I don’t profess to be a Masterchef and I don’t own a Kitchenaid or a Thermomix. I’m the kind of cook who can get a dinner on the table from our regular pantry staples and fresh fridge produce.
So, entering into motherhood 3 years ago, I have had to learn, on-the-job, the rules, the tricks and tips and the world of children’s birthday parties and cake making.
Trawling Google images and Essential Kids forums for cake ideas in the "Parties for under 5's" & "show us your cake" I have learned a few things over the years and hope to improve in the years to come.
I have a boy whose middle name is Rocket, so we already had a theme for his first birthday – and since we were hosting a bit of a bash, I thought I’d do a test run of the cake making process prior to the party. I found at the supermarket a large “disposable” BBQ oval shaped aluminium tray – what a great rocket shape that would make – so I wanted to see if a double mixture cake would cook ok in this instead of a tin – YES... great. Next was to test my icing skills – so using a basic butter icing, I added the classic queens colour drops – the red wouldn’t shift from a horrible ‘salmon’ colour, blue was a horrible ‘teal’ - no vibrancy – not the primary colour brights I had envisaged.
So more research and not really wanting to venture into the world of fondant icing from specialist cake decorating or caterers stores, I continued with the “washed-out” colours and brightened the whole thing up with smarties.
But be warned, you decorate with smarties too far in advance of the party, they too get tainted by the icing and lose a bit of their colour.
At the end of the day, it was a tasty cake that looked ok, and our then one-year old probably didn’t have much of a clue what was all the fuss about.
Bringing us to the second birthday, and I thought let’s not get stuck making the boy Rocket cakes for the rest of his life. So his favourite animal at the time was a lion, so I took inspiration from the cake on the cover of The AWW Fantastic Cakes cookbook (pub. 1998 and readily available at most good garage sales, your mum’s bookshelf, or the local library).
I baked the cake a week prior and stored it in the freezer till the night before the party. Freezing the cake helps in a few ways, you can get one of the tasks off your list a week or two early, it makes carving or shaping the cake easier than a fresh, still warm and crumbly cake, and also reduces the crumbs getting in the icing when spreading it on.
So the night before the party I took it out of the freezer, and sliced off the slightly cracked dome part of the cake to make a lovely flat surface to create my lion masterpiece. I Iced all over with a lovely orange butter icing, then I piled into the piping bag a few tones of orange and browns so they would pipe out a bit marbled to make the mane.
I used a store bought tube of fudge for cake writing to draw on the mouth and whiskers, and added lollies for eyes and tongue. Then stupidly, I thought to send him off to day-care with little cupcake versions of the lion. Piping 30 little lion manes and drawing on the face took me well into the night and gave me a slight repetitive strain injury. But I was so proud of my pride!
I have just recovered from the third birthday party, which was a big celebration in the park near our house – I had planned to have a bug theme, it was going to be a ladybug cake.
I had recently been given a “football” (soccer ball) cake tin which I thought would be a great dome shape for a ladybug, and having already learned that red is a difficult colour to ice a cake with, I thought I could decorate with strawberries!
But my son had other ideas, exclaiming “I don’t want a ladybug – I want a big red car!”
This last minute change didn’t faze me too much – again, with the cake pre-baked and frozen, I was able to carve my half-football dome into a car shape, with a seat made of musk stick sweets, and a steering wheel with a chocolate button. The extra chocolate buttons that were purchased for the black spots of the ladybug also came in handy to make the wheels of the car.
I iced the morning of the party, and sliced thinly the large red strawberries and stuck them on – it was really red! Without artificial colouring!
The few hours it had to sit till it was cake time, had allowed the strawberries to weep a little over the slab cake that I had placed the car cake onto. But the three- year-old is still talking about the big red car cake he had at his birthday party! And hopefully he will continue to rave about the cakes I make for him in years to come.