15 May 2012

Cakes - it's a mystical art!

Dad's 80th birthday cake
I’m not really that much of a cake baker.  Hubby is much more of a baker than ever I am or will be.  Even thinking back into my own personal history, I can remember making a Victoria Sandwich cake when at my Mum’s knee – and being congratulated on it by both parents when we all sampled it at cup of tea time, whether it warranted congratulations or not.  Well, that's what parents do, isn't it?  However, I was always more interested in how to cook a lamb chop, than how to bake a cake.

Now decorating a cake – well that was a different story.

Decorating a cake appealed to my artistic side, you see.  I was the sort of child who would spend ages drawing an intricate pencil sketch of an animal – see my leopard.  I drew him when I was around 13yrs old.  So the sort of cake decoration that appealed to me was the sort where you “drew” a picture by means of intricately placed, differently coloured Royal icing.  The big swirls of butter cream for cupcakes wasn’t for me, oh no.  Give me four days in which to create a Christmas cake decoration – that was the kind of thing I enjoyed.

My Mum first let me loose on our Christmas cake way back in the 1970’s.  She made the cake and I had plenty of time to ponder on what picture I would draw – and the whole thing was done in great secrecy.  Right up until the momentous reveal on Christmas Day, I worked in the tight security of my bedroom – with one or other of our cats on guard to make sure nobody tried to catch a peep at the design.

Now that's easy decoration!
The first design has unfortunately disappeared without any photographic evidence, but it took the form of Snoopy (who was all the rage then) lying on top of his doghouse, dreaming of Christmas presents.

I think it took me around five days to complete, as each colour had to be piped on, then allowed to dry before the next colour could be added.  I didn’t want any of the colours to bleed into each other because of over-hasty piping.

Mango cake - enhanced by icing sugar through a paper template!
I approached the whole thing rather like doing a “painting by numbers” picture.  I sketched it out on paper, then coloured it in with pencils and planned which colour I’d need for which area.

It is a shame that we didn’t keep a photograph of it.  However, the following year a colleague at work (having heard about our cake) asked me to produce one for her family.

This (rather fuzzy) and somewhat antique photograph will hopefully show the result – a beautiful Christmas bunny, sitting on a Yule log, beside his decorated tree.  I’m not sure how appropriate a bunny is for Christmas – but they seemed to like it!

I can remember the journey in to work on the handover day.  I’d completed the decoration the night before and the last few strokes of icing hadn’t set 100% - and I travelled to work on a motorbike.  Gulp.

However, I packed the cake into its tin so that it couldn’t slide around.  Then the tin was packed into my top box on the back of the bike and again, fixed so that it couldn’t slide around – and drove at around 15mph in to work.

Bunny didn’t make it in unscathed, but a bit of judicious primping and adjusting soon fixed the damage and the cake was received with what appeared to be a great deal of pleasure.  Well, there was a lot of showing it around to other colleagues, and I didn’t detect any “look at the hash she’s made of this!” about it – so I think it went well.

That was the beginning and end of my embryonic career as a cake decorator.

These days, I have tended to make cakes that didn’t require decoration, to the point where if a cake has a very intricate degree of decoration in the picture, I’ll actually shy away from making it.

Does it need any more decoration than that?
Having my son has forced me to face the cake decoration spectre again, as birthday cakes just aren’t birthday cakes without candles and decoration, now are they?

I can remember making a little vanilla sponge for his second birthday, with drizzled multicolour lemon icing over it that went down fairly well.  There were versions of that up until he discovered Dr Who cakes and Star Wars cakes when all thoughts of Mum providing a cake disappeared down the plughole that is the lure of the themed cake.

However, what goes around comes around – and in the last couple of years, he’s wanted a homemade cake.  The first was a vanilla sponge coated with chocolate, decorated with ready-made sugar caterpillars, monkeys and dinosaurs.

In the last year, my discovery of the superb Chocolate and Beetroot Cake resulted in my baking one for my son’s birthday (13 yrs old) and one for my Dad’s birthday (80 yrs old).  So it just goes to show, that chocolate cake spans the generation gap and knows no age boundaries.

Neither of these birthday cakes would ever win approval from Eric Lanlard, that I know.  However, their recipients were as pleased as punch with them – which is what birthday cake making is all about.  I can’t ever see my producing a “showstopper cake” or a wedding cake (not unless it’s made of cheese, perhaps), but then, there’s a first time for everything!

This blog was first produced for The Knight of The Round Table, as a guest blog.  Do pay him a visit - he's a lovely chap, who takes baking far more seriously than me!


  1. Well, it's the taste that counts, Jenny! I'm sure your Dad loved his cake :)

    1. He did! They took the remains home with them. :) That's one thing I'll say for my cakes - they might not look so pretty, but they don't half taste good! lol


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