As Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday party approached, two issues loomed. Could I get away with a single birthday cake between them for another year and could I pull off a successful celebration with – deep breath – no party bags?
The answers, thankfully, were yes and yes. As ever, there was the complication of themes: Peter Pan v Ben 10 one day, Ice Age v Cars 2 the next. The ideas changed so frequently that they were eventually abandoned in the certain knowledge that they would have veered off course before the ink was dry on the invitations.
Most importantly, the cake. Last year I attempted Spiderman. It took me almost five hours to transform a perfectly good sponge cake into a mangled blue and red monstrosity. My cake appeared to depict the nightmare scenario of Spiderman’s headfirst plunge from tall building to pavement. Even our group of three-year-old party goers gasped when it was wheeled out.
This year I vowed there would be no midnight sobbing over another birthday cake.
The boys were non-committal in their demands which made it easier to not only impose my own ideas but to postpone for another year having to make a separate cake for each of them. Until it is explicitly demanded, I am ignoring one of the cornerstone suggestions for maintaining a twin’s identity. I’m already saving for the cost of righting the psychological repercussions. Obviously we have separate renditions of Happy Birthday and each boy blows out his own set of candles, which at the moment seems to make them both happy.
Meanwhile, Alec liked every cake I showed him and Kit only wanted a Halloween-style orange pumpkin cake which I ruled out ostensibly because it is March not October but in reality because it looked downright difficult.
On the quiet, I searched for something eye catching, yet relatively simple and finally stumbled upon a rainbow cake. The picture looked amazing. A deceptively simple white-iced exterior which, once cut, revealed a cake of six brilliantly colored layers, held together with plain white frosting. Genius.
I showed the picture to the boys. “Pretty!” said Alec. “Ugh!”, said Kit.
Following the lead of generations of politicians, I completely ignored the dissenting opinion and pressed on regardless, assuring myself that he didn’t fully grasp the concept.
My recipe, from Edd Kimber’s “Say It With Cake” (http://www.waterstones.com/wat/images/special/pdf/SayItWithCake_recipe_card.pdf), was slightly fiddly and required buying a third 20cm baking tin and considerable quantities of gel food colourings, but following it to the letter, my six garish cakes looked not only edible, but quite professional. I abandoned the white chocolate icing suggested in the recipe on the grounds that it required a sugar thermometer so was guaranteed to exceed my technical capabilities and opted instead for Hummingbird Bakery’s failsafe Vanilla Frosting (http://captivatingcupcakes.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/hummingbird-bakerys-vanilla-frosting.html). A mere hour later, my cake was iced. I wasn’t crying. In short, a miracle had occurred.
For some time before the big day, I had been gradually easing in the idea that there would be no party bags, but I admit I was not brave enough to go completely cold turkey. Instead of the usual bag full of plastic rubbish, I opted for a single bit of rubbish. Let’s face it, you’ve got to give the children some incentive to leave. I bought gifts priced between £2-£3 for each child and put them in a box which acted as a lucky dip – accessed only once each child had their coat on and was ready to go. The only condition was that they had to open it when they got home – to avoid comparisons with what anyone else had got. (Inevitably someone flouted the rules and was apprehended trying to shove a half-wrapped parcel back into the lucky dip in the hope of getting something better the next time).
For the most part, each child got one reasonable toy to leave with and, while still expensive for the 17 kids we had at the party, was on balance a better and easier alternative to the annual tedium of compiling party bags.
But back to the rainbow cake. Once the double Happy Birthdays were out of the way, my husband dramatically sliced open the cake. This year, instead of the odd stifled sob and embarrassed intake of breath, there were cries of delight and a clamor of small hands for a piece of their own. Parents asked in disbelief whether I had made it myself (come to think of it, that did happen last year), and were genuinely impressed by the results.
Triumphant, I looked over at Alec and Kit, proudly heading the birthday table.
“Ugh!” said Kit, helping himself to his third slice.