Clever Back to Basic Creative Cakes... Loved by All!
Reviewed in the United States on 17 November 2014
This delightful birthday cake book is full of classic, good old-fashioned, imaginative cakes that even a novice like myself can whip together with great results.
In my early years as a young Mom, I was clueless in making anything other than a basic layer cake dotted with Smarties or gumdrops. This book unwittingly turned me into some kind of a cake baking cult hero Mom of the 1980's and 1990's. At birthday parties, my kid's friends would always say they wished their Moms made such cool and delicious cakes. It was humbling to see how excited the kids were, knowing full well in my mind how very simple and fun they were to make, craft and decorate. My cake baking status was embarassingly elevated, all thanks to this clever book and it's simplicity.
I originally purchased this book in the mid to late 1980's from a now closed Canadian store in a bargain bin. As I thumbed through the book, I was immediately drawn to the nice photographs of very cool cakes within those pages. Our children were both very young. I was nervous attempting the first one, but after that the cakes just became easier and easier and my confidence soared. I can't explain the joy and excitement of the children's faces over the years choosing their favourite birthday cakes each year from the fun pictures of appealingly kid (and adult) friendly cakes. They loved looking at the book over and over again to the extent that I often had to tuck the book away in the event they might accidentally destroy the book playing tug-of-war with it with their grubby little hands and wayward crayons.
The photos are detailed and the step-by-step instructions concise and well written. I made the cake batter and icing recipes from the book, but at times I would easily improvise using my own favourite homemade buttercream frostings and made from scratch cake. When time was limited, which can and does happen, boxed cake mixes which I could bake ahead and freeze for easy assembly and trimming the night before a party turned out just fine too. I think it's always preferable to whip up homemade cake batter, but you can definitely improvise when need be with a quality cake mix and your own buttercream icing.
This book is full of all kinds of fun cake designs for both boys and girls, number cakes for ages, hobbies and sport themes, deliciously pretty and girly ones, and fun and quirky cakes, such as the crazy Duck that has rippled potato chip 'duck lips' and a quirky popcorn head of curly hair. This isn't a book with the latest movie cartoon character, but good-old fashioned, classic and kid-friendly cake designs.
I once made the sewing basket cake for an adult friend who adored sewing, the piano cake for a budding pianist, and that big flopped out fish-shaped cake for a fisherman family member who loved salmon fishing. Due to my own spin and with my intention of humour, it turned out exactly like I wanted. A sick looking, beached and bloated giant salmon with a my own hideous shade of flesh coloured icing. It was a huge hit, as it was incredibly funky and original looking.
These were days well before the internet and TV food networks. Books were our guides. At the time, you couldn't find a 'Dolly Varden' cake pan here and the odd ingredients and/or sweet trimmings here and there had specific Australian names, but it was super easy to improvise or figure out that many of the sweets/ingredients are just named differently here. None of these cakes really have to have special pans. Most all of them are assembled from good old regular round, square or rectangular cake pans, a good cake, delicious butter icing and a sharp knife.
My circle of friends were a great bunch and people soon started asking if they could borrow my beloved cake book with which I was more than happy to accomodate as the book was difficult for them to find. I was like a secret agent in disguise, diligently tracking it's location and reasonable return at any given time. I had kept track of every cake I made for each child by noting their names and dates in the book pages and storing photographs of each of the cakes in a secure envelope attached to the inside of the book for reference and fun looking back. I felt like a stern library clerk, checking out my popular book all the time to friends and family and keeping it's whereabouts always noted under a refrigerator magnet. That's how much we loved this book.
My tracking skills obviously became complacent as the Birthday Cake book eventually went missing. The kids had become older and on their birthdays they always fondly remembered their special cakes. One said she'd love to look at the cake book again. In a mad and extensive search for the book after seeing it wasn't located in it's usual place, I realized I hadn't seen it for quite some time. It was sadly not found in my collection of cookbooks and recipes, nor did it seem to be in the house for that matter. Had I forgotten whom I last lended it to?
Today, now that the kids have wee youngsters of their own, I was extremely happy to find a couple of 'Good Condition' copies on Amazon. They were reasonably priced and I ordered from 2 different Amazon sellers randomly chosen. Both copies fortunately arrived in 'Like New' condition with no markings, dried up batter, glued together pages or flying icing spatters like mine had. These 2 humble books trumped more expensive and relevant gifts the kids received for Christmas last year. There is something nice in seeing your adult children clutching the gift of the book to their hearts saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" To which I replied with satisfaction, "You can make your own blasted Piggy and Swimming Pool cakes now and create your own batter splatters because I'm done!"
My spattered copy full of notes and filled with photographs of our interesting cakes appears to be gone, but the happy memories always remain. On the bright side, both kids may have argued over the now lost, lone and special family book which provided a very special key ingredient that made for some memorable and happy days. Now they each have their own and can create their own memories.
I put things away very well sometimes, so I can only hope that my original book may magically appear someday. I cling to the notion that it may be tucked in with other long stored memorabilia or in the buried storage box of Barbie and Ken dolls that are still breeding in our garage and may appear during a spring cleaning. Or maybe a well meaning friend unknowingly tucked it away in the bowels of their bookshelves and we both forgot about it. I take solace in the fact that if I chose to make any of those cakes again for our grandchildren, I could likely make them in my sleep or with a blindfold on, thanks to this fine book.
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