Donna Bolton definitely knows the way to a child's heart: a fun activity with sugar. Lots of sugar.

Earlier this year, the Annandale resident started Mrs. B's Cake Decorating for Kids, an interactive class held in her home.

Each three-hour session begins with a demonstration by Bolton in which she introduces decorating tools and teaches the proper way to tort (fill) and frost a four-layer cake, usually chocolate with caramel filling. She also offers little "cheats" that help novice bakers make uneven cakes look almost flawless, though she is quick to point out that perfection is neither required nor desired.

After the demonstration, the young participants are directed to a long table in Bolton's kitchen where individual stations are set up with bowls of decorating tips, turning cake stands and tubs of buttercream. Students have their own cakes (made from scratch by Bolton the night before) to tort, frost and decorate. Technique, imagination and uniqueness of design are emphasized. Says Bolton to her class: "Your cake is your canvas -- anything goes." While the children work, some sing along with a jukebox playing everything from Patsy Kline to the Beach Boys and the Beatles.

Though Bolton was formally trained at a culinary school in the mid-1990s, it was her stint as a leader for her oldest son's Boy Scout troop that prompted her to start the business. Bolton's demeanor is relaxed, easygoing and fun. She encourages suggestions and often reminds her students about her basic principle of cake decorating: "Don't be afraid to get messy. It's part of the fun."

When the decorating is done and before the cakes are boxed up for the trip home, each student receives a photo of his or her creation and a list of tools they used that day. In the final minutes of the class, Bolton returns to the cake she torted at the start and shows the children the correct way to cut and serve a piece of it, finished with berry coulis and cream. Then she offers a large sample to each one, paired with a tall glass of cold milk.

With remnants of lilac buttercream in her hair and on her blue sweater, 10-year-old Emma Estes of Oakton sums up her class experience: "I really like frosting and decorating [the cake] -- I think that's the fun part. But eating it is the best part."

4317 Duncan Drive, Annandale. 703-426-1507. Saturdays (three times a month), for ages 8 to 15, maximum eight students per class, 9 a.m.-noon, $50 includes all materials. Cake-decorating birthday parties are also available by request.

-- Terri Sapienza

Colleen Howell, 11, of Fairfax gets tips from Donna Bolton during a Mrs. B's Cake Decorating for Kids class in the instructor's Annandale home.