The evolution of the birthday cake

I have great memories of magical birthday cakes from my childhood that my mother used to bake for my brother and I. Pumpkin carriages pulled by marzipan mice, humpty dumpty sitting on his wall before he met his scrambled fate, a dolly with a cake dress and a menagerie of animals… When I had Alex, my mom passed her “birthday cakes for children” recipe book onto me saying I was going to need this more than she did right now! I was quite excited at the prospect of baking a special cake for my little guy. I have always loved to cook, and during my school years I baked many cupcakes and cakes for afternoon teas with the family. Over the years I have become known amongst my circle of friends for making yummy deserts. My swansong is definitely my “summer berry pavlova”, which is always a win with everyone!

When Alex turned one, I decided to make him a Tiger cake, courtesy of the “birthday cakes for children” book that I will perhaps, one day, hand down to my daughter (provided it hasn’t fallen apart by then!)

So, this was my first attempt at making a “fancy” birthday cake. I scoured the shops for ages to find liquorice shoe-laces to make the whiskers, and eventually had to cut liquorice straps into thin strips as I couldn’t find any anywhere. (And now I see them in the Dischem queue, of all places, all the time, go figure!). Considering I had only ever baked cakes in normal shaped tins, and iced them, cutting out a tiger from a few square and rectangular cakes wasn’t too difficult, but icing the crumbly cakes however, was quite, umm, interesting. Can you say “crumb-coating”?!?

By birthday number two, Alex had an “old Macdonald” obsession, and loved listening to and singing along to the nursery rhyme, over and over and over … So with the help of trusted old google, I found a barn cake, surrounded by animal cupcakes to complete the farmyard scene.  This one was fun to make, especially finding all the different toppings to complete the animals (such as guava roll for the pigs’ ears and tiny marshmallows for the sheep’s woolly coats!) Lesson learnt: 2 bottles of red food colouring later, the barn was still not as red as I would have liked, but it was too late to go and buy another bottle. I have since discovered gel food-colouring which is much more concentrated.

His third birthday, was accompanied by a love affair with “Lightning McQueen”. A few weeks before Caris was born, my mom (who looked after Alex for me) got ill with pneumonia, and ended up in hospital. So I had to work from home to take care of Alex, who was not at school yet. We all know it is just about impossible to get any work done with a toddler around, and I was desperately trying to wrap up work stuff before going on maternity leave. So the one day, at my wits end, I told him to come and watch a movie. He had never watched a movie at this point, only CBeebies in small doses, so I wasn’t even sure he would watch it. Queue “CARS” … wow, it was love at first sight. And Lightning McQueen become his best friend and hero. (We have probably watched it about a thousand times since then, well it feels like that anyway, thank goodness the second one was released on DVD for a bit of variety!)

It is amazing what you can find on the internet, so after googling “how to make a Lightning McQueen 3D birthday cake” and reading a few “how-to’s”, I attempted to make a Lightning McQueen 3D birthday cake. I was expecting it to be a disaster, as I had never attempted plastic icing before. My mom gave me some pointers (she also used to make wedding cakes as a hobby many moons ago). And perhaps I should mention that I watched quite a few episodes of “CAKE-BOSS” while on maternity leave!!!

First I had to carve a car out of a few rectangular cakes stuck together and “dirty ice” or crumb-coat it. Then came the task of draping it in the very red plastic icing. I was not brave enough to make the plastic icing myself, so I bought some at a great baking supplies shop called “Kadies” in fourways.

So once it looked sort of like a racing car, I set about adding all the details: logos, headlamps, exhaust pipes, windows, etc. I had baked the cakes the night before (I found an absolutely awesome chocolate cake recipe during my “Lightning McQueen” search!) so that I would have the whole day to decorate. Alex was at school in the morning, and my mom popped in to help, and give me a hand with the baby. I started at about 9AM, and finally finished it at about 9PM. (I had to hide it in the pantry when Alex came home from school, and add details with the door closed). A whole day to make a cake! My back was broken from standing, but I was really pleased by the way it turned out.

<<<< 3 May 2012 – Post edited – check out my party on the Rattle and Mum blog …    >>>>

The next morning, we showed Alex his cake, just before all his friends arrived for the party. His eyes nearly popped out of his head, “wow, it’s Lightning McQueen”. I had tears in my eyes. He kept telling everyone to come and see his Lightning McQueen cake! His friends were so impressed! He still talks about it now, so even though it wasn’t perfect, I know that my little guy loved it and thought it was super cool. Priceless!


4 Replies to “The evolution of the birthday cake”

  1. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this short article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

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