A Love Letter To The AWW Children's Birthday Cake Book
Making happy memories for over 40 years -- and with many more to come.
Cast your mind back to those hazy days of childhood birthday parties. Maybe there was a piñata or a high-stakes game of pass-the-parcel. Perhaps a well-meaning parent dressed as an unintentionally scary clown and made everyone cry ... okay that was just me.
The main highlight however had to be The Cake.
And if you were a child of the 1980s or '90s, I'm willing to wager that The Cake came from one book and one book only: The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.
From the clock to the swimming pool to the choo choo train on the cover, the iconic 1980 recipe book was a treasure trove of cake ideas that any birthday boy or girl would lust after for weeks -- sometimes months -- before their special day.
Author Pamela Clark reckon's she's written about 400 cookbooks for the AWW, but told the ABC that this particular one is rather special.
"I think this book has put birthdays on the map for kids. They take the books to bed with them. It becomes their bedtime reading," she said.
Yup, I was a nighttime reader too back in the day, and proud of it.
Although I can't remember for sure which of the glorious creations I forced my parents to whip up for my birthdays -- perhaps Dad's scary clown has marred my memory -- I do have a vague recollection of a photo of a smarties-covered number one in an old album.
Even though my memories may be hazy, they are happy and what makes me happier still is that the next generation of kids are experiencing that same joy today.
My cousin's little boys pore over the book and have even been known to take it to bed, too.
Seeing their little faces light up as they proudly stand in front of The Cake -- the most recent being the swimming pool for Master Two -- was so heartwarming I'm surprised my chest didn't explode.
For Clark, the feeling's mutual.
I often think about this book being handed down through generations, and how a single book has actually become a record of kid's birthdays from, say, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, children.
"It's an amazing feeling," she said, before recalling how fans present her with their own copies of the book, pages stuck together with icing, covered in flour, and ask her to sign them.
I'd be first in line with my Mum's copy, which I know she'll one day pass on to me.
Clark remembers "wracking her brains" to come up with the 106 kid-friendly cakes for the book, although she admits that she'd never attempt that huge number today.
As a kid the hundred or so recipes would've seemed like a thousand, and flicking though the endless pages of colourful creations was part of the joy and excitement of picking The Cake, to me at least.
For parents however the process was likely a little less thrilling and more terrifying, watching their child select the most advanced cake for their big day.
"[Kids] agonise to the nth degree about which cake they're going to inflict on their poor parents," Clark said.
Sorry, Mum and Dad ...
Thankfully, the success of the cakes came down to one thing: simplicity.
Instead of fancy baking techniques and tricky ingredients, Clark and her team opted for packet cake mixes and basic buttercream and avoiding piping or anything too complicated.
Clark admits that their methods were seen as controversial at the time.
"We broke a lot of rules making those cakes."
The result was wonderful, memorable and a bit daggy, by Clark's own admission.
Daggy or not, these cakes will always hold a special place in my memory of my childhood, and by all accounts they will continue to do so for youngsters in the future.
It feels like this book has developed a life of its own, and it will be around for a long time yet with even more generations of people making the cakes for their kids.
A big Hip, hip hooray! to that.
Feature image: Instagram/@monca_234, Instagram/@littlefinders.