11 Things You Need to Know to Make the AWW Train Cake

11 things you need to know to make the AWW train cake

When my gorgeous godson was born, I decided that every year I would take it upon myself to make his birthday cake. Birthday number one was fun and I totally aced his pinata cake.

Pinata cake

Clearly, it’s not called the Terrible Twos for nothing, because after kindly buying me the AWW Children’s Birthday Cake Book for my birthday, David volunteered us for the Choo-Choo Train Cake for birthday number two, one of the hardest cakes in the book. This wasn’t how I dreamed I would pop my AWW Children’s Birthday Cake cherry. This was  not a dream, it was a nightmare.

After extensive googling, I found there were whole forums discussing how to make this cake which is never a good sign. My friend’s mum’s only advice was “may the Cake Gods be looking down upon you.” She should know, with three grown up kids (who all have with kids of their own,) Sue has pretty much worked her way through the book. I then turned to the good people of Facebook, because there’s nothing they don’t know. They didn’t let me down.

I’m pleased to report that our train was not a wreck at all, it was a choo-tastic success but we did learn some important train cake lessons, and we learned some of them the hard way! If you want to take on the challenge of the train cake, here’s what you need to know!

1. Preparation is Key

This cake isn’t really difficult but it is a lot of work. The more you can prep ahead of time, the smoother the ride will be.

DO bake and freeze the cakes ahead of time.

DO make the icing before you decorate and DO ice the cake the night before. This is not a cake you want to assemble or ice at the last minute. Trust me, I know! However, save some buttercream so you can add the wheels and smarties on the carriages just before serving.

how to make the AWW train cake

2. Which Cake Tin?

The AWW calls for a 25cm x 8cm bar tin which I’m sure was a revolutionary piece of baking equipment at the time the book was published, but I’m pretty sure, doesn’t exist anymore. I scoured a range of reputable baking stores, the internet and all my friends’ baking equipment and I couldn’t find one of those tins anywhere. A loaf tin will work just as well. Cut the cakes to the correct size before freezing (see below.) There will be lots of scraps and leftovers, which you can eat for the fun of it or upcycle in some very delicious ways.

3. Which Cake?

The AWW recipe calls for packet cake but I use this recipe  which is as quick as any packet cake mix and has the added advantage that I know exactly what’s in it! It’s much easier to make the cakes, cut them to size and throw them in the freezer until you need them. Using this recipe, I needed to make about 4 loaves; 1 quantity of cake mix for each loaf and this made  4 carriages, the bases for the carriages and the back and the base of the engine. In case you were wondering, our carriages measured 10cm x 9cm x 7cm.

The AWW recommends using  a shop bought swiss roll and so do I. Unless you have nerves of steel or you are a swiss roll ninja do not attempt making your own, you want this train ride to be as smooth as possible. While, you’re at it, buy a pack of mini rolls, cut one in half and use it for the funnel. Eat the other 7 and a half. Think of it as a perk of the job! Don’t forget to freeze the swiss roll and the mini rolls too.

How to make the AWW train cake

4. Freezing The Cake

Making the cake ahead of time, saves time, energy and a lot of stress. Cut the cake pieces to size, wrap in two layers of plastic wrap, one layer of foil and label the cake pieces, if necessary. This will make for a seamless and pleasant decorating experience. Do not, I repeat, do not defrost the cakes before decorating. Decorating a frozen cake is easy as pie. Decorating a defrosted cake is like a crumb apocalypse.

5. Assembling the cake

We used jam and a bit of white buttercream to stick the bases to the carriages and the base and back to the engine. We did this when the cakes were still frozen, just before we applied the crumb coat.

how to make the AWW train cake

6. Finding Decorations

I used Mint Slices for the wheels which sent the grown ups into a frenzy of excitement. Remember, that the engine and each carriage will need four wheels and do the math… Otherwise you might find yourself running round the supermarket in your pyjamas  at 7am on a Saturday morning restocking your biscuit supply. I may or may not be talking from experience.

I couldn’t find black licorice string anywhere but I did find 2 metres of licorice which we cut up for tracks. I did manage to find fruit strings though and they were great for outlining the tops of the carriages. I hunted in every supermarket in a 10 mile radius (or so it seemed) and finally found the jube rings in a 2 dollar shop. Go figure! In the end, I only used 2 and ate the rest of the packet (in the name of research.)

Making the AWW train cake

7. How to Present the Cake

Unless you’re an avid DIYer and you have a random 1 metre piece of MDF lying around, it’s unlikely you’re going to have a board long enough to accommodate your train, particularly if you have more than two carriages. A trip to your local DIY store might be the order of the day, or just use the largest platter you have, like we did.

8. Making The Track

We stuck our lolly sticks down with writing icing which was great while it lasted (which wasn’t very long) but not so great after. I wish I could find a way of telling you of a magic way to stick the licorice tracks, but I can’t because it’s pretty much unstickable. If like us, you’re a bit OCD and can’t bear the thought of your tracks being anything less that perfectly aligned, chuck a box of nerds over the base of the cake, to look like gravel. It covers a mulitude of baking and icing sins, and brings a splash of colour to the whole affair. Of course, if you’re using a tray without an edge, do not use Nerds unless Nerd carpet is your thing.

11 things you need to know to make the aww train cake

9. Making The Icing

I use this recipe which makes perfect buttercream every time. I used tubes of food colouring, a few drops give bright, vibrant colours on the icing but not in everybody’s mouths. I’m still a bit traumatised about the time I turned my tongue and teeth blue.

how to make the AWW train cake

10. Decorating The Cake

Making this cake was like a crash course in cake decorating. Here’s what we learned…

DO ice the cake frozen.

DO a crumb coat on the cake first. Give it a thin coat of white buttercream, it’s perfectly OK to have some crumbs in the icing, this is just an undercoat! After dirty icing, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until the icing is stiff to the touch.

DON’T ice the cakes on the presentation board, unless you want coloured icing everywhere. Carefully move the coloured cakes into position with a palette knife.

DO smooth any bumpy bits with a small palette knife dipped into some hot water.

DO ice the cake the night before unless you’re a fan of frayed nerve endings.

11 things you need to know to make the AWW train cake

11. Transporting the cake

Do this with utmost care. It’s a good idea to take a first aid kit for your cake with some extra buttercream and decorations should anything fall off or get damaged in transit.

How to make the train cake

I’m not going to lie. This cake was brought to you by blood, sweat and (almost) tears and nearly ended in divorce. It was totally worth it though, for the look of pure happy on the birthday boy’s face. That said, next year, I’m choosing the cake and it will be from the “Easy Cake” part of the book. Let’s not think about that now though, because it  will take me the next 12 months to recover!

Have you made the Choo-Choo Train Cake? Can you add any other tips or tricks? What’s the most difficult cake you’ve ever made? Have you ever been lucky enough to receive one of the AWW Birthday Cakes? Which one?! Pray do tell!

Linking up with Kylie for IBOT

  • That is so cool! Love the first birthday cake too …

  • LydiaCLee

    I get them from a shop…otherwise no one would eat it! 😉

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    I don’t normally read cooking posts because they make me like bad as I just can’t do it. But I saw this picture on Facebook and was soon impressed with it. Awesome job Sammie.

    • It’s actually not that tricky, although I can’t take the credit for the decorating, hubby did it all! Of course, now he totally thinks he is the Cake Boss!

  • Jenni from styling curvy

    I did make this when my son was 15 (now 21), he said he always wanted a train cake so I did it.

    I used paddle pop sticks and licorice strips for the track, popcorn in the carriages and an MDF board for presentation.

    Your cake looked ace Sam, and made with love is always better

    • Your cake gave me so much inspo, Jenni! We used paddle pops but we decorated the train on the “track” so they got covered in icing! I wanted to get MDF but had nightmares transporting a metre long cake to the party place! I agree, made with love is BEST!

  • You’re an expert now! I made this cake for my two year old as well but admittedly I didn’t realise how scary it was in the cake realm. I’m a bit more slap dash and less on the perfection thing so it may not have been completely accurate by the WW standards but I was happy and more importantly so was the boy. You did a great job!

  • What an amazing godmother you are baking birthday cakes for your godson! Do you want to be the godmother of my children??? 😉 Seriously, this cake is sooooo impressive. A job well done. There’s no way I would have the patience.

    • Hee hee! If you think this is good, you should see the cakes that his little sister’s godmother makes – she’s a cake genius! The thing is, I don’t have the patience either, but David does. It turns out he’s a proper cake geek!

  • I had no idea this was such a tricky cake! It just spurred a conversation between me and my husband about which AWW cakes our mums made us and the ones we’ve made. His fave was a shark cake his mum made, mine was one mum made for my brother- a ship with lifesaver Lilly portholes and blue icing. Our best joint effort- a butterfly cake!

    • David thought this cake was so much “fun” he wants to work his way through the book and make more cakes, just because! I think the butterfly might be next! It’s much more enjoyable when it’s a team effort!

  • Oh Sam I can’t wait to meet up with you after our runs for a boozy lunch! We have so much in common. I make my nieces and nephews birthday cakes each year. We did a train like this for his 3rd. I think we had blue icing all over the kitchen for months. SO MUCH WORK and the kids just demolish it in 30 seconds. Looks great!

    • We really will have to catch up soon! I’ve just checked out your cake collection and you really are the Queen of Cakes. I’m good at the cake itself but I have to delegate the decorating to the hubster. Perhaps you should set up your own business?! David now thinks we should work our way through the AWW book, just for fun!

      • The Lego one was super simple! AWW has some awesome ones like the butterfly. It takes me a really long time just to make one. I would love to do a decorating course.

  • I’m a sucker for punishment! I made not one but two of these cakes for my son’s third birthday. One for the relative party and one for his friends party but I made the rookie error both times of icing it unfrozen. I decorated them both to look loike Thomas the Tank engine which was his obsession at the time. It was a nightmare trying to cover all the crumbs up and get them out of the icing. Yours of course looks ten times neater and better decorated!

    • I don’t know how you made two! You are a cake ninja! I learnt my lesson about icing cakes the hard way. Icing them frozen and using a crumb coat works every time!

  • Well, that’s enourmously intimidating… I’m a baker but not an icer, and have picked up some top tips here… but I’ll be in the Easy Cakes section too for sure.

    • I’m a baker, not an icer too. But it turns out my husband is an icer which just goes to show you really do learn something new every day!

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    Awww you did a great job Sammie! Well done!! 😀

  • Cate Brickell

    I think I’m glad I’ve “misplaced” this book, I heard whisperings last year of train cakes for small boys! Great job!

  • OMG!! What a triumph after such adversity!!! The look on that little blue face must have been worth all the blood, sweat and tears xxx
    Visiting from #teamIBOT today 🙂

  • What a gorgeous cake! Well done!!! xoxo

  • I just did bub’s 3rd birthday cake and cupcakes and I was totally the frazzled person icing at the last minute, after the party had started! I didn’t even realise you could freeze cake, deeeeeeer why didn’t I realise that? Definitely freezing ahead of time next year {if I ever decide to do a birthday party again that is}.

    • Freezing and icing is definitely the way to go. I am sure by next year the post party trauma will have subsided and you’ll be ready to take on the role of Super Party Mumma once again!

  • I have made that cake and IT IS TOUGH. As you say, it’s more about how much time it takes than being especially tricky. I think I did the version from the 1980s version of the AWW book though, the one with the popcorn on a wire as the steam from the train? I do love the mint slice wheels. Looks great, well done xx

    • This is the 1980’s version but without the pipe cleaner and the popcorn – mainly because I got so hacked off when I didn’t have a pipe cleaner, I ate all the popcorn instead (and very delicious it was too.) Not being very au fait with Aussie biscuits, I didn’t know what other biscuits to use!

  • Bloody hell! Your notes scare me but it was just like how I normally roll, at the beginning I am like ‘looks easy enough’ and then I get into it and I’m like “ARGH!’ Thanks for the links to your recipes of choice – have saved of future use. 🙂

    • I was definitely all “ARGH” and David was like Cake Boss. That butter cake and buttercream have never let me down and the cake holds it’s shape really well. It’s my favourite go-to cake recipe and they both taste delish!

  • I’ve never made the train, it looks way too complicated for me!

    • It’s actually not that complicated when you know how. My husband wants to make it again “just for fun” knowing what we know now!

  • I’ve learnt a lot from this! I’ve made a couple of challenging cakes but tend to stick to easy ones. I’ve got a soccer ball cake coming up this weekend but have decided to keep it 2D. Making an actual ball shape was far too intimidating!

  • SOOOOOOOOO cute! My Mum was queen of the AWW cakes when I was a kid! I think she made just about every single cake in the book! My favourite was always the pool one with the blue jelly in the middle and the caramello koalas hanging out 😉

    • Oh isn’t your mum clever? Seeing as David now thinks he is the Cake Boss, I’ve asked for the pool cake for my next birthday! 🙂

  • Excellent work! I have seen this cake executed a few times over the years and am always impressed with the effort. My daughter’s cake this year was a rushed packet job hastily bought that morning from the IGA and iced while hot so not terribly impressive.

    • I’m sure that cake was impressive for your daughter! That’s the thing I love about the train cake, it doesn’t really take skill, just a bit of effort 🙂

  • That is the coolest cake! I must confess, I have never been a cake baker, instead I’m a cake buyer 🙂

  • Oh Sammie this has brought back horrendous memories of the only time I attempted a fancy birthday cake – it was supposed to be a duck on a pond of blue jello. It had so many toothpicks and bamboo kebab sticks holding it together it was impossible to cut it!! You’re a braver woman than me – mind you I could have done with some of your tips way back then!