What is a Cake Smash?
At its most rudimentary a Cake Smash (also called Smash Cake) is where a young child is given a multi layered, soft iced cake to play with. Commonly used to commemorate a 1st birthday, captured by a professional photographer or parent.
I begin with family portraits before the cake smash to give the child time to acclimatise to the studio surroundings. I like to follow the Cake Smash with a nice warm mini bubble bath. Most children love a splash about and let's face it a happy engaged child is always a beautiful subject to photograph.
Ever wondered where the Cake Smash idea came from?
It's impossible to say for sure but there is a Mexican tradition, known as la Mordida that is kinda similar. Let me be clear about this, they are categorically NOT the same.
La Mordida is colloquially known as the first bite. The main difference is that it is traditionally for all birthday ages and also weddings.
The birthday boy or girl's face is quite literally pushed into a cake. <pic>
The cakes they use are super light and creamy, so a friendly warning... please don't go shoving peoples faces into dense cake, that's a fast way to lose friends right there!
It sounds and looks quite brutal but if you imagine growing up around this, it can't be entirely unexpected, especially when your guests are also shouting mordida mordida! <pic>
The real difference with Cake Smash is that it is at the child's discretion and in their own sweet time.
Disclaimer **I would never put anyone's face into cake... unless it's mine and I'm playing pie face with the kids** <pic>
When did Cake Smash become a thing?
Cake Smash can be traced back at least 10 years and its popularity has grown steadily and is still on the rise.
So why do a Cake Smash?
Well on the face of it, it is (arguably) a bit of light-hearted fun. On a little deeper level it is essentially a form of messy play. Studies have shown there are many benefits to young children through these activities. You can read more about why messy play is important here. <link>
What size should the cake for a Cake Smash be?
I find that a 6" cake is plenty and although it may appear that the cake is ruined, there is usually enough for the family to take home afterwards. <pic>
It should be divided into thin layers with soft icing between to make it easy to break up.
I'd recommend avoiding chocolate that can resemble poo in images and likewise red colourings that can look like a horror movie that noone wants to watch.
The supermarket cakes sold as Smash Cakes <pic> (with a hard shell and sweets inside) are NOT suitable for this purpose. A toddler could easily choke on the sweets inside.
When is the best time to do a cake smash?
Surprisingly, NOT on the birthday itself. I recommend between a couple of weeks before and a couple of weeks after.
On the day of the session the Cake Smash is best scheduled after a nap. Once the bath is over it'll be time for another nap.
How long does a Cake Smash take?
Again this depends on your photographer. I've a laid back, easy going personality type with a penchant for perfection and oodles of patience so I don't put a time limit my sessions. I let them come to a natural end. As a ball park figure I'd say 20 minutes with the cake. It's important you don't sign up for a 20 minute session as it doesn't allow the additional time a child needs to become comfortable with the photographer and environment. I've spoken to photographers who complain the children they have never want anything to do with the cakes. I like to put myself in the child's shoes (the mental image I have right now is ridiculous 😏) and imagine going into a strange new place you've not been to before. You enter with your parents who then remove your clothing and sit you on some background paper 1.5 metres, away from anyone else and expect you to stay there. I'm sure I'd be kicking up a fuss!
That's not my experience and I'll tell you why. As long as you have a warm studio and play with the child at first at a distance, letting them come to you until they're comfortable. Once they are familiar with everything in the room and parents have been photographed to show them it's safe then when the cake arrives it is the most exciting thing to them. It's the only new addition to their environment. Bingo.
How much does a Cake Smash cost?
Like most things prices tend to vary from budget to premium, that choice is yours to decide. You can put together your own DIY Cake Smash (link to a 'how to' guide), there are many high volume, budget photographers who are really easy to find, or perhaps a low volume, premium service like mine is more your thing. My families love that they get not only a cake included but also their hair and make up as standard for your family portraits, all of which are taken in one, time unlimited session.
Is Cake Smash wasteful?
‘any potential source of food that has knowingly been discarded or destroyed'
So on the face of it, I can see how an onlooker could perceive it in that way. It's surprising how little is actually discarded. Mostly it's the icing that gets spread about and the family take the remainder of the cake home.
Cakes by Chloe has a 5 star hygiene certificate and makes my cakes for me. They don't come in plastic packaging from the supermarket, just simple easily recyclable thin card and I clean and reuse the cake base.
In terms of financial waste it's the purse holder that retains the right to spend their money without judgement.
Does it teach children poor table manners to play with their food?
Quite the opposite, the children are only 1 year old and they are learning about everything through the senses. They are not anywhere near developed enough for it to affect table manners.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with registered Pediatric Dietician Naureen Hunani.
'Children need to feel comfortable playing with food and getting messy in order to learn to eat. Amazing things happen when we invite children to use their imagination and explore food using their senses'
You can read the full interview here... Want your child to try new food? Try this strategy.
Why hire a professional for a Cake Smash?
There's the obvious clean up issue that you get to avoid of course! On top of that a professional should help put you at ease so you can relax and enjoy the mess making and sensory exploration. Enjoy watching your child find their way through this brand new experience. Can you believe they're ONE already??
Aside from those benefits you can't beat professional quality equipment. From the best lighting, camera and lenses to the Professional Photographer's experience to get the best from them and your child. It's a special milestone worth commemorating with beautiful keepsakes to remind you of the fleeting moment they turned ONE.
I don't want to give them refined sugar, is there an alternative?
Certainly, there are plenty of natural alternatives that are just as much fun and we can explore them together or enquire with your professional photographer.
Can I do a Cake Smash at home?
I must confess, I'm a massive DIY fan. Is that weird? I just love spending time researching and trying new things so absolutely you can! In fact I've written a How to DIY Cake Smash for the folks that want to give it a bash themselves.
Cake Smash near me
If you live in the North East of England and would like to celebrate your child's birthday with me, for a Cake Smash Photography Session or Portrait Photography Session then get in touch. I'd love to hear from you. My Riverside Studio is located in Sunderland, within easy reach from Newcastle, Durham, Peterlee and surrounding areas.
If you live in and around Liverpool I highly recommend Formby Photographer, John Howard.
If you have any questions about cake smash that I haven't covered, leave them in comments and I'll address them or at least attempt to!