Yep, there it is – new evidence of my failure at motherhood in one of its major disciplines – Kurt’s twenty-first birthday cake.
Kids’ birthday cakes have always felt to me like one of the ultimate tests of motherhood; rather like keeping your kids alive when as toddlers they seem hellbent on killing themselves.
In my experience, there is a scale of acceptability when it comes to kids’ birthday cakes if you are a mum that can’t bake. You can either spend a month’s rent on an all-singing, all-dancing, Zumbo-styled, perfectly-themed cake with gold-plating and a chocolate fountain at its epicenter – leaving you feeling like a cheat (and broke), or you can create the type of annual home-made disaster I specialize in and retain some sense of pride. The second option also solidifies your status as worst cook/mother ever.
Lately, my cakes have fallen somewhere in the middle of that scale, and my signature birthday cake has evolved into what I like to think of as a hybrid – as in, half-bought and half-ruined by me.
This year marks my twenty-fourth year of this onerous responsibility, and I have no idea why I continue to feel the need to prove something or to torture myself in this stubbornly idiotic fashion. In general, I am not a stoic, yet for some reason, when it comes to the kids’ birthday cakes I turn into Joan of Arc in the kitchen.
Needless to say, the only cake Kurt truly remembers from his childhood is the super-expensive, perfectly-iced, fire engine cake that cost me half of my salary for his sixth birthday. Obviously, he has chosen to blank from his memory the amazing skateboard cake with its licorice wheels, and the guitar cake with its licorice strings – (he recently admitted to me that he hates licorice) – or the multitude of sunken sponge cakes, with sinkholes at their center.
Mention of the cake in the lead up to their birthdays provokes an eye-roll from both of my kids, which I have interpreted as a defense mechanism for coping with this annual disappointment. But since they haven’t told me not to bother, and they’re now in their twenties, I can only assume that they must derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from my suffering.
I was certain that Kurt would accept my offer of a shop-bought cake for his birthday this year – an offer made in part to demonstrate the importance of the milestone, and in part to get me off the hook. But, unfortunately, giving Kurt choices is never a good thing. It gave him something else to worry about ahead of what is always an overwhelming day. When I presented him with my Donna Hay Chocolate book and I saw him flick miserably through the pages with a – ‘You choose, Mum – just make it creative’ – I knew I had to take back control.
Anyway, if there’s one thing my kids can guarantee, it’s that their cakes will be creative – although there was that one year when the cake slipped my mind completely…
So I ummed and I ahhed about which cake to make. A large chocolate brownie cake? A red velvet cake? The chocolate candy bar cake I made the previous year – which pre-empted the old man’s brief hospitalization? I knew the cake needed some wow factor, but I wasn’t prepared to risk another lava cake *should have been a sponge cake*. So, eventually, I decided to play safe and create another hybrid – something simple, yet fancy enough to sate mine and Kurt’s creative whims.
The vertically-challenged, Croquembouche materialized – minus the spun sugar, or indeed anything that involved technique or cooking. Coles ready-made profiteroles stuck together with icing; some stick on chocolate stars and gold dust for the wow factor – et voila, a new birthday masterpiece!
Zero shame. Almost.