I grew up with wonderful birthdays. My parents never rented a pony or bouncy house (the kid across the street had a pony party one year–even at the age of five, I thought that a pony you didn’t get to keep was a terrible birthday gift). But they did put a lot of work into creating a fun experience for me–or my brother, on his birthdays–and our friends.
I remember a pinata so tough my dad had to take a hack saw to it (we made it ourselves–papier mache is strong). I remember square dancing, which most of us enjoyed even while the Mean Girls in my Blue Birds troop (my mom made me invite them) mocked it and refused to participate.* I remember the world’s greatest relay race, in which we had to put on my dad’s clothes and run to a teammate, who would then don the clothes and run back, all of us flopping around in oversized boots and button-down shirts and hats.
And every year, my mom made our cakes from scratch. She used the Four-Egg Cake recipe (although she’d add another egg or two) from the Joy of Cooking, and the frosting was butter blended with powdered sugar. When we were small, she’d cut a sheet cake into shaped segments and then re-assemble them into a duck or a rocket ship or whatever fascinated us that year. Later, she would make flat cakes that she and my dad would decorate by hand. They weren’t ever going to be mistaken for professionally decorated cakes, but they were a far cry from Cake Wrecks. We always had fun working on them, and the love was palpable. And tasty.
So last year, it was really important to make Baguette’s first birthday cake. We had family and a few close friends over for a cookout, and I made the Four-Egg Cake (with another egg or two). The frosting came from a mix, because I have had bad frosting luck for years, and I colored it purple. (Mr. Sandwich’s race color is red, and mine is blue. The symbolism here is magnificent, if I do say so myself.)
This year? I had plans. I made a test cake, which was unsuccessful due to what I’m pretty sure was a failure to put in enough baking powder. We invited family over (we’ll probably have Baguette’s friends over next year, but right now she doesn’t know what birthdays are; in fact, she’s slept through much of this year’s and last year’s). But between work and car problems, it became clear that this was not the week to make a cake.
So I agonized very briefly and ordered a couple of dozen cupcakes from Susiecakes, my favorite baker. They’re not cheap, but they’re delicious–and all I have to do is pick them up. And while I may not be doing it the way my mother did, the love is the same. Plus, it’s still cake. Delicious, delicious cake.
*I just found out that Blue Birds is no more; it has been replaced by the co-ed Starflight level. Alas, my childhood is obsolete!
Photo of Susiecakes cupcakes by Susan Lavoie.