A classic zoo cake from the cult cookbook.
A classic zoo cake from the cult cookbook. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

It's a cult cookbook with a pleasingly daggy feel - where Australian parents can learn to make a birthday cake in the shape of a duck, cover it in popcorn for feathers and stick two Smith's potato chips into its face for beaks. 

The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cakes cookbook has been a staple of many childhoods - all those hours spent leafing through the book as a kid, picking out the one you'd like mum (or dad) to make for your birthday. Debating the merits of the headlining train cake vs the piano cake with the tiny candelabra on top vs the princess doll with cascading pink icing for a gown.

Christine Spicer with one of the birthday cakes.
Christine Spicer with one of the birthday cakes. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

The 103 cakes in the book are so embedded in the memories of people who grew up in the 80s and 90s that in comedian Josh Earl developed an entire comedy show based around the cookbook, baking the typewriter cake for each performance.

But a Canberra mums group wants to have every single cake from the cookbook in one room on May 7 - and they need the city's home bakers to rise to the occasion and bring in their best duck cake, to be judged by a panel at the Hyatt Hotel.

Christine Spicer is the president of PANDSI, a support group for Canberra families suffering from post- and ante-natal maternal depression. She hopes the children's birthday cake challenge will be a major fundraiser for the group which supports 250 families in the capital and region.

"We need 103 Canberrans to bake a cake from the cookbook and bring them along and we'll sell these through a silent auction," she says.

"It's not done on professionalism, we just want people who love the cakes, love the books. The cakes will be judged on love and flair. We'll have a professional category, which will be 10 cakes and these will be stunning. These will be sold via live auction."

The idea came from the group's patron, journalist Ginger Gorman, who has long had a love for the cookbook and suggested that all 103 cakes had never been seen in one place before.

If you want to sign up and bake one of those 103 cakes, you've got to be quick. Registrations open on the PANDSI website on March 24 and it's first in, best dressed to put your name down beside your favourite cake.

"People will be able to log on to the website and go to the website and pick their cake," Spicer says. "We'll get them to join our Facebook group and get baking."

On May 7, all the bakers will converge on the Hyatt Hotel in Yarralumla and the cakes will go on display before a winner is announced and the cakes are sold in a charity auction.

But what's Spicer's favourite cake? "I loved the duck cake, that's the one where's it's got popcorn hair," she says with a laugh.

She particularly loves "the retro joy" of the cake book. "These days you can go online and get recipes and get all the tips, go to Youtube," she says. "But these cakes... they don't have to be Pinterest ready."

Her advice to bakers? "Just to have fun, try and relive some of the memories from when they were younger, maybe understand what their parents went through when they were making the cake. And just to bring back the love of home baking and make sure their kids know it too," she says.

Registrations for the birthday cake challenge open on March 24 at pandsi.org