Anna Pickard’s blog on the best birthday cakes on Word of Mouth got me thinking about birthday cakes that I have had. My Mum has responsible for the vast majority of them. Some, such as the Mickey Mouse cake, have not really stuck in my mind. Others, such as the rather disturbing clown face complete with very large red nose that I was subjected to when my birthday fell on Comic Relief day, are probably best forgotten. But there are some classics that could not be bettered in any way.
First there was the train cake. It was made from chocolate sponge and ran along liquorice tracks. Each carriage was filled with different kinds of sweets, whether it was smarties or jelly babies. Its struck me since that it was the perfect cake for a birthday party as it could be extended ad infinitum depending on the number of guests. More importantly it looked wonderful. I’m sure that it was this cake that began my unlikely obsession with steam trains. Then again, I imagine that being confronted with a representation or pretty much anything in chocolate sponge is liable to convince most four-year olds that it is a good thing.
The princess cake happened later, during my rather unfortunate pink phase. It was a recurring feature for a number of years. I suspect that my Mum took a somewhat sadistic pleasure in the cake’s construction. She had long ago banned Barbie dolls from the house but my Granny had provided a number of heavily frowned upon (and somewhat cheaper) substitutes. Happily for my Mum, the cake involved sticking the head and torso of a plastic doll into the top of a dome of heavily iced sponge cake that made up the skirt. For a successful cake the legs of the poor non-Barbie’s had to be removed. This, I believe, was done with rather more relish than was perhaps necessary.
However, the classic birthday cake is my Mum’s chocolate fudge cake. There is no fancy icing and no tricky shapes, just great moist sponge and rich fudgy sauce. It is chocolately but not too chocolately. It is the perfect balance of taste and texture, cake and icing. Somehow the cake just works. It remains the benchmark that all other cakes must beat. I haven’t found it yet.