing 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.

You can find train cake pan molds at a number of sites including, but not limited to:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cousins making a cake train
Cousins making a cake train
Cousins making a cake train | Source

Let's Make a Cake Train!

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

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Completed cake trains
Completed cake trains
Completed cake trains | Source

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! | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Stephanie Hicks

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      • Fawntia profile image

        Fawntia Fowler 

        8 months ago from Portland

        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!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        4 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

      • halfpintohoney profile image

        Amanda Bennett 

        4 years ago from Nova Scotia

        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!!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        4 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        4 years ago

        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 profile image

        prasetio30 

        6 years ago from malang-indonesia

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

      • sarahgaden profile image

        sarahgaden 

        6 years ago from Massachusetts

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

      • sammimills profile image

        sammimills 

        6 years ago from California, USA

        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 Kinnaird W profile image

        Pamela Kinnaird W 

        6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

        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.

      • livingpah2004 profile image

        Milli 

        6 years ago from USA

        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!

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        6 years ago from Florida

        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)

      • MarleneB profile image

        Marlene Bertrand 

        6 years ago from USA

        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.

      • mollymeadows profile image

        Mary Strain 

        6 years ago from The Shire

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

      • Happyboomernurse profile image

        Gail Sobotkin 

        6 years ago from South Carolina

        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.

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        6 years ago from Oakley, CA

        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!

      • PenHitsTheFan profile image

        Amy L. Tarr 

        6 years ago from Home

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

      • Jlava73 profile image

        Jennifer Vasconcelos 

        6 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

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

      • MissMonaye88 profile image

        MissMonaye88 

        6 years ago from New York, NY

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

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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

      • carter06 profile image

        Mary 

        6 years ago from Cronulla NSW

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

      • profile image

        lovedoctor926 

        6 years ago

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

      • Angela Brummer profile image

        Angela Brummer 

        6 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

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

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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 profile image

        moonlake 

        6 years ago from America

        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.

      • daisydayz profile image

        Chantele Cross-Jones 

        6 years ago from Cardiff

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

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        6 years ago from the short journey

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

      • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

        Marcy Goodfleisch 

        6 years ago from Planet Earth

        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 profile image

        FunHouse 

        6 years ago

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

      • ComfortB profile image

        Comfort Babatola 

        6 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

        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.

      • vespawoolf profile image

        vespawoolf 

        6 years ago from Peru, South America

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

      • leahlefler profile image

        Leah Lefler 

        6 years ago from Western New York

        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!

      • ktrapp profile image

        Kristin Trapp 

        6 years ago from Illinois

        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.

      • Purple Perl profile image

        Purple Perl 

        6 years ago from Bangalore,India

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

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        6 years ago from sunny Florida

        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

      • profile image

        kelleyward 

        6 years ago

        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 profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        6 years ago from Germany

        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.

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

      • barbergirl28 profile image

        Stacy Harris 

        6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

        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!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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

      • Melovy profile image

        Yvonne Spence 

        6 years ago from UK

        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.

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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 Smith profile image

        Simone Haruko Smith 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        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!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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! :)

      • livelonger profile image

        Jason Menayan 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        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 profile image

        Expert Gardener 

        6 years ago

        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 profile image

        Keeley Shea 

        6 years ago from Norwich, CT

        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!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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 profile image

        Robin Edmondson 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        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!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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 profile image

        Nicole S Hanson 

        6 years ago from Minnesota

        This is soooo neat! My boys would LOVE this!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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 profile image

        Gypsy Rose Lee 

        6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

        Sounds like a fun project and delicious too.

      • anglnwu profile image

        anglnwu 

        6 years ago

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

      • randomcreative profile image

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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

      • ktrapp profile image

        Kristin Trapp 

        6 years ago from Illinois

        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 profile image

        SanneL 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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!

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        6 years ago from Florida

        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.

      • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

        Stephanie Hicks 

        6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        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

      • VeronicaFarkas profile image

        Veronica Roberts 

        6 years ago from Ohio, USA

        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 profile image

        Field-Of-Flowers 

        6 years ago from Midwest, USA

        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! :-)

      • Just Ask Susan profile image

        Susan Zutautas 

        6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

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

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        6 years ago from the short journey

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

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