In the days before Bake Off, Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules, parents relied on cookbooks for inspiration and any mother, grandmother or creative man who had children in the 1980s likely drew inspiration from the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book when it came to creating the perfect cake for a birthday boy or girl.
The book originally hit shelves in 1980 and sold more than half a million copies, with its original author now speaking candidly about how the book came to be. And, while it was re-released in 2011 because so many ‘80s kids who had the kooky cakes at their own parties wanted to recreate the sweet treats for their own children, chances are there are thousands of homes around the country that still have the original book.
Appearing in a video as part of ABC’s Throwback series, Pamela Clark explained how the now iconic book nearly wasn’t published.
“We broke a lot of rules making these cakes,” Clark explained. “We racked our brains and tried to think of every thought any child has ever had about any cake.”
Initially, publishers weren’t confident that the idea would take off, with Clark revealing some of the team and bosses didn’t think it was a goer.
“We basically talked our boss into doing this book,” she recalled.
Those working on the book would instantly create their cake idea whenever they had a spark of creativity. If their editor liked it, she would shoot the picture and it would be included in the book.
“They’d literally take a shot of the not-very-carefully made cake that was sitting on the kitchen bench,” Clark said. “And if you look at the cakes carefully, you’ll see a lot of mistakes.”
In the clip, Clark flicked through the cook book and recalled some of her favourite and most hated creations. She called the Tip Truck cake “a bitch of a cake” and advised viewers not to make it, but said it had to be included because the editor wanted a truck included.
“Don’t go there,” she warned. “Glue the pages together. Forget it!”
In contrast, her favourite was the Dolly Varden cake, which many will remember as the cake with the doll and pink icing.
“It’s my favourite because it’s so easy and quick,” she said. “You’re really only limited by your imagination.”
Clark said it was delightful when parents at home would send in pictures their own creations, although she admitted some were pretty disastrous. She also said after all these years, many parents come to her with their original books.
“I’ve had people bring me their very old books and often it’s the book that their mother made cakes from and they’ve passed it on to their daughter and then their children are now looking at these same cakes,” she said.
And in the digital world many parents and grandparents continue to share their creations online with each other, with a Facebook group set up for bakers to show off their masterpieces and disasters with others.
The original release of the book included 108 different designs, although they weren’t always easy to master.
The Swimming Pool cake, complete with a chocolate finger fence and green jelly pool was quite tough, while the iconic Number cake was a bit simpler. The Duck was another one that could be tackled by more creative parents and was iconic for its popcorn feathers, yellow frosting and two potato chips as a beak.
The Steam Train cake, which was on the cover of the book, was arguably the most challenging, but it was always worth it to see the smile on the kids’ faces when it came out.