Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekend Cooking: AWW Birthday Cakes

I am not 100% sure why but I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about birthday cakes, especially in the context of those people who make amazing theme cakes. My sister is one of those people. Over the years she has made my son a Spiderman cake and a Lightning McQueen cake and for her children and those of her friends there have been Dorothy the Dinosaur cakes, giraffes and most recently a Dolly Varden cake.

Not too long ago we were talking about this. When I think back over my childhood I can only really recall one cake - my aunt made me a pink Dolly Varden cake when I was quite young. Between us we also remembered that there was a farmyard scene cake which featured a chocolate log in a sea of green icing and lots of animals. We are not sure if that was for my birthday or for someone else. I think it was in summer, so not my birthday, but I am not 100% sure. What I do remember is making myself sick by gorging on the green icing that covered the cake board.

One of the most influential publications when it came to kids birthday cakes, particularly during the 1980s had to be the Australian Women's Weekly's Children's Birthday Cake book. I would go so far as to say that the whole Australian Women's Weekly series would have proved pretty influential in the kitchens of Australia as a whole at the time. I know when I first started being interested in buying cookbooks I always gravitated towards these books. As an aside, is the Australian Women's Weekly is one of the big magazines published here, but it is only published monthly!

There was the original version of this book and then there was an updated version of the book published in 2002 with all new designs. There was, however, such a degree of sentimentality associated with the first version that this year they reprinted it!

The selection of cakes in both versions of the books vary from simple to jaw-droppingly complicated! I do wonder if there are people out there who have made some of the cakes but they do look amazing! One of the simple ones that we made years ago now (from the new book) was a lamington choo-choo - pretty simple to make really, it's just about putting it all together.

One of the cakes in the new version of the book is a Merry-go round cake which the editor helpfully suggests is "not difficult - it is however time consuming". (It looks difficult to me I have to say!).

Of the recipes in the old book, one I have seen people reminisce about quite a lot is the swimming pool cake, where you make the cake and then cut out a section out of the top and fill it with jelly to make it look like a pool and add in small people and beach balls to make the scene complete. I do question the choice of green jelly for the water, but I guess we don't really have blue jelly!

There are a couple of cakes that I don't necessarily think would work for me. For example, in the older book there is a fluffy duck, complete with yellow buttercream frosting (okay so far), popcorn, and potato chips (crisps) for the beak. Not sure that the combination works for me, but it would be impressive to see it carried into the room at a birthday party.

There are many different cakes which are presented in the books with themes varying from sport to numbers, from fairy tales to ideas using cupcakes. There are always step by step pictures showing how you get the shape of the cake that you are after and there are several patterns included in each of the book to assist with getting your cake just right. Some of these look a lot like putting a puzzle together, but I am sure that seeing the excitement on the faces of the recipients makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Whilst the books are labelled as kid's birthday cake books, there are a number that could be used for adults as well. There is a party pinata cake that looks totally awesome if anyone wants to make it for me next year! You take a pre-prepared round buttercake  and then put lots of Smarties/M&Ms, chocolate coins and other lollies on top of it. Then cover that with a chocolate shell that you have made by coating the inside of an appropriately sized metal bowl and then covering the outside of the chocolate "bowl" with more M&Ms and Smarties. According to the image, you need a new hammer to get into the cake, which could be lots of fun at a party!

As far as I know the AWW cookbooks are available in other countries around the world, but I am not exactly sure where!

My plan for this post was to scan in a few of the images for your enjoyment! However, it seems as though I have no idea how to use my scanner, so that might have to wait until another day!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.


  1. You know those 80's WW recipe books are awesome! My mum has heaps of them, and I use them all the time. I especially love that they all use real butter and cream for everything - so yum! I'm always keeping my eye out for a copy of the birthday cake book (the older one) for myself, I had so many of those cakes as a kid, and so many great memories of them. My cousin's husband and his friends all chose one of the cakes for their 30th birthday parties - hilarious!

  2. You can buy the reissued old version at the moment (I bought it this week from the publisher website). It is exactly the same except they had to take 4 recipes out and replace them - not sure why.

    It would have been fun seeing which of the cakes your hubby and his friends chose!

  3. My mom used to re-create fun birthday cakes from American women's magazines. I have never tried my hand at fancy decorating, but you've got me curious. It might be fun.

  4. My mum had the old version and I have the new one. I've made quite a few of the cakes including the fairy toadstool on the cover, the ladybird, kite, snake, Bob hat and train. My mum always made a special cake for our birthdays. I remember frog in the pond which was the jelly in the centre.

  5. You make a good point about adults. I loved these sorts of cakes as a child, and I haven't changed a bit, but cake makers are much stodgier when it comes to supposed grown-ups! I still go crazy over cakes in shapes!

  6. These are the kind of books that I read from cover-to-cover, relishing in the photos, and wishing that I could actually exectue one of them, knowing all the while that I never could, lol.

    I'm going to see if I can locate these in the states.

  7. My talent lies so far outside of this sort of thing that I'm like morbidly drawn toward people who CAN do it. My sisterinlaw is a pastry chef and was born to do this.

  8. I was lucky eough to have special decorated cakes for my birthday when I was a child. My mom had the gift for it as does your sister. My favorite was a doll. My mom took a plain plastic doll (like a Barbie) and put it in the middle of a cake baked in an angel food cake pan. Then she carved the cake in the shape of a flowing skirt. Last she iced the doll and the "skirt" to look like a fancy ball gown. It was amazing!

  9. My best friend makes cakes like this. One year for my birthday, she made me a bookworm cake, and made another friend who is allergic to peanuts a vanilla cake with vanilla icing in the shape of a giant peanut. She has also done cakes that resemble huge cupcakes and one that was like a highwayman dystopia cake. She is incredible and is always the go to person when birthdays roll around!

  10. Zibilee, your friend sounds very talented.

    Margot, that is what I was referring to as a Dolly Varden cake. There are a few different versions of these cakes in the books.

    Pam, I have no talent in this regard either.

    The BookGirl, there are used versions available on Amazon but I am not sure about any other availability.

    Rhapsodyinbooks, this year for my 40th I had a giant cupcake, but normally, yes, they are very plain.

    Melissa, I was very pleased when I found out that the old version was available again. I'll give it to my sister so she has both.

    Beth, if you do try it would be a fun post!

  11. I love looking at such cakes, but I really can't imagine putting all that time in when it will be eaten in an instant. :<)

  12. I can't even draw a circle right, I doubt I could make a cake like that!
    Here's My Recipe

  13. Your post made me think of my mom and all the special birthday cakes she used to bake for me and my 8 siblings.

  14. Glad I could bring back those memories for you today Annie.

    Vicki, I am no artist either, and I certainly don't have a lot of imagination when it comes to craft etc.

    Nan, I understand exactly where you are coming from!

  15. Many thanks Marg, your post has brought back fond memories for me. I remember Mum making us nursery rhyme cakes. So I had a humpty dumpty cake one year and my sister had a hickory-dickory-dock clock cake with a mouse made of a prune with a licorice tail running up the side of the clock.

  16. I have the original WW Children's Birthday Cake Book, I stole it from my mother. My brother and I got to pick a cake every year from the book and I'm pretty sure we have had all of them almost. My favourite was the vanity dresser.
    Now of course I make them for my children, though I am not very good at it - I call them works of heart instead of art LOL


  17. oh great, thanks for letting me know, I'm going to get myself a copy :-)