Gabi Lardies attempts the most feared bake of all from The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book.
“Bitch of a cake. Don’t make it unless you’re really desperate,” said Pamela Clark, author of The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. “Don’t go there. Glue the pages together. Forget it!” That was her advice in 2016, and again last Saturday. But who is an Australian to tell us New Zealanders what not to make from our most beloved childhood book? I might not be a baker, but I am a patriot.
The Tip Truck Cake, found on page 88 of Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book, looks like a perfectly reasonable request. Two cakes baked in rectangular loaf tins, lined up and sculpted into a cab and a tipped tray, smeared in avocado green icing and accessorised with chocolate biscuits, pebbles, liquorice, tinfoil and candy. It’s no Sistine Chapel, so it seems my duty as a citizen to give it a go.
The trouble starts early. I do not own a single loaf tin, let alone two. All my ovenware is round apart from the (washed) aluminium tray of a frozen lasagne I had a few weeks ago.
Neither of my local op shops have loaf tins – they must have got snapped up by local MILFs in the area with the same brainwave as me. I try Geoff’s Emporium, which has a truck shaped cake tin for only $6.25. Heartbreakingly, I know this would be cheating.
At bloody Countdown, the loaf tins are $14.99, and that is simply too much since I have blown my budget (please become a Spinoff member!) on M&Ms. It’s going to have to be the lasagne tray. Look, New Zealanders are nothing if not resourceful, number 8 wire, grumble grumble 4×2, grumble grumble, she’ll be right!
Countdown attempts to swindle me again by offering two packets of biscuits for $5. I’ve been burned before, so I check the single item price – it’s $2.60. Right then and there I decide I will find another solution to the chocolate fingers in the recipe, grabbing only the choccy mint wheels.
Pamela wants me to buy egg-yellow, blue, and green (specifically not leaf green) food colouring, but I’ve read ahead and I know she mixes them together to make… green. I save $3.40 buying only green (and not to worry, not a leaf in sight). Like so many cakes in the book, the finishing touches of the tip truck require strips of liquorice. The rancid smell of these is burned into my childhood memories, as it clings to the icing even after you’ve picked the culprit off. I simply can’t buy it, not even for appearance’s sake.
I also need eight empty matchboxes. On my quest through the labyrinthine aisles, I begin to question if they still exist. When was the last time I saw a matchbox? Five years ago? Ten years ago? They’re standing bright red next to the gardening stuff, with the same stripy beehive they’ve always had. It’s comforting to know matches haven’t had a bougie modernist rebrand.
Most importantly, the recipe calls for two packets of butter cake mix. Butter cake – boring!!!! Two packets? We’re only making one cake! One packet of chocolate cake mix goes into my basket. On the way home, I feel like an idiot for not getting the gluten free option (it’s just something that happens once you’re over 30, real cake hurts).
Making the cake
I am so happy with my nasty little box cake. The last cake I made was as flat as a pancake and it didn’t even taste good because I didn’t put as much sugar as the recipe said. I attempted to cover up its flatness with flowers from the garden but, unfortunately, they had ants on them.
Now it’s just the mysterious powder in the bag, two eggs, butter and ⅔ cup of dated almond milk from Why Knot Outlet Shop, which has little lumps and tastes weird. They want me to use my electric blender on high for three minutes, but it’s currently experiencing technical difficulties after blending pumpkin soup last week. I whisk with my Minnie Mouse mini whisk till my arm hurts. It’s looking great – smooth, chocolatey and sticky.
I pour half the mixture in the baking tray. Admittedly it’s a measly portion but cakes grow, right? The whole point of baking is that it rises into a lovely fluffy thing with heaps of tiny air bubbles which more than double its volume, right? In 30 minutes we will see.
In the meantime, I move onto emptying the match boxes. There are 45 in each box, so I’m left with a pile of 360 surplus matches. Did she want me to start a forest fire? Unlikely to work given all the rain. The only thing I can think to do with them is tape them all together and make a mega match to burn safely outside on the driveway.
I cover all eight match boxes with tinfoil and realise I definitely could have left the matches inside, because no doubt tomorrow I’ll be unwrapping these boxes and putting them back in, so they can live at the back of the cupboard for the next 20 years. I wish I’d been more discerning.
The first loaf is ready. It’s grown, but when I remove it from the lasagne tray, it’s not a defined cuboid – the growing and the baking paper has softened all the edges. It looks like a log. Also, it feels very tender and soft, like a pile of lint, and not at all like it’s going to have the structural integrity to be part of a tip truck.
Part two of the cake goes into the oven. Baking is hard work so I sneak a choccy mint, and I consider the liquorice problem. Obviously it’s gross and doesn’t have a place on my tip truck. But I do concede its dark lines elevate the cake and define its form. I need something long and thin, I open my pantry door, and there’s my answer – noodles! But we don’t want them anaemic and pale. I open the other pantry door, and there’s red food colouring from a cake I made two years ago. Perfect.
Log two is done – it’s time to sculpt. The words are confusing. Barely instructions, they rely on delegating to three little images of cut up cakes and saying “as shown” a lot. The “what ifs” begin to creep in – what if the truck doesn’t have to tip? What if the tip tray is just cardboard? What if it’s actually a car?
As I carve off the edges and wonky bits of my logs, half the cake becomes offcuts (or rather, scraps for Mum). Is this the real purpose of cake art? To eat cake without guilt and before everybody else? I place my blocks on my shiny matchboxes, which seem to serve as ice skates on the baking paper. All in all, I think it’s going pretty well.
While making the icing, I find a use for one of the matches (359 to go). I dip it into the food colouring, then the icing, to add green at a safe pace, since we all know that shit is concentrated. When it’s a lurid green, I’m happy.
I’ve got my Mickey Mouse spatula out for a smooth application. I’m wearing my apron and I’ve washed my hands and I think, damn, my five readers are gonna be impressed. When the soft green makes contact with the soft brown, it all starts crumbling. Because of all my carving, my tip truck lacks any surface which isn’t crumbs just waiting for their excuse to fall off (as shown).
The book mentions none of these problems, and in the photo the icing looks well adhered and crumb-free. The icing is my worst enemy. It looks like Shrek jizz. My dreams of grandeur are gone.
I endure, adding the M&Ms and the red noodles. The truck is a bit small for eight wheels, so I slap on six. When making the radio antenna, I find another use for a matchstick (358 to go). It’s 3pm, and this wonky cursed cake is all I have to show for my entire day.
The kitchen and lounge are a mess. I’ve cut up my cereal box and I’ve got a headache from eating most of the icing. I begin to question my life (story) choices. The fact that Dame Jacinda had to prop up her piano cake with a can of lentils does little to soothe my broken heart.
Pamela Clark was right: this is a bitch of a cake. My advice? Glue these pages together.