Did you notice? By July 5, many big box stores had replaced their festive red, white and blue displays with reams of back-to-school supply lists. Don't let bins of notebooks, pencils and glue psych you out of celebrating the weeks of summer break remaining. Even if you don't have an actual trip to the beach to look forward to, that's no reason not to pull out the tiki torches, bake a themed cake and make some waves right at home.
Kids especially get a kick out of themed cakes that go so well with outdoor fun -- and who doesn't love a luau? Most of today's summer cake ideas are ones youngsters can help with. They'll enjoy some giggles at turning Jolly Rancher fruit chews into seaweed, praline sundae crunch into sand, or fruit stripe gum into surfboards.
If you're more ambitious and handy with rolled fondant icing (which includes gelatin and food-grade glycerin), there are numerous ideas for gorgeous cakes covered with edible seashells, star fish and coral on the Internet. But remember, your backyard crew's collective sweet tooth will be just as satisfied with a Hawaiian Beach cake, Go Fish or Pool Party cake.
Just add water
If you're looking for some frugal entertainment for kids before they dig into their special cake, keep them active and cooled off with some of these suggestions from familyfun.go.com.
Bucket brigade -- Set up teams of two or more players, two empty wading pools, two buckets and two water hoses. To play, one member of each team stands in the wading pool with a string tied just above his or her ankle.
At the signal, teams have to fill their buckets and then run (if there are only two players) or pass (if more than two) buckets to the pools, where water is dumped around the players' feet. The first team to get the water level above the string on their player's ankle wins.
Obsta-cool course -- Planning to water your lawn? Set up a get-wet obstacle course with a sprinkler centerpiece. Stations could include drop-kicking a water balloon, jumping rope in the sprinkler spray, shooting a squirt gun at a target. Use a stopwatch to keep track of players' times to run the relay; you can run the relay with two teams going in different directions.
Raft race -- If you've got a pool, let racers (of appropriate age and swimming ability) line up at one end on an inflated raft or tube and, at the sound of the whistle, kick and/or paddle to the other end. Make up some fun rules, like racers can only paddle, or only kick, have to sing as they race, or retrieve a quarter from the edge of the pool. The possibilities are endless.
GO FISH CAKE
1 baked 13-by-9-inch cake
6 cups blue frosting
2 cups orange-yellow frosting
1 mint patty
Cut and arrange cake as shown.
Frost the cake blue, then frost the tail and fins orange. Place wafers on as scales. Add the mint as an eye and the gummy fish for the mouth.
HAWAIIAN BEACH CAKE
1 baked 13- by 9- by 2-inch cake
2 1/2 cups blue frosting
1/4 cup white frosting
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
Plastic Hawaiian dancers
Candy flower sprinkles
Plastic palm trees
Fruit Stripe gum (surfboards)
LifeSavers (inner tubes)
Sour tape, cut into 1-inch lengths (beach blankets)
Plastic dolphin or gummy fish
Lightly coat the entire cake with a thin layer of blue frosting. Swirl extra blue frosting on two thirds of the cake to create the ocean with waves and a curvy shoreline. Add whitecaps by squirting white frosting through a pastry bag.
To make the sandy beach, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on the remaining third of the cake (the crumbs will stick to the thin layer of frosting).
Next, let your kids help you turn the cake into a bustling beach. Arrange a circle of candy rocks around a candle bonfire. Add Hawaiian dancers, a candy flower path, plastic palm trees, Fruit Stripe gum surfboards, plastic swimmers, LifeSavers tubes, sour tape beach blankets, and paper parasols. Don't forget to stock the ocean with edible and decorative sea creatures.
POOL PARTY CAKE
1 package (18-1/4 ounces) white cake mix
1 package (3 ounces) berry blue gelatin
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 piece red shoestring licorice
14 Swedish Fish candies
5 Peachie-O's candies
5 Necco wafer candies, divided
2 Air Head candies
1 lollipop stick
2 Now and Later candies
1 stick spearmint chewing gum
1 Life Savers Gummy
98 Smarties candies
1 Sour Brite Octopus candy
Grease two 9-inch round baking pans and line with waxed paper; grease and flour the paper. Prepare cake batter according to package directions. Pour into prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 21-26 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
In a small bowl, dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Pour cold water into a 2-cup measuring cup; add enough ice cubes to measure 1 1/4 cups. Add to gelatin; stir until slightly thickened. Discard any remaining ice. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until soft-set.
For frosting, in a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and salt. Beat in confectioners' sugar until smooth and fluffy. Set aside 2 tablespoons frosting for decorating. Place one cake on a glass or plastic board. Frost top of cake with 2/3 cup frosting.
For pool, cut a 5-inch circle (1 inch deep) in the center of second cake (save removed cake for another use). Place over frosted cake. Slowly pour gelatin into circle. Frost top and sides of cake.
For ladder, cut licorice into two 4-inch pieces; gently press 1 1/4 inches apart into frosting, looping top ends for handles. Cut three 1 1/4-in. pieces of licorice for ladder steps; press into frosting. Decorate sides of cake with Swedish Fish and Peachie-O's.
For pool steps, use a small amount of reserved frosting to attach four wafer candies to board. Trim two Air Head candies and bend into chair shapes; with frosting, attach Runts to chairs for legs. For table, attach remaining wafer candy to a lollipop stick; push into cake. Place chairs on cake and board.
For diving board, spread frosting between two Now and Later candies; attach gum to top of candies with frosting. Cut Life Savers Gummy in half; attach to sides of gum. Place on cake.
Arrange Smarties on cake for pool tile. Place a line of Smarties on gelatin to form a buoy rope. Place octopus candy in pool. Refrigerate for one-two hours or until gelatin is set.
FISH TANK CAKE
1 (10-by-15-inch) cake
1 can (16 ounce) vanilla frosting
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate frosting
Blue food coloring
1 cup praline crunch sundae topping
Mini-colored goldfish crackers (Pepperidge Farm)
2 graham crackers
8 green Jolly Rancher fruit chews
4 spearmint leaves
3 tablespoons sugar
Trim the top of the cake and make smooth; transfer cake, cut side down, onto a serving platter.
For frosting cake, you'll need two resealable ziplock bags. Spoon 2 tablespoons vanilla frosting into one resealable bag. Spoon the dark chocolate frosting into the other bag.
Add enough food coloring to the remaining vanilla frosting to tint it a light blue.
Heat the green Jolly Rancher fruit chews in the microwave for no more than three seconds to soften. Roll out the fruit chews and cut them into seaweed shapes as pictured.
Sprinkle a little sugar onto your work surface to prevent sticking. Roll the spearmint leaves out in the sugar. Cut the flattened green leaves into long oval shapes and twist, as pictured.
Using a serrated knife, cut the graham crackers into tower shapes.
Spread the blue frosting over the top and the sides of the cake. Make smooth.
To complete decoration, press the praline crunch in an uneven line along the bottom edge of cake for the sand.
Press the graham cracker tower, the seaweed-shaped fruit chews, the twisted spearmint ovals, and the goldfish crackers all over the cake.
Snip a very small corner from the bags with the vanilla and dark chocolate frostings. Pipe white dots above the goldfish crackers for bubbles. Pipe dark chocolate eyes onto the goldfish crackers.
Enlarge the cut corner in the bag with the dark chocolate frosting to 1/4 inch. Pipe a border with the chocolate frosting to create the outline of the fish tank.