If there’s a gene for baking, I don’t have it. It’s not that I can’t cook. I can create a tasty risotto, a hearty casserole, a mean laksa or an enjoyable salad, but when it comes to baking, well… it’s just not my cup of tea. But for some reason, when you become a parent there’s suddenly all this pressure to effortlessly throw together flawless themed cakes, involving six different layers, intricate patterns and enough food colouring to power a short flight.
Just to exacerbate my sense of baking inadequacy, Birdy’s birthday cakes have to be egg and nut free. The first year I tried to do egg, nut, dairy and gluten free (to accommodate everyone) and that cake turned out looking more like a greasy potato wedge. After a few trials, we found a reliable egg-free recipe called a whacky cake. So this year, with a successful train and kangaroo cake under my belt, I decided to create an original theme: a fairy garden cake.
A lot of effort went into designing the cake. My creative hubby made some formidable roses out of fruit roll ups, while I came up with a licorice footbridge concept. We decided to use lollypops for mushrooms and nerds (lollies) for pebbles on a path. I was pretty excited about the concept and thought Birdy would be thrilled to bits when she saw it. All I had to do now was make the cake. That’s the easy bit, right?
Well it turned out to be harder than I thought. Birdy’s (very small) party was scheduled for 3.30 on Sunday afternoon. I decided to bake the cake on Saturday afternoon, allowing plenty of time for decorating. I thought it might be nice to make a butter cake this year, rather than a whacky cake. I would just use egg replacer instead of egg. The batter looked good and tasted great. But when I opened the oven door after 50 minutes, the cake sank. Then when I turned it over, the whole thing fell apart… Into little pieces. What could I have done wrong? Then suddenly I remembered. With all the distractions, I had made Cake Number 1 without eggs, but completely forgot to add egg replacer! Bummer. I had a laugh about it. At least I knew where I’d gone wrong.
Later that night, when Birdy was in bed, I made Cake Number 2. I carefully mixed the ingredients, added the right amount of egg replacer and had every expectation that this cake would work. I waited about an hour before opening the oven door. Again the cake went flat. And when I turned the cake over, it fell apart. It was obviously undercooked and quite heavy. Perhaps my oven was slow… Maybe there was something wrong with the recipe. I called my Mum and my sister at about 11pm for a long drawn-out analysis of all the possible causes of my baking failure. They suggested I go back to the whacky cake recipe, which worked so well last time. But no, I wanted to prove I could make a butter cake. So I compared my old family recipe with the Woman’s Weekly butter cake and discovered our recipe had almost one third more butter. Someone must have made a mistake when it was converted from ounces into grams. So that was why my cake was so heavy and greasy! I decided to make a small single batch cake in the morning using the Woman’s Weekly recipe plus egg replacer.
So at 10 am on the day of Caillie’s party I made Cake Number 3 – the most basic, small plain cake you’ve ever seen. But it still sank in the middle! It would have been the most pathetic little fairy garden in the history of the world. I pictured our tiny little group, singing a forlorn Happy Birthday, over a miserable little cake, with a half-collapsed fairy sinking into the mushy centre of the cake. Perhaps it would be better to have no cake at all. In my mind, I started practicing how I would break the news to Birdy. “Sorry darling, there’s no birthday cake this year. The fairies have stolen it. Nevermind, have a grape instead.” What would a fairy rebellion look like, I wondered? I could see a little group of three-year-old fairies beating me up with their magic wands, crying for cake and begging their Mum’s to go home. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
At 12 pm, I rushed out to the shops to get the ingredients for a whacky cake. I made a double batch, prayed like mad, baked it for an hour, turned the heat down, baked it for another 10 minutes, debated with myself about opening the oven door, decided against it, turned the heat down, waited another five minutes, thought about opening oven door again, had visions of cake sinking in middle, decided against it, turned the heat down again, waited another five minutes. Finally after an hour and twenty minutes, I worked up the courage to open the oven door. It was now or never. If this one flopped in the middle, I was going to make scones and tell Birdy that fairies have birthday scones instead of birthday cake. Everybody knows that, right? At 1.30 pm on the day of the party, I opened the oven door and… it was… perfect. By the time it cooled, we had half-an-hour to decorate it. Just in the nick of time, the promised fairy garden cake emerged from the wilderness.
Scattered around the kitchen bench were the crumbling remains of the three previous cakes. We were going to be eating trifle for the next three week.
But at least I wasn’t going to be beat up by five disappointed little fairies. Disaster averted. Public humiliation avoided. Nervous breakdown prevented. At least until next year. Like I said, I just don’t have the baking gene. Maybe next time I’ll pay my sister to do it.
Have you had any birthday cake disasters? Do you find the kids’ birthday cakes a cinch, or do you lose sleep over them for weeks? What have been your most successful party cakes?
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