I baked a cake so bad it freed me from the bloodsport of trying to make the best kid's birthday cake. This led to an important decision, says Francis Whiting.
I baked a cake so bad it freed me from the bloodsport of trying to make the best kid's birthday cake. This led to an important decision, says Francis Whiting.

My slushy, blue, inedible birthday cake disaster

THE swimming pool... the racetrack... the bunny... the tip truck... the duck - and, of course, the choo-choo train.

What do all of these things have in common? I have a feeling that quite a few of you, indeed most of you will know the answer, being one of the approximately two billion parents who bought, were gifted, or inherited The Australian Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book.

Now, I have no idea what parents did for their children's birthday cakes before this cookbook, first printed in 1980, came out, because after it did, the entire country was knee deep in chocolate sticks, making a fence around their jelly swimming pool.

The popular swimming pool cake. Picture: Australian Women's Weekly
The popular swimming pool cake. Picture: Australian Women's Weekly

Actually, I do remember what people did - they went down to Coles or Woolies and bought one of those pre-made sponges with "Happy Birthday" written in lime icing across it, and a few of those swirly bits of cream around it, and that was it.

But after two women, Maryanne Blacker and Pamela Clarke, wrote this book, you could not go to a birthday party in anywhere in Australia without seeing that someone had made the Farmyard, or the Cricket Bat, or the Pirate, or had actually pulled off the Tip Truck.

Oh, dear Lord, The Tip Truck - there are still men and women in Australia having nightmares about how to keep that truck's tray up, thrashing about in their beds at night crying "more skewers, we need more skewers!"

The number one cake. Picture: Australian Women's Weekly
The number one cake. Picture: Australian Women's Weekly

This is as opposed to the Duck, which everyone loved, because making it was so easy, and when it came to fashioning the duck's bill, you just bunged a couple of Smith's Crisps in.

Anyway, the reason I am speaking about this particular cookbook is that a friend of mine is using it this weekend to make her son's first birthday cake, and has very sensibly chosen the numeral 1 cake from the book.

The duck cake. Picture: Australian Women's Weekly
The duck cake. Picture: Australian Women's Weekly

Now, this has always been another very popular choice, because you there is absolutely no way you can ruin it - being basically a rectangle covered in icing, and even if you ruin that, it doesn't matter because you hide the entire thing with Smarties, and yes, I know what many of you are thinking.

I think we all know I did not turn to the Weekly to make my son's now infamous first birthday cake, I think the many, many readers who still like to remind me of it, know that I instead made a cake of my own creation, a blue Volkswagen car.

Frances Whiting's failed attempt to bake a cake for her son's 1st birthday.
Frances Whiting's failed attempt to bake a cake for her son's 1st birthday.

And yes, thank you, I know, it did look more like a pile-up on the M1 as opposed to just the one car, and I am pleased that it has given you so many of you such pleasure over the years, including the woman I met at a party once and who couldn't stop laughing, and saying "that car, that car" over and over.

But you know what? I'm glad I shared that photo of my now 16-year-old son's birthday cake all those years ago, because it freed me.

First of all, it freed me from every having to make a child's birthday cake again, and secondly it freed me from the tyranny of perfection that so many of us are bound by, especially as parents.

Parenting can be, as we all know, quite the blood sport, where competition is high, and who makes the best cake, throws the best party, gets the best results is played by far too many adults.

But some of us are rebelling, in fact, this column is dedicated to Sarah Wills, who you may know as one half of the talented radio duo, along with Lise Carlaw, of Those Two Girls on the Hit Network.

Sarah just shared her own birthday cake disaster on social media, some sort of three tiered arrangement for her nine year old daughter, and a cake so hard her brother in law asked if he could use it as a wheel chock for his truck.

So here's to you Sarah, and all the other failed birthday cake bakers out there - next time, let's just stick with the duck.


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