Teaching Kids To Bake & A Chocolate Cake

Never in a million years did I expect to see my 9-yr old holding a winning cake on the auction block, but that’s exactly what happened. Our local county fair allows 4H & FFA kids to bake & enter cakes, and, if deemed to be one of the TOP 10, will be given the opportunity to auction them for big bucks. Again, at 9 yrs. old, I never imagined that his cake would be in the auction.

Last year, at the ripe old age of 8, he baked a cake, but at only 8, I figured that frosting a cake would be too challenging, so he made a lemon pound cake.  That cake was determined to be over-baked, and he received a red ribbon.  This year, when I asked what kind of cake he wanted to bake, he had a very clear, very specific cake in mind.

So, how do you teach a 9 yr old to bake and decorate a cake with success?

For simple techniques, I show him how to do something and he would simply repeat.  This works really well for basic piping, learning to measure dry ingredients, and operating a stand mixer.

Simplify Steps & Techniques
For steps and techniques that could become tedious or difficult, I find ways to simplify them.
*Instead of trying to frost the sides of a cake with a knife or spatula, I load frosting into a piping bag fitted with a giant flat icing tip.  I help him hold the bag, while he squeezes and turns the lazy Susan.
*To smooth the frosting, I give him a plastic bench scraper, like you would use for bread work. He can hold the bench scraper steady, turn the lazy Susan, and his cake’s frosting is smoothed.
* For drizzling ganache, I put the chocolate into a plastic condiment bottle with a small tip. Then, he can squeeze the chocolate wherever he wants…just like he does with ketchup.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Getting time to bake a cake multiple times is a best case scenario.  In the real world, we don’t have the time to bake that cake several times.  However, he spends a lot of time in the kitchen with me, so he already knows how to measure flour, a level a tablespoon of baking powder, crack an egg, and operate the mixer. When it came to decorating, he’s never decorated a cake, so before he began decorating, I set up the piping bag and gave him a sheet of aluminum foil to practice on.  Once he fills the sheet with practice rosettes or stars, I can scrape it off into the frosting bowl and he can do it again and again, until he feels comfortable.

eli auction 2As many others have said, give a kid ownership of a project and they will excel.  In this case, he baked the cake HE wanted to bake, not a recipe that I simply handed him.  He designed the cake recipe, so he wanted to create the best looking cake possible. This also meant that he got to make the decorating decisions.  I gave him several piping tip options, and he decided how his cake would look.

So what did Eli bake?

He wanted chocolate with a cherry filling with chocolate frosting and “that chocolate drizzly stuff” (ganache). And that’s exactly what I wrote for him.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Cake with Dark Cherry Filling

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 1- 3 layer cake

Eli’s Award Winning Dark Chocolate Espresso Cake with Dark Cherry Filling and Chocolate Buttercream.


  • 2 sticks butter softened (1 c.)
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ c. sour cream
  • 1 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ c. Special Dark Cocoa
  • 2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ c. milk
  • ½ c. cold coffee
  • Dark Cherry Filling
  • 2 (12 oz) bags frozen dark cherries
  • 1 c. sugar
  • ¼ c. cornstarch
  • ¼ c. water
  • Chocolate Buttercream
  • 2 sticks butter (1 c.)
  • 2 c. shortening
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 12 oz melted semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 lbs. powdered sugar
  • 4-6 TBSP half &half
  • Chocolate Ganache
  • 1 c. semi sweet chips
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream


  1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Mix in sour cream, espresso powder, and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, whisk or sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder.  Mix flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with milk and coffee. When completely incorporated, turn mixer to high and whip for 2 minutes.
  2. Pour into 3-8” round pans that have been sprayed with non-stick baking spray that contains flour.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  3. Remove from oven and cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely before filling & frosting.
  4. To make cherry filling:
  5. In a saucepan, combine all cherry filling ingredients, and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly.  Remove from heat, transfer to a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap,, and chill until cool.
  6. To make buttercream:
  7. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, shortening, and salt.  Mix in melted chocolate.  Add half of powdered sugar and mix on low until completely incorporated.  Add the remaining powdered sugar in ½ c increments alternately with half &half. When completely incorporated, turn mixer to high and beat on high for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove from mixer and decorate cake as desired
  9. To make ganache:
  10. Heat cream in the microwave for 2 minutes. Add chips and allow to sit for 2 minutes.  Whisk or stir until smooth.  Pour ganache into a squirt bottle and allow to cool slightly.
  11. To Assemble Cake
  12. Trim cakes to create a flat surface.  Divide cherries in half and spread an equal portion between each cake layer. Frost with buttercream.  Drizzle sides with ganache and decorate as desired.
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