Monday, 30 April 2012

Here Be Lions

the original in The Book
My version: looks a bit like a map of Australia don't you think?

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight ....
(wim-ooh-way, oh wim-oo-way
oh wim-ooh -way, oh wim-oo way
oh wim-ooh-way, oh wim-oo-way .... etc .....)

Little Jonty turned one last weekend, and when his mum asked if I could make a cake, I selfishly said Sure, I'd love to, but he can't have the number one because I've already done it. (So mean.)

Ros took this in her stride. That's fine, she said. Whatever you would like to do, she said. How nice of her to indulge my selfish passion!

So I asked some questions about her lovely family, and settled on Leonard The Lion, because Jonty's dad Justin was born in Africa.

Baking Leonard the Lion was a bit of a challenge. I had to bake an enormous rectangle of batter at very low heat to ensure it didn't rise up in a peak like so many of my cakes do. It worked, and turned out about four centimetres thick - perfect for the mane. I separately baked a rectangle for his actual head and nose.

Cutting out Leonard the Lion proved a little difficult. I really tried to replicate the shape in The Book, but I think it turned out a little bit too much like a map of Australia, n'est-ce pas?

Making Leonard the Lion's mouth was hard - I had some kind of spasm trying to cut the orange jubes into the right shape. I am spatially retarded and find it really hard to look at one shape and try to turn it into another one. I cut six different versions before I got those little triangles anywhere near right. Which meant I got to eat five orange jubes along the way as I discarded each mangled little effort.

Decorating Leonard the Lion with melted chocolate was a process, too, although colouring the vienna cream went much quicker this time. I was a little heavy-handed with the chocolate flicks in the beginning - what the instructions in The Book don't tell you is that even though the chocolate is melted, it will harden up pretty bloody fast when you're doing the decorating, and clump into a big lump on the end of your fork, and then the stuff in the bowl will set like concrete while you're cleaning the fork, and then you'll have to start the process all over again ..... and again .... and again .... gah. But it turned out ok in the end.

And I must say that Jonty LOVED his cake. Even though he was just turning one, he totally got that the day was All About Him. He was so secure in his sense of self that he didn't even mind when Hugo blew out the candle.

Rock on, Jonty! Your birthday is the one day of the year that absolutely, totally, and completely belongs to you. I'm glad to see you approaching it in the right way from such a young age.

PS: People.....fairybread. It's been years. Awe.Some.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Houston, we have a problem

All week, I've been searching for miniature moon men.

I've searched high and low. I've turned Coles and Target and KMart upside down.

I've visited specialist cake decorating stores, ransacked the aisles of $2 shops, and I even went to Toys R Us, more fool me. (I'm still recovering and I'm not ready to talk about it yet.)

It's all the more important because I'm not just doing this cake for the office. No, I'm actually doing it for the birthday of a colleague's son. It's a real birthday and it requires a real cake that looks just like the real picture in The Book.

And in The Book, the number 8 has a space theme. There are green monsters and red aliens and yellow fluffy frosting and it's meant - MEANT - to have little white astronauts on it as well.

So you can understand the pressure that I'm under. A small child might start crying if I don't get this right. I'll have let a colleague down AND made his child cry.

Omigod, the weight of expectation! Is this how parents feel when they're baking a cake for their tot's birthday? Seriously, I can feel my blood pressure rising and it's not even my child. If I can't sort out a solution soon, you will find me in the corner over there behind the desk, rocking and crooning quietly to myself.

This may be the first real stumbling block I've encountered. Tiny astronauts, where are you?

If the situation doesn't improve soon, I'm going to have to improvise. I will cut the guns off the little green soldiers I bought in a panic, and paint their little green bodies white.

My white paint better not be lead-based. That would just top things off perfectly.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Birthday Trivia: a new series

Image from here

Birthday trivia: a new series in which I impart useless bits of birthday-related information to you. 

(You never know, this series might win you a fortune on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire one day. And then you can quit work and employ me as your personal cake baker extraordinaire, which means that I can quit work too. So pay attention, for both our sakes.)

Today is Monday 23 April. That's Shakespeare's birthday. 

It's also exactly three hundred and ninety six years since he died. 

Question: what time of day did Shakespeare die? 

I don't know the answer to that. He was due to turn 52, but I suppose that depending of the hour of the day that he died, he might not actually have reached the milestone. So could all our history books be wrong? Was he actually 52, or just 51 and 364 and-a-quarter (or something) days?

Question: is there a term that applies if you die on the same day as you were born? And if not, should we make one up? 

Suggestions, please!

Friday, 20 April 2012

I Caked It Myself: Las Vegas Showgirl Dolly Varden

Welcome to the second in our series on home baking triumphs and disasters. Readers, you voted, and overwhelmingly you want this series to be called 'I Caked It Myself".

Well, what am I if not your slave in both the kitchen and on the intereweb? I am nothing, readers, nothing. I look forward to bringing you many more cakes in the series. Send me your photos and stories!

As My Slutty Dolly Varden touched so many of you this week (eeeuw, I don't mean in that way), I am proud to present an Even Sluttier Dolly Varden from my friend and colleague The Gormanista. 

The Gormanista and her cousin attempted the Dolly Varden for her mother's birthday last year. They originally stuck Dolly's legs in so that it looked as though she'd fallen over, but the whole thing collapsed before they could take the photo. 

Apparently there was a lot of red wine involved, and I must say that after my own experience, I wish I'd followed that example. Deep inebriation sounds like exactly the right state in which to attempt the Dolly Varden. 

I think this Dolly Varden has a kind of Las Vegas Showgirl quality to her, don't you think? Her glittery top, the brassy blonde hair, the glassy eyes that hint at a night out on the tiles - yes, this girl was destined for the stage.  

She came home in the morning and couldn't get the sequins to stay on her ridiculously enormous skirt, so she got Ken to stake them on instead, though he's such a dullard he only managed to get through half before she had to rush to the theatre. And she forgot her pink tulle overskirt, so her chocolate satin slip is showing.

But she's doing her best, readers, with that frozen smile and those upthrust arms. Like a gymnast after a particularly disastrous reverse half-twist off the parallel bars, this girl's hoisted herself out of the gutter and she's putting on her best face, ready for the curtain to go up.

The show must go on. Dance, Las Vegas Showgirl Dolly Varden, dance!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

My Slutty Dolly Varden

Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to ME,
Happy birthday dear meeee-eeeee,
Happy birthday to me!

In honour of this auspicious occasion, I made the Dolly Varden cake. And I've got to ask the question: is it just me, or have Dolly Vardens gotten a lot sluttier since I was a girl?

Here's the backstory: I always admired the Dolly Varden cake when I was younger, but it my father would never make it for me. He didn't explain why, exactly (sends the wrong message? too pink and sugary?), he just never did.

So I decided that for my birthday today I would make it myself. Off I went to buy my Dolly Varden cake tin. That's how famous this kind of cake has become, it's got its own tin named after it.

And of course I would need a Dolly Varden doll to go with it. I had always thought it was just a complete doll stuck into the cake - so it was a surprise to find out that you can actually buy a mutilated half-doll that has a single stump where her legs should be.

Now, The Book has a delightful photo of the Dolly Varden cake. The doll herself is sweet and cherubic, with plump little arms and an adorably innocent face. Here she is.

That's what I had in my head when I trotted off to purchase my own version. What I was met with though, was anything but sweet and cherubic.

I searched high and low, but Dolly Vardens have changed in the intervening 30 years since The Book was released. Dolly Vardens have gone on sex-appeal steroids. Dear god.

Apparently you cannot buy innocence anymore. Although as I'm writing that sentence I realise that actually I'm quite wrong, because you can, if you're in, say, Thailand or the Philippines. (Have I gone too far? Have I?)

Anyway, I was spoilt for choice. I could have bought any one of the following:
  • Pole-Dancing Dolly Varden
  • Las Vegas Showgirl Dolly Varden
  • Tiny Prostitute Dolly Varden, or 
  • Slutty Dolly Varden, which is the one I chose. 

I do not endorse her. Are these dolls really appropriate for children? Oh god, I've turned into my mother.

Pursing my lips in disapproval (I get you now, dad) I dressed her up in her pink ribbon and stuck a flower in at her waist, just like the picture in The Book except about 20 years older and light-years away in terms of ahem, experience.

She did not look innocent and cherubic like the picture in The Book. She did, however, look perfect for a night out at the Logies or the Brownlow.

My Slutty Dolly Varden could also have taken a lesson from the red carpet and put on some Hollywood tape to avoid an accidental wardrobe malfunction that occurred when I started to cut her up in the office, but hey - you can't have everything. You can see her "dress" just starting to slip in this picture.

And look, at the end of the day - irrespective of the seck-syoo-al innuendo that My Slutty Dolly Varden  brought with her - she was an absolute smash hit in the office. With red velvet cake inside and cream cheese icing outside, there was not a scrap of her left within about seven minutes.

THAT is the measure of baking success. Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

My dentist has hijacked my birthday

Stealth marketing from my dentist! 

It's my birthday tomorrow (so they got the day a little wrong, but never mind). And they sent this message. 

Dear Flickettysplits,

Birthdays are special occasions. As children, we look forward to a birthday with anticipation and excitement. As adults, a birthday often is a time for reflection and renewal. We would like you to know that we are thinking of you on your special day. We hope that the coming year will be filled with health, happiness and success for you and your family.
    All of us here at [my dentist office]

    I really love the way. That the sentences are so blunt. Even the ones that talk about. Anticipation and excitement. Doesn't it just fill you. With a real sense of sincerity?

    No doubt they've sent this message because they - perhaps more than any other profession - are aware of the impact that birthday cake can have. What a sneaky way of reminding me that I should make an appointment. 

    I feel.... hijacked.

    Monday, 16 April 2012

    Farewell, my croquembouche

    Question: when a dear colleague is leaving the office, what kind of cake should you bake for their farewell?

    Answer: not a computer, because there isn't one in The Book. Because they didn't have computers back in the 80s. Okay, they did, but they were the size of an entire room, and even my enthusiasm doesn't extend to that.

    You bake a typewriter. Of course! The prehistoric ancestor of the computer.

    And when you show this picture to the lovely receptionist, she will point quizzically at the musk stick on the left-hand side and ask "but what is that?".

    And you will explain that back in the olden days, when people actually had to type using typewriters and carbon ribbons and you know, paper, there was a thing called a carriage return and you had to use this lever to do it.

    And when she looks at you a little questioningly, then you will explain that a carriage return is like an enter key. It takes you to the next line.

    Understanding will dawn across her face like a bright morning.

    Then you will feel very, very old.

    (Before I stagger off to a rest home somewhere at the prospect of a) feeling very, very old and b) having to face the fact that I have MY OWN BIRTHDAY this week that will make me feel even OLDER, I'd just like to point out to everyone that it took me over half an hour just to get the exact right shade of blue icing for this cake. And then another half hour for the apricot. And see how the placement of every single little Smartie on my cake is exactly the same colour as the Smarties on the original one? That's how much I can about authenticity, people.)

    The original. Note authentic buttery smear on the page.

    My faithful reproduction

    Friday, 13 April 2012

    Black Friday? No! Colourful BALLOON Friday!

    So, incredibly detailed birthday wreath made out of balloons, you think you've got  Pinterest in a lather, do you?

    Wagging your vibrant colours all over the interwebs like some supermodel dressed in rubber (don't deny it, you are) and sashaying your endless curves (pow! circle geometry joke!) up and down the fibreoptic superhighway?

    Well, you'd be right, incredibly detailed birthday wreath. You are HUGE right now. HUGE.

    I can see why.

    If I had more patience, or hours in the day, I might try to make you myself. And then I would do a cute little post about the experience and how my wreath turned out looking like a sad imitation of you and how sometimes, homemade things are not better than bought things, even if they ARE made with love.

    But I don't have time to do that. So people will have to click this link to find out how to make you for themselves.

    Thursday, 12 April 2012

    Home caking: the Red-Eyed Rabbit

    Welcome to the first of our reader contribution stories, in which I showcase other people's triumphs and misfortunes with The Book. Because it's not all about me, people, really, it's not.

    After Sunday's Easter egg-stravaganza (I really can't help myself) the lovely Kirsten has sent in a picture of her own rabbit cake.

    But before we get to the cake itself, I must take a moment to solicit your advice. Naming this series naturally requires some sort of horrific pun in order to really make it work.

    I've been tossing up between "Home Caking", and "I Caked It Myself". What do YOU prefer? I will bow to your infinite wisdom.

    Anyway, enough of the name - now for the cake.

    Kirsten writes:

    "We did this cake last year, for my daughter's fourth birthday, but didn't add the coconut- just left it with Vienna Cream. Oh, and we had leftover cake coming out of our EARS. It's amazing how much cake you need!

    I mainly remember being 8.5 months pregnant and looking rather tearfully at all the cake that still had to be iced, and my husband sending me to bed while he decorated it. He was up till 1am, God bless him. But our daughter Laura loved her cake!

    P.S. the scary red eyes were his decision."

    Kirsten, I love your cake. And your pun on EARS - you are a woman after my own heart. I especially love that you even contemplated baking something like this in such a late stage of pregnancy. Me, I'd have been lying on my side on the floor, eating pineapple and spicy food and desperately hoping for contractions. But you, you were in the kitchen! Baking!

    Dear Kirsten's husband, you deserve a medal for completing this cake on behalf of your tearful wife. It's a brave man who takes on last-minute emergency icing in the middle of the night.

    So I totally endorse your decision on the red eyes. You and the damn rabbit were both awake until 1am. Anyone's eyes would be red after a superhuman effort like that.

    Bravo, Kirsten and Kirsten's husband, bravo.

    Sunday, 8 April 2012

    Happy Easter from the Easter Bunny

    Hoppy Easter! The Easter Bunny and I hop you are having an egg-cellent day today.

    This is not a chocolate cake as one might have egg-xpected for Easter. Instead, I stayed true to the original (that's the original from the book there on the left, and my new one there on the right) and went with a butter cake. I'm not sure I'm up to chocolate interpretations yet.

    So this one was lemon flavoured cake, with lemon icing, and covered in coconut - just like I was when I finally finished him. Believe me, there are more engineering challenges in getting coconut to stick to icing than you might ordinarily egg-expect. How on earth did they do it so neatly??

    Nevertheless, I think my modern cake is still quite close to the original. His jaunty ears are almost exactly the same, but his neck is a little thicker than The Book version. And he looks cute and sweet, but just check out the points on these licorice claws I made. Rawr.

    I took this flopsy bunny to work on Thursday so that je could be enjoyed by my office colleagues. He was very well received, and one of the accountants made my day when he wrote me a POEM in response! I was  egg-static. He said:

    As a matter of habit
    I don’t eat rabbit
    Today I made an exception
    To do justice to your “lemony” creation!

    I love the fact that my baking is inspiring creativity in others. And when "others" are actually accountants, (who are traditionally not the most driven to artistry in the office) ....well, I think that's just sp-egg-tacular.

    I'm slightly concerned, though, that I may also have inadvertently flushed out the office psychopath as well, judging by the way the knife was left in the cake after a certain someone sliced off their piece ...... um....!

    Thursday, 5 April 2012

    My Very First Birthday Cake

    Making my first cake turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. But I am proud of the result!!

    I did it the old-fashioned way, following the instructions for butter cake that are inside the first few pages of the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.

    I also used the vienna cream recipe as well. Doesn't "vienna cream" sound exotic? So much better than frosting. In this case the vienna cream turned out so sickly sweet that I have dubbed this Number One my Diabetes Cake. Pity the poor work colleagues who are going to have to eat it.

    Here are the lessons my Diabetes Cake taught me:
    • When the recipe says "softened butter", that means room temperature, not microwave temperature. Enough said.
    • When it says sift, you better sift. I was too busy reading the recipe and rechecking it and weighing my ingredients and rechecking I had the right amounts, and before I knew it I'd dumped all the flour in without sifting. I beat that batter hard - trying pitifully to cover my tracks - but the lumps in batter betrayed me.  
    • Do not repeatedly open the oven to test if the cake is cooked. Trust the recipe. Open up five minutes before the due time, that's plenty. Do not bob up and down like a demented housewife.
    • Use the right mixing blade. Apparently one should use a certain kind of mixer blade in one's KitchenAid, or else one's cake mixture will turn out very flat and not as whippy as one expected it to be. You may then have to glue two layers of cake together with plum jam in order to give it decent height and dimension, and you will need a LOT of icing to disguise it.
    • And icing is a lot harder than it looks. There is a certain kind of spatula dexterity required, and I do not yet possess it. I ended up slapping on the icing any way I could - using a spatula, using my fingers, using a paddle-pop stick. Was my icing too thick? I think so.
    • They don't make Smarties in the same colours as they did in days of old. There are no black Smarties anymore - who knew? I haven't eaten Smarties in years, so this was something of a surprise to me. It also makes it *very* hard to reproduce the cake as it's pictured in the book. 
    • Beware the chocolate bloom. If you put the cake in the fridge overnight and then take it to work, the Smarties will get a cloudy "bloom" on them that does not help Diabetes Cake look as enticing as it should.
    One cake down. 103 to go!

    But hang on, I'm going to do the cartoon characters from the original book – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Donald Duck – as well as the ice-cream book that was taken out as well. That’s 108 all up.

    So ..... one down ..... 107 to go. Gulp.

    Wednesday, 4 April 2012

    The Art Of War

    In wondering where to begin this odyssey, this mammoth undertaking (hmm .... could I call it a torte de force? could I?)  – I have had to come up with a war strategy.   

    I know. A war strategy. I have never previously even imagined that the simple act of baking might require something as organised as a strategy. Obviously this shows just how little I actually know about what I'm about to do. 

    Coming up with the project idea itself, that was the easy bit. But executing two years of bakeworthy goodness without going mad? Well, there's got to be some planning involved. It’s a lot to do, and danger lurks ahead for the novice baker who doesn't have a strategy.  

    One false step, readers, and it could have meant throwing my spatula at the wall in a huff and vanishing in a puff of self-raising flour. I would never be seen again. How to approach it?

    Here’s what I considered for my stragedy, as Daffy Duck would say, even though he never featured in the original book and his other Disney friends never made it into the reprint because their copyright licenses expired: 

    1.       Bake every cake in the order it appears in the book.
    Sure, this option had a certain logical appeal. Working my way through the book in a devoted homage to the original, that's pretty straightforward. I would deliver a faithful reproduction.

    But then again … there would be no element of surprise. And I’d have to make the damn train cake first, because it's on the cover. And that is just not possible! I need to eeeeease myself into this and build up some skills first.  

    I have to learn my icing sugar from my icing mixture before I start in on those advanced cakes.  I need to understand ratios. I need to buy cake tins. I need to learn how my oven works. 

    And in the end, it was the thought of my beloved swimming pool that swung me away from this option. Because I wouldn’t be able to make it for my own birthday, would I? No, I’d have to just bake it in the week that its page came around. The horror, readers, the horror! The eight-year-old inside me had a shrieking tantrum at the very thought of it. I could NOT let that happen.  

    2.       Bake through the categories in which The Book itself is laid out.
    Animals, numbers, cakes for girls, cakes for boys, sports, and so on. Again, there’s a logical kind of symmetry to that. Boring. Next!

    3.       Bend The Book to my will, baking at whim and on demand.
    Ah, now this sounded like much more fun. It would mean I could bake the right cake for the right occasion. I could start with the easy ones and work up to the ones that need nine different colours of icing and thirty-seven different sweets. I could learn how to actually bake a cake before I have to learn how to construct one using barbeque skewers for scaffolding and toothpicks to hold the thing together.

    I could match important calendar events to the exact right cake. On grumpy days I could bake that scary monster thing with the teeth. When I achieve domestic goddess status, I can serenely do the little stove cake, totally ignoring the sharp agony of my subverted feminist ideals stabbing me in the ribs. 

    And that brings me neatly to the official start of baking for this blog. As Julie Andrews sang sweetly in The Sound Of Music: “let’s start at the very beginning… it’s a very good place to start”.

    So readers, I am going to start at the very beginning....with the number one, of course. 

    I am preparing my army. They say the terrain looks manageable. I will report back soon.