The unicorn is a mythical animal that is depicted as a horse with a single horn in the center of its head. As Encyclopedia Britannica points out, the unicorn has appeared in Greek literature as well as Bible verses, and in those stories, it is believed to be a magical creature that can cure a variety of illnesses. But it has only been in recent years that the unicorn has been viewed as less of an ancient symbol of healing and more of the stuff that little girls’ dreams are made of.
Unicorns have found their way into popular culture, flooding the marketplace by appearing on everything from clothing to cartoons to restaurant menus. Unicorn lovers everywhere have literally eaten up unicorn-inspired toast, coffee drinks, and birthday cakes. People have flooded the Internet with pictures of the elaborate cake designs, and there are hundreds of thousands of posts with the #unicorncake hashtag on Instagram alone.
But who is responsible for starting the unicorn cake craze? And more importantly, how long is it going to last?
A Canadian bakery is credited with starting the trend
Unlike the mythical creatures that inspired them, unicorn cakes didn’t just appear out of a cloud of glittering light. They were actually the brainchild of a Canadian cake decorator.
Jenna Hutchinson, co-owner of Jenna Rae Cakes in Winnipeg, Canada is thought to be the baker responsible for starting the trend of these exquisitely decorated cakes that (almost) look too good to eat. The New York Post reported that Hutchinson made her first creation of the now infamous cake in 2016 at a customer’s request for a little girl’s birthday. The finished product was adorably decorated with dainty eyelashes, a fondant horn, a colorful mane and tail, and enough buttercream frosting to make all of your sweet dreams come true.
Hutchinson posted a photo of her fabulous four-layer creation on Instagram. Through the magic of the Internet, the post went viral, and Jenna Rae Cakes saw orders flooding in from customers who wanted her to recreate a version of that whimsical cake for their own events.
The term was a top trending Google search in 2018
One of the best indicators of how popular something is is whether or not people are searching for it online. Even if you don’t consider yourself a person who is on the cutting edge of what’s popular, it’s not hard to find out what trends have people talking. In an age where most people have access to cell phones, tablets, and laptops at any given time, a quick Internet search can tell you what’s hot and what’s not in a matter of seconds.
Unicorn cakes joined the likes of Fortnite, bitcoin, Black Panther, and Royal Wedding on the list of things that got millions of people talking and clicking in 2018. In fact, "unicorn cake" was the top trending Google search in the U.S. in the food category for the year. What we don’t know is whether people turned to Google in search of recipes they could try out for themselves or just to admire beautiful photos of other’s creations.
Unicorn cake fails are just as popular as the pretty ones
They say beauty is eye the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to making unicorn cakes, some just completely miss the mark. Because let’s face it, making a perfect multi-tiered cake with perfect piping, a gorgeous frosting mane, and an edible horn is no small feat. But you may be surprised to learn that even the less-than-perfect unicorn cakes have had their time in the spotlight. Whether it’s just to get a good laugh or to make themselves feel better about their own unicorn cake flop, it seems people like looking at the bad ones as much as the beautiful ones. From lopsided cakes to phallic-looking unicorn horns, social media is full of pictures of #UnicornCakeFails.
Some of the poorly executed cakes have even made their way to the small screen. An episode from Season 2 of Nailed It!, the Netflix baking competition series for amateurs, featured some pretty pathetic unicorn cake creations. One contestant even defended her underbaked entry as a "baby unicorn that is just hatching."
Celebrity kids love them
If you want to become a pop culture phenomenon, it’s a lot easier to go viral when you have friends in high places. Celebrities are just like us, which means that celebrity moms want to give their little ones the best birthday parties possible, and shower them with all of the sprinkles and sugary magic their little hearts desire.
The rise in popularity of the unicorn cake got some help from some high-profile parents who posted pics of lavish cakes from their kids’ unicorn-themed birthday parties. Tori Spelling, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Kim Kardashian West, are just a few of the celebrity mamas who helped give the cakes a little boost by sharing with their massive social networks.
Kardashian West’s daughter, North, shared the unicorn love with her cousin, Penelope Disick, at their joint unicorn-themed birthday party, complete with a sprinkle-filled cake from New York City’s Flour Shop. And Gellar’s daughter, Charlotte, enjoyed a colorful unicorn cake and coordinating cupcakes at her 8th birthday celebration, according to People.
You don’t have to go to an expensive baker
Unicorn cakes have been one of the most sought after items at kids’ birthday parties for the past couple of years. And designer bakeries are charging big bucks to make your little one’s birthday wish come true with their elaborate creations.
But those trendy bakers aren’t the only ones out there creating ornate cakes in the likeness of those magical flying ponies. Many of your favorite mainstream retailers are getting in on the act and cashing in on the unicorn cake trend, too.
With at least 24-hours notice, grocery store chain Publix makes unicorn cakes to order at some of their retail locations in the Southeast. The more elaborate tiered cakes run about $80, but sheet cakes with the same likeness can be had for around $30. And membership warehouse Sam’s Club sells its own massive version of the unicorn cake. Their colorful three-tiered confection is just as adorable as the Jenna Rae Cakes original. And you don’t have to stress about your guests asking for seconds because it feeds 66 people. The best part is, according to Cosmopolitan, the cake is less expensive than most of its designer counterparts and costs about $70.
If you make one yourself, you’re going to need some tools
Making your own unicorn cake is a pretty major investment in your time. Many of the cake recipes call for hours of prep time from start to finish, including four to eight hours of time for your fondant to dry, so factor that in when considering whether or not you want to take on the task. Aside from a lot of time, you may also incur some startup costs if you don’t already have the right equipment. Unless you’re a die-hard baker, you’re probably going to need to make a run to HomeGoods or Williams Sonoma for a few less-than-common baking supplies before getting started.
Even a recipe that is billed as an "easy" version of the unicorn cake calls for a styrofoam cake dummy, fondant rolling pin, and edible paint and glue, none of which are exactly pantry staples. But the good news is, once you buy a fondant rolling pin, you’ll probably never have to buy one again. So you’ll be able to make as many unicorn cakes as you want – until the next cake trend takes over.
Making the horn is the hardest part
During the Renaissance period, a unicorn horn was believed to be a magical cure-all. Among its many healing properties, the horn was thought to have the power to boil water and even purge poison from food and drinks, according to BBC. So it’s probably no coincidence that the very thing that makes the unicorn the most magical is also the most difficult part of the unicorn cake to make.
Making sure your fondant is at the right consistency to work with (icing sugar is your friend if it’s too sticky) is one of the most important things to be mindful of when you’re making a unicorn horn, as Bake It Box explained in a post specifically about unicorn horn decorating. But you also have to be mindful of other factors such as making sure that the horn is the right height for your cake, and allowing enough time for the horn to dry before attempting to paint it. While a perfect finished product would be an amazing Pinterest-worthy feat, when one component of a unicorn cake has 15 FAQs, you may not want to deal with stress.
You don’t have to have a fondant horn
You don’t have to throw your entire dream of having a beautiful unicorn cake at your next birthday party out of the window just because you don’t want to be bothered with the fondant horn. Rest assured, there are plenty of beautiful ways to top your cake that don’t involve fooling with the dough-like icing.
One simple swap involves covering an ice cream cone with frosting and sprinkles, as Marshmallows & Margaritas suggests. Just cover the cone with colorful frosting, then roll it in a plate of sprinkles. Easy as pie, and the perfect way to complete a last-minute cake without a lot of hassle.
Or, if you don’t mind that your cake isn’t totally DIY, you can choose a non-edible version for a quick and easy fix. Amazon sells a plastic unicorn cake topper set — complete with ears and eyelashes — that looks incredibly close to the fondant version. Although you can’t eat it, you can use it to put finishing touches on your cake that will give it a professionally decorated look without risking a #fail.
Fat unicorn cakes are also a big deal
If you’re looking for a unicorn cake that’s not nearly as perfect but just as adorable as the original, a fat unicorn cake may be the perfect thing. The idea takes the traditional multi-layered cake to the next level by adding an edible chubby unicorn nearby that is designed to look like it has been pigging out on the cake. Most of the cakes depict the unicorn as either happily napping or grinning with satisfaction.
Because we’ve all experienced the feeling of eating too much of a good thing, you’ll be able to relate to the satiated grin on the flying horse’s face. And when you see the extra cute details like frosting around the unicorn’s mouth, you won’t be able to blame the little guy for wanting to take a bite out of your buttercream creation. And bonus, now there’s no need for an excuse when you take a bite out of your cake before your party guests arrive — you can blame it on the fat unicorn.
Duncan Hines even has a version
If you don’t know any 8-year-old girls who have birthdays approaching and you find yourself with a late-night craving for colorful frosting and sprinkles, you can still enjoy a little taste of unicorn cake. Mainstream baked goods companies are making sure they’re taking full advantage of the unicorn cake craze by putting their unique spin on the trend and releasing their own single-serve options that you can find in your local grocery store.
Little Debbie got in on the trend with their version of a unicorn cake — a strawberry-flavored cake topped with vanilla frosting and sprinkles that’s just the right size for a lunchbox treat. And not to be outdone, the supermarket cake mix king Duncan Hines is releasing a single-serve unicorn cake in a cup — complete with star-shaped sprinkles, of course — perfect for those times when you want to add just a little bit of magic to your life.
You can buy unicorn cake-flavored ice cream
You may be thinking that the only thing better than eating a slice of unicorn cake is having a scoop of unicorn ice cream on the side. Luckily for you, retailers have already had this delicious thought. You don’t have to go any farther than your local grocery store to fulfill your dessert fantasy.
Walmart’s Great Value Unicorn Sparkle Ice Cream is a colorful cake-flavored ice cream treat that is just as magical as its cake companion. And both Kroger and Target also offer their own store-brand versions of unicorn-inspired ice cream that’s equally as sparkly.
But beware, these flavors are meant to be enjoyed in moderation. The seriously decadent ice creams are loaded with calories and fat, with upwards of 200 calories and 11 grams of fat per serving. And with ingredients like candy confetti pieces, animal cracker pieces, and swirls of colorful frosting, these frozen treats are seriously sweet. Eating even a small portion of Unicorn Sparkle may leave you feeling like you need to make an appointment with your dentist.
There are theories about what animal will replace the unicorn
The unicorn cake obsession has managed to last for a couple of years. But like everything else, the trend will eventually fade into obscurity and land in the graveyard of other pop culture trends gone by. If you’re wondering what will eventually take its place, you’re not alone. There are a few theories floating around about what the next "it" animal will be when it comes to cakes.
Model, mom, and influencer, Chrissy Teigen told Refinery29 that llamas have become her animal obsession since she’s become a mom. And she’s not alone. Llama cakes are increasingly becoming more popular, with thousands of posts on Instagram tagged #llamacake.
The folks at Etsy have their own ideas. They’re predicting that the sloth is slowly moving its way into the spotlight, and will take the place of the unicorn as the animal of the moment in 2019. As usual, J.Lo appears to already be ahead of that trend. She had a sloth cake on hand for her daughter Emme’s 10th birthday party, according to Babygaga.