Cookie Dough Cake!

Our beloved columnist, Erin Gardner shares with you a snippet of one of her favorite projects from her new book, Erin Bakes Cake! In the Bird Food Cake project in the book, she creates a wild garden of sugar cookie flowers and branches using a variety of nuts and seeds. We’ve singled out a few easy techniques from that project below. Erin’s cookie acorns, flowers, and branches are the perfect finishing touches for a simply iced cake – easy to make and super tasty! While beautiful as cake decorations, they’re also substantial enough to serve on their own or as part of a holiday dessert spread.


  • 6-inch round layer cake, finished with plain buttercream
  • Sugar Cookie Dough
  • Chocolate Sugar Cookie Dough
  • Sliced almonds
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Whole Hazelnuts
  • Slivers of any nut (I used pistachio, but you could use anything you have on hand)
  • Mini muffin tin
  • 6-inch round cake pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Pencil or marker
  • Large round piping tip or tiny circle cutterPosition a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F.

Step 1
Pinch off a piece of sugar cookie dough about the size of a grape and roll it into a ball. Dip your fingertips in cold water and roll the ball between your fingertips to lightly dampen the surface. Dip the ball in the poppy seeds.

Step 2
Place the coated ball on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or into the well of a greased mini muffin tin. Stick sliced almonds all the way around the sides of the ball to create the flower’s petals. Prop up the outer edges of the nuts along the sides of the muffin tin or let them lay flat if using a cookie sheet. Repeat to make more cookies. Pop the muffin tin the fridge until the dough has chilled thoroughly, at least 20 minutes.

Step 3
Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until they’re firm to the touch. Place the muffin tin on a rack and allow the cookies to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing them from the tin

Cookie Branches

Step 1
Place the 6-inch cake pan on a piece of parchment paper and trace the outline of the pan with a pencil or marker. Flip the paper over onto a cookie sheet.

Step 2
Pinch off a piece of chocolate sugar cookie dough about the size of a large grape. Roll the dough into an imperfect, pencil-thin log. Cut the log into pieces and arrange them within the circle, just as would like the branches to appear on top of the finished cake. Tuck some sunflower seeds into the dough to mimic the buds on branches. Pop the cookie sheet into the fridge until the dough has chilled thoroughly, at least 20 min.

Step 3
Bake the logs for 7-9 minutes, until they’ve lost their raw sheen and are firm to the touch. Place the cookie sheet on a rack until cool, at least 20 minutes. The branches are thin and delicate, so allow them to cool completely before moving them to the cake to avoid breakage.


Step 1: Roll chocolate sugar cookie dough to about 1/8-inch thick, Lightly dust your work surface with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.

Step 2
Use the end of a round piping tip or tiny round cutter to cut a dough round small enough to fit over the thick end of a hazelnut.Dip the tip of your finger in water and run it over the surface of the dough. Stick the damp side of the dough onto the thick end of the hazelnut. Insert a sliver of any nut into the acorn cap to create the stem. Repeat with more hazelnuts. Place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and pop into the fridge until the cookie caps have chilled thoroughly, at least 10 minutes.

Step 3
Bake the acorns for 7 to 9 minutes, until the dough is firm to the touch. Place the cookie sheet on a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before handling. Allow the nuts to cool completely before placing them onto the cake.

All Together Now

Use an offset spatula to help carefully move the chocolate cookie branches onto the top of the cake. Arrange the completed nut flowers around the base of the branches then fill in with the acorns.


Thanks so much to Erin for sharing this sneak peak with us!! Erin’s new book Erin Bakes Cake: Make + Bake + Decorate = Your Own Cake is available now!


Erin Gardner

Erin Gardner is a self-taught pastry chef, author, cake-design instructor, wife, mom, and self-described occasional unicorn. After taking an inspiring sugar-flower class in NYC, she decided it was time to strike out on her own. In 2009 she opened Wild Orchid Baking Co. in NH. Erin has competed on, and won, Food Network’s Sweet Genius, and received nods from both
Martha Stewart Weddings and Brides magazine as one of the top wedding-cake pros in the country. After the birth of her second child, Erin made the big decision to move on from Wild Orchid Baking Co. and launch her website, Erin Bakes, where she draws on her fine pastry skills, modern cake-design aesthetic, and overall kitchen MacGyver-ness to create easy, accessible, and delicious recipes and cake-decorating projects.

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