Category Archives: baking

How to Bake a Middle Class Birthday Cake – a Guide

This is the cake I made last month for my daughter’s 7th birthday. The fact that it exists ticks many of the right boxes in the middle class world I live in:

  1. It took me hours of effort and concentration. This shows what an engaged and wholesome mother I am and how much I love my daughter.
  2. I can post a picture of it on Facebook, allowing my friends and family to say suitable things about how impressed they are. (It doesn’t matter whether they really are impressed or not – this is the joy of Facebook.)*
  3. It allows me to do something fun and creative in a way that isn’t really acceptable as an adult with most other media.So I can’t, for example, paint a picture and stick it on my wall like I could when I was a kid – because I’m rubbish at painting. I can’t knit a scarf with wonky edges and dropped stitches because people would just think it was embarrassing.

    The very act of producing something artistic as an adult carries with it an unspoken implication that you yourself think you’re pretty good at it. But not so with your children’s birthday cakes. They are produced out of love, and therefore people will admire them if they look good and forgive them if they look awful.

  4. AND… and… best of all… this entirely self-serving exercise has the incidental benefit that your child is properly and utterly thrilled with the result. So you can pretend throughout that you’re doing it entirely for her.

A couple more tips:

The taste of the cake itself is, surprisingly, not that important. Though being not only a middle class London mum, but a Jewish middle class London mum, I do mind quite a lot if the end result doesn’t taste good.

You should preferably do the whole thing at night time after your child is in bed, and stay up till the early hours perfecting it – ideally while also having to go to work the next morning. This increases your score in all of the above categories.

The doll on my mermaid cake is, incidentally, a special one designed for the purpose. Her body is just a spike, so when the cake is cut and all is revealed, there is a risk of the more delicate party guests being permanently traumatised.

Doll pick

Good luck, and do make sure to sound suitably self deprecating when people admire the result.

* Any notion that this entire blog has been written in order to show off my cake is entirely false and without foundation. Shame on you for even thinking it.

I would love to hear about your birthday cake-making experiences – triumphant or disastrous. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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Lemons, Radio 4, and Turning Into My Mother


One morning a little while ago, I was standing in the kitchen in my apron, making apple pie. I was rolling out pastry made to my mother’s recipe, and in the background, Radio 4 was playing. Probably I was listening to an interview with a redoubtable old lady who had trekked solo across the Arctic with a band of huskies. Or maybe some comedians were struggling to get to Mornington Crescent, or a resident of Ambridge was worrying about whether he’d be able to dig up the potatoes in the South Field before the rain started.

Anyway, I was feeling completely content and in my element, until a realisation struck me – I had become my mother. Everything about the scene – the pastry, the radio station, the apron – was the very essence of her.

This moment had been coming for some time. My mum always used to say,
“Every week, I buy a lemon. I never know what I’m going to need it for, but I buy it just in case. And every week, I always do need it”.

My husband Anthony had heard her say this, so every time I bought a lemon, he used to asked in anxious tones whether I knew what I was going to use it for. He was checking that I hadn’t bought it ‘just in case’ – which would be a sure sign that I was turning into my mother.

These days, I use lemons in all sorts of recipes and tend to have several in stock at a time, so they can no longer be used as a becoming-my-mother-indicator. Indeed, my friend Adi came over a few weeks ago on the Jewish Sabbath for a post-synagogue meal. It was a last-minute invitation and so I hadn’t prepared anything – or indeed, done any food shopping for several days. So I explained that all I had to offer her for dessert was a lemon or an apple. Then I checked, and realised we had run out of apples.

She said she didn’t want the lemon, and personally I think that’s quite rude. When you’re invited to eat in people’s houses, you shouldn’t turn down the food you’re offered. I felt my hospitality was just thrown back in my face.

Anyway, back to my mother. I asked Anthony yesterday, for the purposes of this blog post, in what other ways he felt I was turning her. He said that he was unable to answer that as it would only get him into trouble. No amount of pressing would get him to say anything else, so I can only guess.

If I ever find myself watering the garden while it’s actually raining, the die will finally be cast.