Kagemand – Danish Birthday Cake
Ask any Dane about a traditional birthday cake and chances are they’ll try to explain the Cake Man or Cake Lady. What on earth is that, you ask! It is exactly as described: a cake base, in the shape of a boy or girl, decorated with lots of sweets and treats. While it’s mostly a kids’ cake, adults do like it too.
These cakes have never really travelled – we’re not quite sure why. They didn’t even make it to Sweden or Norway – it is a truly Danish thing that has stayed there. For many years, we’ve had Danish ex-pats ask us to make these and ask us for the recipe – and now, finally, we’ve made one of each and decided to pop the recipes up here as part of our Danish Baking Feature that we’re doing in August and September this year (Sweden and Norway will follow later).
There are several traditional bases you can choose, depending on what you like. Here, we give you the recipes and basic instructions for:
- Danish Pastry base (Wienerbrød)
- Brunswick Bun base (Brunsviger)
- Sweet rolls base (Boller)
- Choux pastry base (Vandbakkelse)
To be fair, you can actually make it any which way you want – and cut it into whatever figure, but these are the most traditional versions – and, as is the tradition, decorated with the help of a kid, usually the birthday child in question. Thank you to Elsa, 8 (nearly 9) for the help with these Cake men (quite a few sweets went into her belly instead of making it onto the cake, it has to be said). By the way, Elsa says to remind you all that her birthday is September 23rd and she’d like a telescope, Hogwarts Lego and tickets to the Alan Walker Concert at the Roundhouse in December (?!).
These recipes can’t be found in our books – although a lot of the base recipes can (we will make sure to make this clear later in this post).
Few points to note:
- The size of one of these Cake Men is so that it fits on one of the wide oven trays – approx. 40 x 50 cm and these recipes fit that.
- It’s helpful to draw out your base shape on the baking paper before you pipe or shape.
- This is a kid’s cake – get them involved! This is not a cake where you will win awards for presentation, but a wonderful birthday treat where the birthday child can help out, whether he or she is 2 or 10.
Danish Pastry Cake Man
Makes 1 – although there is likely to be a little excess of dough. Make some extra pastries.
1 x batch of Danish Pastry dough – Recipe HERE
1 x batch of Remonce filling – Recipe HERE
Egg for brushing
50g covering marzipan or fondant
150g approx. Icing sugar
1-2 tbsp cocoa powder
Lots of sweets and a packet of sweetie laces for ‘hair’
This dough is the hardest of all the options to work with and few people tend to attempt it at home seeing as the local bakers make these to order all the time. However, making Danish Pastry might be on the tricky side, but the taste is worth it.
Follow the steps to make the dough.
Turn your oven to 225C fan.
Roll out the dough, carefully, to a rectangle size approx. 40 x 30 cm. Cut it into 3 strips lengthways. Pipe or spread a line of remonce filling in the middle – add some raisins too if you want – and then close the packet, folding the sides over the remonce, just. Flatten slightly – and – importantly – turn over so the fold is underneath. We do this because we don’t need the layers to flake up for this one, but if you prefer the flaky version, leave with fold up. It will look less neat, but give a flakier result.
Prepare a baking tray – ideally with slightly raised sides as it might leak butter into your oven otherwise.
You can either cut pieces of the dough (a stick man, for example) or –as we did here – make two C’s and put them together back to back to form arms and legs. We then used the last piece to make a round shape for the head, with the last bit as the neck, connecting in the middle of the two Cs.
Leave to rise for 10-15 minutes, brush with egg and then pop into the very hot oven. Bake until done – 20-25 minutes, but do check as oven times vary depending on your oven.
Remove from oven to cool down. Meanwhile, make the icing. Around 150g icing sugar to be mixed with enough hot water to form a liquid icing, consistency of thick treacle. Once done, remove a little to another bowl and add a few teaspoons of cocoa to colour it brown – you may need to add a bit more water. Spoon into piping bags.
Roll ¾ out the marzipan in a circle – this is the face. We find it easier to decorate the face with the chocolate icing before we move it to the kagemand. Add a tie, shirt or whatever else you fancy.
Use the white icing to make a pattern on the cake and then decorate with sweets while the icing is soft.
Brunswick Bun base (Brunsviger Kageman)
Recipe for Brunswick Bun can be found in Bronte’s book Fika & Hygge.
This base is essentially an open cinnamon buns. Shaped as a little man or just baked in a massive tin and sliced, this cake is very popular all over Denmark.
You can use the same based dough as cinnamon buns – find the recipe here but only make HALF a portion.
For the topping, you need:
85g butter, softened
120g dark brown soft sugar
2 generous tablespoons golden/light corn syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon
a dash of vanilla extract or sugar
Lots of candy and some candy laces to decorate
100g icing sugar, to decorate
Line a big oven tray (40 x 50cm approx.) with baking paper.
Make the dough as directed. When it has rested, knead through. Draw your desired shape on your baking paper – please remember this dough rises and spreads, so leave good spaces.
Shape your cake-man, then flatten it down so it is around 1 cm thick only. Leave to rise for about 15 minutes.
Heat all the topping ingredients in a saucepan and allow to come right to the boil, then turn it off. Whisk well to combine to a smooth topping.
Using your fingers, poke holes all over the bun – this is for the topping to fall into. Using a pastry brush, add a general amount of topping all over – but reserve about 1/3 and set aside. Leave to rise again for another 10 minutes while you heat your oven to 200C.
Pop the cake in the oven – it will have filling spilling, this is normal. Bake for around 20 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and immediately use the rest of the topping, as needed all over, to ensure every bit is sticky and gooey. Leave to cool for a bit.
Decorate with sweets and treats and make an icing using icing sugar and enough hot water to make it the thickness of treacle. Pipe a face on the bun – we also like to outline this one with icing as it is otherwise quite a dark bake.
Bun Cake-Man or Cake-Lady (Bollemand og Bollekone).
So, when the parents think the other cakes have too much sugar or are too much of a fuss to make, they go for this option. We do love this – it is very cute, made out of little sweet buns.
You CAN use the same dough as for cinnamon buns – but it is quite cardamom flavoured and some younger kinds don’t love that. Instead, this recipe for birthday buns from our book Fika & Hygge is really great. Depending on how big you want your bun-man or bun-Lady to be, you can stick with a small recipe as noted here – or double up and then just made extra buns with any leftover dough. They will be eaten, don’t worry.
Ingredients for buns
200 ml whole milk
50 ml single cream
25g fresh yeast (or 13g active/dry yeast)
50g caster sugar
400g white strong bread flour
1 teaspooon salt
80 g, softened
beaten egg, for brushing
a large oven tray, lined with baking parchment
100g icing sugar
Lots of sweets and candy laces for hair.
Mix together the milk and cream and heat to finger-warm (around 36–37°c). If using fresh yeast, add the yeast and warmed milk-cream to a stand mixer with a dough hook attached. Mix until the yeast has dissolved.
(If using dried/active dry yeast pour the warmed milk and cream into a bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and whisk together. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to activate and become frothy. Pour into the stand mixer with a dough hook.)
Add the caster sugar and stir again, slowly adding half the flour mixed with the salt, bit by bit. Add the egg and softened butter and keep mixing. Slowly add the other half of the flour. You may not need all the flour or you may need a bit more, but keep mixing until you have a slightly sticky dough that is starting to let go of the sides of the bowl. This should take around 5–7 minutes.
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for around 35–40 minutes or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead through with your hands, adding only a little more flour if needed.
Cut the dough into equal pieces (as many as you need for your bun-man or lady – usually 14, with one being bigger (for the head)) and roll them into uniformly round balls. Place on the prepared baking tray with a bit of distance between, but still in the shape of your bun-man or bun-lady – then flatten down slightly. Cover again and leave to rise for a further 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.
Brush the buns lightly with beaten egg, then bake in the preheated oven for around 10–12 minutes or until golden brown.
Leave to cool before decorating. Make a simply icing by mixing icing sugar with drops of hot water until you have a treacle consistency icing. Use a piping bag to make your patterns and the face, then decorate with sweets and treats.
To eat, break off a bun, cut open and spread on copious amount of butter.
Choux Cake-man (Vandbakkelse)
Finally, the Choux version of the Kagemand. This version, luckily, does not require splitting and filling with cream like éclairs, so it is pretty straight forward. You do need a piping bag and a large piping nozzle though, or is looks even more messy.
Ingredients for the choux pastry
125g plain flour
2 tbsp icing sugar
pinch of salt
150g icing sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder
Sweets and treats and candy laces for decoration
In a saucepan, add the water and butter and bring to the boil to melt the butter.
Meanwhile, sift the flour onto a piece of baking parchment with the salt and sugar. Mix the eggs together in a bowl and set aside.
When the butter has melted, whisk and then add the flour mixture in one go and whisk vigorously until everything is combined. Take off the heat, too.
Your mixture will start to let go of the sides of the pan. Leave to cool down for 15-20 minutes (speed up by moving to a colder bowl).
Meanwhile, line a big baking tray and pencil in the shape of your cake-man or cake-lady. Turn the oven to 200C fan.
When the mixture has cooled slightly, you can add the eggs. Using a wooden spoon, add one egg at the time and beat until incorporated. You may not need all the egg: You need so much so that the mixture can form good peaks, but too much and the peaks will flatten down and your choux will be flat. This is the tricky bit.
Once done, move to a piping bag with a large nozzle. Pipe your choux onto the stencil on the baking tray.
Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until done, but do not open the oven door at all for the first 20 minutes and ideally as little as possible during the last, as your choux can collapse.
When baked through, remove from oven and prick a few holes in it to allow the steam to escape. Leave to cool, then make the icing by adding drops of hot water until the mixture is treacle like texture. Remove a spoonful of icing and mix with cocoa to make a dark colour for making eyes etc. Add icing to piping bags, decorate with sweets and treats and of course the all important candy lace hair.
We’d love to see some of your bakes – tag us on Instagram with #CAKEMAN.