We had our annual family Christmas photos today, and I got to thinking how there are so many things I’ve been doing since my little Peanut was born, and how some of these traditions have been started just for her. Like the photos for example. I don’t like getting my picture taken, but when she’s in the picture too, it is so much easier (and cuter).
One of the things I’ve now been doing for over five years is cake decorating. I’ve always loved baking with my mom and Baba, but the real cake decorating for me came when my little baby was about to turn one. Now, as every parent knows, turning one is a BIG deal. That 1st birthday is a milestone for so many reasons. Not just for the little squirt, but for the parents too. It means you’ve made it through the sleepless nights, the million feedings and diaper changes, the crying, the colic, the teething and the never-ending “advice” coming from family, friends, and even your neighbour who doesn’t have any children but feels that being the owner of a guinea pig qualifies her to give you parenting advice. You’ve made it through a WHOLE YEAR of keeping a tiny human intact and happy and yourself (somewhat) sane and normal, while integrating this small new person into your life. Now if that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is. And what better way of celebrating than with cake!
Growing up in Europe, we never had store-bought cake for birthdays. Or ever, really. I never even knew what boxed cake mix was until we moved to Canada. In my family, if you wanted cake, my mom and Baba were more than happy to oblige with a homemade treat. We had cake for birthdays, anniversaries, New Year’s, first day of school, just because, etc. We basically had cake all the time. And not the same cake either. There were plenty of cookbooks around with elaborate recipes, and we were always trying something new. Which was awesome. I have a feeling that my love of cake began with my 1st birthday cake, when not a regular cake would do, but a cake with a handmade gumpaste basket filled with elaborate gumpaste flowers on top. Now, as a one-year-old, I had not a clue what was happening, but my parents kept that basket, and it was something I would often admire growing up. Plus I have pictures of my tiny self basically attacking this cake. For my first day of school, my mom made me a cake. Shaped like my school. It had chocolate wafer cookies for doors. Not even joking.
So, when little Peanut turned one, I knew I had to make her an amazing cake that she could look back on too. She was still tiny, and quite clueless as babies can be, so it’s not like she had a lot of input in the cake. I was left to come up with my own ideas. Thankfully, she had a Piglet stuffy which she liked to hug a lot and so I decided on a Piglet cake, since I knew it was a character she would recognize. There weren’t any Piglet cake pans, so I set out to carve the shape myself. Why, you ask? Well, it couldn’t be a boring old flat cake; no sir, it was going to be in 3D. Go big, or go home; no half-assed attempts here. Using the Piglet toy as inspiration, I began to gather my supplies. A quick read through a Wilton Yearbook my aunt gave me was enough to never look back, and I rushed out to Michael’s and stocked up on fondant, cutters, and food colouring and got to work. My mom helped me with the cake itself, as it was a recipe she made many times. This basically consisted of baking thin layers of cake, stacking them, and then carving them to look like Piglet. Yeah I know, a bit over the top for my first attempt, but nonetheless, I pushed on. It took me 3 days, a lot of messes to clean up and some frustrating moments (like when Piglet’s damned floppy ears were too floppy and kept falling off the cake), but I did it. After the powdered sugar dust had settled, and the cat had eaten some fondant off the floor, I had my masterpiece in all it’s Piglet glory. I remember finishing it and Peanut’s daddy bringing her into the kitchen to see, and when she spotted it, I got the biggest smile ever and she held out her tiny hand to touch it. She knew what it was! And that was better than anything, and the reason I keep making cakes. It’s all in the reaction, people. That’s where the warm fuzzies hide.
Four years later, with more and more input each year, my little one and I are making birthday cakes to remember. She comes up with the idea, and I do the rest. It is usually a favourite cartoon character, or her favourite toys, but it is always creative and she has this awesome way of explaining exactly what she wants. Her theme doesn’t change throughout the year, but she does tend to add more to it. Which I love, because there’s nothing like a cake challenge, and nothing better than satisfying my most discriminating “customer”. Our family and friends look forward to seeing what we come up with too, and the reactions are always the best part. Her birthday is in September, and we have already started planning her next fabulous cake. And you can bet that I am just as excited as she is.
Have a sugarrific day!