“Never let me make another one of these f**king cakes,” is how KATE MEIKLE began a text message conversation with her friend. It’s birthday cake baking time again…
I SENT my friend Erin a photo of the work-in-progress birthday cake I was desperately trying to complete for my daughter’s recent party.
“OMG… is that a crab claw?’ she asks.
Insert three emoji faces of gritted teeth
Insert three emoji faces of crying and laughing emoji
“I am so defeated… it’s meant to be a butterfly!” I say.
Insert emoji of concerned face with open eyes
“Ha, it’s my fave time of year… when you pull out the ‘Women’s Weekly’ cake book,” says Erin.
“Yes, in my quest to be a ‘good mother’. Honestly, that book was written when women had nothing better to do… I should have been at work!”
Erin and I met at “mothers’ group” for our first babies and have been best of friends ever since. Over the past seven years, she’s witnessed and tasted many of my cake creations and, yes, she’s laughed at every one of them.
I like to think that us modern mothers are redefining motherhood, doing things our way and supporting each other’s different choices as to how to raise our families.
All of this is true, up until your child gets to be a year older and somehow we (I really mean, I) get obsessed with recreating the iconic cakes of our childhood, in some quest to show off to the world what a good mother I am (and to please my kids, but let’s face it with cakes, they are easily pleased).
The good old recipe book gets dusted off and pawed through. I have now come to realise that “The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cakes” recipe book, first published in 1980, has a lot to answer for.
Full of memories, I can flip through and tell you I had Humpty Dumpty when I turned one, Little Miss Muffet when I was two, ballerinas when I was three. My brother had Mickey Mouse at some point. I always wanted the dolly with the cake skirt and pretty pink and white marshmallow decorations. And who didn’t want the train filled with all the lollies and coloured popcorn in the carriages?
It’s so much fun going through the book with my own excited children.
Up until I realise that I have to create the damn thing!
I also realise that, deep down, I don’t really like baking and I actually don’t bake any other time of the year; therefore my skills have not improved since last time I attempted the birthday cake.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with producing a homemade cake. It seems you can outsource most things, but nothing beats the smug: “Yes, I baked it myself” reply you can honestly give to your guests.
And so for every cake, I rope in a friend or my mother to assist. I’ve done the teddy, clock, rabbit, tug boat, ladybird, number 6 and now most recently, the dreaded butterfly.
When I chat to other mothers, they tell me their horror stories…
“The ‘Dolly Varden’ is a nightmare to bake evenly due to its depth.”
“It’s so hard to find the little ballerina decorations these days”
And my favourite was our family friend, Tricia, who created the candy castle in 1983 for her son’s first birthday. She warned me against making this cake due to the ice cream cone “turrets” that had to be covered in icing. She told me that the cones got all soggy with the icing dipped on them so at the last minute, she improvised with cardboard cones that she iced for effect! I think I would have been in tears at that point.
Talking about tears, my mum and I were laughing and crying as we tried to cut my cake into some shape that resembled butterfly wings. As we iced, the cake started crumbling. Oh the crumbs! Nothing worse than trying to neatly ice crumbly chocolate cake with pale-pink icing! I was racing to finish before school pick-up time, leaving mum to battle with the icing pen that conveniently stopped working and putting the finishing touches with lots of forgiving freckles.
My husband laughed at me, when I sheepishly admitted my defeat to the butterfly cake. I felt bad I had taken time off work and only had a mess in the kitchen to show for it.
I would have been less stressed at work, and as a small-business owner, that’s saying something! He kindly said: “Well, Kate, you did something nice for our daughter, but I don’t understand why you put yourself through this every year.”
Seeing my daughter’s happy face when she saw the butterfly was gratifying. And I only had one kid ask me what it was!
Everyone said how delicious the cake was. I told them to enjoy it as it was my last… It’s time to realise the extent of my skills and stick to standard shapes next time, or better still, buy it.
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Ian Meikle, editor