I have always liked cool cakes. I enjoy shows like Martha Stewart and Cake Boss that show really interesting and amazing ways to be creative with food. I also have several magazines that I have saved for years, featuring cool and crazy cakes. When my kids have a birthday, I let them look through the books and see if there is one they like. Sometimes I can make one that looks very close to the picture. Sometimes it is only used for inspiration. I love making them but I have no plans to make them for others. (Sorry, but I have eight cakes to make every year and lots of "helpers" so that is about all I can handle!) It has become a fun and exciting challenge for all of us.
I have a few tips for making a really awesome cake with limited experience and skill.
1. Buy the supplies ready made. I like homemade frosting but it can be temperamental and time consuming. I have used pre-colored tubes for most of the cakes I have made. I prefer Wilton's. You can use their real metal tips with the icing tubes. That offers you much more variety in what you can do. (They have lots of helpful information on their website, too!)
I also buy toys or candles for the decoration. My kids sometimes ask for Barbie or Transformers, which are hard to make. If I buy a toy for the top of the cake, they kind of get an extra present.
Sometimes I buy a cake decoration and design a cake around it.
2. Go for the impression, not precision. Don't be afraid to get creative. If you are making a butterfly cake, the wings don't have to match perfectly. You don't have to make real butterfly-like designs on them either. Use sprinkles and candy. My daughter wanted cereal on her buttefly wings. Let your imaginations flow. My kids are always impressed, even when their castles are lop-sided and ironman looks like he got punched in the face.
3. Give yourself room for error. Plan to make the cake when you have plenty of time. I often bake the cakes the night before. I have also leanred to have plenty of icing. If something doesn't turn out right, scrape it off and start over. Use the leftovers on another cake, graham crackers, fruit, pretzels, whatever. You don't have to be wasteful.
4. Keep trying. Don't stress if you don't know what you are doing. You will learn from expereince. Even after all the cakes I have made, I still learn something each time...because each cake is different and brings new challenges. But that is the fun part!
I hope this gives you encouragement to stretch your creative muscles. Nothing is ever as daunting as it seems, especially when you make a little effort!