Flashback: She built us cakes

Prompt #10: “What were your birthday cakes like when you were growing up? Were they homemade or store-bought?”

We always had two cakes for every birthday–the cake Mom made and the cake Grandma Menter made.

Mom’s cake was made on the day of our birthday–one of the old family recipes to go along with our favorite meals. Grandma’s Chocolate Cake or Lazy Daisy Cake or Applesauce Cake with Boiled Brown Sugar Frosting. Delicious cakes. Lick your lips cakes. Cakes where the birthday girl felt the specialest for getting to choose her piece first (of course, she picked the one with extra frosting!)

Those cakes generally looked ordinary, served up in the same pan they were baked in. No fancy furbelows here, just grandly tasty cakes.

Grandma’s cakes, on the other hand, were take-em-or-leave-em in the taste department. They weren’t bad, they were just ordinary. Cakes baked from cake mixes. White cake or yellow cake or occasionally a confetti cake for good measure.

Nevertheless, we eagerly awaited the semi-annual visits to Bellevue, where a whole counter would be devoted to the cakes. It was always cakes in plural because we always combined all the birthdays for the month into one celebration. January had four cakes. March had three. July had two. October had three. (I’m missing some cousins in there–a September and a November that I can’t remember exactly. Did we smush those two in with the October birthdays? Or did they have their own celebrations?)

At any rate, when we got to Grandma’s house, a counter (or sometimes the entire kitchen table) would be devoted to the brilliantly shaped and decorated cakes, glorious on their bed of aluminum foil.

(Keep clicking on the picture above to a slideshow of Grandma’s cakes)

These were cakes cut up and reassembled to make fantastical shapes. Cakes covered first with a layer of brightly colored frosting, then with additional layers of coconut. Cakes trimmed with a variety of gumdrops and licorice. Cakes that were a child’s delight.

Sometimes the cakes repeated, but we didn’t mind. In fact, we often requested the same cake over and over again.

And sometimes, we were just glad that someone else chose the same cake over and over again.

I wouldn’t have dreamed of selecting the lion for myself (how very boyish!)–but I certainly appreciated that the boys took their turns so we got it at least once or twice a year.

Man, but that toasted coconut on caramel-y frosting was good.

What about you? What are your birthday cake stories?

3 thoughts on “Flashback: She built us cakes”

  1. I can’t remember any of my cakes I had growing up. My mom wasn’t big into baking or decorating, so they probably were pretty plain. But that’s ok. I always wanted one with the doll in it, with the cake shaped like her dress, but I don’t remember if I ever got one.

    My own cakes range from ordinary to pretty bad. I can bake cookies, and I’ve had people tell me I should market them — but my cakes just don’t turn out well, baking or decorating. Even with boxed mixes and pre-made frosting. I wrote about that a few years ago: http://barbarah.wordpress.com/2006/11/06/cakes-are-my-culinary-waterloo/

    If it has to look really nice, I get it at the grocery store bakery. My guys have assured me many times that as long as it tastes ok, they don’t care how it looks.

    I do admire people who can make a cake look nice, but that is not one of my talents.

    Your Grandma’s cakes look so fun!

  2. My dad always took charge of our birthday cakes. We had a special birthday cake book that had many cakes that looked similar to your Grandma’s. We would always go through and find our favorite cake for that year. I used to dream over that book for months before my birthday, thinking hard to select my absolute favorite that year. One that sticks out to me was a piano cake! It actually stood up like a miniature piano. I remember begging my dad to tell me where he had found the doll-sized sheet music that was sitting at that tiny piano. Kathy- my little sister got a cake with the doll on it. Although, my dad had to try twice, as the first attempt caught on fire. THERE’S a memory you can’t forget! :)


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