How NOT to make a cake

Making a cake can bring out the worst in any mother. Especially when your rivals all turn into supermums overnight

Sam’s first birthday crept up on us. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t expect it to come so quickly. Within a flash he was one. It seemed like yesterday he was a little dot, pooing, crying, feeding, crying, pooing again. But all of a sudden he is a boisterous little boy, making sure everyone knows exactly what he wants – which is usually everything I have.

As it was his first birthday, we decided on a joint party with his best friend Marius, who is two weeks older. Marius’s mother Rikke and I very excitedly started to make plans. Invitations went out and then it came to making the cake. I said I was going to make a chocolate cake shaped as a number one with butter icing and elaborate decorations. Rikke said she was going to make a train cake. Rikke is from Denmark. She is also perfect. Beautiful, talented, intelligent and, above all, kind. But all that coupled with the fact that she’s my closest friend didn’t take away the sudden pang of competition I felt when I heard about her cake. I don’t know what she had in her mind, but I was imagining something of the same quality as that which the creators of Thomas the Tank Engine could come up with, or better. The heat was on.

In all the time I have been a mother, never have I felt this level of competition. Marius has walked since he was about seven months. Sam floundered on the floor like, well, a flounder until he was about nine months, when he decided to have a go at crawling. Other children of Sam’s age too were crawling and walking long before he was. One was even potty trained, but I just didn’t care: my little boy would do it all in his own time.

But this was different. This was about me. I have to confess I have never made a ‘normal’ cake before. I say ‘normal’ because I have Coeliac disease, so have in the past made gluten-free cakes and just not mentioned it when people have given me a funny look suggesting that the ingredients might be off. This time, I decided it was time to tackle the real thing.

I would like to say I made 10 different versions in the weeks running up to the party and tried them out on my husband and his work colleagues. But sadly I can’t. The night before the party, I set about making my first ever gluten-filled birthday cake.

The bottom layer of the cake was perfect. I left it to cool and it was spongy and looked delightfully cake-like. I then decided that one layer was not enough and so made another. This is where it all began to go wrong.

The top layer became problematic when I started to mess about with it while it was still warm. First it broke it half, but not feeling worried or despondent at this point, I stuck it back together with frosting. I placed the two halves on top of the other layer and watched as they slowing slid away from each other and off the side. Still not feeling worried, I pushed them back together, added more frosting and then frosted the whole thing. I was pretty certain I had sorted it out.

Minutes later, the two halves slowly slipped off the bottom layer again. It was at this point that panic kicked in, and in a desperate attempt to salvage the cake and fill the ever-expanding chasm that was forming, I filled the gap with M&Ms and more frosting, put the lid on the cake tin and shoved it in the fridge hoping it would set and look OK.

The next morning – the day of the party – I opened the fridge to find something of a disaster staring back at me. Unprepared to admit I was wrong, I did some quick thinking and decided to say it was a wadi cake after a heavy flood and the M&Ms were rocks that had washed through.

Alongside Rikke’s train cake, which had an engine, carriages and jellies for wheels, I felt mine stood up to the mark – although her cake did actually look like a train (mine didn’t even look like a cake by the time we got to the park). But there was lots of chocolate – and that’s all kids care about, right? It seemed to work and no one questioned what it was (to my face, anyway). Turns out, cake-baking doesn’t need to be so competitive after all – as long as you use enough M&Ms.

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