If you grew up in suburban Australia in the 1980s, chances are you will remember the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book.
This bestselling paperback was precious for hundreds of thousands of children, including my brother and I. Being taller, he would pull it down off the shelf and we would carefully turn page after full-color page, in wonderment at the beautiful designs and dreaming up our own. A racing car cake was one. I think at one stage, I wanted a bat cake.
They were perfect. And they were cake. Looking at them was all I needed to be happy.
Now I’m thirty(mumble) but I still think of the book often. I have a copy, in storage at my parents’ house in Brisbane, and now that I’m looking I’ve discovered – unbelievably – you can still buy one at Big W. But I reckon I could still recall each cake on its pages from memory.
Why did the book have such an impact on me? And why does it have a hold over me still?
It seems I’m not alone. In 2010, comedian Josh Earl toured Australia having written an entire show about the birthday cake book and the cultural capital it encompassed.
My mum isn’t much of a cook but she did buy the birthday cake book. Ahead of our birthdays, my brother and I would hold days of high-level discussions about the cake we wanted, then wake her up at 6am and proudly demand our choice: maybe the typewriter cake; or the butterfly cake. The year she made me the elephant cake, I felt like the luckiest girl on earth.
When my beloved and I wed in November last year, it seemed natural we would want a special cake. We recruited a baker friend to make us the coolest, nerdiest cake we could come up with – a delicious, navy blue marzipan TARDIS.
It was magnificent. I could taste the time, effort and skill that went into the cake – and the love baked in to the batter.
And that’s surely what it’s about. Food equals love in my family, and decorated cakes are both tricky and thoughtful. What better way to show you love someone but with sugar and fat piled high into a work of art?
Life is not as perfect as the cakes in the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. But it sure is sweet.