Since having my children I have come to think of summer as birthday season. From May to September there are several birthdays in our family. Growing up it was the other way around. My mother was the only one of us who had a summer birthday. There was another birthday in the autumn and the rest of us had our birthdays in the depths of winter.
But it is a good thing that The Bavarian and the children have summer birthdays because I am a big believer in the old fashioned birthday party, i.e. inviting less than ten children to our house for games (outdoors, as far as possible), birthday cake and a birthday tea of fruit, crisps, jellies and cocktail sausages or homemade pizza. The children eat from paper plates and there are bog standard balloons as decorations.
For the past four years this has been our birthday routine. The kids have always had fun, the food has always been eaten and we, the parents, have had a reasonably easy time of it in terms of organising and cleaning up. I dread the day when we have to offer something more elaborate than that and no doubt it will arrive all too soon.
For Number Two’s fourth birthday last summer, he wanted a soldier theme including a soldier cake, soldier invitations and soldier games. He started planning his birthday party months in advance and kept coming to me with new ideas. I was hoping he would forget about it and pick a new theme like Indians or Jungle Book or Knights. But no, he was having a soldier birthday and that was that. It even got to the stage where Number One said to me “Mammy, if I were you I wouldn’t tell the other parents it is a soldier birthday. They might be afraid to send their children”.
But Number Two rarely asks for anything and I didn’t want to let him down. I was determined to host a party he would enjoy. The problem was finding a balance between staying true to his soldiers theme but eliminating anything violent. This was not easy. In my frustration I bought a bag of those plastic toy soldiers that all boys had in the 80s. You know the ones that have two armies, one green and one brown, with soldiers in various poses. I was planning to use these as decorations on the table. As for the cake, I was still fairly clueless. But it was over 30°C and I was 8 months pregnant. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for party planning.
On the morning of the party I had a brainwave – camouflage cake! I would make a marble cake but with three colours instead of two and in a round baking tin instead of as a loaf. It was easy to make, was a big hit with the kids and there was no mess of buttercream or faffing about with fondant.
Here is how I did it:
Make a basic sponge mix and divide the mixture between three bowls.
Leave one portion as it is. Add green food colouring to one portion and add cocoa powder to the third portion. Unfortunately I could only get very weak green food colouring and didn’t manage to get the dark shade of green I would have liked.
Grease the baking tin or line it with baking parchement. Dollop the three mixtures into the baking tin so that they create a camouflage look.
I smoothed the mixture with a spoon but it is probably better to leave it as it is and get a better camouflage appearance on the top of the cake. This is what the cake looked like before I baked it.
This is what the cake looked like after I baked it.
In order to get a flatter surface and a better camouflge look, I turned the cake over and used the bottom of it.
Once I got to this point, I began to panic about how to decorate the cake. My original plan had been to ice it and have the camouflage on the inside only. But with the scorching weather we had at the time, buttercream would have melted and fondant wouldn’t have fared too well either.
But then I remembered the toy soldiers. I poured them all out onto the kitchen table and rooted through them till I found the most non-violent pieces – a helicopter, a soldier crawling along on his tummy a barricade and a soldier on the phone. I set them up on a mission to light the big 4-shaped candle and then iced Number 2’s name on it.
All the little boys at the party were amazed at the cake and Number Two particularly liked that he was allowed to take the decorations off and play with them and the other soldiers. I just had to make sure to hide the American and German flags that came with the pack of soldiers. Given that we had German, former USSR and American party guests, the last thing I wanted to do was start a real war!