A superhero birthday party on a budget

Birthday boy Ironman Sam

As finances get tighter and tighter things like birthday parties can be a frightening prospect. Venue, entertainment, party bags, food, cakes – it can add up to hundreds of pounds very quickly.

We don’t have a great deal of floor space in our house for doing a party at home, especially for a pack of energetic boys in party mode. So our main cost for Sam’s birthday party this year was hiring the hall in our local community centre. £65 well spent – so much space for the boys to run riot and let off steam.

The theme for Sam’s party was superheroes, and my very brave husband volunteered to fill the shoes of entertainer (that’s an instant saving of £170 in this part of town). He decided to do party games in the style of a superhero training academy – and armed with a very loud whistle, a couple of tents, energetic dance music and a lot of enthusiasm he managed to keep 19 boisterous boys in line!

That left me free to sort out the catering. For the grown ups I made a batch of my hummus, some fresh salsa with a variety of crisps, breadsticks and chopped vegetables for dipping.  I made a couple of jugs of my favourite winter tipple: Warm Apple, Rum and Ginger cocktail to take the edge off spending a weekend afternoon at a child’s birthday party! It was well received…

I tried to use as many storecupboard items as possible to keep the costs down. I won some rum in a raffle a few months ago so all I needed to buy for the cocktail was apple juice.  The basis of the salsa was a jar of Dorito dip uneaten from Christmas spruced up with some leftover cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and balsamic vinegar. The hummus is cheap as chips with cans of chick peas costing 36p.

For the kids I kept it really simple. Having seen the waste at children’s parties in the past I realised there’s no point providing mountains of food. They just won’t eat it. They’re far too overexcited to concentrate on a meal.

So I gave them all a brightly coloured paper lunchbag (bought cheaply at Party City in California) with a few items of food in. Two halves of a finger roll sandwich – one cheese, one ham. A little bag of healthy stuff – carrot sticks, grapes and a cherry tomato. A packet of wotsits and a couple of party ring biscuits. I made up jugs of squash and water to drink.

Giving kids their own lunch makes it simpler, less mess and if there are any dietary requirements you can label the bags for each child so you know they’ve got appropriate food.

There wasn’t a great deal of surplus. We ate the leftover sandwiches at home for tea and Sam is taking the leftover bags of healthy stuff into school every day for snack time.

For the birthday cake I steered clear of trying to do a novelty shaped big cake – they terrify me! Instead I predictably made a heap of cupcakes with a superhero theme.

I did a couple of batches of my very reliable chocolate fudge cakes with comic book words emblazoned on using writing icing.

And I did a batch of red velvet cakes with cream cheese frosting with gold sprinkles and superhero cupcake rings.

I can’t recommend cupcake rings enough for children’s parties. The boys LOVED putting them on after they’d eaten their cakes – so it’s a little gift and cake decoration in one! I got mine from a fantastic cake decorating supply shop in California, but you can get them online easily in the UK.

I’d always wanted to have a go at making the red velvet cake recipe as it’s so visually striking. As Sam’s party had a red and gold theme I thought this was the perfect excuse. I had a look at a few recipes online and was disturbed by the amount of red food colouring you’re required to use. So I found a recipe that suggested using beetroot juice instead.

Definitely RED this time!

I tried this, and ended up with PINK cakes. Can you imagine if I’d used them for Sam’s party?! Nope, I had to make another batch and revert to the food colouring mixed with the beetroot juice. The pink cakes are in the freezer and i’ll use them for the next cake stall at school. Waste not, want not!

The second batch of cakes were a deep scarlet triumph. Once frosted with the contrasting creamy icing they looked really great and tasted pretty darned lovely too. I’ll never know whether it was the excitement that had the boys spinning at the party or my cakes!

Happy 5th birthday gorgeous Sam!

All photos in this blog post were taken by my very talented friend Sharron from The Image Garden – thanks bud!

Red velvet cupcakes (makes 24 muffin-size cakes)


320g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp unsweetened good quality cocoa powder

28ml red food colouring

28 ml beetroot juice

113g unsalted butter, softened

337g caster sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 284ml pot buttermilk, at room temperature

1 tsp white vinegar

1 tsp bicarb soda

For the frosting:

226 g unsalted butter, softened

340 g cream cheese (mascarpone is best) room temp

468g icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180’C. Line two 12-hole muffin trays with cupcake liners.
  2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and leave to one side.
  3. In a small bowl or jug mix together the red food colouring, beetroot juice and cocoa powder until properly combined. I used a tiny hot chocolate whisk as the cocoa powder didn’t seem to dissolve very easily.
  4. In a large bowl or the bowl of your mixer beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating as you go, then add the the vanilla and finally your red concoction. Make sure you scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl reguarlarly with a spatula.
  5. Add roughly one third of your flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly.
  6. Then add half of the buttermilk and mix well.
  7. Beat in another third of your flour mix.
  8. Then add the remaining buttermilk and mix well.
  9. Finally beat in the remaining flour mixture until you have a smooth batter, ensuring the sides of your bowl are scraped down thouroughly so all your ingredients are well combined.
  10. Mix the vinegar and bicarb of soda in a small bowl – it fizzes as it combines – then add to your cake mixture and stir in really well.
  11. Fill your cupcake cases 2/3 full with cake batter and then pop your tins into the preheated oven for about 20 minutes (everyone’s ovens are different so keep an eye on them and rotate the tins if necessary halfway through)
  12. To ensure the cakes are done, they tops of the cakes should spring back when you touch them. You can also stick a skewer or cocktails stick into the cakes, and if they come out clean they are ready.
  13. Remove the cakes from their tins after 10 minutes or so, then cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before frosting.
  14. Mix the butter until light and creamy, then add the cream cheese and mix until smooth and fluffy.
  15. Gradually add the icing sugar – I put a tea towel over my mixer at this point to prevent the kitchen being engulfed in a white cloud!
  16. Then finally add the vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Top your cakes by spreading or piping. If the frosting has become too warm and appears greasy then whack it in the fridge for a bit until it’s a bit firmer and then use it to top your cakes.


About Katie Bryson

Katie Bryson is a freelance food writer and blogger. She left a career in online news at the BBC to immerse herself in the culinary world, taking in courses at Leiths School of Food and Wine and an internship at Waitrose along the way. Her family food blog www.feedingboys.co.uk is bursting with recipes and tips for feeding hungry families that’ll help inspire all those frazzled parents out there wondering what on earth to cook for tea!
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3 Responses to A superhero birthday party on a budget

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A superhero birthday party on a budget | Feeding boys and a firefighter -- Topsy.com

  2. Katie, this is a brilliant blogpost. But you forgot to mention how inventive you were, especially with the little party bag game. The bags were tied with string round a door way arch and each bag had the boys name on. The boys then had to pull the string from the ground and lower it to receive their prize. The inventiveness of that alone borders on genius! Side line in Birthday Party Entertainment methinks! x

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