my own cakes, more often than not I end up using a Wilton cake pan. You can rent them from our local bulk food stores, or sign them out of the library. These pans are really made for the home baker, so decorating them is pretty easy (and you can download .pdf instructions from the link above). Basically, you just need the time to do hundreds of little icing stars, usually with the #16 tip. Above is the cake that Son #1 made me for my birthday yesterday.
So, what about recipes for cake? And icing? Although it's not perfect (a little too dense, I think) I have had the best results using Isa's cupcake recipe (chocolate or vanilla). I have also used this recipe, but find the end result to be rather tough and chewy. Also, the measurements are annoying when doubling or tripling (or I just hate math). A double to triple batch will work in the shaped pans, and 40-50 mins baking time. Just make sure to follow the instructions re: preparing the pan.
On to the icing. I use buttercream frosting which is made exactly the same way as its non-vegan counterpart with the exception of subbing margarine (Earth Balance) for butter. I usually use half the liquid and make a stiffer icing that will keep its shape even in the hot days of summer. I colour the icing with Wilton Icing Colours. The company assures me that their "icing colors are plant based and vegan." I like the gels because they are concentrated (a little goes a long way) and they don't thin down your icing. Here is the Hello Kitty cake I made for Vegan Daughter's birthday.
For birthday dinner I signed The Conscious Cook out of the library and made the Summer Chopped Salad