Having touched briefly on this whimsical pastime in a previous post (see “The Night After The Afternoon Before“), I felt that it was worthy of a bit more attention. Particularly because I’m right in the middle of Birthday Season now, which is kind of the DIY-Mum equivalent of being a bitch on heat – and a crazy bitch at that. Basically, those Birthday Cake books should come with health warnings, perhaps even with little inset photos showing what you’ll look like the night before the birthday party trying to finish off the cake or, worse still, trying to make room for it in the goddamn fridge. Believe me, it is not a pretty sight.
Still, if you insist – as I do – on doing it yourself rather than selling your vital organs on ebay to pay the local bakery to do it, here are some helpful tips to help you along the way.
TIP ONE: Choose your cake carefully
A friend once spoke wistfully of her youth when her mother had allowed her to choose whichever birthday cake she wanted from the Women’s Weekly Cake Book. So at the first opportunity I went out and bought a copy, which has ended up being the most well-thumbed book in the house. Ah, the hours of peace that book has given me while the kids sit quietly side by side perusing the cakes. However, every time their little eyes rest too long on something like the Carousel cake, I suddenly find myself running across the room in a slow motion “Nooooooooooo…..” kind of way. I mean, consider something like this:
After a quick assessment of what might be required to make such a cake – and with a delivery date of The Pixie’s 5th birthday (next October) in mind – I realise I basically should have started work some time around the second trimester of my pregnancy with her. I mean, really! If it can’t be decorated in a single night, then leave it well alone.
TIP TWO: Adopt a phased implementation
Don’t bake and decorate in the same night – unless you are keen to relive a misspent youth and be awake to see the sun rise. Instead bake the cake a few days in advance and stick it in the freezer – it will be easier to cut to shape that way. Oh dear god. Did I just slip in an Actual Tip, uncloaked by wry self-deprecating humour? The Mommy Blogs I’ve been reading recently are obviously getting to me and I most sincerely apologise – but not too sincerely, else I start treading in Mommy Blog territory again. Zoinks!
TIP THREE: Steer clear of the red and yellow food colouring
Unless of course you’re not going to be legally responsible for any of the guests eating the cake, in which case too much red colouring is never enough (no, really – otherwise it looks distinctly pink, especially when you’re tinting an off-yellow butter cream icing… Oh shit. There I go again, doling out actual advice. Feel free to slap me.)
TIP FOUR: When all else fails, chuck a whole lot of marshmallows at it.
See Mr Lion? See his beautiful bejewelled mane? According to the book, all I had to do was swirl a dark orange icing through the light orange icing with a fork – with a fork! But since it was already midnight by the time I’d laid down the light orange layer and it had ceased to be butter cream so much as butter-and-cake-crumb cream, I thought of much better uses for that fork (mostly involving the Women’s’ Weekly editorial team) and chucked a whole heap of mini-marshmallows on the cake instead. Marshmallows will cover-up a multitude of cake-decorating sins – but probably not any fork-related crimes so try not to act on impulse when it comes to cake-rage.
See the hemline on Barbie’s lovely ice cream skirt (above)? It was supposed to be a gorgeous satin ribbon but within seconds of putting it on, it had soaked up the chocolate ice cream and she’d started looking like Glastonbury Barbie. So I substituted the ribbon with marshmallows, which have a much higher sugar content than satin and so kept everyone happy. And for the record, I can’t look at this cake now without thinking of The Pixie’s recent misadventures in her pyjama pants… (see “Open Rage Zoo“).
TIP FIVE: Remember that “All art is transient; even stone wears away”
And let’s face it, cake gets worn away even faster by those furious little teeth.
Just imagine you’ve been up to midnight the night before making this:
And all the while knowing that, less than five minutes after the candles have been blown out, that Masterpiece of the Modern Cake Age will look like this:
It’s something that all birthday-cake makers have to deal with – after all, that’s why you’re making it aren’t you? (Aren’t you??) Thankfully, they invented cameras long before they had Birthday-Cake Making as a competitive sport so you can preserve the memory of your cake forever in a photo. And, for god’s sake, make sure your photo is taken at the right angle so that it doesn’t show the spot where you totally ran out of icing and tried to cover the gap with a Twix bar.
So there you go. However you end up decorating your cake and however long it takes you to do it, do not under any circumstances remember this: recently at kindergarten one of the Mums came in with a cake to share with the class for her son’s birthday. The cake? A square tub of icecream, turned up side down onto a plate and with about five packets of lollies chucked on top of it. It looked great and the kids loved it. The very memory of it still makes me shudder…