I’m not much of a baker. In fact, I’m not much of a cook full stop. But, as youngest son’s third birthday is looming, I decide that making him a cake (instead of just picking up the phone and ordering one) is the way to go. The first step is to find out what kind of cake our Rupert is after. The conversation goes like this.
Me: What kind of birthday cake would you like?
Rupert: ‘I want a racing car. No – I want R2-D2 – and SpongeBob SquarePants. Can I have a plane cake, Mummy? Or Rocket from Little Einsteins?’
There is a reason that we habitually cater these jobs out to competent pastry chefs who can fashion the likes of Hogwarts out of sugar paste faster than you can say ‘Happy Birthday Junior’. On the bright side, though, the rocket request wins, mostly because I manage to find a set of instructions online that don’t completely intimidate me (go to; http://familyfun.go.com/recipes and type in Space Cake), but also because I loathe SpongeBob SquarePants.
Step one: Make the cake
Too late, I realise the instructions I’ve chosen don’t actually come with a cake recipe – only the decorating tips. So, armed with a large rectangular baking tin (the kind you make brownies in) and a box of Betty Crocker cake mix just in case my proper Victoria Sponge recipe goes array, I get stuck in.
Step two: Baking the cake
At the point just before oven insertion, I discover my quantities are a bit off. But by this time it’s 10.30pm and I can’t be bothered to make up any more mixture. I’ve used the traditional six, six, six, four ratio (six ounces of flour, sugar and butter to four eggs) and it isn’t enough to fill the baking tray. I shake the mixture into the corners of the tin, smooth it over with a spatula and hope for the best. Twenty minutes later, my husband says he thinks he can smell burning. I race to the kitchen and rescue my cake. It’s a bit flat and rather well done. But there are no charred bits, so I decide to go with it because I’m too tired to start again.
Step three: Shaping the cake
Making the rocket shape is super-easy. First, I score lines on the cake to ensure symmetry both sides, and then cut it. The bits I’ve cut off are fashioned into rocket boosters which I stick on with ready-made icing. There is very little waste – which is good, because there isn’t that much cake.
Step four: Icing the cake
I opt for a tub of white spreadable icing by Betty Crocker rather than making it myself (time is precious) and spread it using a large pallet knife. I then add the Smarties, but discover that five tubes don’t yield enough reds or blues to follow the suggested design, so everything goes a bit psychedelic. Finally, I use tubes of writing icing to decorate the cake board with stars and a ‘Happy Birthday’ message, and add gold, twisty candles as additional rocket boosters.
I’m happy with the final result. The instructions were dead easy to follow, although a recipe for actual cake mixture would have been helpful! Nobody commented on the fact that the cake was a bit dry. However, I did get a lot of requests for glasses of water while it was being eaten…
1 Make enough mixture. The eight, eight, eight, six recipe for Victoria Sponge would have been perfect. Or two packs of Betty Crocker or Pilsbury pre-mix will suffice.
2 Use M&Ms. They are brighter and shinier than Smarties (which don’t contain artificial colours).
3 One tub of icing just about covered my flat cake. Get two tubs just in case.
4 Clean your pallet knife in hot water between spreads. This gives you a lovely smooth finish.
For more creative cake ideas visit http://familyfun.go.com/recipes or www.easy-birthday-cakes.com