Let them eat party cakes

If you grew up in the 1980s, or had children who did, there's a good chance you spent hours thumbing through the pages of the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.

Kids would search its pages for something more dazzling than the year before - the racing car, the fairy castle, the lolly-filled tip truck - while parents silently hoped they'd choose something simpler than the multi- carriage train on the cover.

The book has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was first published in 1980, and despite being out of print in recent years, it even has its own Facebook fan group, with more than 6500 members.

Now, new generations of children are set to fight over their favourite sugary construction, with a new vintage edition of the book back on shelves. The new edition has most of the original recipes and photographs, along with detailed instructions on how to make licorice eyelashes and marshmallow flowers. For the most part the cakes look charmingly homemade and ever-so-slightly shonky rather than smoothly professional, which is comforting for parents who feel life's too short to master the art of rolling fondant icing or creating cowboys out of marzipan. There's no need to fret about baking the actual cake either - the experts recommend using packet mixes so you can devote more time to the decoration process.

Australian Women's Weekly food director Pamela Clark says the relaunch means "everyone can share the nostalgia of the cakes they grew up with and introduce them to a whole new generation of children".

"It is a true collectors' cookbook," she says.

"It doesn't just appeal to mums with small children, but to Generation Ys and Generation Xs who grew up with their mums making cakes from the book for them. They have a strong sense of nostalgia and want the book for its own sake, to make cakes for their friends, not just for children."

Clark, who was part of the team who spent about a year creating cakes for the original book, says she doesn't think birthday cake trends have changed too much in the last 30 years.

"People still love to use butter cream to spread onto cakes, then use lollies and bits and pieces to make the cakes child-friendly. Parents still want to devote a lot of time to making children's birthday cakes, almost regardless of their difficulty and how time-absorbing they might be."

Swimming Pool Birthday Cake

This cake is best eaten on the day it is decorated.

1 packet butter cake mix

100g packet lime jelly crystals

1 quantity chocolate Vienna Cream (recipe follows)

2 x 150g packets chocolate biscuit sticks

2 musk sticks


Assorted food colourings

Assorted round sweets

Small dolls

Jube rings

Green sprinkles


Jelly snakes

Small paper umbrella

Make cake according to directions on packet, spoon evenly into a greased deep 20cm (8in) round cake tin and bake in a moderate oven for 50 minutes or until cooked when tested. Turn cake on to wire rack to cool. Make up jelly as directed on packet; refrigerate until set. Trim top of cake so that it is flat; cut around top about 1cm in from edge to make wall of swimming pool. Using a small, sharp knife, hollow out centre of cake to 2.5cm deep to form a recess for jelly.

Spread sides and edge of cake with chocolate Vienna Cream. Arrange chocolate biscuit sticks evenly around cake, leaving an opening of about 5cm. Use musk sticks and licorice to make ladder. Mash set jelly with fork, and spoon into the recess of the cake to represent water.

Paint stripes of food colouring on to small, round sweets to represent beach balls. Small dolls can be pushed through jube rings to represent children in rubber floats.

Spread a little cream on heads of dolls, dip in green sprinkles (these represent bathing caps). Bathing suits can be painted on dolls with nailpolish. Make a rubber mattress from jelly snakes trimmed to about 5cm and joined together with a little chocolate cream. Add paper umbrella, as shown.

Chocolate Vienna Cream

125g butter

1 ½ cups icing sugar

2 Tbsp cocoa

2 Tbsp milk

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa together. Have the butter and milk at room temperature, and put them in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until butter is as white as possible. Gradually add about half the icing sugar and cocoa, beating constantly. Add the milk gradually, then gradually beat in the remaining icing sugar and cocoa. The mixture should be smooth and easy to spread with a spatula.

The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book (ACP Books), RRP $16.95.

The Dominion Post