Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book, I mean, Blog

If you grew up in middle-class Australia during the 70s and 80s, like I did, that means your household probably had a copy of The Book.

You know The Book. Everyone knows The Book.

Its name is the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book, and since its release in 1980, it has sold over half a million copies. 

And that means just about everyone you know - and lots of people you don't - have a story about The Book. If you casually mention it  in conversation, people will fall over themselves to tell you stories about that time their mum made the duck with a beak made out of chips (just wrong, so so wrong), and how even now it gives them shudders of cakey horror. 

That guy in your office who never talks to anyone? He's got a story about The Book. The crazy lady with nine cats who you're slightly scared of? She's got a story about The Book too. 

So not only does that show how universal The Book was, it is also a timely reminder that you should probably be careful who you talk to about it. Perhaps we should form a secret society - it would have apron uniforms, a coded doorknock and the password would be “vienna cream”.

Everyone harbours a grudge about the cake they always wanted but never got. Many people were traumatised by the disastrous attempt that left mum sobbing in the kitchen at 4am. And there was the odd occasional triumph, usually a complete fluke and therefore all the more special for it – that one lives on forever, tucked up in the warm and cosy folds of memory.

I sometimes wonder if The Australian Women’s Weekly actually knew what they were doing when they unleashed The Book on an unsuspecting public. I mean, they must have done some testing before they published it, right?

So in the focus groups, did their nice, polite housewives have some kind of Boxing Day Sale stampede, shoving each other out of the way and ripping copies off the shelves? That would have given them a clue. Or perhaps all the recipe testers just innocently refused to give it back afterwards, claiming an unfortunate accident involving spilt milk and food colouring.

In my experience, it was not possible to own a copy of The Book without being totally, utterly in thrall to it. It ruled lives. Dictated traditions. And broke childish hearts all over the country. The original Book has only been reprinted once, in 2011, and just a year later you can’t find a copy in the shops for love nor money.

I stumbled across it one lunch time in a supermarket up the road from my office. I had the presence of mind to buy it immediately, thank god, because when I went back the very next day to buy five more to give to sisters and friends, the entire stack of 40 copies was gone.

So this blog is a homage to that book and to every child who ever wanted the swimming pool cake and never got it. (Okay, I am talking about myself here, and sorry dad, I still nurse that thorn of resentment. Love you.)

I am going to make every single cake in The Book.

I’ve counted, and there are 104 if you include all the variations of the same idea (and by this I mean specifically three different types of football fields? really? is one not enough?). If I start today and I make a cake a week, with no time off for holidays or good behaviour, I’ll be done in exactly two years.

Please understand, this is not a casual commitment. I am serious. I may also seriously need to be committed once it’s over, but let’s burn that bridge when we come to it.

The adventure should be ah, educational, to say the least. I’ve never made a birthday cake in my life, and some of those suckers look pretty complex to me. I’m sure that fairy castle still gives my dad nightmares. Which I would consider a very fair and just karmic rebalancing for the Complete. Lack. Of. Swimming. Pool. Cake. throughout my entire childhood -- but hey, I’m not bitter or anything.  That’s just the universe at work.

So I’m going to do it. The Book deserves it. Because for you, and for me, and for thousands of kids all across Australia, The Book was much, much more than just a collection of cake recipes.  

It was magic.
It was ritual.
It was religion.

So grab your insulin and stand back, because this project is about to cake off. Prepare yourself for many cringe-inspiring puns. I’m about to start caking. I'm going to cake it til I make it. And I won't be caking it easy. Follow me as I cake it to the limit!


  1. 1. Are you actually going to EAT all these cakes?

    2. Are you going to do them in order? Buying all the confectionary accrouments to decorate the cakes costs a small furtone, so you might do well to make all the cakes involving choc coated malt fingers* in a row, then all the ones involving marshmallows etc. Or just accept that the lollies won't necessarily be fresh.

    * Yes, the essential element of the swimming pool. my BFF got the pool for her 33rd birthday, last year. I'll get her to send you photos.

  2. I can't wait for the sugar O.D to commence. Am applying for position of cake taster. My bulging stomach can also double as a cake stall table if required. xx Cath Moore

  3. Happy to help with the eating! I tried making the swimming pool cake but I was drinking wine during the process and eating up with a sunken cake which i just iced sloppily and put chocolate biscuits on it...

  4. Great Idea! I kinda wish I had thought of it. I think we chose every cake till we were 30 out of that book. It was so well read Mum had to buy a second copy cause the first one was falling apart! Good luck and I look forward to your adventures!

  5. Kirsten Boxall2 April 2012 at 18:50

    I am in awe of this ambition! Given the sheer quantity of cake involved, I do suggest you simultaneously start training for a marathon or something similar- even if you don't eat the cake itself, it's almost impossible not to taste the mixture or Vienna Cream or nibble some of the lollies.

    I wondered- were you going to make the four "new" ones in the revised edition, as well as the four originals which I'm going to send you? They look nice enough, and that will make it 108 cakes- just over two years worth.

    I've sent you photos of my swimming pool cake- would you like photos of other cakes out of the book that have been made for me/husband/daughter? The rabbit cake made for the 4 year old was particularly noteworthy for my husband taking over at 11.30pm and sending me (then very heavily pregnant) to bed, and staying up till 1am to finish it, for a party the next day. :)
    good luck!

    1. Hi Kirsten, I would love photos of other cakes you've made out of the book! The rabbit one sounds like a very memorable occasion - I'm sure your 4-year-old loved it! I AM planning to make the four new cake in the new edition - gosh - 108 cakes all up .... gulp

  6. my kids LOVED this book and its sequels - as their birthdays loomed they would take the to bed and carefully choose which cake they would have. i made the barbie cake, the castle, the farm, the numbers (the marshmallow flowers are brilliant)and of course the train (i felt like such a good mother when i made the train).

    oh i'm going to enjoy reading this blog - good luck!!

  7. LOVE your idea!!!! When I had my first daughter 5 years ago I ended up buying a vintage edition from ebay for about $70 (Grrr to my mum for losing the original!). My favourite cake was either the piano or the kitchen and I remember being gutted one year when my Mother made me a tennis racket instead of the Humpty cake I really wanted.

    Looking forward to seeing how you go!!


    1. Wow $70, it just goes to show how much we love the book that we are prepared to pay crazy prices for it! I totally get your dismay ... how can a tennis racket compare to the Humpty cake?? No contest!

  8. Oh HOORAY! This just wonderful - I am so looking forward to watching your progress. (BTW, Pip from Meet Me At Mike's recently catered for her daughter's wedding and they had a table full of Women's Weekly Cake Book cakes - there are photos on her blog. You might be interested!)

  9. My mum had the precursor to this, which was a lift out from the Women's Weekly, I think from the early 70's or late 60's. I was very excited when she made the humpty cake for my fourth birthday and the Old McDonald's Farm cake for my seventh birthday. I remember it had the piano cake in it too, and of course a dolly varden cake!
    This project will be awesome! Maybe you should enter some cakes in the next Easter show!

    1. Hi Daniel, I am very intrigued to hear about this lift out! It's an early bit of trivia I wasn't aware of - I am going to explore further. That Dolly Varden cake - ah, I obsessed over it but never got it!

  10. What fun! My sister and I always got to chose a cake from the book for our birthday's and since Mum found a copy of the original for me, I have been making them my kids too. My daughter has had a pink elephant, tiger and I'll be making the Jack in the box for her birthday next week. My son had a giraffe for his first birthday a few weeks ago.
    I had so many when I was younger, and loved them all. In fact, I made the green sports car for my Father in laws birthday earlier this year.

  11. Fantastic. I am really looking forward to you getting started on this. I have the reprint and my son loves looking at the pictures. I can see there will be many challenges at late hours no doubt in my own kitchen in the years to come. I linked you up on my blog - hope you dont mind. (

  12. Fantastic project! My favourite was a train cake, I discovered during construction (in the middle of the night, working Mum) that none of my cake boards were big enough. So I re-engineered some Ikea. Took the front off a drawer, wrapped it in silver heavy wrap and used that as a base. Giselle still remembers that as her all time favourite.

  13. Fantastic blog! I have read it all backwards having googled you after reading the age online article! My daughter 4 and son 2 love to pour over both the original and the updated versions of the books. He will get the train and her the ladybird I think this year. I look forward to watching your progress!

  14. Great Project.
    I LOVE the cake book, have many happy memories of the cakes my mom made for myself and my 3 sisters. I have a 2 year old and 4 year old and so far I've made, the butterfly, bear, cat, pink elephant, lion, clown and for my husband - the cricket bat!!

  15. I love this book.
    I have the collectors edition now!!!!
    I love to cook and today i am making m cousin who is turning 2 on boxing day a Train cake!!!!!!
    Merry Xmas

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