I was, with great reluctance, bounced into holding a small birthday party for my son. I was hoping the promise of a big present instead might dampen his enthusiasm, but to no avail. Usually I love to hold a party, but with the house move looming, I was hoping that this year I might be able to give it a miss.
I know that I could just go to the supermarket, and buy everything ready cooked, ready-made etc, but, I hate to serve food that I am not keen on myself. So I find myself knuckling down, to a lot more preparation than I had the time for.
I had a brief glance at the cakes in the supermarket, which offer both convenience and the kind of decor that children love. But one look at the cocktail of ingredients that look like something from a chemistry experiment, leaves me fleeing without a second look.
A standard sponge cake, is of course, a doddle. If I am really pushed for time it will be Nigellas Never Fail Victoria Sponge. The trickier issue is persuading my son that my ‘home-made’ confection, can rival those of his friends who have elaborate designs, created courtesy of the supermarket.
I do not do the whole sugar paste/cake modelling thing. I do not have the time, any sort of artistic skill, and more importantly, I am not all that patient.
So here are my quick fixes
- Ice the cake as usual. Decorate with small toys or figures from the them that your child would like. For Davids 2nd Birthday it was plastic figures from In the Night Garden. For his 3rd birthday, it was Pirate Lego on a chocolate cake.
- The second option, which I have elected for this year, is to buy a cake topper. I bought one on ebay. Personalised. Edible. Has his name and age on. And only £4.99.
This year I made a fatal error. I decided to make something I had never made before, and at the last-minute. Armed with the comfort of the cake topper in reserve, I decided that a red velvet, cream cheese frosted cake (from Hummingbird bakery book) would be just the thing. Ha ha. I measured the cake tins. They were a bit on the small side for the cake topper, but I (foolishly) thought that I could thicken it up with the frosting and all would be fine.
Great idea. Then, the great buttermilk shortage occurred. It’s a key ingredient of the cake, yet was absent from the shelves of every supermarket in a 5 mile radius. After much huffing and puffing, I decided to ‘make’ butter milk by combining crème fraîche, yoghurt and a little milk (to get the consistency right). It seemed to work.
The cake turned out surprisingly well, despite my ‘buttermilk’ concoction. However, the heat in of the day caused the cream cheese frosting to go all runny and it kept falling off the side of the cake. I then put it in the fridge for half an hour. that did the trick, but when I got the cake topper out, it was still 1 inch too wide. So, there was nothing for it but a last-minute dash for my failsafe standby, a chocolate version of Nigellas Never Fail Victoria sponge made in tins that were (this time) the right size. There was not even time to ice the cake. I filled it with buttercream (left over from the cupcakes I had made) and just stuck the cake topper on using jam. I think I used too much, as it went a little ‘glisteney’ but on the whole, it looked ok, and kept my four-year old and a bunch of his friends happy. And the bonus was I served the red velvet cake to the party mums, who were all very grateful for my birthday cake disaster.
Total effort for cake. 30 minutes (for each cake). Happiness for 4 year old son. 10/10. Warning. The finished product (good-looking, great tasting, home-made cake) might lead to just a teeny feeling of smugness!