Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
I have some issues. The first is with this book’s cover. Three generations of women hold on to each other, grinning like fools, because little Teddy (preciously spelled out in blocks on the table) likes his cake.
I have my own little boy and baked him plenty of cakes, but these women need to get a life! And Teddy should learn to bake.
Perhaps my churlishness comes from the second issue. The dearth of grand, iced birthday cakes in my own childhood.
My mom didn’t believe in iced cakes–all that icing was no good for you and, I suspect, too much work. She preferred to spend her time reading and her skills at the pottery wheel.
But we had the pamphlet version of this book and I would wistfully page through it, and beg her to make me one. Finally, she broke down, and I got “Easy Bunny” with gumdrop eyes and tinted coconut. Other birthdays I, ungratefully, can’t remember. Though there is a slide somewhere of me blowing out the candles on a cheese pie with a burnt graham cracker crust. I also got an excellent pair of light blue leather slippers trimmed with blue fur that year. So obviously, my childhood was a misery!
Even after Easy Bunny, I remained entranced by these cakes. They were the ultimate in baking transformation. And all the decorative candy! I eventually moved on to Carrot Cookies and Cassata Siciliana (made first from a Sara Lee poundcake and eventually from homemade Genoise), but reverted a bit when my son was born.
His birthday never passed without some over-the-top cake–from a map of the solar system to a pieced together Slimy the Worm–decorated, you guessed it, with candy rope and and cinnamon drop eyes, and companion gummy worms.
I’ve calmed down considerably, cake-wise, and can enjoy a birthday cake that’s pleasant, pretty, and calm. I’m even willing to depart from the cake and allow cupcakes–but no cheese pies!
For some really nice cakes, and a few acceptable variations, try Katherine Kleinman’s book. She’s got a Devil’s Food homage to Elvis garnished with peanut butter and sliced banana, the lovely Beth’s Very Berry Shortcake, and the Fastest Fudge Cake, among others. Sometimes she plays a little fast and loose for my taste–a Tarte Tatin is a wonderful thing, but it is not a birthday cake–but the recipes are homey and well-worth the effort. There is a coconut cake, but tinting is optional.