Sometimes I feel inadequate. Never more so than at children’s birthday parties, where the mum proudly displays a picture-perfect professional looking birthday cake, saying “I was up until 3am last night, but it was worth it.”
My cakes don’t look like that. I have a feeling that nothing in my kitchen could ever look like that. If I bought the perfect cake, it would surely collapse into a melted, surreal mess long before the candles were ever lit. I am simply not compatible with professional perfection (for proof you need only look at my hair… or my dress sense).
My 7 year old has happily asked for a heart cake every year for the past 4 years. Since I have a heart shaped tin, this is a request I am thrilled to comply with. The icing will be… um… interesting, but the cake will be heart shaped, and usually pink or purple, and everyone is happy.
This year my about-to-be-4 year old sent shivers up my spine when she blithely announced, the day before her party, that she wanted a mermaid cake. Not a cat cake (two circles for head and body, two triangles for ears, and some creative icing whiskers). Not a teddy bear cake (two circles for head and body, two small circles for ears, lollies for the face). A mermaid. No problem.
I had visions in my head of the perfect Ariel cake. Like something straight out of “The Little Mermaid”, she was so vivid and beautiful in my head that I almost began to hallucinate that I could do it. I employed my vastly-more-creative husband to draw me a simple, stylized mermaid that I could cut out of a large rectangular cake. He kept shooting me dubious looks and trying to negotiate Miss 4 into a fish, or a heart cake. Miss 4 was only too willing to be swayed, but the voices in my head drowned out every offer of salvation. This was going to be The Perfect Mermaid Cake, or I was going to die trying (and sticky).
First, the cake. Since it needed to be gluten and dairy free, I put in plenty of eggs and some xanthan gum, to make it as solid and coherent as possible. I knew that crumbliness would put an end to my mermaid as soon as I applied the knife, and I was taking no chances.
I cut a reasonable shape out of greaseproof paper – it wasn’t quite Ariel, but I had no doubt that the application of magnificent icing would render it the perfect mermaid cake nonetheless.
Then my girls wanted to help. I was only too happy to let them mix the icing sugar and water, and even add the colours, but I wasn’t about to let them touch that cake. It was going to be perfect. It was also going to be my crowning achievement. The fame of my mermaid cake was going to spread far and wide. No-one was going to get near this cake.
As I started to apply the purple icing, things began to go haywire. I wasn’t concentrating terribly well, because the girls were hovering at my elbow, simply desperate to join in, and I was terrified they would bump me.
Then I looked at Miss 4’s pleading, eager face, and sanity finally struck. This was going to be the perfect mermaid cake. With Miss 7 doing the hair, Miss 4 doing the surrounding shells and the whale (a happy by product of cutting out the mermaid), and a team effort on the squiggly decoration on her tail.
It took us about an hour – a definite record for both girls remaining focused with no bickering. I no longer feel inadequate – I feel triumphant. It may take forever to unstick the girls, and the kitchen, but we now have the perfect mermaid cake, and the world’s happiest children. Now that was worth it.