We have a lot of summer birthdays in our family and L’s recent seventh birthday was the latest in the string. I had thought that my days in the icing sugar cloud of despair were over, but L was having a jewellery-making party and had set her heart on the jewellery box cake she found in Debbie Brown’s erroneously-named book, 50 Easy Party Cakes.
I really must hide that book. The cakes look so pretty, so appealingly colourful, smooth and neat. I have other books of party cakes for kids, but my children never give a second glance to their swirling swathes of buttercream icing and multicoloured sprinkles. They are drawn irresistibly by the bewitching charms of Debbie Brown’s cakes with their pretty fondant models and magical themes.
If only they really were so easy to make. Debbie Brown’s cakes never seem to have crumbs poking out through the joins in the icing or stray nailprint stabs from a moment’s lapse in concentration. Her sugar glue apparently never runs and her silver dragees stay irritatingly in place, stuck shinily to the cake rather than slipping around in her fingers. Her fondant models never droop and the covering on her cakes never sags. She gives you all the information you need in the book to be able to reproduce her cakes at home, except for that vital witch’s spell that tames the recalcitrant ingredients.
I have found a way through this over the years. I have learned not to give up when the fondant icing first sticks to the worktop and the smooth surfaces give way to impressions from my clumsy fingers and thumbs. I keep going even when the details are lost in a fog of icing sugar, when the straight edges are all bumpy and when the whole cursed thing seems to have become an irretrievable disaster.
I carry on regardless until the cake is finished and then I close the book and walk away.
Perhaps this is the point at which the charms begin their work for when I return, I invariably find that it hasn’t been such a disastrous endeavour after all.
My cake might not be as perfect as the images in the book …
… but the excited appreciation of my children somehow transforms my terminally flawed efforts into the most beautiful party creation …
… and crowning birthday glory.
Happy birthday, L – and thank you to Mark for calmly photographing my work in the depths of the icing sugar cloud of despair!