|Let there be cake! To accompany the craft of course...|
The story begins a few weeks ago when I unpacked a box of Ladybird books for the Cherub. A box that had been sitting in the familial attic for a couple of decades since I was of more cherubic maturity and stature myself. Amongst the literary delights of On the Farm and Bunnikins has a Party was this gem of a cook book.
Making and Decorating Cakes.
Ooooh, the nostalgia. Look at these baked beauties. All of the recipes seem to involve margerine. The food styling is very much of its time, replete with geometric kitchen tiles in dubious earthy hues.
|So much piping. So much margerine. Lots of earthy-hued kitchen surfaces that mean you can't see the worst food stains.|
|As one friend pointed out, "At least it's a cake that looks like a cake rather than some sort of cartoon character or gravity defying architectural structure." Indeed.|
"Oh crumbs" I thought (aptly). "There's a lot of piping on there. I spy sugar-crafted flowers. And what on earth is Royal Icing? That sounds scarily grand."
Reading the instructions this cake demanded a couple of weeks of work from start to finish as each stage needed to sit before startins the next. A bit like knitting a cardigan really. But stickier. So the cake base itself had to mature a day or two before you could paste on the apricot jam and the marzipan layer. Leave it to settle and in a week or so's time it was ready for the application of Royal Icing and piping. Again, it needed to recover for a couple of days before placing the ribbon and finally serving.
As a home baker, I'm pretty au fait with cakes. Like many a woman of my generation I have Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess on the shelf. For the Australian version but with less corsetry, there is Donna Hay. I can make squidgy cakes, biscuits and slices that taste pretty good. We won't mention the lemon cheesecake that I may have added bicarb of soda to instead of cornflour and wondered why everything curdled.
But presentation is not really something that these tomes emphasise. It seems you can hide a multitude of aesthetic sins with a lavish sprinkle of icing sugar or smother the thing in chocolate sauce.
Job done. It's not a work of art. It's an edible indulgence that probably won't last the next half hour. Never mind two weeks to make from go to woe.
What is quite amazing about this Ladybird book circa 1977 is the simple expectation that children of that era aged about 10 or so could manage some impressively elaborate cakes and their decoration. It's interesting to note that cook books aimed at adults today don't. You made the cake in one bowl? It tasted good? Brilliant. You survived. Now get back to whatever role you have supporting the market economy. There's no time for sugar craft flowers.
Reflecting upon this, I thought I quite fancied the challenge. And the Cherub had asked very politely too. I also knew this challenge would be supported by a specialist cake decorating shop in the neighbouring suburb, so I wouldn't have to travel far for guidance.
Thus we took the bus to the new centre of our universe since returning to Melbourne, Greensborough, where we trundled along to the Greensborough Cake Decorating Centre.
Yikes. It reminded me terribly of my first foray into a knitting shop, armed with an idea but with no plan as to how I should execute it effectively. And then feeling somewhat overwhelmed and school girlish in the face of so much creativity. This too is a place where amateurs and professionals make things. Like, amazingly elaborated and beautiful things.
Just out of sugar instead of yarn.
For example, some of these incredible pieces. Apologies for the dubious quality of the pictures, I was sans whizzy camera on the day.
|Some of the impressive feats of sugar craft at the Greensborough Cake Decorating Centre. Yes. Those are minions on the bottom right. Made entirely of sugar. Want to learn how to make them? You'd probably best sign up for one of the workshops.|
I won't go into the details. There was an lot of sticking-out-of-tongue concentrating, maybe a bit of bodgery around the edges of the marzipan layer, the piping was possibly one of the most stressful moments of my culinary career to date, I needed a stiff drink when it was all over.
But here it is. In all its glory.
|Ta daaaa! It's identical to the cake in the book. Really. Slightly wibbly around the edges maybe. And those candles look a but precarious but those minor detractions aside, absolutely identical. Ahem.|
It will be interesting to see if it sticks in the Cherub's memory. Will it prove more memorable a Thing Made By Mummy than a cardigan? As for me, will I return to the delights of sugar craft and some serious cake decoration? Probably not until the Cherub's next birthday and only then if I can't persuade her to have some brownies smothered in chocolate sauce instead. At least the knitting I can pick up and put down when my attention is needed elsewhere at very short notice (this is the way of things when mothering a small child). But this sort of cake decoration demands precision, concentration and a stretch of uninterrupted time to achieve anything. I haven't got too much of that at this stage of life but who knows what the future will bring. The topic of cake and its making is a fascinating one though and there will be some blogposts to follow that continue on this delightful theme...
(Images: Zoë F. Willis)