Saturday, 7 March 2009

They only end up eating the icing anyway…

My daughter Ella is turning eight tomorrow and she wants a birthday cake with bunnies on. This has sent me into a little bit of a cake quandary. Rabbits? I mean – how? Especially in Beijing when the selection of birthday cake paraphernalia is limited (doesn’t help that it’s the year of the rat, not the rabbit – if it were the latter, am sure there’d be cake-able rabbits coming out of every warren hole).

I know all about the illustrious Exquisite Bakery, but it’s in the burbs and there’s simply no time to make the trek there before tomorrow. I should have been more prepared, but Ella has only just sprung the rabbit thing on me. She has been very helpful, though. She last night drew me a diagram on how I could facilitate this. It was a round cake with yellow icing, a pink rabbit “drawn” on the top, a blue or purple strip of icing around the circumference of the cake and “sprinkles absolutely everywhere, mum – all over it”. I stood staring at it, still completely dumfounded. It just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t picture it.

And I love to make cakes.

Before she left for her playdate today, Ella also specified that the cake should not be chocolate cake. Vanilla was okay but rainbow cake would be even better. So off to Jenny Lou’s I went. I found the rainbow cake mix but I forgot the vats of Betty Crocker’s icing. Devastating. I love this stuff, and this is coming from a bit of a birthday cake purist who, back in Australia, would never in a million years use packet cake mix or God forbid – packaged frosting. Since coming to Beijing and encountering more than a few disasters with the local ingredients and dodgy ovens, I’ve found a deep fondness for packaged cakes – I love them, in fact, and now that I’ve whipped it up and slid it piping hot and perfumed from my dodgy oven, I’m thrilled with the fundamentals of Ella’s cake.

Alas, the bunny decoration issue remains.

I pace the kitchen, peeking in the cupboards occasionally, as though the bags of rice, tomato sauce and Vegemite will provide me some inspiration. Thank goodness Ella isn’t here to watch over me right now. I wander into the living room where Riley is rolling a fresh batch of home-made playdough, and ask him if he has any outlandish bunny ideas for Ella’s cake. “I don’t know,” he reveals, cutting, slicing and pounding a green slab of dough. I sigh. The playdough looks like green grass. Maybe a green icing meadow with bunnies hopping all over it would be cute – a few pink flowers, a little pond…. hello…


Well, kind of. I run to the cupboard, dig maniacally in the back and retrieve an ancient box of Orchard fondant icing, holding it aloft in the warping, post-baking heat of the kitchen. “Yes!” I cry as I rip open the box, praying to the cake Gods this birthday cake gem won’t have succumbed to old age and I won’t end up with nothing but a brick of sugar to deal with. Praise sugar cane! It’s still malleable. A wee bit crusty around the edges, but nothing a playdough rolling pin can’t iron out. Isn’t sugar like cockroaches? Isn’t it ageless and indestructible?

Right. I’ve got some serious kneading, rolling and molding to do. Keep your fingers, toes, eyes and ears crossed for me. Especially when it comes to the pond. Eeep.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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