Thursday, 19 November 2015

The cake that ate my life

It wasn't until I sat down on the sofa with BigBear on Sunday evening, after a marathon three days of 4th birthday celebrations that I realised that not only was I enormously tired, I had also been monumentally stressed. The release of tension of having emerged relatively unscathed from LittleBear's London-aquarium-trip (Friday), birthday (Saturday) and then party (Sunday) was extraordinary. A weight was lifted from my shoulders and I was once more able to breathe easily. I believe I have already mentioned that I had bitten off more than I could chew. A large chunk of the unchewable was the cake that I decided to make.

I had (rashly) asked LittleBear what he'd like on his birthday cake, and he'd announced that he wanted a liopleurodon, a mosasaur, and an ichthyosaur swimming on a blue cake, with a piece of land at the end with a tyrannosaurus rex standing on it. What a ridiculous suggestion! Nobody in their right mind would contemplate making something quite so over-the-top for a four year old's birthday would they? No. Nobody in their right mind would. As it turns out, my right mind is something with which I only have a fleeting acquaintance.

Now, I did think about not writing about this cake. Partly I thought about not writing because for the third year in a row one of my colleagues has informed me that his Swiss wife believes that the English are deranged in making fancy cakes for their children, and that the only reason they do it is to show off on Facebook. This neatly dismisses every childhood memory I have of birthday cakes at friends' parties, taking the form of volcanoes, teddy bears, fairy castles, princesses, race tracks, football pitches etc. All of which pre-date Facebook by quite some time, and most of which were only ever seen by the children and not by any other parents, so can't possibly have been made for the sake of showing off to other parents. Nonetheless, I became suddenly abashed, and thought it would be a terrible social faux pas to write about my absurd cake. And then I thought, "oh, sod it, I made it, I'm proud of it, and I don't care what a random Swiss woman thinks about it."

So here goes...

First you must draw your sea creatures on greaseproof paper

Now you may cut your sea creatures out from a thin sheet of sugarpaste

And, as it turns out, greaseproof paper has an eternal ability to roll up, so must be carefully pinned to the sugarpaste to give any hope of actually cutting round the shapes. I tried wetting it, and just ended up with wet, curling greaseproof paper, which was a retrograde step.

Sugarpaste prehistoric marine reptiles!

All very well, but white is just a little bit, well, white for a fearsome sea creature, so the next step was the painting.

Most things on this table were essential

With a range of gel food colours I could produce any colour I wanted, but I couldn't actually paint with it. So it needed letting down. With gin. Any clear alcohol will do, but gin is what I had. And the alcohol definitely evaporated before I let the children eat it. I didn't really give gin to any pre-schoolers. Anyway, the gin turns it into something more like a watercolour paint. Which would be better if I was actually proficient at using watercolours. There was rather a lot of trial-and-error involved. Looking at this photograph, I don't remember needing either the Savlon or the telephone, but I'm also not very good at tidying up, which is probably what they're doing in there.

Now, I did also make a little model tyrannosaurus from sugarpaste and paint him, but I failed to take any photographs during the making of, as it all got a bit stressful, especially when his foot broke off, and then when I tried to glue it back on (with sugar glue I must point out, not Araldite) my hot, sweaty little hands caused the "paint" to start smudging and running. He survived, and once his feet were firmly embedded in the icing on top of the cake, and he had a little plant to lean on stop him falling over it was all fine. (I failed to give him a heavy enough tail, so he had a tendency to fall flat on his face if he didn't have a little plant to lean on).

So, here we are with the finished article:

Liopleurodon lurking in the seaweed, ready to gobble up the ammonites

T. rex gazing across the ocean from the safety of his island

Mosasaurus and Ichthyosaurus competing for a shoal of fish
Aside from the idiocy of actually making this cake, do you know what the fundamental error I made was? I made only three marine reptiles and one dinosaur and there were five children present. It turned out to be a very, very, very good thing that I'd decided to add fish and ammonites at the last minute, as that staved off what could have been a terrible end to a rather fun party.

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