CakeWreck or Cakesterpiece? A Unicorn Birthday Party

Yes, that is a unicorn.

And yes, he’s drowning.

Yes, I know how creepy/sadistic/amazing/absurd that is. There’s a perfectly good reason for it, though: It’s my friend Chris’s birthday, and the cake mirrors artwork on his wall (and refrigerator).

So why did I pay tribute to it in cake form? Well, it’s simple, really: If it’s your birthday, I’m going to make you a cake.

It just happens, and it usually involves taking some nuance of your life and turning it into a cakesterpiece. (Yes, I did make up that word, but please, feel free to use it in everyday conversation. It’s pretty fetch, right? Okay, maybe not. In fact, I feel like I belong at a special dinner with Steve Carell and Zach Galifianakis.)

Chris loved the surprise, and since many people asked how I did it — nearly as many as those who asked why — here’s how a humble chocolate cake became a ridiculously, delightfully over-the-top dish.

Utensils required: 9″x13″ baking pan, mixing bowl, spoonula, measuring cups, electric mixer, oven, oven mitts, toothpicks, butter knife, plastic resealable bag


  • chocolate cake mix (I used Betty Crocker’s chocolate fudge cake mix)
  • whatever eggs/butter/oil the mix requires
  • 1 package of food coloring
  • 1-2 cans buttercream frosting (depending on how much frosting you like to use; I recommend two)
  • 1 small bag of M&Ms (I used peanut butter)
  • Sprinkles (optional, but they’re great for hiding a cake’s flaws — or at least making you feel like you’ve gone the extra mile with the least amount of effort)

Time commitment: 2 hours


1. Prepare the cake according to the box’s instructions. Make sure to use and electric mixer — not a whisk or spoon — to stir the batter, since you’ll need that high speed to really aerate the batter and create a fluffy-yet-sturdy cake. Undermixing creates too moist a cake, which will be likely to collapse on itself before you even get to frosting it.

2. The cake is ready when you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. Let it cool for about 20 minutes before digging into the cake.

3. Next, remove the cake from the 9″x13″ and cut it width-wise into one large square and one small rectangle. (Basically, a chunk that’s 2/3 of the cake that serves as the “base,” or water portion, and a 1/3-size piece that’ll be used to sculpt the unicorn.)

4. Set the cake aside, and open a can of buttercream. Place 1/3 of it in a plastic, resealable bag and set that aside, too. With the remaining buttercream in the jar, pour in 5-6 drops of blue food coloring and stir it together. Add food coloring until you get the desired shade of ocean blue you’d like. I’m a fan of aqua.

5. Frost the entire “base” piece of cake (that’s the large square) with blue icing. Use the butter knife to create swirls in every direction, creating the wavy look of water.

6. Once that’s done, turn to the small rectangle of cake. Chop off one skinny rectangle from one of the ends of the cake — it’ll serve as a unicorn arm.

7. Next, carve a rounded, teardrop shape out of the cake. This will be the unicorn’s head. To make the horse’s nose stick out farther than its forehead (for lack of better descriptors), cut the teardrop halfway down the center, then gently cut it length-wise to meet your previous cut-mark. Basically, you’re forming an “L” shape in the teardrop to create a 3-D horse’s head.

8. Out of the remaining cake, cut two small triangles for ears and one longer, thinner triangle for a horn.

9. Insert two toothpicks halfway into the bottom of the unicorn’s head, then stick it into the cake. This will secure the unicorn’s head so it won’t tumble off the cake — yikes!

10. Pop open the other can of buttercream, setting aside about two tablespoons of it in a small bowl. Take the rest of the buttercream in the can and add in 3-4 drops of yellow food coloring, stir it thoroughly, and carefully frost the unicorn.

11.Take two M&Ms and place them logo-side-down as the unicorn’s eyes. Stick a toothpick halfway into the unicorn horn piece of cake and stick it into the unicorn’s head. Gently place the ears on either side of the horn and frost them with the leftover yellow frosting. (They’re small enough that they don’t need toothpicks to stay in place.)

12. Now you’re ready for that Ziploc-bagged buttercream. Pour in 2-3 drops of blue and red food coloring each. Stir it together for a pleasantly purple frosting (unless you get overzealous like me and add so much food coloring that it nearly turns black). Snip off a corner of the bag and use it to create the horse’s mane.

13. Add a few drops of blue food coloring to darken the purple frosting. Stir it in, then use it to form the unicorn’s pupils, furrowed eyebrows and concerned-looking mouth. (I almost feel inhumane and cruel just for typing this. Part of me even wants to call PETA on myself. Poor unicorn.)

14. Blend a few drops of yellow and red food coloring into the two tablespoons of frosting to create orange. Then, frost the horn.

15. Use any remaining frosting to write a cheery birthday greeting to stand in stark contrast to the unsettling image of a mythical, adorable creature meeting its demise in a frothy, buttercream-frosted doom.

Worthy of CakeWrecks? Probably. Conversation piece? You betcha! [Insert plucky finger-pointing guns and a Palin-esque accent to that last phrase.]

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