Header Ads

Breaking News

My favourite book as a kid ... The Australian Women's Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book | Books


Like many children who fly through books at a pace that even the most encouraging parent finds infuriating, I often had to settle for whatever I could find around me, so I read widely. And, like many children who view the outdoors with suspicion and will do anything to stay inside, I often read weirdly. I loved street directories and Haynes manuals because I loved intricate illustrations; if I was bored with Richard Scarry or Where’s Wally?, I would study the innards of a car instead. But most of all, I adored poring over cookbooks, particularly ones that contained elaborate desserts.

So while this could have easily been an ecstatic ode to the 32nd edition of UBD Gregory’s Street Directory of Adelaide and her surrounds, or a formative novel, I have plumped for another book that I loved dearly: the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book.

Butter sponge and Vienna cream were my ambrosia, but the joy of eating the cakes in this book was eclipsed by the happy hours I spent staring at them. First published in 1980, the Children’s Birthday Cake Book was already a staple of every Australian kitchen when I was born in 1991. By the time I was aware of the concept of birthdays, every mum in the country could bash out a Robert Robot or craft a cricket pitch from desiccated coconut in her sleep, so I have never baked a single cake from this book. Many of the cakes are miniature, elaborate tableaux. A little sweet shop, complete with a scale made from milk bottle tops. A cosy cabin made from Flake bars. An iced rubbish truck filled with lollies. A troupe of ballerinas dancing across a pink frosted stage. A tug boat chuffing popcorn smoke.





Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book


But the crowning glory was the swimming pool. Topped with jelly and tiny swimming figures using candies as floaties, this cake was clearly such an unimaginable feat of engineering that no parent in my circles ever attempted it. (Or they correctly surmised that a bunch of eight-year-olds would go blind with happiness over a less complex cake.) It is the cake every Australian now in their 30s and 40s remembers with longing; a friend of mine who works in water policy recently made a dam version for a leaving party.

In an era when amateur bakers stress-cry on television while pouring a mirror glaze or spinning a sugar globe, the instructions in the Children’s Birthday Cake Book are a reminder of simpler times. Every recipe starts with a“packet of butter cake mix”, because the no-nonsense, rosy-cheeked broads who must have put this book together knew that parents trying to construct a bloody steam train from cake wouldn’t want to faff about measuring flour. (If you are an insane over-achiever, a fresh butter cake recipe is offered at the very front of the book, though it is presented with some disbelief.) Many of the recipes also call for a curveball ingredient – nail polish, for painting a chocolate to look like an AFL ball; or a halved eggshell, an easy way to create two wide eyes for a ghost cake. (And an easy way to let salmonella ravage your child’s party.)

Somewhere along the line, I must have got homesick and now my family’s slightly tacky Children’s Birthday Cake Book sits on my shelves in London. With more than 1m copies sold, the original is still available, though new prints are now marked as a “vintage edition”. Cleaner, modern versions now include a Cadbury-branded spin-off, which I view with the contempt I once reserved for children who climbed trees for fun. But revisiting the sweet and daggy original has been soothing, even inspiring. If I can find lime jelly in the lockdown, I’m finally making that swimming pool.

Source link

No comments