Cake Tutorial: Baseball Stadium
Step-by-step instructions for a cake that knocks it out of the park! Created for my son’s baseball-themed third birthday party.
I built this in four stages: Baking, assembly, frosting, and addition of graham cracker elements. I did the baking two days ahead of the party, assembly and frosting one day ahead, and I added the graham crackers immediately before the party to minimize sogginess. The timeline doesn’t really matter (except the graham crackers, which go soggy within hours) but I like to leave myself enough time to execute a backup plan in case I make a huge mistake.
Step 1: Baking
I constructed the stadium from two 9x13 sheet cakes, and the baseballs from a dozen mini cupcakes. I don’t own any bigger pans, but if you own a full sheet cake pan like the ones used to make the sheet cakes from the supermarket, then you could make step 2 much simpler by simply cutting out the entire stadium shape from a single cake.
I prepared two boxed cake mixes in a single bowl, spooned out the twelve mini cupcake papers, and then split the remaining batter between my two 9x13s, already greased and lightly floured.
I baked the 9x13s first according to the box directions, minus a few minutes in the oven to account for the batter removed for cupcakes. The mini cupcakes I baked separately, in about 5–8 minutes.
Step 2: Assembly
First, I needed somewhere to build and then serve this cake, which is larger than any of the cookie sheets or platters that I own. I scoured the house and settled on the lid of a plastic storage bin from our garage. At 16" x 23.5", it’s big enough to hold the cake and just small enough to fit into my fridge. I cleaned it up and covered it in foil.
Next, I made paper templates of 9x13 cakes and then cut them apart in various ways and rearranged them to experiment with different designs — I’m a builder at heart and an engineer by trade, so this was actually fun for me. This is the design I settled on:
- Step 1: Trim the edges (half to a full inch) off of all sides of both 9x13 cakes so that they’ll sit snugly next to each other without gaps or valleys. There are tricks to ensure that cakes come out with nice flat tops, but I’m too lazy for these. Instead, I find that cutting off the edges eliminates most of the unevenness.
- Step 2: Place the cakes side by side along their long edges.
- Step 3: Create the V-shape of the stadium’s infield by cutting off the lower part of each 9x13 at a 45-degree angle. Make sure you leave the triangular scraps intact, as they’ll be used later.
- Step 4: Move the triangular scraps up to the top of the stadium to create an extended outfield. I found it easiest to move each scrap to the side opposite of the one it was cut from. This means that the four-corners intersection in the middle of my cake was made up of four of the original corners from the 9x13 cakes.
- Step 5: Use a serrated knife (I used my regular bread knife) to trim the top half of the cake into a round arc. I just did this by eye, without any template or measurements.
- Step 6: Use a serrated knife to slice away thin layers from the tops of the higher cake pieces until all four pieces are the same height and even.
At this point, I took an overnight break. I wrapped up my four pieces individually in saran wrap and then foil and stored them in the refrigerator until I could pick up again the next day.
Step 3: Frosting
Most of the field is green, so I started with that. I worked from the infield out, figuring the infield is where most of the detail is and thus where I was most likely to make a mistake. Better to know early if I’m going to have to start over!
The cake top takes about cup and a half of vanilla frosting. I used one full storebought can. I love this handy guide to mixing frosting colors, but in this case it was unnecessary. I simply added green dye until I got the green I wanted — about 100 drops for 1.5 cups of frosting. 100 drops is roughly a teaspoon of food dye.
I put the entire 1.5 cups into a pastry bag, and used a very fine round point for the infield and a larger semi-round for the outfield.
I started with the infield, using a template. In the end I ditched the template and drew the infield by eye, but this was a bad idea. It shows in the asymmetry, which I fixed later on. I piped the outline, filled in the middle with messy piping, and then smoothed everything together with a toothpick (carefully, since I had no crumb coat).
I then went back over the frosted surface, poking it with a toothpick to create little spikes evocative of grass.
I made the outfield using a similar process: Draw the outline, fill with loose pipng, smooth with a toothpick, and then poke to create spiky grass. The only difference was the size of my piping tip (larger) and my grass tool (I used a fork instead of a toothpick).
I followed the same process yet again — minus the grass texture — for the area behind the field, where the bleachers will go. Next time I’ll use white for this part to better distinguish the playing field from the fan/observation area.
I left the sides unfrosted, since they would be covered with graham crackers in the final preparation.
By the time this was all finished, I nearly forgot to frost the cupcakes! They were pretty straightforward: White base layer, red backbone lines to guide the stitching, and then small cross-hatches for the individual stitches. I made my own piping bags for this from plastic sandwich baggies with the corners cut off. Next time I’ll use a real pastry bag for the red stitching. Mine is a cheap one from the supermarket but it has a round tip which is smaller than the hole I can make reliably in a baggie. The stitching would have looked better in slightly thinner lines.
At this point I stopped for the day. I peppered the baseball field with maybe 20 toothpicks and laid cling wrap loosely over the top of the cake, sealing it down to the aluminum foil on the sides. I put the mini cupcakes back in their tin and used the same toothpick and cling wrap method on them to keep them fresh overnight. I also threw my piping bag with red icing in the fridge, for use in some small finishing touches on the graham cracker elements.
Step 4: Graham Cracker Fencing & Bleachers
Shortly before the party began, I finished the cake. The remaining steps took about an hour in total.
First I made the dirt for the infield by crushing graham crackers. This could have been done ahead of time. I broke them up by hand and sealed them in a plastic baggie. Then I put the flat part of a spatula over the baggie and hammered it with my fist — anything heavy would work — until most pieces were pea-sized or smaller. Their size didn’t matter much since I was interested in the dust more than the pieces. I used a fine mesh strainer to filter out the chunks, leaving me a nice bowl of delicious sandy-looking crumbs.
I considered saving the bigger chunks for use as an ice cream topping, but I ate them on the spot instead. Not surprising to those who know me and my sweet tooth.
Before filling in the infield with sand, I piped out bases and foul lines with white frosting. I made the piping bag from a plastic baggie with the corner cut off. I filled it with about 3/4 cup of frosting, since this is also how I planned to (and did) glue the bleachers together and add the fencing onto the cake.
Once the bases were in place, I poured the graham cracker sand onto the infield. I did it like a landscaper would: I dumped a few big piles scattered across the middle, and then used my tools (a toothpick) to slowly spread the piles out into the more intricate areas. I found that a creased piece of paper worked nicely to pick up scoops of sand and deposit them where I wanted them with enough control not to spill on the frosted areas.
It would have been much easier to simply frost the entire field in green and then add graham cracker sand over the top of the infield, but I love the way this design allows the infield to be sunken so that the top of the sand is flush with the field.
Next I added the graham cracker fencing all the way around the sides of the cake. I started with half-crackers along the back of the infield, leaving room for a single full-sized cracker in the very center which I added last . The half-crackers stuck up far enough to support bleachers that slant down onto the field without towering over the cake. For the rest of the fencing, I used quarter-crackers standing along their long edges.
I glued each cracker onto the side of the cake using a few lines of frosting piped onto the back of each cracker. In a few places, my cake sides were not fully vertical because I wasn’t thinking this far ahead when I trimmed them. It was simple to use a serrated knife to trim them to be fully vertical to prevent my crackers from standing at an angle.
I used my leftover red frosting from the baseball stitches to write a scoreboard on the front fencing, and a stadium name on one full-sized cracker anchoring the back center of the stadium. I found it easiest to decorate each cracker before adding it onto the cake. I’m sure someone more creative than me could think of even more fun ways to decorate the fences!
In restrospect, I wish I’d had some extra frosting to pipe a decorative line around the top edge of the outfield. The cake looks a little sloppy as-is, without the seam between the graham crackers and the cake top exposed — the chocolate cake is even showing through! A simple, fat line of dark green or white would have drastically cleaned up the look of the whole cake. Alas, I was out of both frosting and time at this point. Lessons for next time!
Finally, I prepared and assembled the bleachers. Each bleacher section was made from a quarter of a graham cracker, and held eight M&M fans. I made three bleachers per side, gluing the M&Ms on with a dot of frosting from my piping bag. I’m glad I counted out all of the candies before I started gluing— I had planned to use blue and red, but my bag of M&M’s didn’t actually contain enough red candies! I had to switch to orange, but I think in the end it brightened the cake.
I added the bleachers starting at the center of the field and working my way out. This ensured that there was always room for my fingers to hold the bleacher that I was placing. I found that I only needed to pipe a single line of frosting along what would be the top edge of each bleacher. In fact, I probably didn’t even need this — I think that the thickness of the frosting already on the cake, and the support of the vertical crackers would have been enough to hold the bleachers with no additional glue at all.
Overall I was pleased with the way this turned out. I’ve already pointed out the things I’d do next time to simplify it and clean it up a bit. The birthday boy was happy, and the cake made our guests smile (both kids and adults). Success!