It’s my son’s birthday party today. Being a Leapling, he doesn’t actually have a birthday this year but we are pretending that it is as usual. But with the party comes the requirement for a cake. I cannot tell you how stressful the whole cake business is for me. I lie awake at night fretting about it, I dream of being chased down the street by rolls of fondant icing. Well, not really. But I do get myself into an bit of a tizzy.
Now I know what you will say. But cakes is your thing. You have been going to classes for years. How hard can it be? And this is all true. I have been going for years but we make flowers, fine, life-like flowers for wedding cakes. The work is precise, neat, in fine petal paste or porcelain. We don’t do any novelty work.
It was fine to start with. When my eldest was little, almost nobody decorated their own birthday cakes. I had a couple of very simple books left over from the eighties and I just picked something out of them that had a vague relevance to their life and Bob was very much my uncle.
And because it was unusual, my cakes were generally met with oohs and ahs by the attending parents. Of course the kids didn’t bat an eyelid. But over the years I felt a slight sense anticipation build up. A few people began to ask what the cake might be this year. I started to bow under the pressure.
As the years have gone on things have changed in the birthday cakes world. Firstly, I have four children. That’s a lot of cakes. They don’t like to repeat each other’s choices and I have far less time and inclination to spend the best part of two days before the party crafting a cake. But for weeks beforehand, they sit poring over my books, now expanded in number, choosing the perfect cake. I try and guide them towards the ones that I anticipate will be the most successful based on my past experience. The pressure builds.
Secondly there are now lots and lots of people all making fabulous cakes. People have even gone into business just doing novelty cakes. I can think of half a dozen in Ilkley alone. As a result, the whole cake expectation thing has racked up a notch or two. More pressure.
The trouble is, I’m just not very good at it. The execution I can just about carry off as long I steer the children towards something that I know will be within my capabilities. But Madeira cake and butter icing just don’t behave themselves like fruit and marzipan. Things don’t go to plan. I get frustrated and grumpy. And also, because my powers of imagination and creativity are truly limited in this regard, I can never think of things to make or how it might be done. So I slavishly copy from books with results that I find disappointing.
Of course the kids are generally delighted. They don’t notice the wobbly icing or the heads held on with  cocktail sticks like I do. But I have to admit to being guilty of steering them towards away from novelty sugar paste and towards things that I can do and that I enjoy – chocolate ganache, gateaux or plain Victoria sponge liberally coated with sweets.
At the end of the day, all they need is something to stick candles in that tastes nice and I should stop worrying about it because it’s only a cake! But fretting is what I do. ( Here is this time’s effort, Notice the shot is taken from a distance!)