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Have your cake and photograph it, too

There are fewer traditions cuter than watching a wide-eyed 1-year-old slather his face with his very first cake.

Jimmy Wilson enjoys a cake smash at a photo shoot the day after his birthday festivities. (Crissy Everhart Photography & Design)
Jimmy Wilson enjoys a cake smash at a photo shoot the day after his birthday festivities. (Crissy Everhart Photography & Design)Read more

There are fewer traditions cuter than watching a wide-eyed 1-year-old slather his face with his very first cake.

Typically, the child is shocked at its sweetness, and the birthday party guests get a laugh and a cellphone shot.

But like so many other mini-life-cycle events these days - finding out your baby-to-be's sex, getting a marriage proposal - this ritual has now got a name ("cake smash") and any number of entrepreneurs ready to help celebrate. There are cake-smash photographers, cake-smash outfits, and, of course, special cake-smash cakes.

Photographer Meagan Ebersole started offering her services about five years ago at the request of clients, and quickly went from five cake-smash shoots a year to five a month.

Sometimes she attends the child's birthday party to capture the candid moment ($200), but more often the parents bring the baby to her Media-based ME Photo & Design studio ($150) and use the messy shots as ingredients for their irresistible party invitations. When all is smashed and done, the post-smash bath also can be photographed at the on-site tub.

Using the theme of her favorite picture book, Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You, first-time mother Adrian Curran had grand plans for the first birthday party of her son, Jimmy Wilson, on March 7.

"He's my first child, and we're so in love and obsessed that I wanted to do something special," she said.

The big cake included her favorite line from the book, "You are my angel, my darling, my star," and the boy and bear from the jacket cover.

Jimmy had a miniature cake for the smash - same theme - and although about 40 party guests and a photographer were ready to capture the moment, Jimmy got cold feet when it was time to eat.

Luckily, Curran had scheduled a next-day shoot at the studio of Crissy Everhart Photography & Design in Paoli. "I'm big on pictures and into scrapbooking, so I wanted to capture that milestone," said Curran.

Although Jimmy wore a specially made embroidered bib and matching party hat with his name and age, cake-smash outfits for sale can include any number of additional accessories: diapers, bandannas, suspenders.

When Hanover, Pa.-based Slick & Boogers added cake-smash clothes to its Etsy shop two years ago, the business, which specializes in first birthdays, sold about five a week. Now, owner Diana Hicks sells 30 ensembles every day, five days a week. And 70 percent of those sales are for boys.

"There's so much available for little girls, and this is one thing moms can do when their baby boys turn 1 and you can finally dress him up," said Hicks. Her basic set includes party hat, a tie or bow tie, and diaper cover ($25). Upgrades include embroidery with the child's name, a personalized shirt, suspenders, and a banner.

Although baby Max Guilday was not interested in wearing his hat for his smash shoot at Ebersole's studio, he eagerly ate his cake, "double-fisted," said his mother, Casey.

It couldn't be replicated at his actual birthday party; Max was too distracted by his surroundings to fully partake. But his parents showed guests the video from his studio smash.

"With a 1-year-old, there are so many things they can get into and so many times you have to say 'no, no, no,' " Casey Guilday said. "It was nice to let him be completely free. That's one of our favorite memories."

It is anyone's guess how the cake-smash tradition started, though social media have helped it explode. Pinterest offers how-to tips, from setting up the backdrop (extra large bulletin board paper), to baking healthy cakes (no-sugar banana), to getting the best shot (include the dog).

The key to success, said photographer Ebersole, is easing the child into it, and letting her discover the cake at her own pace. And beware of this being your child's introduction to the confection. "If they've never experienced that before, they could be afraid of it," she said.

The type of cake matters, too, said Shannon Sprandio, sales consultant for Bredenbeck's Bakery in Chestnut Hill. The bakery uses butter cream icing for its smash cakes (messier, and therefore more photogenic, than fondant). The smash cakes used to comprise half of all first-birthday cake orders five years ago but have grown to 75 percent. Clients generally choose a 4-inch-wide vanilla smash cake to mimic the bigger, general-population party cake.

Amy Dempster, a Boston-based blogger for Bright Horizons, heard about the trend when her son Owen turned 1 in 2013. She vacillated. Wanting to promote healthy eating and portion control, she wondered whether a 1-year-old really needs his own cake. On the flip side: "It's just so charming and fun," she said.

"Sometimes you get so caught up in that Pinterest-worthy perfect mom thing," Dempster said. "It's just another thing for social media and the Instagram world."

Ultimately, she gave her son a slice of cake, and she was satisfied allowing amateurs to capture the moment.