Happy 40th birthday to the Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book

The train with its gravity-defying popcorn plume. 
The train with its gravity-defying popcorn plume.  Photo: The Australian Women's Weekly

Will we ever blow out candles on a birthday cake again? Right now it's hard to imagine.

But nasty pandemic, try as you might, you cannot extinguish our nostalgia buzz, stoked by the 40th anniversary release of The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. Or as I like to call it, food porn for 10-year-olds.

The book is a phenomenon, no matter which way you ice it. Since it was released in 1980, there have been 28 editions, and well over half a million sales worldwide. That's a lot of colourful cakes and happy kids. And boy, was I was one of them.

The 40th anniversary edition of The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.
The 40th anniversary edition of The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.  Photo: The Australian Women's Weekly

Oh the hours I spent hunched over that bendy sticky-paged book through the 1980s, studying each picture in minute detail, pondering the big questions like is Barbie wearing knickers under her cake skirt?

Does the duck's crinkle chip bill really belong on a sweet cake?

Can a 90 per cent jelly swimming pool actually be classified "cake", and where do you stick the candles?

The chip-beaked duck.
The chip-beaked duck. Photo: The Australian Women's Weekly

The recipes themselves were never that complicated. The base consisted of packet cake mix and the icing was usually of the exotic-sounding "Vienna cream" variety, turned fluoro by food colouring.

No, the skill came in the engineering. Poor mums around the country, mine included, were presented regularly with wish lists. The piano. The castle. The racing car. And most impressive of all, that cover star train, with its plume of gravity-defying popcorn steam.

Year after year, mum delivered the goods, sometimes propped up by a can of beans, icing a little wonky, yet Instagrammable way before that was a thing.

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And here it is again come to brighten a dreary day. Same recipes. Same photos. Same feeling of excitement when you flip through it.

Can you still have a Leonard the Lion cake when you're in your 40s, I wonder, when you're not even allowed to have a party?

Of course you can. It's an "iso project" I can get behind. Packet mix aisle, I'm coming for you.

Leonard The Lion

Here's the original recipe.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 packets butter cake mix
  • 1½ quantities Vienna cream (see recipe, below)
  • egg-yellow food colouring
  • 30g dark chocolate
  • 2 white marshmallows
  • 2 round flat green sweets
  • 6 orange jubes
  • licorice
  • 1 board 45cm x 35cm

Vienna cream

  • 125g butter
  • 1½ cups icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

METHOD

  1. To make the Vienna cream, have butter and milk at room temperature. Place butter in small bowl of electric mixer, beat until butter is as white as possible, gradually add about half the sifted icing sugar, beating constantly, add milk gradually, then gradually beat in the remaining icing sugar; mixture should be smooth and easy to spread with a spatula.
     
  2. Make cakes separately according to directions on packet, pour two quantities into two greased 28cm x 18cm lamington tins, pour the other quantity into greased 23cm x 12cm loaf tin, bake in moderate oven 30 minutes for lamington tins, 50 minutes for loaf tin or until cooked when tested. Stand 3 minutes, turn cakes on to wire racks to cool.

  3. Trim top of loaf cake so it is flat. Cut off one third of cake from one end (this small piece is not needed), split remaining two-thirds in half horizontally, cut 4cm piece from one end, as shown, for the nose, cut nose piece to a point. (Remaining piece from which nose was cut is not needed.) Place lamington cakes side by side, trim sides where they join so they will fit closely together, trim tops if necessary so cakes are the same depth. Cut shape of lion's head, as shown.

    Assemble cake, as follows, on prepared board: place lamington cakes on board first, top with large oblong from loaf cake, position nose piece on top.
     
  4. Tint Vienna cream with egg-yellow food colouring, spread evenly over nose and face and around sides of cake. Spread cream thickly for mane, use a fork to give curly appearance. Melt chocolate over simmering water, dip fork in chocolate, shake off excess, use fork dipped in chocolate to define some of the curls, as shown; spread a little chocolate in triangular shape on end of nose. White marshmallows topped with small green sweets represent eyes, two cut orange jubes represent tongue, two orange jubes stacked one on top of the other represent each eyebrow, licorice strips represent whiskers.

Makes 1 cake

The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book, 40th Anniversary Edition (RRP $19.99) is now available online, in bookstores, in newsagents and supermarkets. Buy now