Organising birthday parties was probably my main incentive to have a child! Daydreaming over Nigella Lawson books about having a little helper to stir the batter and plead whether they can lick the bowl out yet. Studying complicated animals made out of food in Australian Women’s Weeklies. Imagining a table laid out with a sugar coma inducing spread with paper plates and matching table cloth. Musical bumps and cups of squash getting knocked over.
As a child, birthdays are distant high points that gradually creep nearer with agonising slowness until the day itself flashes past. As a mother, my son’s birthdays seem to pop up unexpectedly in the midst of whatever other fire fighting mayhem I am dealing with at the same time.
Calm before the storm
His first came too soon, but then he wasn’t really a year old yet. An upside to his early arrival is that he celebrates his birthday in mid June instead of late August. I had been worried how these long anticipated birthday parties would pan out if my child had been born in the school holidays and his friends were away. Instead Ted’s birthday falls in Royal Ascot week, just before the longest day, one week before my best friend’s birthday at the start of Wimbledon fortnight and three weeks before mine. It is my favourite time of the year.
Party bags; bubbles, pirate stickers, rubber ball,
whistle, chupa chup and later of course, CAKE
For his second birthday we were on holiday so this was his first party since he was one. Given that I was still dealing with a small baby the equivalent of nine months old then, everything was a lot easier to arrange. Better still, Ted now understands the concept of birthday parties and was getting excited about presents and cake.
8 toddlers, 2 new babies, 2 ankle biters, 8 mummies and 1 easily stressed daddy. Would Ted freak out and have a two hour tantrum? Thankfully not, I’m pleased to report he enjoyed every minute of it and basked in his status as Birthday Boy. He wasn’t amused by the badges though.
It was a mid afternoon party tea. Confident in the knowledge that everyone would have a good lunch behind them, it was green light for biscuits, crisps and cake! I’m not one for carrot batons and bread sticks on these occasions, I’m from the school of thought that this never did me any harm when I was young.
Apart from the cake, there was nothing complicated and everyone loves it whatever. At his first birthday, guests were delighted by disposable plastic cups filled with strawberries, 2 mini meringues and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Desserts served in plastic cups are becoming my party piece!
This time it was traffic light jellies. Red, yellow and green jellies, made just that morning and plopped into plastic cups in reverse order. There were chopped strawberries in the red jelly for anyone whose conscience was pricked by lack of fruit or vegetables being served.
Party ring biscuits (sorry Claire, they remind me of Charlie and Lola)
Sandwiches – 2 rounds each of 2 fillings; grated cheese and ham, cut into nines instead of quarters (the perfect amount and size for little mouths and peckish mummies)
Traffic light jellies with chopped strawberries.
For drinks, a jug of squash in the garden for children….
…and 2 bottles of Cava in the fridge for grown ups!
Last but not least, the cake. A Peppa Pig rocket. More details how to make are below. It was oddly unstressful making a cake for myself. I started decorating it at 11pm the night before knowing I was opting to not bother with any piping or covering the board. Admittedly I would have preferred to cover the board with dark blue fondant and white stars but I’d misjudged how big the red fins would get when covered with fondant meaning it wouldn’t all fit on one board anyway.
To match the Peppa Pig cups and plates. He also had a Peppa Pig classroom set as one of his presents.
No stranger to the camera as you can see.
Blowing the candles out took several attempts. It was actually me who did it in the end but he thinks it was him. This wasn’t a photo, I freeze framed it from film.
There was not a lot of cake left after party bag slices dished up but that’s fine as there’s not exactly a cake shortage in my house especially with me catering for this event at the weekend. Extra slices for husbands were popped into a couple of them!
Two and a half hours passed without hitch. Naturally the house and garden were a complete state, even the bathroom ducks had made it outside to the garden. I was sad when it was over as it would be another year until we could do it again and I reflected that there would be a finite number of birthdays where children are satisfied to sit at the kitchen table rather than demanding a trip to the bowling alley.
Peppa Pig Rocket Cake
I used a heart shape tin to make the rocket body but you could use round tins instead, it just affects what shape the cut off bits are. Don’t worry if the cut offs look nothing like the rocket fins, you can shape them by covering them with marzipan and fondant. Noone will mind if those bits are not solid bits of cake.
No need to spend ages creaming butter and sugar. Like my cupcakes, this recipe calls for nothing more complicated than blitzing the entire mix in food processor in one go.
My cake is filled with jam but you could use butter cream or both. This is only about my fifth cake covered in fondant, I’m not an expert but my friends were very impressed. I’ve noticed it’s easier if you have an ample amount of fondant and don’t need to be rolling it too thin. Thinness means cracking and stretching which looks ugly. It is easier to trim fat edges of fondant and tuck the excess under the cake than to try to match up bits when you’ve got thin patches or worse, gaps.
A final tip is to put the sponge cake on a large sheet of parchment paper when you are covering it with the marzipan and fondant. It makes it easier to pick up and if you don’t have the nerve to remove the paper, you can leave it under the cake, (you’ll need a blob of icing underneath to make it stick into position on the board) and trim the edge with a scalpel. Make sure you warn people there is a layer of paper underneath though.
For the sponge
3 large eggs
175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
splash of milk, up to 50mls
For the filling
100g strawberry jam
For the decoration
100g apricot glaze
a little icing sugar for rolling out
6-700g white fondant icing
gel food colourings
tubes of gel icing – black and a some bright colours such as yellow and green.
2 x 7″ springform cake tins, greased and lined
or, if you can get one, similar sized heart shaped tin(s)
Alphabet/numbered mini cookie cutters
Large and medium circular cutters (for the window)
Small circular cutter (for Peppa Pig’s head)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c or gas mark 4.
2. Put all of the sponge ingredients except the milk into the food processor and blitz. Use a spatula to scrape mixture left around the edge of the bowl back into the centre, pour over a splash of milk and pulse. Pour over a second smaller splash of milk and pulse again.
3. Use the spatula to help pour half of the mixture into each of the two tins. Level towards the edge.
4. Bake for around 20-25 minutes until a cocktail stick will come out just about clean and the surface is golden brown and springy to the touch. Cool in the tin for five minutes before turning out onto wire racks.
5. When both cakes have cooled completely, spread the jam on one layer and sandwich together.
6. Trim the shape of the cake with a very sharp knife to get your rocket shape. This is easier using a heart shaped tin but perfectly possible with a round one.
7. Optional stage – you can wrap the trimmed cake in parchment paper, put inside a large freezer bag and freeze for 30 minutes. This firms the cake up temporarily and makes it “behave” better when decorating. it also means you are likely to get fewer crumbs in the next stage.
8. Heat the apricot glaze for around 8 seconds in the microwave so it is easier to spread. Using a table knife or small palette knife, spread liberally over the surface of the cake including the sides.
9. Sprinkle icing sugar over your table top and roll out the marzipan to around 30cm diameter. Lift carefully over the rocket body of the cake and smooth around the sides. Trim and tuck sides under. Repeat with the trimmed pieces attempting to form them into 3 fin shapes for the base of the rocket. Save the left over red fondant to mix with white to make pink for the pig.
10. Now to mix the fondant icing colours. Roll a ball the size of a large orange and colour it red. Roll a second ball the size of a satsuma and colour it blue. Retain another ball somewhere sized inbetween and keep this white. The remainder can be tinted cream or ivory.
11. Spread more apricot glaze over the marzipan layer of the cake and smaller pieces. Again sprinkling the work surface with icing sugar, roll out the ivory icing to around 30cm diameter and carefully lift it over the cake. Smooth into shape, trim and tuck sides under. Repeat with the red fondant to cover the tail fin pieces.
12. Lift the cake onto the cake board.
13. Mix some left over red fondant with white to make pink. Mix a grape sized blob with a small piece of white to make a darker pink for Peppa’s cheeks and dress. Roll out the pink fondant and cut out a small circle (around 5cm diameter), a small oval and roll two baked bean sized balls to form the ears. Fix the oval to the circle to make the nose and carefully press on the ears.
14. Roll two small balls of white fondant, smaller even than peas and press flat to make eyes. Paint a drop of water on the reverse of the eyes to stick onto the face. Roll a tiny ball of the dark pink to make a cheek and also stick to face. Using gel tubes of black colour, paint the pupils on the eyes and a smiling mouth. I used the curved edge of a sugar paste tool to get the curve around the nostrils but you could use a clean pen lid.
13. Roll out the blue fondant and cut concentric rings to make the rocket window. Carefully lift and paint the reverse lightly with a little water (not too much or the colour will run), press the circle onto the centre of the cake. Paint the reverse of Peppa Pig with a little water and position inside the circle.
14. Decorate the edge of the window frame with gel colouring tubes in bright colours such as yellow and green. Using the remaining fondant cut out letters and numbers as desired and position to the cake.
15. Finally, brush any icing sugar off the red fins with water, blot dry and affix next to the cake by poking a cocktail stick inbetween. Make sure these are removed before serving and take care not to press them all the way into the cake incase you can’t pull them out.
This pig is George, the little brother. I made him as a spare.
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Sarah has published recipes on Maison Cupcake since 2009 and lives in London. Read More/Contact
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